Israel's 'Mr. Security' Tells Nation ‘It Could Be Worse’ as Terror Attacks Multiply

In his speech to the Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered no solutions and no hope for bringing an end to the stabbing spree that has stunned Israelis.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addesses the Knesset at its opening winter session on October 12.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addesses the Knesset at its opening winter session on October 12. Credit: AFP
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

What’s left for a leader who habitually boasted that during his many years in office, and thanks to his policies, terror had disappeared, and now, by a twist of fate, must address the people’s representatives just a few kilometers from the site of incessant terror attacks?

Only to remind listeners that it could be worse and that it has been worse; that we’ve seen bloodier times with a thousand dead and buses blowing up every other day. And, naturally, to castigate his political opponents and make them the exclusive culprits. When all is calm, it’s him and his “policies.” When everything starts to fall apart, it’s suddenly the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, and Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas.

The Knesset on the first day of its winter session, which is meant to be somewhat festive, was greeted yesterday by a very stressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has no solutions, he has no formulas, and he offers no guidance for stopping the stabbing spree. It’s not up to him; it’s not even up to the one who opposition leader Isaac Herzog refers to as “the self-designated prime minister, Naftali Bennett.”

Netanyahu is rattled from both the security and political perspectives. It’s hard to know which of the two matters to him more. His address to the Knesset yesterday reverberated with the results of recent polls indicating a collapse in his standing as “Mr. Security” relative to his two bitter rivals, Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman. It was entirely aimed at his political base, the electorate that gave him a fourth term as prime minister a mere seven months ago. It was a discouraging, depressing speech with nary an encouraging word, without a single statement of a diplomatic nature, and not even half a statement of good will toward the Palestinian leadership that, according to the army and the Shin Bet security service, is making quite an effort to calm things down.

It was beneath the prime minister’s dignity to quote the words of two of the Knesset’s most extreme members from the lunatic fringe of the political map who are considered outcasts by their fellow MKs, and to accord them any weight. He did them a great service within their camp.

Rivlin's voice of sanity

President Reuven Rivlin spoke before Netanyahu, giving a speech you would expect from a president, and even more so from Rivlin, who from his first day has served as the moral, soothing, sane voice of Israel. “Particularly these days we need leadership on both sides that doesn’t lose its internal moral compass, even during a storm,” he said. Leadership, “that isn’t motivated by fear and does not encourage it. That isn’t led, but that leads. That increases trust between the two sides and not the hostility and alienation between them. That courageously seeks ways to cooperate, day after day.” Rivlin spoke emotionally, as if he had guessed, point by point, exactly what Netanyahu would say only moments later.

Herzog once again found himself having to promise his suspicious faction colleagues that he has no intention of being a minister and joining Netanyahu’s and Bennett’s “dead-end, visionless government.” Not everyone believes him. In an extraordinary statement, Herzog compared the current government to that of Golda Meir on the eve of the Yom Kippur War.

His speech was no less pessimistic than Netanyahu’s. His vision for calm – convening “a regional conference” on the one hand, and closing off the territories for several days on the other – didn’t sound particularly convincing. It isn’t even clear that the absence of negotiations is the reason for the current outburst. Netanyahu was correct when he noted that there have been even more severe terror attacks when there were negotiations underway.

Comic relief on this depressing day was provided by two MKs. The first was Oren Hazan (Likud), who urgently convened Knesset reporters for “a dramatic personal message” that turned out to be an announcement of his plan to sue a journalist for libel.

The second was Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, who convened his faction at the Lion’s Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City, claiming that this was no time for petty politics. Lapid is doing his best to play the role of statesman, even though it’s several sizes too big for him.

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