Netanyahu 'trying to hurt me' after Ra'am gov't comment - Amsalem

Amsalem: After we have 61, Mansour Abbas can join • Netanyahu: Amsalem's opinion was his alone; Ra'am is 'antisemitic and anti-Zionist'

David Amsalem

Likud MK Dudi Amsalem accused faction leader Benjamin Netanyahu of "trying to hurt him" after he rebuked Amsalem's comments made earlier on Sunday suggesting Ra'am could join a Netanyahu-led government.

"Non-Zionist parties cannot be part of the government if the government does not have 61 [seats]. If Mansour Abbas wants to join after we have 61, ahlan v'sahalan [Arabic: hello and welcome]," Amsalem said on Channel 12 on Sunday.

Amsalem's comment created an uproar amongst opposition MKs, who over the past years repeatedly accused Ra'am of being "terror supporters".

Opposition head MK Benjamin Netanyahu publicly rebuked Amsalem. "I was amazed to hear what Dudi Amsalem said, which was his opinion alone, as has happened in the past," Netanyahu said in a statement.

Netanyahu also reiterated that the Likud under his leadership "never did and never will agree to include Ra'am in any coalition."

Government-Knesset Liaison Dudi Amsalem spoke on behalf of the government and criticized MK Mickey Levy for proposing the amendment, November 4, 2020. (credit: DANI SHEM TOV/KNESSET SPOKESPERSONS OFFICE)Government-Knesset Liaison Dudi Amsalem spoke on behalf of the government and criticized MK Mickey Levy for proposing the amendment, November 4, 2020. (credit: DANI SHEM TOV/KNESSET SPOKESPERSONS OFFICE)

Is Netanyahu out to 'hurt' Amsalem?

On Sunday evening, Amsalem alleged that Netanyahu released the public statement to "hurt him."

"I was shocked when he did not call," Amsalem told the Galey Israel FM. "This is not the first time he has done this."

Amsalem and Netanyahu previously clashes in February after the Likud MK insinuated to the Knesset plenum that Supreme Court President Esther Hayut racially discriminates against Israelis coming from Middle Eastern and North African backgrounds.

Netanyahu condemned Amsalem's comments, saying he spoke with Hayut and told her his comments were "unacceptable. In a democracy, all public institutions are subject to criticism, but the criticism needs to be relevant and address the institution, not the person representing it," Netanyahu said.

Amsalem took a jab at Netanyahu in a reference to this incident in his Galey Israel interview. "I would love to hear Netanyahu's thoughts on the judicial system reform," he said.

Amsalem also clarified his position on Sunday, saying the Likud "intends to form a nationalist government that will promote Jewish and Zionist values, advance legislation and initiates broad and necessary reforms only with the faithful bloc."

"The Likud is not a racist party and will not harm Arab citizens who are loyal to the State of Israel. Whoever wants to promote civil matters in the Arab community will find a sympathetic ear and will to cooperate. Whoever wants to promote Palestinian nationalist issues and support terror will never be with us in the coalition!"

Likud's public condemnation, reactions from Gantz, Smotrich

In his condemnation of Amsalem's Ra'am comments, Netanyahu claimed that he "refused [Ra'am head] Mansour Abbas' proposals to support a government" in 2019.

"In 2019, when the Right had 60 mandates after [Finance Minister Avigdor] Liberman defected to the Left, I refused Mansour Abbas' proposals to support a government under my leadership, and therefore we headed to elections.

 Mansour Abbas attends a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS) Mansour Abbas attends a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

"As opposed to Lapid, Bennett, Sa'ar, Gantz and Liberman - who are sitting in the government with terror supporters and in exchange for their support sold the country to them - the Likud under my lead never did and never will do so.

"This is the essence of the upcoming elections: A strong, nationalist government under my lead or an anti-Zionist government that will include Mansour Abbas and Ra'am, Ahmed Tibi and the Joint List, and will be completely dependent on them," Netanyahu wrote.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue and White) condemned Netanyahu's accusation.

"During the past year Mansour Abbas took an important and brave step to bring together Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens," Gantz wrote on Twitter. "Opposition head Netanyahu's comment that Ra'am are antisemites is infuriating, damages the cohesiveness of Israeli society and should be condemned," Gantz wrote.

Mansour Abbas has repeatedly said that Netanyahu had asked him to support a Likud led-government last May. The effort did not succeed after Religious Zionist head MK Bezalel Smotrich refused to support it.

Smotrich made his position clear once again on Sunday morning.

"The Religious Zionist party will not sit in the same coalition as terror supporters no matter what. Period." Smotrich wrote on Twitter.

AS OF PRESS time, no progress had been made on negotiations between coalition whip MK Boaz Toporovsky (Yesh Atid) and opposition whip MK Yair Levin, a spokesman for Yesh Atid said.

However, the coalition requested to move up the time of Monday’s Knesset plenum from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., N12 reported, indicating that the coalition is gearing up for a long day and possibly to push the Knesset dispersal law through all three readings.

The ministerial committee on legislation passed two laws unanimously on Monday that potentially will affect the next prime minister, whoever that may be. The first is the so-called “Defendant’s Law,” which prevents an MK under criminal proceedings from forming a government. The second is a bill that limits a prime minister to eight years in power.

The government committee decided that each party could vote as it chose on a third bill that proposed to lower the electoral threshold from 3.25% to 2%.

The coalition is making a last-ditch effort to pass the Defendant’s Law or at least threaten to do so in order to block opposition head MK Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under criminal proceedings, from becoming the next prime minister. MKs debated the bill in the Knesset’s Law Committee on Sunday morning, but the debate did not have any legal consequences since no vote was taken at its end.

The opposition is planning to filibuster all legislation in the Knesset plenum on Monday in response to the coalition’s move to push forward with the Defendant’s Law, KAN reported. This will push off the process of legislating the official dispersal of the Knesset to Tuesday and perhaps Wednesday if agreements are not reached.

The West Bank emergency regulations that apply Israeli law to citizens living in Judea and Samaria will expire on Thursday at midnight.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid based their decision last Monday to disband the Knesset on the need to extend the regulations, which will automatically apply for six more months once the Knesset officially disperses.

The regulations have been approved every five years since 1967. By maintaining its filibuster, the opposition may use the Thursday deadline to force the coalition to make concessions. If the regulations do expire, the West Bank’s legal status will become unclear.

The haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties hinted on Sunday that they were not completely in Netanyahu’s bag. Haredi MKs said that if the Right does not win 61 seats in the election, they would support a rotation government between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Netanyahu even if Gantz would be prime minister first, N12 reported.

MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) also said on Sunday that he supported extending the West Bank regulations for the full five years once the government falls. This contradicts the Likud’s strategy only to go along with the six-month extension, so as to force Lapid to handle the issue if a new government is not formed by then.

Bennett, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and MK Matan Kahana met on Sunday to discuss their political future. Bennett said he was close to announcing that he will leave politics. Shaked and Kahana reportedly attempted to convince him to stay, according to Ynet. Shaked will lead the party if Bennett resigns, according to the report.Tal Spungin contributed to this report.

Tal Spungin contributed to this report.