ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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Likud MKs attack allies, defense officials and left, drawing rebuke from Netanyahu

In stormy faction meeting, politicians accuse Gallant of ‘kissing’ Gantz, army spokesman of ‘serving narratives that aren’t right wing’; PM: This is not the time for politics

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, December 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, December 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged members of his Likud party to present a unified front and avoid politicizing the war effort as cracks in faction cohesion began to show during a fiery meeting Sunday.

During the meeting, Likud MKs and ministers leveled various accusations of disloyalty at their fellow Likud members, the political opposition and at defense officials. Targets included Defense Minister Yoav Gallant — himself a Likud member — who was not in attendance, a day after he eschewed a joint press conference with Netanyahu.

“Did Gallant leave the Likud? Where is he? Is he no longer part of it? Did he kiss [war cabinet minister Benny] Gantz on the mouth?” Deputy Speaker of the Knesset MK Nissim Vatori asked of the absent defense minister, seemingly accusing him of being in league with Gantz, who joined the coalition to support the war effort but opposes it on most other grounds.

“It’s better for you to hold press conferences alone, without Gantz and Gallant kissing each other on the mouth at the end,” Vatori said, congratulating Netanyahu for his solo press conference on Saturday night. Gallant held a separate briefing about an hour before Netanyahu on Saturday.

In response, Netanyahu told Vaturi that he was working in full cooperation with Gallant, Gantz and other security officials.

“There is a war cabinet, a cabinet and a government. The around-the-clock work is carried out with a very limited focus, with big decisions going to the general cabinet, and the day-to-day decisions going to the war cabinet each day,” the prime minister said.

MK Tally Gotliv, who herself leveled criticism at Vatori for his lack of respect toward Gallant, lashed out at IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, and accused him of “serving narratives that aren’t right wing.”

MK Tally Gotliv arrives to a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem on December 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I am not engaging in politics. We are a right-wing government. The IDF spokesman serves a different narrative,” she said. “There are people sitting in television studios who just lie, give short shrift to Judea and Samaria,” she said, referring to the West Bank.

Minister in the Justice Ministry David Amsalem added his voice to the mix, accusing Netanyahu’s opponents of being “Bolsheviks.”

“If the government falls, the left will rise and there’ll be a Palestinian state here! These are Bolsheviks who will ignore [us] and will control all state affairs.”

MK David Amsalem at a discussion on the government’s judicial overhaul plans in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In an attempt to defuse the situation, Netanyahu told Amsalem that “we are at war and we are all fighting together.” The minister, apparently peeved by the response, then stormed out of the meeting.

After Amsalem’s outburst, Netanyahu warned the politicians to exercise caution and present a united front.

“Be careful with your words, especially in times of war,” he said. “There is no room for personal attacks. The entire cabinet, the IDF and the security agencies work as one team and I ask you not to defy them. We currently have no opponents from either the right or the left — all of us, the entire nation, must act as one united body. This is not the time for politics.”

Police guard while Israelis protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside the Prime Minister Residence in Jerusalem, November 4, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Hamas’s attacks on October 7 and the ensuing onslaught put an immediate end to a massively divisive campaign to overhaul the judiciary, which had sparked unprecedented opposition to the government, instead giving way to an atmosphere of national unity.

In recent weeks, however, that cohesion has been dented by attacks on political opponents from within Netanyahu’s party, and a return to regular protests against the government, albeit on a smaller scale.

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