Before the vote confirming the new Israeli government, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized Naftali Bennet, his likely replacement, in a speech to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.
“Bennett always does the opposite of what he says and what he promises,” Netanyahu said, mocking his rival’s prior statements about opposing the Iran nuclear deal.
Netanyahu began by pointing out his party, the Likud, had more votes than any other party in the Knesset.
He recounted his work in the government as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister: including his role in rescuing hostages as a member of Israel’s special forces and his long history in public service.
“We changed Israel into a world power,” he said, noting Israel’s emergence as a technological and economic force.
“We were the first in the world to emerge from the coronavirus,” he added and stressed Israel’s free-market reforms, noting that they had enabled Israel to weather the pandemic with far greater success than many other countries.
His government has proudly opposed the Iran nuclear deal and also managed to forge the Abraham Accords, a “historic agreement” with several Muslim and Arab states; new peace has been brought to the region, Netanyahu added. Moreover, he said, Israel had improved its relations with countries worldwide, from Africa to Latin America, while still reserving the right to attack threats — whether Palestinian terrorists or Iranian-backed forces in neighboring Syria.
He noted that Israel had also developed natural gas resources offshore in the Mediterranean during his tenure, joining fossil-fuel-producing nations.
Netanyahu was not greeted with heckles or interjections, at least until halfway through.
He said that his government had placed Israel in the best situation, from a natural security perspective, that it had ever enjoyed. He recalled the chaos of the Second Intifada, just before he took office, with buses and restaurants bombed.
“It didn’t just happen,” Netanyahu said, implying his leadership and his policies were the reason for Israel’s success.
He said that his policies were those of the “true right” and said that, if necessary, he would fight against “this dangerous government” from the opposition benches.
Netanyahu said that he had told U.S. President Joe Biden that he had not agreed to keep disagreements over the Iran deal behind “closed doors” — a position supported by Israel’s left-wing parties, who have opposed outright confrontations with Democratic Party administrations in the U.S.
Netanyahu recalled that Jews had tried that subtle approach when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president, as the Nazis were carrying out the Holocaust and should not be silent again.
The prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu said, must be prepared to say no to the President of the United States and to do so publicly, when the issue at hand affected the fundamental security of the Jewish state. He criticized Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, for opposing Netanyahu’s approach in favor of quiet disagreement with the U.S. (Lapid is set to become prime minister in two years under the coalition agreement and will serve as foreign minister under Bennett.)
Netanyahu said that Iran was celebrating the new Israeli government. “It’s no wonder that they are celebrating today … They understand that today there will be a weak Israeli government.” He sent his message to the Iranian leaders — in English: “We’ll be back — soon.”
Even as he urged members of the Knesset to vote against the new government, he stressed that he would provide a strong opposition alternative, offering a real choice to Israeli voters for the future.
He also said that the outgoing government was leaving the Israeli economy in “fantastic” condition, far better than that of most other countries, defending Israel’s recent free-market reforms against “socialism, populism, and opportunism.”
As hecklers mentioned his ongoing criminal trial, Netanyahu departed from his prepared remarks to mock the prosecution. Netanyahu faces charges of corruption that critics have described as flimsy and politically motivated.
Netanyahu also attacked Bennett for breaking election-eve promises not to co-govern with Arab parties. He said that while the counting of votes in the March election had been fair, the coalition negotiations since had been fraudulent.
He said that in direct democratic elections, he would be elected prime minister and accused his opponents of changing the rules of the Knesset to allow small, minority parties, such as Bennett’s Yamina party, to lead the government.
He called Bennett’s party the “fake right” and said that the coalition was a union of extremist parties, citing various controversial positions taken by its members, including his former coalition partner, Avigdor Lieberman.
It was Lieberman’s refusal, in 2019, to join a Netanyahu government that included the ultra-Orthodox parties that triggered the political crisis in Israel that resulted in several new elections over the following two years.
In an apparent answer to Bennett, who had closed his speech with a prayer, Netanyahu cited Psalm 144:8, calling for God’s help against those “whose mouths are full of lies,” a reference to Bennet’s broken campaign promises.