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Amid coalition rift, Netanyahu takes aim at opposition

“Today, it finally became clear that Gantz and Lapid looked for any way to blow up the talks,” said Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen after a Likud Party meeting at the Knesset, June 14, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen after a Likud Party meeting at the Knesset, June 14, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Despite the internal divisions within his coalition revealed by a botched vote on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directed his fire at the opposition.

The refusal of Likud Knesset member Tally Gotliv to heed Netanyahu’s call to withdraw her candidacy for the Judicial Selection Committee set off a chain of events on Wednesday leading to only the opposition candidate, MK Karine Elharrar, being elected to one of the committee’s two slots for lawmakers.

The result was embarrassing to Netanyahu as it meant that at least four members of his coalition had voted for Elharrar in the secret ballot, further pointing to lax party discipline.

Opposition members were quick to jump on Netanyahu’s perceived inability to control his ranks, with opposition leader Yair Lapid stating during a Wednesday press conference: “Once Netanyahu was a fraud and strong. Today he’s a fraud and weak.”

However, Netanyahu chose to ignore the splits within his party, instead focusing his attack on Lapid and National Unity Party head Benny Gantz, whom he accused of trying to torpedo judicial reform talks at the President’s Residence from the outset.

“Today it finally became clear that Gantz and Lapid looked for any way to blow up the talks,” Netanyahu said after the vote, accusing the opposition’s representatives of rejecting every coalition proposal, “even the most limited.”

“Gantz and Lapid don’t want real negotiations,” the prime minister charged. “I promise you that unlike them, we’ll act responsibly for our country.”

The vote, however, made evident that not everyone within the coalition agrees with regard to judicial reform—a package of bills aiming to reverse what Israel’s right views as decades of judicial takeover.

That split focuses on process. Netanyahu has sought as broad a consensus as possible, particularly after social unrest and mass protests against the reform package have roiled the country, arguing that reform laws enacted unilaterally will be overturned once the opposition comes to power.

However, coalition partners to Netanyahu’s right instead want to power the bills through parliament, arguing that the government has allowed itself to be bullied despite being in the majority.

They vented their anger after Wednesday’s vote.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, chairman of the Otzma Yehudit Party, referring to a Judicial Selection Committee reform bill put on hold by Netanyahu after its first reading, tweeted on Wednesday:

“I call on the prime minister, the minister of justice and the chairman of the constitution committee to immediately bring to a plenary vote the change in the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee for second and third readings. Reform now!”

‘Push it with all our might’

While careful not to criticize Netanyahu, members of his Likud Party also urged the government to shake off its self-imposed freeze on judicial reform legislation.

Likud MK Hanoch Milwidski, a member of the coalition’s negotiating team in judicial reform talks, tweeted on Thursday: “What we need to do is choose the first [judicial reform] law that is proper to promote and push it with all our might. And then the entire nation of Israel will know, and see who votes for the reform and who opposes it.”

Other Likud MKs came to Netanyahu’s defense. Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar dismissed a reporter who questioned Netanyahu’s continued popularity.

“We love Netanyahu,” said Zohar, denying that the events Wednesday pointed to any erosion of support for the prime minister.

The mismanaged vote nonetheless revealed growing anger among Netanyahu’s base, for which judicial reform is a central issue.

Channel 12 reported that many right-wing activists blamed Netanyahu in social media posts on Wednesday, outraged that an opposition candidate had emerged victorious with the help of coalition MKs.

“Bibi, you are not credible and certainly not right-wing. You buried the reform, you buried the Likud,” wrote one Otzma Yehudit activist.

“I and all my Likud colleagues don’t want to hear anymore; it’s better for the government to fall,” wrote another on Facebook.

The pro-Zionist group Im Tirtzu, normally supportive of Netanyahu, called for a demonstration in front of his home. “Enough of the compromises, the nation demands reform,” the group said.

“Im Tirtzu will hold a demonstration in front of the prime minister’s house in Caesarea in light of the incessant compromises to anarchists and the opposition,” the group said.

Said Matan Peleg, chairman of Im Tirtzu: “The time has come to tell the prime minister the truth: 64 mandates demand an end to the surrender. That’s not how you gain stability, that’s how you grow weaker and less able to act. We call on everyone who cares about the future of the country and democracy—to protest!”

On Wednesday, in an attempt to appease the right-wing base, Israeli Minister of Public Diplomacy Galit Distel Atbaryan tweeted:

“Not the salami method, but in one piece. 3 major laws of the reform will pass and make a historic change here. It was supposed to start immediately. Unfortunately, it was delayed today. Dear Right, breathe. This is going to happen in the coming weeks.”

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