Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced mounting criticism from opposition lawmakers on Tuesday after he told a woman who interrupted his speech that she was “boring.”
Pushing back against the sharp responses, Netanyahu said that the incident caught him amid “deep pain and grief” at the death hours earlier of his close friend and personal defense lawyer Yaakov Weinroth. Stopping short of an apology, he said he usually has no problem with hecklers but felt this was “inappropriate.”
Netanyahu has been visiting the northern city of Kiryat Shmona to inaugurate a new emergency room with Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.
The woman, Orna Peretz, protested the closure of an emergency room in the area, echoing frequent complaints by residents of northern Israel that they are discriminated against and have to travel far for high-level medical facilities.
In response, Netanyahu told her: “Look, you’re simply uninteresting. You’re boring us. We want to discuss things that interest us. Come back when you have something interesting to say.”
Those remarks earned the premier an ovation from the crowd, but Peretz retorted, “I vote for you every four years, and if that’s how you treat your public then shame on you.”
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni quickly attacked the prime minister on Twitter, calling for voters to cast ballots against him in the upcoming election.
“Netanyahu sees only himself, this is the truth that has come to the light. It’s time he can no longer rely on your votes at the poll,” she wrote.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak tweeted that Netanyahu was a “walking joke” and that “he does not serve us, the citizens. He thinks we should serve him.”
Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay responded to the prime minister’s comments by saying that “the role of public figures is to listen and fix what is needed. It’s really not boring,” according to Channel 10 news.
Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz wrote in a Facebook post that the Israeli leader was not interested in the problems facing the public.
“They bore him — the citizens. Even those who elect him. How much can you bug him about rubbish such as lines for doctor’s appointments? About reasonably priced housing? About reasonably priced groceries? That bores him. It doesn’t interest him.
“The only interesting thing is what they wrote about him, what they said about him. Who is with him and who is against him,” wrote Peretz.
Peretz, a resident of Sderot, also noted the continued violence on the Gaza border, noting that “the incendiary balloons are also boring.”
MK Merav Michaeli of the Zionist Union faction also responded to the prime minister’s words on Twitter: “Oh, that’s why Netanyahu ignores the murder of women, the violence against women, the rape and the sexual harassment of workers even in his office. We bore him.”
“This is Netanyahu’s real face,” Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel said, according to Channel 10. “This is what he really thinks about the residents of the periphery who complain and yet still vote for him. This is also what he thinks of the residents of the Gaza border area who have been under fire for half a year. And how thinks of anyone who thinks differently from him. Listen and see it again and again – this is a prime minister who needs to go home.”
After footage of the incident emerged online, Netanyahu’s office accused the woman of “crossing all moral and human lines” by interrupting him while he was talking about his former lawyer Yaakov Weinroth, who died Tuesday morning aged 71 after a battle with cancer.
“Unfortunately, the full picture isn’t being presented,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. “We are talking about a woman who interrupted the prime minister, including when he wanted to talk about Yaakov Weinroth.
“The woman shouted ‘Sad day,’ and the prime minister responded that indeed it is a sad day due to Yaakov Weinroth’s death, but unfortunately she decided to interrupt him anyway,” the statement said.
It cited officials close to Netanyahu as saying he “doesn’t normally respond like that to people who interrupt his speeches, but she crossed all moral and human lines when she chose to interrupt while he was speaking about Weinroth’s death. That interruption while he wanted to talk about his friend hurt the prime minister very much.”
Footage from the incident showed that prior to the interruption, the prime minister was speaking about the new emergency room, not Weinroth.
Netanyahu later responded on Twitter, saying the incident took place “only a few hours after I was informed of the death of my close friend, attorney Jacob Weinroth. I’m used to criticism and I have no problem with interruptions. I’ve received thousands of such calls in my life. But today, in deep pain and grief, I felt that it simply was not appropriate.”
Orna Peretz later expressed her dismay at the incident in an interview with a local radio channel.
“He just yelled at me, and everyone applauded him,” she said. “What is happening here is they are laughing in our faces.”
Separately, central opposition figure Yair Lapid was also interrupted Tuesday morning while speaking at a conference in Jerusalem organized by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
מתוך ועידת ישראל ללכידות חברתית של הליגה נגד השמצה pic.twitter.com/YRTA4JYNsw
— מעריב אונליין (@MaarivOnline) October 16, 2018
Several people in the crowd started shouting at the Yesh Atid party leader that he was making a political speech against Netanyahu in a conference meant to promote unity, with one saying: “What you’re doing is dividing and defaming, shame on you.”
Lapid replied that young Israelis should stand up for social unity in the face of “lies,” but shortly afterward decided to abandon the rest of his speech and step off the stage.
His office issued a statement saying that “the attempt to shut me up with shouts from the audience at the ADL conference didn’t succeed. The people who yell don’t intimidate me. Political correctness won’t cause us to be a real democracy — battling against politicians corrupting Israeli society will.”