Likud MK Miki Zohar, the outgoing coalition chairman, on Wednesday said he doesn’t believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can thwart his rivals from forming a “change government” that will see the long-time premier removed from power.
In a Channel 12 interview, Zohar was asked if Netanyahu and Likud have any political tricks up their sleeve to prevent the establishment of the coalition led by Yamina’s Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, which is due to be sworn in on Sunday.
“No. I don’t think so,” Zohar replied, adding that Bennett and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar have gone too far to turn back now.
“Bennett understands that he’s lost all his supporters [were he to face the electorate again in another election]. [Former Likud MK] Gideon Sa’ar has completely given up on his right-wing ideology in order to achieve his personal, childish revenge against Netanyahu,” said Zohar. “And therefore I can’t see any situation where they’ll change course or mess up at the last minute. They’ve made their decision [to push out Netanyahu], including the huge price they’ll pay for it.”
Netanyahu and his allies have been working intensively to foil the coalition by convincing some of its member lawmakers to drop their support.
But Zohar said Likud’s decision Tuesday to reserve three spots on its electoral list for any eleventh-hour defectors “was a kind of late-minute effort, pretty late, and pretty unlikely to succeed, in all honesty.”
“I of course voted in favor of the move in order to keep that chance alive, but it was plainly too late,” he continued. “Things over there [in the change bloc] have been worked out and sealed, and will lead to a [change bloc] government.”
He also voiced support for Netanyahu staying on as Likud chairman to lead the party from the opposition benches “until we can bring down this lousy government that has been formed.”
“The moment this government falls and we head to elections, we can have leadership primaries [in Likud]… and Netanyahu will be chosen again,” Zohar said, though he stressed that, in his opinion, there is no need for Likud primaries as Netanyahu is the party’s chosen leader.
Zohar’s remarks came as a heated meeting of the Knesset Arrangements Committee approved a swearing-in for the emerging government on Sunday at 4 p.m. after the date was set by Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin of Likud.
Members of pro-Netanyahu parties that are part of the outgoing government harshly attacked the incoming coalition, prompting committee chair MK Karine Elharrar of Yesh Atid to ask them to tone down their remarks.
“This government is being formed with the tremendous support of the prosecution, that has carried out a process, a process of the deep state, that is at the moment becoming clear in the court,” Likud MK Galit Distel Atbaryan said according to Channel 12 News. She was apparently referring to Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial which the prime minister and his supporters have accused as being a conspiracy by the prosecution, police and media to oust the premier.
Netanyahu himself also said this week the potential incoming government was in league with the so-called “deep state.”
Accusing the emerging coalition of having the backing of the state prosecution and the media, Distel Atbaryan called Sa’ar and Bennett “opportunists” who are “like parasites on an organism, who misappropriated the public trust and went and took votes from the right to the left. So your victory is a sad one, weak and unreal.”
Addressing lawmakers of the change coalition, Likud MK Shlomo Karhi said: “The government that you are going to set up is a government that not be established on a mandate for the people, but on a mandate that was stolen from the people.”
MK Michael Michaeli of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which is allied with Netanyahu’s Likud, said that whereas in the past children could be taught that the path to becoming prime minister is by leading the largest party in the Knesset and earning public trust, from now on the lesson will be “that more of a swindler and liar you are the more chance you have of more quickly becoming the prime minister.” Michaeli was referring to Bennett becoming prime minister with just six Knesset seats.
Bennett, he accused, is “a con man who lied to his voters and the Israeli people — and we will need to tell our children that this swindler is the prime minister because he cheated everybody.”
Committee chair Elharrar reprimanded the lawmakers. While acknowledging that criticism is welcome, she said “this is the Israeli Knesset, let us try to ensure that the criticism is in the proper language. Calling people derogatory names is not appropriate in my view.”
More criticism came from Likud Minister David Amsalem who spoke in the Knesset plenum during a Wednesday session, telling lawmakers that he doesn’t believe that Bennett, an Orthodox Jews, is really religious.
“What desecration of God’s name are you committing,” Amsalem said. “I never believed he was religious.”
Amsalem called the “unity government” a group of “elitist Ashkenazis” who only held sway in north Tel Aviv and Ra’anana.
“The only unity there is with (Ra’am leader) Mansour Abbas, the only Mizrahi there. It is actually a government of hate and poison,” Amsalem said.
He accused Bennett of destroying Israeli democracy and said Abbas would actually be running the government.
“I’ll tell you why. Each morning Bennett and Lapid will call him, to see how he feels, if he is sick, does he want a massage, maybe some more money, a few more communities for the Bedouins,” he said to catcalls from the Knesset plenum.
Amsalem said Abbas would be able to demand any changes he wants, including reducing the defense budget. “In reality, the prime minister will be Mansour Abbas. It is the first time since the founding of the State of Israel that the person running it will be an Arab, and from the Islamist party no less,” he said.
He also generally attacked Israel’s Arab minority, saying he had no idea how Arab Israelis could claim to be disadvantaged. “You receive funding like any other citizen of Israel,” he claimed.
As the so-called “change government” has become increasingly likely, right-wing social discourse has become increasingly alarmist, with frequent declarations that the government bringing together the right, center and left could doom Israel and bring about dark times; angry protests outside politicians homes; the burning of political posters; and allegations of treason issued via traditional and social media.
On Sunday, Likud MK May Golan called Bennett and Sa’ar “suicide bombers” during an interview with the Knesset channel. Golan said, in reference to the perception that the heads of Yamina and New Hope, respectively, have plummeted in popularity since allying with the center-left to oust Netanyahu from power. She said that “while there is a world of difference, I would compare them to suicide bombers.”
“They’re like terrorists who don’t believe in anything anymore, who go out on their suicide mission, and even if they know it’s their death sentence, they don’t care because they’re Shiites,” she said.
Golan was apparently referring to a political death sentence but did not clarify the matter.
Her remarks came the day after Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman issued a rare warning against rising incitement and hate speech on social media, and the danger that it will spark political violence.
“This discourse may be interpreted among certain groups or individuals as one that allows violent and illegal activity and could even lead to harm to individuals,” Argaman said.
The parties in the prospective coalition hold a wafer-thin majority of 61 of the 120 votes. If confirmed, the unlikely alliance of right-wing, left-wing, centrist, and Islamist parties would remove Netanyahu from power, to be replaced by Yamina’s Bennett, and, two years later, Lapid.