Otzma Yehudit sparks gov't crisis after boycotting Knesset session in protest

Likud called Otzma Yehudit irresponsible after faction members refused to show up for a special Knesset plenum debate in protest.

 L: Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir. R: Likud leader, former-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
L: Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir. R: Likud leader, former-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"Despite all of the fervor and impulses, there is no room for anarchy and we will not come to terms with anarchy," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in the Knesset plenum on Monday afternoon in response to a rampage by settlers in Huwara in northern Samaria on Sunday night, after two brothers were murdered in a terrorist attack there earlier on Sunday.

The prime minister's speech came during a special Knesset plenum debate known as a "40 signatory session," which happens when at least 40 MKs sign a petition to hold a session in the presence of both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. Such sessions are usually used by the opposition to criticize the prime minister, and for the prime minister and other coalition members to criticize the opposition.

"We will not accept a situation in which each person does as he pleases: Setting houses on fire, burning cars, [and] intentionally attacking civilians," the prime minister said. "That is exactly what our enemies want to see: Loss of control and an endless circle of blood, fire and smoke," he said.

Netanyahu: Gov't is changing the rules

Netanyahu said that his government was "changing the rules."

"We are acting against terror in all ways: prevention, operations, punishment, and now also legislation: a law to expel families of terrorists and a death penalty for terrorists – things that did not exist until now," Netanyahu said, adding that the government was also normalizing the status of towns in the West Bank as well as building thousands of housing units there.

"That is our answer to terror: To strike at the terrorists, to strike at the attackers, and to deepen our roots in our land. But again – this is our job, the government's security branches," Netanyahu reiterated.

 Leader of the National Unity Party MK Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting of the National Unity Party at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on February 27, 2023 (credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90) Leader of the National Unity Party MK Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting of the National Unity Party at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on February 27, 2023 (credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90)

The prime minister quoted Esty Yaniv, the mother of Hallel and Yagel Yaniv, the brothers who were killed in Sunday's attack, talking about unity, and urged the opposition to respect her wishes and enter talks with the coalition immediately.

Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid spoke next and began by saying that quoting a bereaved mother as part of a political argument was "an act that is not done," and called on the prime minister to take back his words.

Lapid argued that the calls to enter negotiations were a bluff, meant only so that the prime minister could show pictures of the sides talking in order to placate foreign allies and calm the financial markets.

"Stop this crazy legislation, and let us go to the president [for negotiations], he said. If you do not stop, there will be no democracies left in the middle east," Lapid added.

"The economy is collapsing, the shekel is weakening, the high cost of living keeps rising, the people of Israel are being torn apart, but you only care about one thing: continuing down the path of destruction of Israeli democracy," he said.

Two parties of the coalition, Otzma Yehudit and United Torah Judaism, boycotted Monday's session.

Otzma Yehudit announced in the afternoon that it was boycotting the session over the government's policy on security, including its "containment policy" against terror, the fact that Otzma Yehudit was not notified about a diplomatic summit in Aqaba on Sunday, the fact that the government decided to unseal the home of a terrorist without consulting with National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, and that it evacuated settlers from Evyatar "in violation of the coalition agreements, and the right-wing policy."

At the start of the session, United Torah Judaism announced that it, too, would boycott, due to the government "not respecting the coalition agreements," presumably to due an agreed-upon raise in the budget for private haredi school systems not appearing in the budget that passed in the government on Friday.

United Torah Judaism did appear for a vote at the end of the session, which was largely symbolic, over whether or not to accept the prime minister's response. However, Otzma Yehudit did not show up, and the Likud put out a statement calling this "irresponsible."

The party responded with a statement, "Netanyahu's containment policy and the Likud since the right-wing government was founded is an irresponsible act. When there are terrorists attacking Israelis, Israel needs to strike at terror and not surrender to it."

President Isaac Herzog put out a special statement on Monday evening.

"Our hearts, the hearts of everyone in Israel, broke with terrible pain when two of our finest, pure sons, the salt of the earth, were murdered in cold blood by a despicable terrorist, just because they were Jewish. Just because they were Israeli," Herzog said.

"I heard the eulogies and my heart broke," the president added. "Hallel and Yagel Yaniv, of blessed memory, the sons of a wonderful family who love their nation and who love people, a true hidden light—have ascended to the heavens in a storm and left us with a feeling of loss and grief.

"Since that horrific murder, our security forces have been working with vigor, determination, and professionalism, driven by a sense of duty, to apprehend the terrorist and everyone responsible for the terror attack. We give them our support. Despicable murderers must be brought to justice for their deeds, and so it will be!" the president said.

"The State of Israel is governed by the rule of law, and we are proud of this. Our principles and foundations as a people and as a state are diametrically opposed to any attack on innocents. I forcefully condemn the brutal and violent riots against the inhabitants of the village of Hawara last night. This is not our way. This is criminal violence against innocents. It harms the State of Israel. It harms us. It harms the settlements. It harms the security forces that are hunting those responsible for the attack. And above all, it harms us as a moral society and a law-abiding country.

"These are not easy times for the People of Israel. From here, I request and call on the entire public and its leaders—exercise responsibility! Obey the law and let the security forces do their work.

"Terrorism will not defeat us. Violence and hate will not defeat us. Our belief in the justice of our cause, restraint, our national resilience, the power of bereaved families, and support for the IDF and security forces—these will remain the source of our power, beyond all dispute, against any enemy," Herzog concluded.

Lapid: Jewish terror getting in the way of security forces

Lapid said to the press ahead of his Yesh Atid party's weekly faction meeting earlier on Monday that Jewish terror was getting in the way of the IDF's ability to fight Palestinian terror.

"[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu established a government with people who marched in parades and sang 'may your village burn down,' and now those people burned a village," Lapid said.

"Instead of security forces chasing the killers of Hillel and Yagel, they need to deal with Jewish terror," he said.

"What happened tonight is complete anarchy. This anarchy formed because in this government everyone has his own policy. [National Security Minister MK Itamar] Ben-Gvir, the minister of pita bread and TikTok, has one policy, [Finance Minister Bezalel] Smotrich, the political branch of the hilltop youth, has a second policy, [Defense Minister MK Yoav] Gallant has a third and Netanyahu is weak and cannot rebuke them," Lapid said.

Former defense minister and National Unity chairman MK Benny Gantz also criticized the government ahead of his party's weekly meeting.

"We are facing a security disaster – parts of the government are fueling terror, and Netanyahu is taking us to a dangerous security reality," Gantz said.

"What happens in Jordan ends in Tehran," Gantz said in reference to a summit held in Aqaba, Jordan yesterday, in which representatives from Israel, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority met in an attempt to avoid violence ahead of the Ramadan holiday.

"The important summit turned into a strategic mishap – the prime minister embarrassed the Americans, Egyptians and Jordanians. This is cowardice and lawlessness," Gantz said, referring to the prime minister walking back a commitment Israel gave at the summit that it would not advance construction in the West Bank for four months.

"In the government of Israel and in the coalition sit anarchists who are igniting the [situation on the] ground, and facing them is a convent of silence of Netanyahu, Galant, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman MK Yuli [Edelstein], Energy Minister Yisrael [Katz], Economy Minister Nir [Barkat] and others," Gantz said