Netanyahu says he ‘forgives’ Smotrich for his ‘defamatory words’

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Bezalel Smotrich in the Knesset on June 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Bezalel Smotrich in the Knesset on June 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu reacts publicly for the first time to a recording — aired last night by the Kan public broadcaster — of his intended senior coalition partner Bezalel Smotrich calling the Likud party leader a “liar” and “trouble.”

In his statement, Netanyahu says he forgives Smotrich’s “defamatory” words but avoids commenting directly on the content of Smotrich’s accusation.

In his comments, which were reportedly made in a conversation during the past year, the far-right Smotrich is heard saying Netanyahu “desperately wanted” to ally with the Islamist Ra’am party after the elections last year, and that the former prime minister was “lying through his teeth” for denying this.

Netanyahu has gone on to make the inclusion of Ra’am in the current coalition a central part of his election campaign against the government, saying it is an illegitimate coalition partner.

Smotrich, who heads the Religious Zionism party, also called Netanyahu “trouble” and said he may yet be found guilty in his criminal trial.

But Netanyahu brushes all that aside, saying in his statement that “we must stop the friendly fire and recruit the entire right to prevent the continuation of the Lapid-Abbas government, which endangers the future of Israel.”

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