'If we don't want to fall backward, we must all take action'

‘Make your voice heard’: Bennett appeals to public to help save teetering government

On one-year anniversary, PM issues unusual open letter to Israel’s ‘silent Zionist majority,’ says country must choose between moving forward or ‘descending again into chaos’

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a government conference at the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus, on Jerusalem Day, May 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a government conference at the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus, on Jerusalem Day, May 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett published an open letter to the Israeli public on Friday calling for support to keep the teetering coalition on its feet for the sake of political stability and a properly functioning government.

The unusual missive, sent out on the one-year anniversary of the establishment of the government, comes as it has lurched from one crisis to another since losing its parliamentary majority in early April, and appears to be inching toward a collapse.

The letter pointed to Bennett’s fears of a breakdown, as the specter of more elections and a challenge from opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu looms larger on the horizon.

Bennett framed his coalition as having brought political stability to Israel when it took power last June after an unprecedented series of inconclusive elections. The prime minister pleaded with the public to help maintain that stability and decried Israel’s acrimonious politics and attacks from the opposition.

“Around a year ago, the State of Israel came to one of the most difficult moments it has ever known,” Bennett wrote.

“Chaos, endless election spin, government paralysis, the cities of Lod and Acre burning in the face of a humiliated and conflicted government,” he said, referring to riots in Arab-Jewish cities during last year’s war with Gaza terror groups.

Israel displayed “terrible weakness in the face of a murderous enemy that fired rockets at Jerusalem,” he said, and was trapped by “the worship of one man and the enslavement of the state’s energy to his legal needs,” referring to opposition leader and then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his trial on graft charges.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend a plenum session in the Knesset on May 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett said he had cobbled his coalition together last year — from a disparate amalgam of right-wing, centrist and leftist parties as well as the Islamist Ra’am faction — to save the country, despite facing harsh criticism from others on the right-wing.

“We stood just days away from a fifth election cycle that would have taken the country apart, and then I made one of the most difficult and most Zionist decisions of my life: to establish a government to save Israel from the chaos and have it function again. To connect to people with different opinions than my own to save the country,” he wrote.

Bennett said he knew at the time that a powerful “poison machine” would be turned against him, but he partnered with the varied parties to “defend the State of Israel.”

Netanyahu and the opposition that he leads have consistently lashed Bennett’s government for working with Ra’am, claiming the Islamist party supports terror — though Netanyahu himself is widely reported to have sought an alliance with Ra’am himself ahead of the current government’s formation.

“Together with my colleagues in the government, we brought Israel back to functionality and growth,” Bennett said, adding that Israel was now once again at a “historic crossroads.”

Opposition leader, head of the Likud party, Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the Knesset summer session in Jerusalem on May 9, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“To move forward with a functioning state, or to descend again into chaos, internal hatred, external weakness and the enslavement of the state to the needs of one man,” Bennett said, again referring to Netanyahu.

Bennet lamented that “there is currently only one side taking the field — the loud and deadly poison machine” of opposition lawmakers such as Netanyahu, Itamar Ben Gvir, Ayman Odeh and Bezalel Smotrich. “They are sparking violence, extortion and ‘fake news,’ while the silent majority is happy with a calm and functioning government.

“If we do not want to fall backward, we must all take action. This letter is a call to action,” Bennett said.

Responding to the premier’s letter, Netanyahu’s Likud party said: “Bennett’s lies can’t cover the fact that he gave over control of the country to [Ra’am’s] Mansour Abbas, [the opposition Joint List’s] Ahmad Tibi and their terror-supporting friends.

“Prices of gas, food and housing are breaking records while Bennett and [Foreign Minister Yair] Lapid do nothing,” it said.

The party vowed to “do everything to bring down this government of weakness and failure.”

The far-right Religious Zionism also hit out at Bennett over the letter.

“Even a lie you repeat thousands of times over dozens of pages doesn’t become the truth,” Religious Zionism MK Bezalel Smotrich said.

He also claimed Bennett had prevented the formation of a right-wing government by seeking to team up with “the radical left and anti-Zionist terror supporters to be prime minister at any price” after last year’s election.

While Bennett’s Yamina party at the time said it was open to joining a Netanyahu-led government, Smotrich’s refusal to cooperate with Ra’am helped deny the former premier a majority.

“Bennett deceived, cheated and lied all along and he continues to do so in this letter,” Smotrich charged.

Alongside the letter, the prime minister released a video montage of opposition lawmakers launching scathing attacks against the government, scuffling with police, right-wing activists burning images of coalition leaders and calling leftists “traitors” who deserved the death penalty, and news reports about death threats.

He also released a digital booklet bearing his name addressed to the “silent Zionist majority” that likened the Israeli state to the ancient kingdoms of Israel that were destroyed amid internal conflict.

The booklet made the case for his establishment of the government and its continued existence, highlighting its achievements, including the passage of the budget and economic growth.

The booklet ended with a call for the public to “not leave us alone in the arena. Make your voice heard.

“Spread our message — that decent people, with different opinions, that love the country can sit together and act for the good of the country,” he wrote. He said the government’s supporters should share the letter, organize protests, make calls and volunteer.

“We have no other country, so we will never give up,” he said.

Bennett’s coalition lost its parliamentary majority when Idit Silman, a member of his Yamina party, quit the government in early April. Since then the coalition has been on the ropes, with its latest crisis this week revolving around its ongoing struggle to muster enough support to pass a key piece of legislation to renew the extension of Israeli law to Israelis living in the West Bank.

A poll last week showed Netanyahu’s opposition is gaining ground with voters and getting closer to being able to secure a majority in the Knesset.

The Channel 12 survey found that Netanyahu’s bloc would win 59 seats if elections were held today, putting it near a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, but suggesting further political deadlock if the government collapses. Israel has been through four grueling elections since 2019 as the opposing blocs struggle to form a sturdy majority in the Knesset.

The survey also found that most Israelis think the current government will collapse within six months and that more Israelis support Netanyahu for prime minister than any other candidate.

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