A Knesset plenum discussion, meant to focus on the war against poverty in the country, was called to recess on Wednesday following a heated debate between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog.
The argument focused on the recent incitement against President Reuven Rivlin, who was recently criticized for speaking at the ‘Ha’aretz’ conference in New York alongside the NGO Breaking the Silence.
“I call on you in the name of a large part of the Israeli public to come to the podium and declare that Reuven ‘Ruby’ Rivlin is your president; your supporters among the people of Israel must hear you say this explicitly.” Herzog said to Netanyahu.
Herzog called on Netanyahu to speak to the Shin Bet chief to increase the security surrounding the president.
"Not far from here in Zion Square [Rabin Square] 20 years ago there were those who called to 'drive out Rabin with blood and fire' and you didn't see and didn’t hear it. This time you won’t be able to claim that you didn’t see and hear it because you must take a step, make a statement and make a decision," he said.
The prime minister was then given the chance to respond to Herzog’s comments.
“From personal experience I can tell you, there is criticism of leaders,” Netanyahu said. “I oppose all incitement and all violent discourse against the president and against all other leader and public figure in Israel. At the same time I will continue to fight for each and everyone's right to express their opinion because that is how democracy works.”
The prime minister then made a request of Herzog: “MK Herzog I have a request of you. I want you to come up to this stage and condemn ‘Breaking the Silence,’ that is slandering IDF soldiers around the world,” he said.
Netanyahu's comments drew cheering and clapping from the right-wing MKs in the plenum.
The opposition leader then took to the podium to respond and said, "I noticed that you compared yourself to Abu Mazen." He added that just as the Palestinian leader doesn't condemn attacks, “neither do you.
He said the prime minister had fallen short of condemning the incitement against Israel’s first citizen.
Herzog was awarded with applause from the opposition at which point Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein stopped the discussion and called for a five minute recess.
Following the short recess Edelstein reprimanded the MKs for their applause and said that the Knesset was "not a circus." He then invited Herzog to return to the podium and conclude his remarks.
“Breaking the Silence has crossed the line in certain situations, but people who have fought on the front should be able to express themselves in the right places,” he said. “I am disgusted by this opinion, but I will fight to the end to allow people to say it.”
The debate between the two leaders detracted from the main reason for the Knesset discussion, which was convened following a petition signed by 40 MKs calling on the prime minister to take part to address the war on poverty in Israel.
Earlier this week the National Insurance Institute released its annual poverty report which found that 1,709,300 people, some 22% of the population, including 444,900 families and 776,500 children were living below the poverty line.
In his initial remarks, Netanyahu addressed the poverty rates and said that since 2009, under his leadership, there was a steady and continual drop in the poverty rates among families and children as well as a decline in the GINI index of inequality.
The prime minister noted that the exception to this was 2014, which marked an increase in poverty rates. He attributed this to the cancellation of child allowances in 2013 by the former government.
“The facts speak for themselves,” he told the plenum.
He said that the government had taken a number of steps to reduce poverty including increasing child allowances and introducing a new long term savings plan for children in need; increasing the minimum wage, and increasing pension supplements for the elderly.
“I am talking about data relating to people and I believe that our policies will have a lasting impact on children, on the elderly, on the families whose heads are struggling to provide for their households with dignity, and these families will feel the difference in the coming year because we have taken measures and we will continue to fight against poverty - it is a struggle for all of us,” he said.
While the Knesset discussion was unfolding, President Reuvin Rivlin spoke just a few blocks away at the education conference, "Israeli Hope in Education" at the Israel Museum.
“We really do not agree with each other, the divisions between us are as deep as the abyss,” he said to an audience of hundreds of educators.
“It is precisely because of this, that we should argue them fairly - let's listen and not exchange blows,” he said.