An ongoing spat between Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz flared up during a recent cabinet meeting and ended with the latter being sent from the room by the prime minister.
The tiff, reported by Channel 2 on Tuesday, happened when the security cabinet met on Saturday night to discuss cuts to the defense budget. Steinitz, a member of the Likud party, was finance minister in the previous government and was invited to the meeting to give his opinion.
However, the meeting also dealt with the rapidly developing issue of restarting peace talks with the Palestinians. When the issue of peace talks came up, Lapid pointed out that Steinitz was not a regular member of the security cabinet and should therefore leave the room, which Steinitz refused to do.
An irate Lapid then suggested, mockingly, that if nonmembers were allowed to attend the meeting, they should invite Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, a member of Lapid’s own Yesh Atid party who is a former head of the Shin Bet security service.
“He has a stronger national security background than any of us,” Lapid said, and then added, in a direct jab at his predecessor, “In fact, he knows more about the economy than Steinitz.”
When Steinitz persisted in his refusal to exit, Lapid appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to settle the spat.
“Mister prime minister, an agreement is an agreement, and regulations are regulations,” Lapid said.
Netanyahu then asked Steinitiz to leave.
“Yuval, please go out and in an hour I’ll call you back for the second meeting,” Netanyahu reportedly said.
According to the report, an exasperated Steinitz got up and left in a huff.
“What are they doing to me?” he muttered under his breath. “How can they treat me like this?”
The two ministers have recently clashed over the state of the economy and budget cuts.
When Lapid took over as finance minister in March he lamented the “monstrous deficit” faced by the country, which he attributed to “wasting money we didn’t have and making commitments we shouldn’t have made.”
Steinitz responded by saying that the budget difficulties were caused by the social protest movement that in 2011 demanded affordable housing and other government measures to curb poverty and reduce the cost of living. The social protest movement was seen as generating a large portion of the votes that made Lapid’s Yesh Atid party the second-largest faction in the Knesset after the January 2012 elections.
Steinitz is considered a protégé of Netanyahu and is said to be favored by the prime minister’s wife, Sara. However, in the recent Likud primaries he placed near the bottom of the party’s list, which meant that Netanyahu couldn’t give him a senior ministership and had to leave him out of the security cabinet.