Bennett confronts opposition as controversial electricity bill passes into law

Netanyahu: Black day for democracy and Zionism

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett yells and points at members of the opposition after the electricity bill is passed, January 2022 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett yells and points at members of the opposition after the electricity bill is passed, January 2022
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett lost his composure and confronted opposition MKs in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday during votes on the electricity bill, which will allow tens of thousands of illegally built Arab homes to be hooked up to electricity, water and telephone lines.

Likud MKs heckled Bennett and Yamina MK Nir Orbach for voting against an amendment that called for also hooking up outposts in Judea and Samaria to electricity. When they told Orbach he should be ashamed, Bennett got up from his chair and verbally confronted the MKs, as he waved his finger disparagingly.

Bennett told them that opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu voted for withdrawing the Gaza Strip, and he told Religious Zionist Party MK Orit Struck “get out of my face,” after she told him he took votes from the outposts. Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy persuaded Bennett to sit back down.

“We will not surrender to bullying,” Bennett said about the opposition MKs after the incident. “I’m not afraid of you, and I won’t let you burn down the country.”

Netanyahu, who declared the vote “a black day for Zionism and democracy,” convened the heads of the right-wing parties in the opposition to consider a full boycott of the Knesset. But the leaders of Shas and United Torah Judaism talked him out of it.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at Knesset (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at Knesset (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The final vote passed 61 to 0, after the opposition walked out and boycotted the vote. Three Joint List MKs abstained.

“I will not participate in this farce,” Netanyahu said when it was his turn to vote.

The right-wing parties in the opposition boycotted Tuesday night’s debate on the bill to protest the coalition disregarding the Knesset legal adviser and shortening the debate from 94 to 15 hours. Knesset legal adviser Sagit Afek ruled that filibusters should have been permitted on such a disputed issue.

In a fierce debate on the bill on Wednesday morning, its sponsor, Knesset Interior Committee chairman Waleed Taha (Ra’am – United Arab List) spoke at length in Arabic, defending the bill. Likud MK Avi Dichter, a former chief of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), heckled him and told him in Arabic that the decent thing to do would be to translate into Hebrew as he speaks in Arabic. Dichter told Taha he did not serve his Arab constituents when he voted against recent peace agreements.

It is legal to address the Knesset plenum in Arabic in Israel, where it is an official language. When Likud MK David Amsalem asked Taha to switch to Hebrew so he could understand, Taha replied, “If you don’t understand Arabic, that’s your fault.”

Amsalem told Ra’am MKs, “We will disconnect you from electricity when we come back to power.”

The mayor of the Rahat municipality, Sheikh Fayez Abu Sahiban, thanked Ra'am for passing the bill. 

"My brothers, you have lit up the darkness of our homes with the Electricity Law," the mayor said.