‘I feel the air is full of gunpowder,’ Rivlin says

President implores gov’t to pass budget, appoint police chief.

President Reuven Rivlin (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
President Reuven Rivlin
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
President Reuven Rivlin on Monday called for the immediate approval of a state budget and the appointment of a police inspector-general.
The COVID-19 crisis has created a febrile and combustible atmosphere in which the country had lost its moral compass, he said at the opening of the Knesset winter session in an impassioned plea for national unity and an end to societal tribalism. He decried economic and societal suffering caused by government dysfunction.
“Friends, I feel the air is full of gunpowder,” Rivlin said. “I feel the fury on the streets.”
“Israel’s tribalism is breaking out through the cracks, and accusatory fingers are pointed from one part of society to the other, one tribe to the other,” he said. “Stop! Please stop!”
Rivlin cited the ongoing failure to pass a budget due to the political fight between Likud and Blue and White, saying the lack of a state budget for more than two years is harming school children, the social welfare system, increasing the distress of the elderly and harming the economy.
“Pass the budget now, and give Israel’s economy the basic stability it needs,” he said.
Rivlin said the Israel Police was facing “one of the most complex challenges in its history,” regarding anti-government protests and the failure in some societal sectors to comply with health regulations. The government should appoint a police inspector-general immediately, he said.
“As a people, we must return to our compass,” Rivlin said. “We must look forward and begin a process of repair – long, deep and systemic.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dedicated the majority of his speech to the government’s measures on COVID-19, the current lockdown and the coming steps to reopen the country.
He, too, called for “unity among us” to overcome the current societal and political storm.
Opposition leader and Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid said the country needed to overcome “hate and anger and malice and poison” and instead “find within ourselves the strength to trust, the strength to fight together.”
Citizens of the country had retreated into their tribes because the state had abandoned them during the COVID-19 crisis, he said, adding that the government was dysfunctional.
“The first sign of a healthy society is that you can work with and talk to people who don’t agree with you – haredim [ultra-orthodox], Arab, Jewish, right-wing, left-wing, everyone,” Lapid said.
“The citizens of Israel look at the arguments in this government and don’t understand what’s happening,” he said. “People are sick; people are dying. Why can’t you work together? Why can’t you pass a budget?
“Every fifth business in Israel has closed. Why aren’t you doing anything? How dare you stay stuck in your poisonous arguments? How dare the prime minister continue to focus on his own criminal trial?”
The country needs a new government to tackle the crisis, Lapid said.
A no-confidence motion to form a new government within the current Knesset, which Yesh Atid brought to a vote in the Knesset plenum Monday afternoon, was defeated by the coalition.
Earlier on Monday, Blue and White leader and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz said his party would vote against the opposition’s no-confidence motion, despite the severe tensions and lack of trust between Blue and White and the Likud, because it had no chance of passing.
“We will not vote in favor of the no-confidence motion because it is a public-relations move and does not stand a chance,” he said at a faction meeting in the Knesset. “But the loss of public trust in the leadership of the country should be a glaring warning light for the prime minister and every member of the government.”
Gantz said his party would maintain its demand that a budget for 2021 be passed in December, something the Likud and Netanyahu are loath to do.
“We entered this government knowing we and the Likud don’t have the same values, and our priorities are far from being the same,” he said. “We entered the government because we have a commitment to Israeli citizens alone. I will never put my priorities above those of the country. Whoever tries to put his good above that of the state will find us against him, and we have done everything to allow this government to work and put the country above other interests.”
Passing a budget for 2021 was a national emergency, Gantz said.
Earlier, Lapid said anyone who votes against the no-confidence motion, which would create a new government without elections, was a coward.
“Blue and White has failed,” he said at his party’s faction meeting. “Reality proves this. The public has no confidence in this government.”
“Netanyahu isn’t healthy for the State of Israel,” Lapid said. “One vote in the plenum and Netanyahu won’t be prime minister anymore. If [MKs] press the green button this afternoon, then the movers will come for Bibi’s belongings at [the Prime Minister’s Residence on] Balfour Road this evening.”