Opposition rips into Netanyahu at fiery Knesset session: ‘This isn’t your house’
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Bennett: 'Get hold of yourselves... People are dying'

Opposition rips into Netanyahu at fiery Knesset session: ‘This isn’t your house’

Lapid lashes premier over recent protests outside his residence, saying ‘You’re not the landlord here’; premier dismisses criticism: ‘I heard your baseless claims’

Opposition lawmakers heckle Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he speaks in the Knesset, August 5, 2020. (Screenshot/Knesset Channel)
Opposition lawmakers heckle Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he speaks in the Knesset, August 5, 2020. (Screenshot/Knesset Channel)

Opposition lawmakers lined up to castigate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a special Knesset plenum session on Wednesday, attacking him for mismanaging the coronavirus crisis and economic fallout, for his rhetoric and for alleged corruption.

Netanyahu responded by branding the mass protests against him illegitimate and leveled personal attacks against some of his critics, including opposition head Yair Lapid.

The session on “the shocking failure of Netanyahu and the government in dealing with the coronavirus crises,” initiated by the left-wing Meretz party, was called after lawmakers gathered the necessary 40 signatures requiring the prime minister to attend.

The heads of the opposition parties took turns speaking. Leading off, Meretz chief Nitzan Horowitz said Netanyahu’s continued rule would bring “disaster” upon Israel and laid out three “indictments” against the prime minister over his handling over the coronavirus, in a riff on the three graft cases the premier is facing.

“Abandoning the State of Israel to the coronavirus, corruption and persecution of the law enforcement system, and incitement, division and an effort to suppress legitimate protests,” Horowitz said.

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, a right-wing rival of the prime minister whose party is rising in the polls, accused Netanyahu of ignoring his requests to discuss plans to tackle the pandemic.

“All these entreaties weren’t political. I have no interest in entering the most swollen and opaque government in the history of the state, but I want to help,” Bennett said.

“When I was defense minister, I worked on Shabbat [to tackle the pandemic]. I broke the sabbath for pikuah nefesh (to save lives),” said Bennett, who served in the defense post in the final period of the last government. “Get hold of yourselves,” he said in an appeal to coalition leaders. “Understand, we have a people who are dying.”

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett seen during a visit in downtown Jerusalem on August 5, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Avigdor Liberman, head of Yisrael Beytenu, accused Netanyahu of branding any criticism of his government “incitement” and quoted a Knesset speech the prime minister made in 1995: “An atmosphere of silencing political rivals is a true danger to every free society.”

Netanyahu pushed back against the opposition lawmakers’ criticism, saying, “I heard all your baseless claims… I understand that even if I brought a coronavirus vaccine here, and world peace, you’d say ‘why only now?’”

“I’m working with the finance minister on additional plans. They will be presented to the government and the public in the very near future. I’m talking to the public. I’m attentive to the public,” Netanyahu said.

He claimed ongoing protests against him outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem were funded by left-wing groups and again lashed out at the media for its coverage of the demonstrations.

“The demonstrations are political. After the protest they go out to breakfast in luxury hotels,” Netanyahu claimed. “On your side, the left, everything is political. Coronavirus is political, the economy is political and the protests are political. I’m not talking about the demonstrations by people who were hurt by the coronavirus. I meet with them. I meet with the restaurant owners. I meet with business owners.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset, August 5, 2020. (Screenshot/Knesset Channel)

“I’m talking about other protests. Those that were organized by the left, funded by left-wing foundations, and are getting disproportionate media coverage,” Netanyahu said, while being heckled at the podium by opposition MKs. “It’s ‘fake news,’ streamed live.”

“The media enlists people, and gets enlisted, telling us that the left-wing protests are spontaneous, but the spontaneous protests of the left are the most organized protests ever. The spontaneous protests are organized in luxury hotels and high rise towers,” Netanyahu said.

“In many countries around the world the opposition is enlisting in the struggle against the coronavirus on the side of the government. In Israel, it’s the opposite. We are fighting the disease, the left is fighting the government,” he said.

Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid faction, responded to Netanyahu’s speech.

“We paid for the chair you’re sitting on now. It’s not yours. It’s the Israeli citizens’. You’re not the landlord here. You’re a wage worker,” Lapid said. “You know why the protesters are coming to Balfour [the Prime Minister’s Residence]? Because they’re the landlords. This isn’t your house, it’s their house. They came to tell you the lease is over.”

He also rejected Netanyahu’s assertion that the ongoing protests against the premier outside his official residence in Jerusalem are strictly partisan.

“They won’t fire you because they’re leftists. They won’t fire you because they’re anarchists or spreaders of disease, or any other of the ugly names you called them. They’ll fire you for one very simple reason… because you don’t do good work. Once you did, but no longer,” Lapid said.

In a further exchange, Netanyahu berated Lapid for his aspirations to be prime minister.

MK Yair Lapid speaks at the Maariv newspaper conference in Herzliya, on February 26, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“What a prime minister of Israel needs is to have an education,” Netanyahu said. “There are a few more things that you need to get done in order to become prime minister.”

Lapid shot back, saying, “I stressed you out. To get up here and attack me personally is like informing everyone, ‘Guys, watch out, he’s a legitimate candidate for prime minister.’”

At least five MKs were ejected from the plenum after yelling during Netanyahu’s speech despite being called to order, including Yisrael Beytenu’s Eli Avidar, the Joint List’s Heba Yazbak and Meretz’s Tamar Zandberg, Ynet reported.

Protesters have been holding regular rallies outside the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, as well as in Tel Aviv and other areas, calling on the premier to resign due to his indictment on corruption charges. They have been joined in recent weeks by people protesting the government’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic, with crowds in the thousands and rising.

The latest Jerusalem rally on Saturday night drew some 10,000 participants, according to estimates.

Netanyahu has slammed media coverage of the protests, which he claims blows them out of proportion. On Saturday night, he again lashed out at TV news stations, as his Likud party accused the major networks, channels 12 and 13, of “delivering propaganda for the anarchist left-wing demonstrations.”

The premier is on trial for a series of cases in which he allegedly received lavish gifts from billionaire friends and traded regulatory favors with media moguls for more favorable coverage of himself and his family. He has denied any wrongdoing, accusing the media and law enforcement of a witch hunt to oust him from office.

Israel and Netanyahu initially drew praise for handling the first wave of the coronavirus crisis, but a second wave has led to a spike in infections and a chaotic government response with a faltering rollout of financial aid and lockdown restrictions.

During a national lockdown in March-April, the economy came to an almost total standstill. Unemployment soared to 26 percent and over a million Israelis were out of work. Over the past few months restrictions have mostly been lifted, but unemployment remains at around 21.6% with some 800,000 Israelis jobless, according to the Israeli Employment Service on Tuesday.

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