Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday made his first public appearance since last week’s announcement by former Opposition Leader Yair Lapid that he had succeeded in forming a new government.
We are witnessing the worst election scam in the history of our country
“We are witnessing the worst election scam in the history of our country,” a distraught Netanyahu accused in a televised speech.
“This government will not be able to stand up to American’s desire to return to the Iran nuclear deal, which will give Iran atomic bombs with which to threaten us.”
“Their cabinet won’t approve one bold action beyond enemy lines, within Iran,” he warned, addressing for the first time the intended coalition of far-right, centrist and far-left parties set to be sworn in next week, dethroning the longest-serving premier in Israeli history.
Former Netanyahu ally Naftali Bennett will head the “change” government, if it is formed, for its first two years; Lapid will lead the government for the subsequent two.
Bennett’s coalition is currently slated to eke out a slim majority over the Netanyahu-led nay votes after one of Bennett’s Yamina party members last month declared his intention to oppose the new government.
Yet the government’s successful formation is anything but assured, as more than a week remains before the fateful parliament vote.
Under the guidance of Netanyahu and his right-wing allies in parliament, protests outside the homes of the remaining Yamina MPs thought to be wavering over supporting the unity government have ratcheted up in recent days, with hundreds of the prime minister’s supporters staging raucous demonstrations.
The rallies, set to intensify this week ahead of the crucial vote, have also included frenzied protesters burning pictures of Bennett and his party members while condemning the right-wing lawmakers as “traitors” to their country.
On Saturday evening, Israel’s top internal security official, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, issued an extremely rare public statement, warning of a noticeable radicalization of the “incitement-filled public discourse” in recent weeks, which could potentially lead to “violent and illegal activity and even loss of life.”
The general message, which was careful not to single out any one politician, called on “public officials” to do more to end the escalating rhetoric on social media and other platforms.
Freedom of speech is not incitement to violence. People feel betrayed and rightly so. You can’t shut them up, you can’t silence the criticism against this fraudulent government
On Friday, Netanyahu published a Facebook post comparing right-wing politicians who choose to join hands with leftist parties to the 10 Israelite spies of the Bible, who were accused of treacherously lying to and betraying their people.
“We condemn any incitement and violence on both sides, even while others stay silent as the incitement against us, against me and my family, rages on,” Netanyahu said Sunday following Argaman’s public address.
“Freedom of speech is not incitement to violence. People feel betrayed and rightly so. You can’t shut them up, you can’t silence the criticism against this fraudulent government.”
Another hurdle shaping up to potentially upend the “change” government’s formation is a newly scheduled protest march of conservative, religious and right-wing organizations through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
The controversial, explosive parade, planned for this Thursday, has already drawn condemnations by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other members of parliament’s center-left bloc, who fear a rerun of last month’s tragic events.
While May’s identical march was eventually diverted due to police warnings of grave security concerns, other areas in Jerusalem prone to Jewish-Arab tensions – such as the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and the Old City, itself – erupted in violence, leading to a rapid escalation and 12 days of fighting on Israel’s southern border with Gaza.
Many in the designated unity government blamed Netanyahu for stoking the flames and sending his allies to sensitive “powder-keg” Jerusalem locations, with the intention of thwarting a Lapid-Bennett coalition that was then starting to build a head of steam.
Carrying an Israeli flag through the streets of our capital is not incitement but a Zionistic, patriotic act
Yehuda Wald, director-general of the far-right Religious Zionism party, insisted the march was “not a political but a moral, educational and ideological event.”
The party, closely aligned with Netanyahu, is billed as one of the march’s sponsors.
“Carrying an Israeli flag through the streets of our capital is not incitement but a Zionistic, patriotic act,” Wald told The Media Line on Sunday.
Following a threat assessment meeting with security officials on Saturday night, Gantz said he would demand not to approve the march’s planned route, which could potentially “interfere with the public order and Israel’s ongoing diplomatic processes.”
Matan Peleg, head of the Im Tirtzu NGO that is one of the event’s organizers, told The Media Line the event was planned separately by a number of groups, “immediately after the last flag march was canceled in May.”
“We decided that whatever happens, after the rocket fire from Gaza stops, we’ll work to hold another rally. So the timing has nothing to do with political developments of the recent days.”
Wald added that “we’ve never held a second rally in previous years, that’s true. But in previous years our marches were also never interrupted by missiles from Gaza.”
A police spokesman told The Media Line that the march’s route was being discussed Sunday and that once a decision was made regarding the event’s details and security implications, it would be published.
“We are in constant contact with police and coordinate everything, including possible routes, with them,” Peleg said.