Israel’s top Arab lawmaker on Monday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of trying to “spark a civil war” by inciting violence against the Knesset member’s community, and his deputy had a heated exchange with the leader of the Blue and White party over criticism of the IDF, following last week’s fighting in Gaza.
Netanyahu has stepped up his rhetoric against the possibility of Blue and White chief Benny Gantz forming a minority government backed by Israel’s Arab-led Knesset factions, in what some view as the beginning of a new potential election campaign. On Sunday, the premier held a rally where he said a minority government backed by the Arab-led Joint List party would be akin to a “terror attack.”
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh, in a statement Monday, contended that “Netanyahu’s speech wasn’t the beginning of a campaign — it was an attempt to spark a civil war.”
“There has never been a prime minister who gained so much from division, hate and racism,” he charged. “The more Jews and Arabs hate each other — the more he gains. His only hope is our despair. We won’t let him fuel the flames of hate. The civil war named after Benjamin Netanyahu will not break out.”
On Sunday evening, Netanyahu’s Likud party organized an “emergency rally” aimed aimed at “stopping the dangerous minority government that is reliant on terror supporters.”
There, the premier stepped up his attacks against the predominantly Arab Joint List, accusing the party’s members of seeking to “destroy the country.”
He claimed, without proof, that the Arab MKs support the Gaza terror organizations that Israel fought against last week.
Netanyahu said that a minority coalition “will be celebrated in Tehran, Ramallah, in Gaza, just as they celebrate every terror attack… But this will be a national historic terror attack on the State of Israel.”
In his statement, Odeh turned to Israel’s Arab and Jewish communities: “To the Arab community I say — we will not bow our heads! We will stand strong and united in the face of these attacks. I turn to you, the Jewish community. Nobody knows better than you the danger of charismatic leaders riding the putrid waves of hate and racism. Nobody knows like you what it is to be a persecuted minority.
“This is our time, Arabs and Jews, to show him that his time is over and that incitement won’t pass. It is time for courage. Let’s show him how strong we are together.”
Odeh on Sunday asked the police for extra protection, saying Netanyahu’s rhetoric was endangering his life.
Leaders of the Blue and White party lambasted Netanyahu over his speech, with its No. 2 Yair Lapid saying that the premier’s rhetoric sounded like that of a follower of Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Muslim worshipers, when he opened fire in Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994.
“The words coming out of Netanyahu’s mouth in the past few days are incitement to violence. They are words spoken by followers of Baruch Goldstein, not by a prime minister. It will end badly. He knows it will end badly. He’s been there,” Lapid said in a statement. Netanyahu was widely accused by the left of incitement in the period that led up to the 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
“We received — every citizen in the State of Israel — an ugly and dangerous show of hypocrisy, lies, and incitement right before our eyes,” said Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.
Later in the Knesset plenum, Gantz and Joint List No. 2 Ahmed Tibi exchanged words over Israel’s actions in Gaza, with the Blue and White leader advising Arab lawmakers to “not say the things you do about the IDF.”
Gantz last week supported Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians said 35 people were killed — mostly terrorists, according to Israel — but the toll also included eight family members killed in a building that had been believed to be empty. More than 450 rocket were launched at Israeli cities and communities, wounding dozens but causing no deaths or serious injuries.
Responding to Gantz, Tibi remarked that “We have our differences with Gantz. Nobody will educate us when we cry out against harming civilians, when we mention the Al-Sawarkeh family, eight members of which were killed.”
Gantz responded by quipping that while “the IDF is investigating how the mistake happened,” Palestinian terror groups Hamas and PIJ were “investigating how they didn’t hurt civilians.”
Tibi also praised Gantz for his “brave” condemnation of Netanyahu’s speech.
Gantz, who has until Wednesday night to form a coalition, has been trying to negotiate a unity government with Netanyahu’s Likud party, but said Monday that he “has come to understand that he’s been talking to a wall — talking to a bloc,” referring to the 55-member union of right-wing, religious parties that have insisted on negotiating as a single unit.
Gantz called on Netanyahu to break away from the bloc and negotiate independently with Blue and White in order to form a government in the two days that remain before he must return the mandate to President Reuven Rivlin.
If Gantz fails to form a coalition, as Netanyahu did before him, Knesset members will have a further 21 days to choose any candidate to be given the mandate or decide to head back to elections — the third in less than a year.
Though the former IDF chief of staff has no realistic path to forming a majority coalition without Likud, he could presumably form a minority government, provided Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman came on board, with the external backing of the predominantly Arab Joint List.
Gantz has met with leaders of the Joint List recently, but has not said whether he supports the establishment of a minority government with the support of the Arab-majority parties. Arab politicians have said they have not received a concrete proposal from Gantz for such a move.
A minority government would hinge on the support of Liberman, who has previously campaigned on tough policies against Arab Israelis, and who regularly denounces Joint List MKs as illegitimate political figures. He said on Sunday that any minority government would be a “disaster” for the country.
Odeh has called on Gantz to form a minority government that includes the Arabs, saying that even if it would quickly fall, such a “courageous” move would be worth it for the single purpose of ending Netanyahu’s term as prime minister.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.