Labor Chairman Avi Gabbay (Left) and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The fight over the role of the main challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intensified Monday when Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay attacked each other at their Knesset faction meetings.
When The Jerusalem Post asked Gabbay about Lapid’s role as the central witness against Netanyahu in Case 1000, the “expensive gift affair,” Gabbay said Lapid was correct to testify. But Gabbay then criticized Lapid for meeting with billionaire Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan about tax breaks when Lapid was finance minister.
“We need to replace not only Netanyahu but also the ways of Netanyahu,
” Gabbay said. “Lapid dealt with issues connected to his friend instead of excusing himself due to a conflict of interest. When I was environment minister, I told my staff in our first meeting that anyone who claims they are my friend or relative should be treated by the book. Rich people should not have more access to the government.”
Lapid responded by calling Gabbay’s comparison of him to Netanyahu “ridiculous” and saying that using a “political spin” against him would not help Gabbay.
“It is unfortunate that Labor is not picking a side in the struggle against corruption,” Lapid said. “The finance minister always meets people who can help the economy, and anyone who tells you different is just trying to sling mud. No one knew at the time that Milchan was giving one million shekels to the prime minister.”
Speaking at his faction meeting, Lapid said that “Israelis deserve a prime minister who does not receive a million shekels in gifts and would not sell out the interests of the country to get a few positive headlines on a website, and they deserve ministers who are not silent like fish in the face of corruption.”
Gabbay told his faction that because Netanyahu “has a sick obsession with what the press says about him,” he must give up the premiership.
“We have a government with a culture of corruption,” Gabbay said earlier to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “It starts at the top, and goes down to mayors. This is why I call upon our prime minister to step down immediately. He did some good things over nine years, but now it is time for change.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett defended Netanyahu in their faction meetings. Bennett, who criticized Netanyahu last week for accepting too many gifts, told his Bayit Yehudi faction that he hopes Netanyahu comes out clean from all the investigations.
“The role of the press is to report and not to convict,” Liberman told his Yisrael Beytenu faction. “I recommend waiting for the courts, who are the only body authorized to decide who is guilty and innocent. The prime minister is innocent until proven guilty.”
Likud MK Miki Zohar, meanwhile, defended Netanyahu by comparing the atmosphere surrounding the investigations to the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
“Yes, I’m comparing Rabin’s murder to what is being done to the prime minister,” Zohar told Radio Haifa on Monday, “because what is being done to him is everything but taking his life.
“What did they do with Rabin? A detestable murderer came and took the prime minister out of his job by undemocratic means by taking his life. What they’re doing to Netanyahu, other than taking his life, they’re doing everything to remove him from his job. And therefore, it’s not any better,” Zohar added.
Labor slammed Zohar for the remark, calling it a “total loss of values” and accusing Netanyahu of inciting against Rabin.
“We will not forget and will not forgive all those...who led the wild, unbridled campaign of incitement that lit up the murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Miri Zohar is shaming the Likud, the Knesset and the country. If the Likud has any of its statesmanlike values, it should distance itself from his statements and condemn them,” the party said. Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.