Economy Minister and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett was heckled, booed, called a murderer and allegedly hit in the back on his way out of the hall at the Israel Conference on Peace organized by Haaretz in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
The conference, at the David Intercontinental Hotel, was later disrupted by air raid sirens sounding as the Iron Dome intercepted a rocket from Gaza aimed at Tel Aviv.
According to Bennett’s office, when he finished addressing the crowd, a small group of hecklers followed him out, and one punched him in the back. He turned around, asked, “Who hit me?” and was hustled out of the room by guards.
Sources close to Bennett said he did not intend at this time to press charges.
Haaretz responded to the incident by issuing a statement saying that Bennett “took advantage” of the “misconduct of one of the conference attendees who pushed him lightly, and claimed he was punched in order to create headlines and mislead the media.”
According to the statement, “several witnesses who were present, including various journalists, testified that there was no punching.”
The statement also said that Bennett was surrounded by security guards who neither intervened nor detained anyone.
“Haaretz invited Bennett and other people from the Right, just as it invites them to appear on its editorial pages, in order to create an open, democratic and pluralistic dialogue. It is unfortunate that Minister Bennett chose to take advantage of the invitation to discredit those who attended the conference and Haaretz,” the statement read.
The Israeli Left, Bennett told an overwhelmingly leftwing crowd at the hotel, perverts reality to fit its theories.
“Territory does matter,” he said during a speech punctuated by catcalls. ISIS [now the Islamic State group] has now set itself up on Iraq’s border with Jordan. My opponents think that the state’s [Israel’s] borders should be the Green Line. Where do you want to meet ISIS?” he asked. “On the Jordan river or Route 6.”
Running against the grain of the worldview of the organizers of the conference, as well as of many of those in the audience, Bennett asked from where were the Palestinians firing thousands of rockets.
“From Gaza, territory we left,” he said. “So why will they not fire missiles on Israel from Judea and Samaria.”
Deterrence, he said, was the ability to hit the enemy hard, along with the willingness to do it. “Israel and the Jewish people do not want war,” he said. He then chided someone in the crowd for saying that he does.
“Unfortunately I fought in the first intifada, the second intifada and the Second Lebanon War. No one in this room wants peace more than I do,” the minister, who was a commando and is a major in the IDF reserves, said.
Before Bennett spoke, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told the conference that the US erred during the recently failed negotiations with the PLO by not making its framework for continuing the talks public.
Livni said that a framework for negotiations made up of all the core issues was drawn up. “I think that the US should have placed that framework publicly on the table to cause everyone to take a stand regarding it.”
This, she said, would have obligated the leadership on both sides to make decisions, and not only talk about them, and make possible a basis for negotiation.
“I live among the public that wants peace, but the atmosphere is that it is impossible. If there was a public expression of a framework, then the public would understand that there is something real,” the Hatnua chairwoman said.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak said that other ideas for an accord with the Palestinians should be considered, including “returning to the idea of some sort of Jordanian-Palestinian confederation after an agreement.”
He also said that returning to unilateral Israeli moves should be considered, as well as an idea proposed by former National Security Council head Giora Eiland in 2010 whereby a Palestinian state would be created out of land also given by Egypt in Sinai, in return for a tunnel to Jordan.