Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday launched a tirade against Israel’s media and political opposition, branding them “sourpusses” who downplay the country’s many successes.
Two Zionist Union MKs were removed from the Knesset plenary for heckling Netanyahu during his address and Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni walked out in protest, during the at-times heated opening of the Knesset’s winter session.
During his speech, Netanyahu revived his longtime critique of what he called the “industry of despair,” namely the political left and media, as opposition members responded with yelling and jeers from their seats.
“The industry of despair has a new branch — the branch of the sourpusses [literally ‘pickles’],” said Netanyahu. This camp, he opined, was only satisfied “when settlements are being evacuated” and ignored Israel’s numerous economic, diplomatic, and technological gains.
The characterization was met with a furious response by Zionist Union MK Hilik Bar, who shouted across the plenum: “We haven’t evacuated any settlements… you carried out the disengagement,” referring to the evacuation of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005 by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon.
“I am happy that concern for the settlements has trickled down to the opposition,” quipped Netanyahu, likely also referring to recent remarks by Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay, who said last week that settlements need not be evacuated during a future peace deal.
Bar was removed by security and his fellow party member MK Michal Biran was asked to leave over her own heckling a few moments later.
“When one camp expresses its opinion: this is freedom of speech. When the other camp expresses expresses its opinion: it’s divisiveness. This is the procedure. I have a lot of respect for democratic institutions; I have no respect for hypocrisy,” said Netanyahu.
Pivoting to the investigations into his affairs, Netanyahu hailed the submarine deal with Germany inked Monday, touting it as a victory that ostensibly shows there was no corruption tainting the multi-million dollar agreement.
The deal forms the basis of the so-called Case 3000, in which Netanyahu is not a suspect. Police suspect Israeli officials paid bribes in connection with the decision to buy three submarines from the German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp, despite opposition from the Defense Ministry.
“You also understand that this story is going down. Three hours ago, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the German government,” he said. “There are no submarines [to investigate], so what’s left? Cigars?” added Netanyahu, referring to other allegations against him involving accepting pricey gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan.
He ripped into the protesters who gather weekly outside the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who he says want to pressure the attorney general to indict him at whatever cost.
“They want to threaten the rule of law,” he said.
The prime minister is being investigated in two cases. Case 1000 relates to allegations that Netanyahu and his wife Sara received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing, has increasingly lashed out at the media amid developments in the cases, accusing the press of playing up the investigations against him in order to end his premiership.
Netanyahu’s speech was fiercely criticized by opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who accused the premier of dividing and “depressing” Israelis.
“Instead of giving your people security, you frighten them. Instead of giving them hope, you depress them… you divide and rip them apart,” Herzog told the plenum.
“You’ve turned anyone who thinks differently than you into an enemy,” added Herzog. “You’ve turned the word ‘left[-wing]’ into a synonym for enemy and even coalition lawmakers whose conscience will not rest find themselves under unprecedented attacks, simply because they dared express a moral position, and are branded a fifth column.”
Also taking aim at Netanyahu’s comments minutes later was Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who was singled out by the prime minister during his address and criticized for his efforts to lobby for Israel as a “shadow foreign minister.”
“There are two main issues that the Knesset will deal with in the upcoming session: The first subject is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His investigations, his hatreds, his paranoia. His attempts to threaten the police and pass laws to save himself,” said Lapid.
The Yesh Atid leader was referring to efforts by Likud lawmakers pushing for legislation that would prohibit police from probing a serving premier for fraud, bribery or breach of trust, amid the two ongoing criminal investigations into Netanyahu.
“After today, we can also add his lies [to the agenda]. You talk about how we didn’t help you with Iran, that you weren’t helped vis-a-vis the UN, and then at night you send your ministers to me to ask for help regarding the White House and US administration,” said Lapid. “How much can you lie in front of the entire plenum?”