Opposition figures castigate Netanyahu for speech ‘full of lies and incitement’

Lapid, Gantz call on PM to halt legislation and return to compromise talks before ‘civil war’ breaks out; Liberman says only solution is new government, constitution

File: Heads of opposition parties Labor MK Merav Michaeli, Yesh Atid head MK Yair Lapid, National Unity head MK Benny Gantz, Israel Beteinu head MK Avigdor Liberman and leader of the United Arab List MK Mansour Abbas hold a joint press conference in Tel Aviv, on March 16, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
File: Heads of opposition parties Labor MK Merav Michaeli, Yesh Atid head MK Yair Lapid, National Unity head MK Benny Gantz, Israel Beteinu head MK Avigdor Liberman and leader of the United Arab List MK Mansour Abbas hold a joint press conference in Tel Aviv, on March 16, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Opposition figures and protest groups on Thursday blasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a speech defending his hardline government’s efforts to cancel the judicial “reasonableness” test for governmental decisions, labeling the address as full of lies and incitement.

In his speech, Netanyahu said efforts were being made to reach broad agreement on the controversial bill, though it was unclear what measures he was referencing. The premier claimed that opposition politicians supported limits on the test of reasonableness, and that pressure from protesters dragged them away from the negotiating table last month when talks collapsed. He also charged that those refusing to show up for reserve military duty– as many have threatened if the “reasonableness” bill passes — represent the real threat to Israel’s democracy.

In response, opposition leader Yair Lapid accused Netanyahu of lying that he supported canceling the test of reasonableness, and charged that the government has neglected to take responsibility for the dire situation in the country.

“The one responsible for what is happening today to the economy, for the rupture in our society, particularly the harm to security, the one responsible for the army breaking apart from within, is the most extremist government in the history of the country,” Lapid said in a statement.

“It was them who decided to go with the extremist legislative process that is destroying the army, the economy, and the relationship with the Americans. They are destroying Israel from the inside,” he stated, referencing recent tensions with the Biden administration over the legislation.

Lapid called for a broad agreement on the matter, and said he was ready to return to negotiations at the President’s Residence as early as Friday if Netanyahu halts the legislative push.

Israelis protest the government’s judicial overhaul plans in Tel Aviv, on July 20, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“Don’t be held captive by [Justice Minister Yariv] Levin, [Religious Zionism MK Simcha] Rothman, [Finance Minister Bezalel] Smotrich and [National Security Minister] Ben Gvir,” he said.

“You know that extremist group does not have a mandate to turn Israel into a corrupt, non-democratic country. Stop the legislation because we are one nation and need to remain as one,” Lapid urged.

Other opposition parties also slammed Netanyahu’s address, with Benny Gantz’s National Unity faction saying the premier is bringing Israel to the “brink of civil war.”

“Netanyahu is talking about the need to unify the nation, and in effect is pushing us to an unprecedented historic crisis, on the brink of civil war,” the party said.

“We again call on Netanyahu to accept Gantz’s offer and to return to an outline of broad agreements that will stop the chaos and put Israel back on track to deal with the immense challenges it faces. History won’t forgive someone who chooses petty politics over the benefit of the State of Israel,” it added in a statement.

Unnamed National Unity sources cited by the Walla news site denied Netanyahu’s claims of ongoing talks for an agreement on the “reasonableness” bill, saying they’re unaware of any such negotiations with the coalition in recent days.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman called Netanyahu’s address a “spin aimed at conning the public and misdirecting the opposition and the protesters.” He added that it was merely an attempt to buy time and calm the anger at the government until he can pass the rest of the overhaul, saying the only solution is to “replace this Messianic government” and establish a constitution.

Labor party chair Merav Michaeli called Netanyahu’s speech “full of lies, incitement, and divisiveness.”

Itzik Zarka in a tie and suit. The goal is only for the personal interest of Netanyahu, and the result is the same, destruction and devastation,” she said, referencing a Likud activist who told anti-overhaul protesters earlier this week that “I wish another six million would be burned,” a remark that led to the premier ordering his removal from the party and to police opening a probe.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives an address from the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, July 20, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Protest organizers also said it was “a speech full of lies and incitement,” arguing that Netanyahu, “rather than keeping the country intact, is choosing dictatorship.

“This is the citizens’ time to go out and resist,” they added.

The Brothers and Sisters in Arms reservist protest group said: “Whoever expected responsible and unifying leadership in the lead up to Tisha B’Av [an upcoming fast day] received a stressed, inciteful, lying Bibi who is cheating the public.”

The group added that “[US President Joe] Biden, the [Bank of Israel] governor, [former attorney general Avichai] Mandelblit, the heads of the defense establishment, and the people” have all urged Netanyahu to withdraw the plans.

“Just as we protected the State of Israel for decades, we will continue to preserve and defend it as a Jewish and democratic country for generations. There is only a people’s army in a democracy,” the statement read.

Nationwide protests against the overhaul were held as Netanyahu gave his address.

In Tel Aviv, anti-overhaul protesters marched from Habima Square to the Ayalon Highway, and mounted police were deployed to try to prevent them from blocking the highway.

The second and third readings on the “reasonableness” bill, an amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary, will begin on Sunday in the Knesset plenum, and the bill is expected to be approved and passed into law on Monday or Tuesday. It would ban the Supreme Court and lower courts from using the reasonableness standard to review decisions made by the government and cabinet ministers.

The government’s overhaul push has sparked a massive wave of protests that have included rallying outside coalition ministers’ homes, blocking highways, disrupting airport operations, and other forms of civil disobedience.

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