Likud lawmaker David Bitan on Monday slammed his party’s political partners in the incoming government for their behavior and comments in recent days and said party leader Benjamin Netanyahu “lost it” in coalition negotiations.
His comments marked rare criticism from a Likud loyalist against party leader Netanyahu’s coalition plans, as the bloc’s political opponents, the judiciary, former military officers, and others warn that the incoming government threatens Israeli society.
In an interview on Knesset TV, Bitan called out by name Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionism party, and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir. The two far-right parties, along with Noam, make up the extreme right flank of Netanyahu’s incoming coalition. The bloc is led by Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud, the Knesset’s largest party, and also includes its longtime Haredi allies, Shas and United Torah Judaism.
Likud’s coalition partners have “exploited the fact that there is no alternative, and this is what happened,” said Bitan, pointing to extreme demands made during negotiations. Netanyahu’s political opponents in the outgoing government have vowed not to join his coalition due to his ongoing corruption trial, leaving him with no choice but to meet the demands of the parties that are willing to work with him.
Bitan was once one of Netanyahu’s fiercest defenders in the press, but he has sparred with his party head more recently, saying the Likud chief needs to take a firm stance as head of the incoming government.
“Netanyahu has to show that he’s the one in charge… If not, he’ll suffer through his entire term in office,” Bitan said.
He claimed fellow Likud MKs who agree with his criticism “are not speaking. They’re scared to speak” — in particular those who are waiting to receive a ministerial post, he said.
Netanyahu has yet to divvy up ministerial posts to loyalists his party, while there is intense internal jockeying over the few available positions.
“Don’t you think Amir Ohana should have commented on issues of the LGBT community? — Of course he should have,” said Bitan of Likud’s only openly gay MK, referring to the uproar over anti-LGBT plans made by Religious Zionism lawmakers.
The far-right party’s deal with Likud includes a clause stipulating that the incoming government will seek to amend discrimination laws to allow business owners to refuse to provide a service if it violates their religious beliefs. The deal has yet to be officially signed.
On Sunday, Religious Zionism MK Orit Strock, who is set to become a cabinet minister in the incoming government, sparked an outcry by saying that doctors should be allowed to refuse to provide treatments that contravene their religious faith, as long as another doctor is willing to provide the same treatment.
Backing up Strock, fellow Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman asserted that if a hotel wanted to refuse service to gay people on religious grounds, it would be entitled to do so.
Bitan said such plans will harm Israel on the international stage.
“There are things that are not an option. The subject of racism, the subject of providing service to people,” he said.
“If we do this, we will be hurt all over the world and it will affect investments, it will affect the US, it will affect the veto at the United Nations,” Bitan said, referring to American support for Israel at the world body.
“What is he going to do? After everything he got already, he’s going to leave? To go to the opposition?” he said of Ben Gvir. “They need to give it up.”
In an interview with Channel 12, Bitan said that Netanyahu and Likud negotiator Yariv Levin “lost it in negotiations.”
Netanyahu “needs to show that he’s the leader and we’ll follow him. If he doesn’t do that, we’ve got a problem,” Bitan said.
“Netanyahu did not set down any red lines. He made a mistake. It’s clear to him today that he made a mistake,” he said, adding that proposals to allow discrimination had “caused great damage to Likud.”
“This is a party of the nation that represents all of its population,” he said of Likud. “This law will not happen. It’s already dead, in my opinion,” Bitan went on. “It also has reverse consequences — what do you want, for Arabs that work in hospitals to say they don’t want to treat Jews? There are two sides to the coin.”
Hadash-Ta’al MK Ahmed Tibi made similar comments Monday as Rabbi Chaim Druckman, the spiritual leader of the religious Zionist movement, was laid to rest. Druckman, who played a prominent role in the settlement movement, died in a Jerusalem hospital on Sunday at the age of 90.
“I’m sure that in the team that treated Rabbi Druckman, there was an Arab doctor, or an Arab nurse, and they cared for Rabbi Druckman in a dedicated way, with no connection to the fact that he is the father of the settlements,” Tibi said.
Outgoing Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked also warned against the incoming coalition’s plans in her final speech to the Knesset plenum on Monday.
“Over the past few days, I have heard from friends who tell me that their friends are talking about leaving the country,” Shaked said.
“You need to take this feeling among parts of the public into account,” she added, “in particular, concerning the legislation about discrimination and racism spoken about in recent days.”
Shaked recommended that the incoming government “not deal with these issues — it only gives many people a bad feeling and harms the State of Israel. You have many challenges facing you… Deal with what is important, and not what is unimportant and sows fear and panic.”
Shaked, a longtime right-wing leader, was a member of the outgoing “change government,” but during the most recent election campaign, she expressed vocal support for Netanyahu. Her party failed to clear the electoral threshold in the election.
Levin, who is serving as the temporary Knesset speaker, formally told the Knesset on Monday of Netanyahu’s success in forming a coalition.
The announcement started a seven-day clock for when the coalition must be sworn in.
Levin said that a hearing and confidence vote on the incoming government is slated for Thursday morning, though it can be delayed until the morning of January 2.
Netanyahu still has to overcome some key stumbling blocks before swearing in the government, including formalizing coalition agreements with almost all of his partners, dividing ministerial jobs among his Likud party members, and finalizing two key pieces of legislation demanded by coalition partners as preconditions.