Opposition leader Tzipi Livni on Monday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of stoking internal strife and pitting Israelis against each other, of silencing dissent and eroding Israel’s democratic safeguards, during a fiery Knesset speech Monday.
Livni spoke after Netanyahu at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session. The prime minister during his speech had presented a lengthy list of his accomplishments while slamming the “negative and bitter” left for not recognizing the progress.
“I listened to you propaganda speech, your egotistical speech that as usual moved to the usual incitement, the usual whining, attacks on the media. Are you occupied by anything besides what’s being written about you?” Livni said.
“It was hard for me to imagine that during the nation’s 70th year an elected government would contrive internal enemies for political, cynical purposes, that it would erode the glue that binds us together, that it would intentionally destroy all the institutions that help safe-keep democracy,” she said.
“If we were once outraged when citizens called the prime minister a traitor, now the prime minister calls his own people traitors. I know that with you Bibi it’s simply for cynical political purposes, but you’re causing people to hate their brothers,” Livni stated, using the prime minister’s nickname.
Livni claimed Netanyahu was habitually using “threats against public servants, judges, IDF commanders, artists [and] social activists to tow the line.
“I hope this is the last Knesset during which Benjamin Netanyahu is prime minister,” she said. “Israel cannot afford another of your terms. Israel is missing a leader.”
The Zionist Union legislator also said separation from the Palestinians was “necessary to keep Israel a Jewish majority country.
“Even if there’s a problem with your partner and peace is not around the corner, we won’t let you use the other side as a smokescreen for the goal you are advancing with every passing day: annexation, at the expense of the Jewish majority.”
Netanyahu earlier had praised his own achievements, saying that the country had gone through an “unprecedented revolution of advancements,” 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.”
“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.
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.
At the same session President Reuven Rivlin warned that growing internal Israeli divisions posed “a greater threat than nuclear bombs or terrorism” to the nation’s future.
“Victory in the battle between us means losing the war of existence,” Rivlin said. “It’s a greater threat than nuclear bombs or terrorism greater than the enemies who seek our destruction. The threat of internal division will always be the greatest threat of all.”
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.