Netanyahu could fire Smotrich from cabinet over scathing criticism – report
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Netanyahu could fire Smotrich from cabinet over scathing criticism – report

PM said to be under pressure to oust minister after Twitter storm calling government weak for decisions on Temple Mount and gender-segregated event

Left, Bezalel Smotrich, after winning the election for chairman of the National Union, at the Crown Plaza hotel in Jerusalem, January 14, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90). Right, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a drill of the Armored Corps in Shizafon Base, in southern Israel on January 23, 2019. (Flash90)
Left, Bezalel Smotrich, after winning the election for chairman of the National Union, at the Crown Plaza hotel in Jerusalem, January 14, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90). Right, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a drill of the Armored Corps in Shizafon Base, in southern Israel on January 23, 2019. (Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly considering firing Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich from his cabinet, after the far-right politician unleashed a series of broadsides against the premier.

According to Hebrew media reports, the pressure is coming from ministers in Netanyahu’s Likud party, and the premier has been holding discussions in his office on whether to dismiss Smotrich less than two months after his appointment.

Likud sources were cited as saying Netanyahu was contemplating the move, which could come as early as Monday, and that there was great anger at Smotrich over the substance and style of his remarks.

On the other hand, the sources said, Netanyahu is concerned firing Smotrich could only serve to strengthen the latter’s United Right party ahead of the September 17 elections.

Netanyahu’s office would not comment on the reports.

“I’m working as usual, there is a country to run,” Smotrich was quoted saying by the Kan public broadcaster in response to the prospect of his looming firing.

He was reportedly summoned for a meeting with Netanyahu at 5 p.m.

Smotrich on Sunday launched a scathing attack on Netanyahu following a court decision prohibiting the Afula municipality from holding a gender-segregated musical performance planned for next week at a public park. The ruling forbids organizers to seat men and women separately during the performance, saying it contravenes the principle of equality.

Smotrich called the legal system “stupid” in light of the decision. “I apologize, but despite my position I can’t find a more refined word [to describe the ruling],” he tweeted. He went on to accuse a “weak” Netanyahu of showing “zero leadership” in the face of “judicial activism.”

Palestinian Muslims shout at Jews at the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem on August 11, 2019, during the overlapping Jewish and Muslim holidays of Tisha B’Av and Eid al-Adha. (Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Smotrich was also highly critical of the premier after police on Sunday temporarily shut down the Temple Mount to Jewish visitors on Tisha B’Av, the annual Jewish day of mourning for the loss of the two temples that once stood at the contested Jerusalem holy site. Sunday was also Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday marking the end of the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

He accused Netanyahu of “a surrender to Arab terrorism and violence at the holiest place in Judaism.”

Netanyahu pushed back against the attacks later Sunday, asserting that he had never intended to close the Temple Mount to Jewish visitors and that his only consideration was “how to manage it optimally for the public’s safety, which is exactly what we did.”

“I am not impressed by all the recommendations of the Twitter cabinet,” Netanyahu added, alluding to criticism by Smotrich and United Right chairwoman Ayelet Shaked, among others. “Leadership is responsibility and determination. That is how we have acted, and that is how we will continue to act.”

Ayelet Shaked speaks at a press conference in Ramat Gan on July 21, 2019, after she is announced as the new head of the New Right party. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Shaked on Monday likened Smotrich to US President Donald Trump, telling Kan public radio that “his style is inappropriate, but he is absolutely right on substance.”

Speaking later to Kan, Smotrich refused to apologize or backtrack, saying he’s not “Miss Manners.”

Smotrich has come under attack several times for calling for Israel to be run according to Torah law.

His Twitter account was temporarily suspended last year after he tweeted that Ahed Tamimi, a Palestinian teen protester who was filmed slapping an IDF soldier, should have been shot. He was banned from the social media site for 12 hours for “offensive behavior,” along with a demand he remove the tweet.

More recently, he got into a heated social media battle with MK Stav Shaffir, calling the opposition lawmaker “stupid” after she took to Twitter to blame members of the religious right for the stabbing of a LGBTQ teen in Tel Aviv.

Smotrich, who has boasted of being a “proud homophobe,” has also tweeted that “someone at the top of the IDF has heatstroke” in response to the IDF’s reported efforts to increase the integration of transgender soldiers.

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