Coalition Partners Slam Netanyahu, Abstain From Vote on Handing Him Defense Portfolio

Right-wing Habayit Hayehudi ministers Bennett and Shaked accuse Netanyahu of destroying Israel's power of deterrence over fears of legal consequences

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayeled Shaked on December 10, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

Ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked critcized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during Sunday morning's cabinet meeting, taking aim at his security policy and refusal to make Bennett defense minister.

"I wish you would use the same force you use against us against the enemy," Education Minister Bennett told the prime minister.

A round of verbal sparring ensued after Justice Minister Shaked and Bennett, whose Habayit Hayehudi party is a senior coalition partner in Netanyahu’s government, announced that they would abstain from the vote on Netanyahu's appointment as defense minister.

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"I think that we need a full-time defense minister, and that’s Bennett," Shaked said. The prime minister told Bennett that he was making "a foolish political move. There have been many defense ministers and prime ministers in the past. We’ve heard your ultimatum."

Netanyahu is seeking cabinet approval to assume the defense portfolio, which he took over temporarily after Avigdor Lieberman stepped down last month in protest over the government's policy regarding the Gaza Strip. 

Bennett argued that Israel has lost its power of deterrence and the army should be "unshackled from fake justice and fake morality. Israelis are being killed because the terrorists have stopped being afraid."

He added that a recent attack on an Israeli soldier by a Palestinian in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, north of Ramallah, happened "not because of the High Court of Justice, but because the IDF's hands are tied, through no fault of its own," by excessive legal interference.

Likud Minister Zeev Elkin noted that Shaked is justice minister, to which Bennett said: "If only they'd do in security what Ayelet has done in the Justice Ministry."

After the meeting, Likud issued a statement saying that "Bennett opened the morning with a demonstration protesting the government of which he is a member," referring to Bennett’s statements at a pro-settler protest in front of the prime minister’s office, "and then continued his childish horror show in the cabinet meeting, in a desperate attempt to obtain the defense portfolio. The security of Israel is above politics."

Habiyet Hayehudi, for its part, said that "Prime Minister Netanyahu is paralyzed by fear of lawyers and The Hague. The enemy sees this and has therefore stopped being afraid. Instead of fighting Habayit Hayehudi, the time has come for the prime minister to extricate himself from the bonds of fake justice and fake morality and fight terror."