The Knesset was in a fighting mood for the inaugural meeting of its winter session on Monday, with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering particularly pugnacious speeches.
Netanyahu spent much of his speech mocking the opposition and the media – which he seemed to consider to be the same thing – for its “bitterness.”
The prime minister also talked about Israel’s successes in economics, technology, security and international relations, and he thanked US President Donald Trump for his support.
“Israelis know it’s good to live here,” Netanyahu said.
“Israel is a beloved homeland, a warm home and, without a drop of cynicism, a wonderful country.”
However, his opponents, Netanyahu said, “say there is a feeling of bitterness in the air – Netanyahu is walking around with a bitter look on his face.”
“The bitter ones do another thing: They always describe the situation as frozen, walking in place. For them, as long as Jews aren’t evacuated from their homes, we’re frozen.
“When bitter ones talk, you hear conversations like, ‘Isn’t the situation here horrible and terrible? Isn’t everything falling apart? By the way, did you order tickets to London or Berlin?’ They’re bitter, and they fly away,” Netanyahu quipped.
Most Israelis are not bitter, the prime minister argued, pointing to an OECD ranking of Israel as the fifth-happiest country, and Israel’s young people as second-happiest.
“It’s hard for you bitter ones to accept it,” he added.
Netanyahu also mentioned the corruption probes against him, waving them away as a series of futile attempts to get rid of him.
“From whence will your salvation come? Maybe from demonstrations [outside Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in] Petah Tikva? You’re trying to terrorize the rule of law, and then you call it the rule of law. Deep in your hearts, you bitter ones know that in democratic elections, we will win,” he scoffed.
Rivlin gave a fiery address, opening the Knesset’s winter session Monday with thinly veiled accusations that the government is weakening democratic institutions. He said that he has long opposed the judiciary’s taking on the authority of the constitutional court, but warned that the coalition’s moves to counter it are just as dangerous.
“We are witness today to winds of a second revolution,” Rivlin said. “This time, it’s the rule of the majority as the exclusive ruler.... Instead of a reality in which everything can be judged, a reality is growing in which everything is political. The media is political, democratic institutions are political – all of them, from the civil service to the state comptroller – the Supreme Court is political, security forces are political, even our IDF is political.”
Rivlin said that those who stand behind this revolution say they’re “tearing off the masks of hypocrisy,” but in the end “the ruler is the victim, too.”
The president said he has seen “a continued effort to weaken the gatekeepers of Israeli democracy.”
“There is an abyss between the responsible and courageous attempt to define, after years, the relations between the legislative and judicial branches, to draw borders for judicial criticism, ask questions about appointments, aim for a more varied and representative group of judges – and the attempt to terrorize the court, weaken it as an institution and invite the public to undermine its authority and rulings,” he stated.
“Can’t there be effective polemics between the branches of government without it being a zero-sum game?” Rivlin wondered.
The opposition applauded Rivlin’s speech, while the coalition remained stone-faced throughout.
A line of Netanyahu’s speech, given right after Rivlin’s, gave an indication of what he thought about the president’s remarks: “I have great respect for democratic institutions. I do not have any respect for hypocrisy.”
Rivlin’s address fit in with statements about checks and balances in government made by others on the first day of the Knesset’s winter session, with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein warning against excessive judicial activism.
The branches of government “are all wonderful in my eyes, but the relations between them need to be changed as quickly as possible,” he said. “These are the foundations of the structure of our government. They ensure the freedom of our citizens.
Without them, the growth of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is in danger.”
Earlier, at a Bayit Yehudi faction meeting, Education Minister Naftali Bennett vowed that his party would spend the winter session combating judicial activism.
“The government will govern, the legislature will legislate and the judges will judge,” Bennett said. “In recent years, the High Court has overstepped its authority and too easily cancels laws.... The High Court can intervene only when there’s an instance of tyranny of the majority.... That is not the case, for example, in canceling the tax on a third apartment.”