PM Netanyahu surrounded by coalition party leaders Moshe Kahlon, Avigdor Liberman, Aryeh Deri and Naftali Bennett.
(photo credit: GPO ARCHIVES)
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett surprised Benjamin Netanyahu’s associates on Wednesday, when he used a speech at the Federation of Local Authorities convention at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds to criticize the prime minister’s behavior.
“The prime minister of Israel has to serve as an example to the entire Israeli public, and especially to the Israeli youth,” Bennett said. “Like Ben-Gurion, who moved to the Negev and said, ‘Follow me.’ Like the lifestyles led by [Menachem] Begin and [Yitzhak] Shamir. A prime minister is not meant to be perfect or live an overmodest lifestyle, but he needs to be someone people look at and say: ‘This is how one should act.’”
Bennett said that when he was in IDF officers training, there was a biblical verse on the wall: “Watch me, and do likewise.”
“Taking gifts in large sums over a long period of time is not living up to this standard,” he said.
Bennett said the prime minister is doing a good job running the country, and he has no doubt that Netanyahu would never harm Israel’s security or economy to further his own interests. He said Netanyahu is innocent until proven guilty, and that he trusts the attorney-general to do his job in deciding the prime minister’s future.
Netanyahu received backing from his other coalition partners, following the publication on Tuesday night of the police recommendations to indict him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two cases.
“Innocent until proven guilty applies to everyone, including the prime minister,” said Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman. “The attorney-general decides [whether to indict], not the press. There is no doubt the prime minister can continue to govern. If not, it’s a political upheaval. As long as he has not been convicted, he can continue leading.”
Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon released a statement after the passage in a first reading of the 2019 state budget late Tuesday night, saying that only the attorney-general can decide on an indictment.
“Until then, I will continue to lead and guide the economy for the benefit of the citizens of Israel,” Kahlon said. “I call upon everyone – Right and Left – to refrain from attacking the police and the legal system, which should be allowed to work without pressure from the Right or Left.”
MKs respond to police recommendations that the AG indict Netanyahu on two accounts of bribery, Febraury 13, 2018. (Reuters)
Shas chairman Arye Deri said at the local authorities convention that this is the best government he has been a part of, and that Netanyahu would win the next election.
Netanyahu also received backing from United Torah Judaism, whose leader, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, attacked the central witness against the prime minister, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid.
“He continues trying to carry out a putsch against the prime minister, as he tried in 2014, when he was toppled from his role as finance minister, in which he failed,” Litzman said. “I believe in Netanyahu’s innocence and wish that, with God’s help, he will complete his term in office for the good of the citizens of Israel.”
Netanyahu also received messages of support from probable future candidates for the Likud leadership, including former minister Gideon Sa’ar, Transportation Minister Israel Katz and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
The only criticism Netanyahu received from within the Likud came from MK Oren Hazan, who called upon the prime minister to announce that he would suspend himself if indicted. Hazan said such a move could ease political pressure on him.