In a recording aired by Channel 13 Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is heard calling his right-wing rival Naftali Bennett “a little dog.”
The 2018 recording was made by Nir Hefetz, a former Netanyahu aide who later turned state’s witness in a series of graft cases that the premier has been indicted in.
Channel 13 said more recordings made by Hefetz, which he handed over to police, will air on Monday and in the near future. It was not clear how the recordings made their way to Channel 13. Netanyahu has railed at repeated leaks from the investigations into his affairs.
The network said the recorded conversation between Netanyahu and Hefetz was held after Bennett, who was then the education minister, criticized the prime minister following the police recommendation in February 2018 that he face criminal charges.
“Receiving gifts in such a wide-scale manner, for such a long period does not live up to the expectations of Israelis,” Bennett said then of Netanyahu’s alleged receipt of countless gifts from billionaire benefactors in return for various favors.
The recording goes as follows:
Hefetz: “By the way, Bennett was such a loser.”
Netanyahu: “Yeah, well, he’s a little dog.”
Netanyahu: “Are there any reactions to him?”
Hefetz: “No, no, it’s nothing… he [Bennet] sent a message back to me. I didn’t call so as not to annoy you. He told me, ‘Listen, we cut you a big break, don’t start with us, we know how to fight too.”
Netanyahu: “So what?”
Hefetz: “(Laughs). Yeah, he’s a fool. Know what, he’s a fool.”
Hefetz: “The correct political calculation for him is to be quiet, to do what [Moshe] Kahlon did.”
Listen to the Hebrew recording here:
— חדשות 13 (@newsisrael13) November 14, 2020
Netanyahu has since been charged in court in three criminal cases involving his alleged illicit relations with benefactors and quid pro quo deals with media moguls. He denies wrongdoing. His trial is expected to move into high gear in January, with Hefetz a key witness.
Responding to the recording, Bennett said in a tweet that, “Netanyahu’s personal attacks do not hurt me, but his personal considerations hurt us all.”
The Yamina leader claimed that Netanyahu had rejected his proposal for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic due to “irrelevant political and personal considerations.”
“Had the courage to work for the citizens of Israel outweighed his fear of my success, he would probably have avoided the enormous economic, health and mental suffering of millions of Israeli citizens,” Bennett said. “It is time for a new leadership for Israel.”
Netanyahu and Bennett’s relationship has long been rocky. The Yamina leader served in Netanyahu’s cabinet between 2013 and 2020 but was left out of the current coalition. He has since become a harsh critic of the prime minister and his party has steadily risen in polls as public opinion of Netanyahu has taken a hit during the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite their enmity and abuse by the premier, Bennett has consistently recommended Netanyahu as prime minister in the wake of all elections he’s taken part in, saying there is no real alternative to his leadership. This appears to have changed recently, with Yamina saying Bennett will be a candidate for the premiership in the next national election.
In recent months he has repeatedly attacked Netanyahu over his handling of the virus crisis, accusing him of dishonesty and saying he’s failed on the pandemic and is more concerned with his criminal trial than the good of the country.
In August, Bennett admitted the two had “personal” issues.
When asked what Netanyahu had against him personally, Bennett said, “You’re asking if it’s personal? The answer is yes. I always avoided talking about it.
“First of all I want to say I respect Prime Minister Netanyahu very much. Israel won a victory by having him as our prime minister for such a long time. He did great things for the benefit of Israel,” Bennett said.
He added, however, that Netanyahu had attacked him, his parents, his wife, and “hurt his children.”
“Bibi has something personal against me,” Bennett said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname. “I submitted a plan to defeat the coronavirus on March 29th to the prime minister, and he did not implement it, and he knew it was correct, because he was afraid of me, that I would succeed.
“Because he didn’t implement that plan at the time, hundreds of thousands of people are suffering,” Bennett charged.
In December of 2018 Bennett lashed out at Netanyahu after Channel 12 reported that the premier had used his relationship with businessman Shaul Elovitch to seek negative coverage of Bennett’s wife.
The report said that Netanyahu asked Elovitch, who owned Walla news, to “publish a negative report that Gilat, Naftali Bennett’s wife, served as a chef at non-kosher restaurants. They didn’t agree to publish such a thing.”
An incensed Bennett wrote on Twitter: “I feel sorry for you Mr. Netanyahu. You took the trouble to personally call the owner of Walla to hurt my wife. This was a vile and cowardly act. Shame on you. I married Gilat, a wonderful woman, an Israeli from a secular and principled family, and together we built a wonderful religious Zionist home. My family is the pride of my life.
“Don’t apologize to me, I’m not interested. Apologize to my wife.”
Bennett remained in Netanyahu’s cabinet following those comments, and recommended Netanyahu as prime minister in two subsequent elections.
With Bennett’s right-wing opposition party seeing a massive bump in its polling numbers, Yamina has increasingly been calling for frehs elections, touting Bennett as a replacement for Netanyahu.
A new election has become increasingly likely amid ongoing infighting between Likud and Blue and White in their power-sharing coalition, with tensions expected to come to a head in the coming weeks over the long-absent state budget.
Recent polls have shown Likud dropping from its current 35 seats in the Knesset to some 26-28, while Yamina more than quadruples its power from 5 to 22-23, becoming the second-largest party.
Bennett is also nearing Netanyahu in polls on fitness to be prime minister. One recent survey showed 32 percent view Netanyahu as the best man for the job, while 28% see Bennett that way.
Netanyahu last month took a shot at Bennett’s growing popularity, saying: “I’m not worried about the polls. I never succeed in the polls, only elections.”