Smotrich apologizes to PM after Netanyahu threatens to fire him

Shaked issued thinly veiled attack on Netanyahu and his potential “firesale” of right wing ideology after next election.

Betzalel Smotrich (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Betzalel Smotrich
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich issued an apology to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday night after fiercely attacking him for “zero leadership” in the face of what Smotrich described as anti-religious rulings by the judiciary.
The prime minister summoned Smotrich to his offices on Monday afternoon for a dressing down, and according to sources in the Likud, told him that if he did not apologize immediately, he would be fired, along with a caution that “There will not be another warning.”
Ultimately, Netanyahu backed down from his threat to fire Smotrich.
Speaking at a campaign event, the recently-appointed transportation minister said that he had written his words after he was “pained” by a Nazareth District Court ruling that prohibited gender segregation at a municipally-funded concert in Afula without provision for people who do not want the segregation.
“From this real pain, things were said in a fashion that should not have been said and were inappropriate to say, for sure not in the relationship between a prime minister and a minister in his government, and I regret this,” Smotrich said.
The minister said, however, that “When we need to criticize him [Netanyahu] we will criticize, and no one, but no one, with any threat, will silence this criticism.”
In comments made on Sunday following the publication of the court ruling, Smotrich tweeted: “An idiotic justice system. Sorry that despite my status [as a minister] I couldn’t find a more delicate word.”
“Progressive, fundamentalist idiocy,” he continued, and went on to accuse Netanyahu of being “weak” and demonstrating “zero leadership” and “zero governance” while adding acerbically that “Deputy Attorney-General Dina Zilber is ‘the real prime minister.’”
Despite the criticism his comments generated, Smotrich doubled down on his accusations, saying in a later tweet that “For 10 years he [Netanyahu] has let the justice system destroy our wonderful state. Until now he has even taken pride that he has prevented any reform to it.”
Earlier on Monday, several prominent Likud ministers hit out at Smotrich for his remarks against the prime minister, including Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, who called Smotrich “an overgrown boy” and said that he had “crossed redlines” and was “behaving like a child kicking his parents.”
Continued Regev: “He has been dragged by the Left into a dialogue against the prime minister,” Regev continued. “He knows that the only one who can preserve the rule of the Right is Netanyahu.”
Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis said that Smotrich “needs to apologize today and remember that the responsibility over the justice system was in the hands of his party and a minister on his list,” in reference to Ayelet Shaked, who served as justice minister while she was part of Bayit Yehudi during the four-year term of the last government.
Speaking at an event to launch her party’s election campaign and rebrand it the Yamina Party, or “rightward,” Shaked said that her ultimate goal was to lead the country.
She also set out the direction of her party’s election campaign, with implicit criticism of Netanyahu and the Likud for failing to deliver right-wing policies.
“In the last four years, we have proved that we are the only right-wing [party] that does not worry about turning its ideology into a plan of action, and that does not betray its values, but translates it into actions,” said Shaked.
“Yamina is what the people of Israel want but don’t really get,” she said in another snipe at Netanyahu.
The former justice minister said that only the joint forces of the right-wing parties that constitute Yamina could bring about the “formalization of the settlements,” “open up the Supreme Court to different voices” and “protect Israel’s heritage and the Torah of Israel against the cynical pact between [Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor] Liberman and [Blue and White No. 2 Yair] Lapid.”
She continued in her veiled attack on Netanyahu, stating that “the world of values and vision of the Right are in real danger” and noting that “just two months ago everything was up for sale to [former Labor leader Avi] Gabbay and his partners.”
Shaked was referencing Netanyahu’s offer to former Labor Party leader Gabbay to join his coalition in return for a slew of concessions to the left-wing party.
“Gabbay went on his way but the danger still remains. The danger of an ideological fire sale is still here,” she declared, adding that “without a big and strong ideological Right, a Likud government with the Left will be established.”
Separately, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit will recommend to the Central Elections Committee that they should prevent Otzma Yehudit candidates Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein from running in next month’s election due to past racist statements, a senior Justice Ministry source said on Monday.
Hearings on Marzel and Gopstein will be held in the Central Elections Committee on Wednesday.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.