Minister says Bennett not ‘fulfilling his potential’ as leader of change government

Yisrael Beytenu’s Eli Avidar asserts state of democracy ‘as bad as it was’ under Netanyahu, suggests coalition members should veto PM’s bills if he doesn’t support theirs

Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar in the Knesset, on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar in the Knesset, on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

A Yisrael Beitenu party minister known for his maverick personality said Saturday that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is not “fulfilling his potential” as Israel’s leader, while adding that coalition members should consider voting down the premier’s bills if he refuses to back legislation desired by other members of the government.

Eli Avidar, speaking at a cultural-political event in the Jerusalem suburb of Tzur Hadassah, said Bennett is “lucky — he was given a golden opportunity to be prime minister in a change government, to change the face of Israeli society… I don’t think he’s fulfilling his potential.”

He asserted that “the state of democracy is as bad as it was” under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, noting that some problematic laws passed under Netanyahu which gave him greater powers as premier had not been overturned under the new government.

“What’s happened? Is it okay now because Netanyahu isn’t in the Prime Minister’s Office?”

He also bristled at Bennett’s apparent reluctance to back a bill proposed by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar to bar a person under serious criminal indictment from serving as prime minister. Bennett’s Yamina party has shied away from such legislation, fearing right-wing voters will view it as a bill intended to prevent Netanyahu from returning to power.

“If Bennett and [Yamina’s Ayelet] Shaked don’t want to pass the bill, we shouldn’t pass their things. It doesn’t make sense that we only go for bills for their side. What about the people who were in the streets for a year and a half?” he said, in reference to mass protests that were held in Israel in 2020-2021 against Netanyahu’s leadership while under criminal indictment.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, on November 21, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool via Flash90)

Sa’ar has said he is working to persuade Bennett to support legislation banning anyone under serious indictment from running for political office.

The justice minister has denied that the bill is personally linked to Netanyahu, whose Likud party he left last year to form the breakaway New Hope faction. “It’s not a personal law at all,” Sa’ar told Channel 12 news. “I’m not dealing with [Netanyahu] at all.”

The proposed amendment to Israel’s semi-constitutional Basic Laws would block any Knesset member indicted for a crime that includes a minimum sentence of three years and moral turpitude from being tasked by the president with forming a government. Such a MK could also not be included in a vote of confidence in a new government or become alternate prime minister. The proposed law, if approved, would take effect after the next elections when a new Knesset is sworn in.

Avidar was appointed in August to serve as minister in charge of strategic planning in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Avidar has served in Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party since 2019, but ties between the two soured in June when the lawmaker was not given a ministerial post.

On the day of the new government’s swearing-in that month, Avidar said he would no longer vote along party lines, retaliating after Liberman did not grant him his choice of ministerial post.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a ministerial meeting in Jerusalem, on November 15, 2021, to discuss violent crime in the Arab sector. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Though he later said he was committed to the government, Avidar proceeded to declare himself an “independent lawmaker,” removed the Yisrael Beytenu logo from his Facebook page and reportedly threatened to vote against the coalition’s budget proposal.

Following negotiations between Avidar and Bennett’s office, a compromise was reached under which Avidar was named minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of strategic planning. He was later expected to be appointed intelligence minister, as Yesh Atid’s Elazar Stern, who is currently in the post, had been expected to become head of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

However, Stern eventually dropped out of the running over controversial comments he made on trashing anonymous sexual harassment complaints, and it is not yet clear what will happen to Avidar’s posting.

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