In his first public address since new elections were called a day earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday relentlessly attacked Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman for what he claimed was an “obsession with bringing down right-wing governments.”
With Liberman having prevented Netanyahu from forming a majority coalition, a move that resulted in the Knesset voting to disband and send Israel back to the polls, the prime minister blamed the Yisrael Beytenu party chief for “dragging the country to unnecessary elections.”
Speaking at the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem in a 10 minute address laden with visual props, Netanyahu launched his initial campaign message ahead of the September ballot, taking no prisoners in his tirade on Liberman, repeating some of the criticism he voiced in the early hours of the morning during an angry diatribe against the Yisreal Beytenu leader.
Claiming, again, that he had won the last election on April 9 — despite only receiving 35 seats, the same as the Blue and White party — Netanyahu said he would have been able to form a coalition had it not been for Liberman’s “delusions of grandeur fueled by personal ambition.”
Addressing the public he said, “You voted in 65 MKs from parties who promised you that they would choose me to form a right-wing government. They all kept their promises. All except for Liberman.”
Netanyahu said that his former bureau chief turned-political-rival-then-ally-and-now-rival-again chose not to join the government because he is “the national saboteur when it comes to toppling the right. He’s obsessed.”
He “systemically topples right-wing governments,” Netanyahu charged, claiming that Liberman had caused the April elections and had tried to force new elections immediately after the 2015 national ballot.
Netanyahu said that he offered Liberman “everything he wanted,” but he still refused to join his government. “All of the sudden he’s against the ultra-Orthodox… he’s been making deals with them for 20 years.”
Netanyahu then detailed a long list of instances Liberman supposedly cooperated with the ultra-Orthodox or betrayed right-wing causes when it was in his interest.
Before Wednesday’s vote to dissolve the Knesset, Liberman had accused Netanyahu of “surrendering to the ultra-Orthodox.” While Yisrael Beytenu would have joined a right-wing government, he said, it would not join a “halachic coalition” — a reference to Jewish religious law.
Earlier on Wednesday night, Netanyahu issued his “final offer” to Yisrael Beytenu and the ultra-Orthodox parties on the contentious enlistment bill, which was promptly turned down by the key prospective coalition partners and drew an angry response from some of the premier’s longstanding Haredi allies.
Hours before a midnight deadline to form the coalition, both the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beytenu turned down Netanyahu’s offer that would have advanced the Defense Ministry version of a bill regulating the draft of the ultra-Orthodox into the military, but would not guarantee it would ever pass into law.
Liberman had repeatedly said he backs Netanyahu for prime minister, but would only join the government if there was a commitment to pass, unaltered, a version of the bill promoted during the previous Knesset. That draft of the bill is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, which want to soften its terms. Netanyahu needed both Yisrael Beytenu and the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox parties to form a majority government.
Netanyahu said the Yisrael Beytenu chief scuttled the negotiations because of a personal vendetta against him. “He doesn’t want me to be prime minister so he wont let anyone.”
The prime minister said that as a result of Liberman’s refusal to join, his Yisrael Beytenu party was “bleeding support.” And in a direct plea to voters who will cast ballots again in three and a half months, Netanyahu said that the answer to Liberman’s “tricks” was “very simply, to vote Likud instead.”
Responding to Netanyahu’s address, Yisrael Beytenu released a statement saying that the prime minister had “failed in the task of forming the government and is currently looking for whom to blame. That does not change the fact, however, that the sole responsibility for the repeat election is the Likud alone.”
The party said that “Netanyahu is under pressure because he knows that the public already understands who the real national right is, who wants to form a right-wing government and who tried to establish a halachic state.”