Netanyahu and Gantz meet as tensions bubble in new coalition

Parlay between PM and his alternate comes after Likud minister says attorney general ‘allegedly a criminal,’ drawing sharp rebuke from Blue and White’s justice minister

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum on May 17, 2020, as their new coalition was sworn in. (Knesset)
Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum on May 17, 2020, as their new coalition was sworn in. (Knesset)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz met Thursday afternoon as the first tensions in their disparate coalition began to emerge.

“The meeting was held in a positive atmosphere and dealt with advancing various issues on the agenda for Israel’s citizens and with preparing for the cabinet meeting next week,” a joint statement from Likud and Blue and White said.

The meeting was the first held between Likud’s Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Gantz since the new government was sworn in on Sunday. It came after ministers from their respective “blocs” within the government openly feuded and the two parties traded barbs.

Earlier Thursday, Minister David Amsalem of Likud ripped into Attorney General Avivhai Mandelblit, drawing a sharp rebuke from Blue and White’s newly appointed Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) talks with coalition chairman David Amsalem during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

Netanyahu loyalists and supporters have increased their attacks on Mandelblit in recent weeks, ahead of the start of the premier’s trial on Sunday, which was ordered late last year by the attorney general.

Referring to the so-called Harpaz affair, a 2010 scandal in which Mandelblit was briefly suspected of having helped military brass cover up a smear campaign, Amsalem said there was “no dispute among the Israeli people that Avichai Mandelblit is allegedly a criminal.”

The remarks were immediately slammed by Nissenkorn, who said in a tweet that he has “full confidence in the attorney general.”

“Cabinet ministers are allowed to issue criticism that is to the point, but unbridled attacks cross a red line,” Nissenkorn said in the first public spat between ministers in the new government

Mandelblit filed a police complaint last week after receiving death threats and other harassing messages as part of what he described to police as an organized campaign. Two suspects were later detained and questioned by the Lahav 433 serious crimes unit.

New Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn speaks during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry on May 18, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Mandelblit had already been a popular target for supporters of the prime minister over the filing of the indictments last year, which Netanyahu has decried as an “attempted coup” orchestrated by the media, the opposition, the police and the state prosecution, led by Mandelblit.

In a separate incident highlighting the tension between the two largest parties in the new government, Likud hit back at Blue and White after Gantz said that he plans to remain in his Rosh Ha’ayin home and does not intend to move into an official residence for the alternate prime minister.

“The residence of the replacement prime minister did not come about as a demand from Likud and Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Likud said in a pointed statement.

According to the coalition agreement signed by Netanyahu and Gantz, the position of alternate prime minister — which Netanyahu is set to fill once Gantz becomes premier in 18 months — includes an official state residence, akin to the Prime Minister’s Residence.

Previously, both the Likud and Blue and White had denied that any such clause would be included in the agreement.

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