Opening Knesset, Netanyahu rips opposition for ignoring ‘fantastic progress’

PM accuses ‘negative and bitter’ political rivals of spreading falsehoods; says media is censoring itself; hails ties with Russia and US

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the winter session of the Knesset on October 15, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the winter session of the Knesset on October 15, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday delivered a gushing review of his and Israel’s achievements over the past decade, saying that the country has gone through an “unprecedented revolution of advancements” and slamming the “negative and bitter” opposition for not recognizing the progress.

Speaking at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session, Netanyahu mounted what looked like a test run for a campaign stump speech, presenting lawmakers with a lengthy list of accomplishments, hailing close ties with the US and Russia, and pushing back against claims from the left that he was undermining democracy.

“We have raised the [average] income to an all time high, we have raised the minimum wage to an all time high, we have raised public investment to an all time high,” he boasted from the Knesset podium.

The speech came as the Knesset reconvened for the first time after passing the controversial nation-state law in July in an 11th-hour session. The law, which enshrines the country as a Jewish state, has been met with a furious backlash from minorities and others, who said it made Israel less democratic among other criticism.

“Despite all the achievements, there is a small minority that, with pure brazenness says: You have stolen our state, you have taken our state away from us,” he charged. “So I want to say to you and I want you to listen to me carefully — our state is not stolen, our state is amazing. You should get used to it because this is the new Israel.”

Saying that the opposition has been repeatedly and chronically “wrong” in their criticism of his government, Netanyahu said recent claims about a weakening of Israel’s courts and democracy are “just absurd” and “empty.”

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, on October 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The courts are not in any danger,” Netanyahu said. “In every democracy, there are arguments on the balance between the authorities and within the authorities.”

“What bothers you is not the loss of democracy, but the loss of the leftocracy,” he said.

The characterization was met with a furious response by opposition MKs who  responded with shouts of “liar.”

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, invoking a protocol to allow him to eject lawmakers during the opening of the Knesset without the usual three strikes, had at least seven removed for interrupting.

Instead of the government limiting freedoms, Netanyahu went on, “those who limit the freedom of the speech in the media is the media itself,” he said angrily.

“It’s your right to criticize, to propose changes or amendments; constructive criticism is crucial in democracy,” said Netanyahu, but slammed claims that  Israel is descending into fascism or apartheid as over the top.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Israeli parliament during the opening of the winter session on October 15, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu also hailed ties with Russia, saying he is in “direct, frequent contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin” to confront the “complex, very difficult challenges in our region.”

Israel’s ties with Moscow have become strained in recent weeks over the downing of  a Russian plane in Syria last month, and Russia’s recent delivery of its advanced S-300 air defense system to the Syrian regime.

But Netanayahu said his personal relationship with Putin has enabled a “trust” between the two countries like never before.

“This is very important for Israel’s security,” he said.

He also touted a “vast deepening in our ties with the United States of America,” and thanked President Donald Trump by name on three separate occasions.

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations General Assembly on September 26, 2018, at UN Headquarters (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

He slammed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s failure to condemn the “brutal and cruel” killing of two Israelis in the Barkan industrial zone in the West Bank last Sunday, which, he said, proves that the Palestinians are the obstacle to peace, not Israel.

“Peace is our soul’s desire… I am doing everything to prevent unnecessary wars,” he said, before adding that Israel will not hesitate to fight when required, in an apparent reference to escalating tensions in Gaza.

He also said Israel was acting as he spoke against Iranian aggression.

“We are working against Iran’s regime militarily in Syria, even in these very days, and President Trump is working against it economically around the world,” he said.

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