As the Knesset winter session opened on Monday amid intense speculation about whether the coalition would weather the chareidi draft debate, or early elections would be called, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the meantime had to defend his government against a scathing opposition attack.
In his address to the plenum, PM Netanyahu reviewed the policy successes of his administration, including strengthening ties with the U.S. against Iran, cooperation with Russia and a flourishing economy.
“I am in direct, frequent contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin,” he said, to confront the “complex, very difficult challenges in our region.”
Netanyahu said that during the Trump administration the country has reached “new heights” in U.S.-Israel security, intelligence, diplomatic coordination, including at the United Nations.
“We’ve never had such cooperation with the largest world power,” he said.
Answering his critics, who accused him of undermining Israeli democracy, PM Netanyahu said the charges were baseless.
“Those who limit the freedom of the speech in the media is the media itself,” he said.
Regarding the controversial Jewish state law, he asserted that “There isn’t and will not be any discrimination against anyone.”
As to the ongoing struggle for judicial supremacy, PM Netanyahu declared that claims that Israel’s courts and democracy are under attack from his government are “just absurd” and “empty.”
“The courts are not in any danger. In every democracy, there are arguments on the balance between the authorities and within the authorities.
“What bothers you is not the loss of democracy, but the loss of the leftocracy,” he said.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Zionist Camp) intoned: “I hope this is the last government in which Binyamin Netanyahu is the prime minister of Israel. This is not a personal issue, it’s a national issue,” she says. “Instead of waiting for criminal proceedings, I am lodging an indictment of the public.”
Referring to the nation-state law, she accused Netanyahu of “tearing the Declaration of Independence to shreds.”
She said Netanyahu used “incitement” for “cynical” political gain. “You are causing people to hate one another.”
Livni says she is representing thousands of Israelis who are branded traitors by the Israeli government for their views.
“It’s not loyalty to the state that you want, it’s loyalty to you,” she said to Netanyahu.
“Our country is not a halachic [Jewish legal] state, we will not have ‘religionization’ in schools,” she stated.
On foreign policy, Livni was no less critical.
“You take pride, Mr. Prime Minister, in being the first to recognize the Iranian threat, and I will give you credit,” she said. But 10 years on, Iran is now on the border in Syria.
The session was marred by the usual heckling and ejections.
After PM Netanyahu blamed the Palestinians for obstructing peace efforts, he was heckled by Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi.
He and Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg were escorted out of the plenum for disorderly conduct.
President Reuven Rivlin warned in his speech of political discord.
“Ideology has become dogma, passion has become herd mentality, and care for others has become factionalism,” he said.
“In the important debate about the way ahead, between people, between parties, between majority and minority, empathy is evaporating, our ears are closing, inner peace is lost.”
He argued that internal division is “a greater threat than nuclear bombs or terrorism, greater than the enemies who seek our destruction. The threat of internal division will always be the greatest threat of all.”