Amidst the unfolding political drama in Israel, the so-called change bloc’s prime minister-designate has urged the embattled premier Benjamin Netanyahu to “let go” and not leave “scorched earth” behind him.
At a press conference on Sunday evening, Naftali Bennett took a swipe at his former boss, saying “any regime that atrophies and degenerates after many years is replaced.”
The former Israeli minister of military affairs called on Knesset speaker Yariv Levin to convene the plenum on Wednesday to vote on the new regime, four days after Israeli opposition figures finalized a late-night deal to end Netanyahu's 12-year rule.
“That’s what’s appropriate,” Bennett said. “I know Netanyahu is pressing you… to allow more days to search for defectors.”
His statement came immediately after the leaders of eight political parties met in Tel Aviv for the first time since last week’s announcement to form a coalition against the sitting premier.
The Yamina party chief said the new regime “is not a catastrophe, not a disaster”, after reports surfaced about right-wing supporters of Netanyahu staging angry protests.
Bennett denounced the “violent machine” he said had been put in motion against members of Yamina and Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope to pressure them to oppose the new coalition through “a funded and directed operation.”
He said he had heard Netanyahu telling supporters: “Don’t be afraid to lay into them.”
“‘Laying into them’ includes following [Yamina MK] Idit Silman with a car for a whole day with loudspeakers blaring, to scare her children on the way to school… to issue curses and threats every which way,” Bennett said, terming such tactics “worrying.”
Netanyahu, in response, called his former cabinet colleague and trusted aide a “habitual liar”.
Speaking to the right-wing Channel 20 after Bennett’s comments, the embattled premier said the developing regime was “more dangerous than the [2005 Gaza] Disengagement and Oslo [Accords].”
On Sunday, Yamina leaders Nir Orbach and Idit Silman were given extra security protection, after being targeted by right-wing activists for backing the coalition deal.
The attacks came a day after the head of the Shin Bet security agency issued a rare warning that rising incitement and hate speech on social media could lead to political violence.
Nadav Argaman warned of politically-instigated violence similar to the takeover of the US Capitol building in Washington DC early this year.
“We have recently identified a serious rise and radicalization in violent and inciting discourse, specifically on social media,” Argaman said in a statement, warning that such online chatter could lead some groups or individuals to take violent action and even harm others.
The sitting premier, meanwhile, lashed out at social media giants Facebook and Twitter after some right-wing figures, including his son Yair, had their accounts temporarily blocked for sharing a poster for a protest outside a Yamina lawmaker’s home.
Netanyahu urged right-wing politicians to reject the new regime "that endangers Israel, a danger that we haven’t known for many years,” vowing to prevent its establishment.
Speaker Levin, who is seen as a Netanyahu ally, is set to inform the Knesset on Monday of opposition politician Yair Lapid’s announcement that he and his allies have put together a majority coalition to oust the sitting premier.
Levin has up to a week to hold the confidence vote, and has been widely expected to use that period in order to give Netanyahu and his political partners enough time to try to thwart the new formation.
However, even without his vote, there would still be 60 votes backing the anti-Netanyahu coalition against lawmakers who are opposed to it, paving the way for the new regime to take over.
Netanyahu, who has been at the helm for 12 years in addition to a three-year spell from 1996-1999, is urging right-wing members of the new coalition to defect.
Tzachi Hanegbi, his key ally, said Friday that Likud would “fight to the end” to prevent it.
The newly-formed anti-Netanyahu coalition brings together eight parties across the political divide. Bennett is set to serve as the premier until September 2023, with Lapid to succeed him for the subsequent two years, according to the deal.
Although the new political formation was in the offing for long, the recent debacle in the 11-day war on Gaza, in which the Palestinian resistance front emerged as a clear winner, was the final nail in the Netanyahu regime’s coffin.
New premier no dove
Israel’s prime minister-designate Bennett, while projecting himself as different from Netanyahu, has openly boasted about "killing lots of Arabs" and has called for permanent apartheid and occupation.
Israel’s incoming prime minister Naftali Bennett openly boasted about killing lots of Arabs and seeks permanent apartheid and occupation.— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) June 3, 2021
And the west is just gonna pretend that Israel is a normal country and everything is great now that Netanyahu is out? https://t.co/gTV4CiTAII pic.twitter.com/X1cuoZEEmK
A video posted on his official YouTube page recently presented a colorfully animated account of the far-right politician’s plan, with a lighthearted tone that belies its deeply serious message, reported the Guardian.
“There are some things that we all know will never happen,” says a narrator in a carefree voice. “The Sopranos will never return for another season … And a peace agreement with the Palestinians will not happen.”
The 49-year-old Yamina leader is infamous for incendiary comments about the Palestinians.
In 2013, he said the Palestinian “terrorists should be killed, not released”, and in 2018 – the same year Palestinian rallies at the Gaza frontier were met with lethal force – Bennett said Israeli troops should have a “shoot to kill” policy, including for minors.
“I would not allow terrorists to cross the border from Gaza every day,” he said. Asked about the army targeting children, he replied, “They are not children. They are terrorists. We are fooling ourselves.”