"I want to give you [ministers] a fist to strike at them [protestors against judicial reform]," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a cabinet meeting on Friday, according to a report by Channel 12.
"The same people who protested against the [natural] gas agreement and against the COVID-19 vaccines, are the ones who are protesting today," the prime minister said. "I want to give you [ministers] a fist to strike them – just like they said then that the [natural] gas agreement would do damage, so now they are saying the same about the [judicial] reform. The lies must be struck," Netanyahu said, according to the report.
The comment drew sharp criticism.
"The same people who demonstrated against the COVID vaccines are the same people protesting today."Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
"This is sick incitement that indicates the loss of self-control of a weak leader who has also lost the public's trust," Channel 12 quoted protest leaders as saying.
Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid wrote on Twitter, "A few hours after the prime minister calls to 'strike the protestors with a fist' (which is the symbol of the Kach movement, which controls this government), MK Karin Elharrar, who moves in a wheelchair, received a threat from one of his bullies."
Yesh Atid MK Vladimir Beliak tweeted, "He wants to 'hit the protesters,' eh? First of all, I thought he was elected to serve the citizens, not to hit or punch them."
הוא רוצה "להלום במפגינים", אה?קודם כל חשבתי שהוא נבחר כדי לשרת את האזרחים, לא כדי "להלום בהם" או לתת להם אגרוף.מעבר לזה - איזה "להלום"?בשר הפיתות הוא לא יכול להלום, מה הוא יעשה עם מיליוני ישראלים שמאסו בו?מחריב ישראל.— MK Vladimir Beliak ולדימיר בליאק (@VladimirBeliak) February 24, 2023
Labor leader MK Merav Michaeli tweeted, No amount of spin will mitigate Netanyahu's responsibility for his inflammatory statements. Once a provocateur, always a provocateur.
"If, god forbid, blood is spilled, he alone will be responsible."
נתניהו היה רוצה לתת לשרי הממשלה אגרוף "להלום" במפגינים. אלה מילותיו. עכשיו כהרגלו הוא ״לא שמע שצעקו בוגד, לא ראה את הארון, לא התכוון ממש אגרוף״. אף ספין לא ישחרר את נתניהו מאחריות לאמירות המסיתות שלו. פעם מסית תמיד מסית. הדם שחלילה ישפך יהיה אך ורק על הידיים שלו.— Merav Michaeli מרב מיכאלי (@MeravMichaeli) February 25, 2023
The Prime Minister's Office later issued a clarification, saying that "when the prime minister used the word 'strike', he meant to strike the false arguments of those who are trying to spread panic, and not to physically hit anyone."
Netanyahu is legally barred from commenting or involving himself in the judicial reform due to a conflict-of-interest agreement he signed due to his ongoing criminal trial.
On Saturday night Netanyahu put out a statement reiterating his argument that he did not intend to use violence against protestors, and also put out a quote from the protocol of the meeting with what he claimed was the correct quote, which showed that what he said was indeed "to strike at the lies" like one strikes at terror, and not strike the protestors. The prime minister also accused Channel 12 of intentionally taking his words out of context.