Outgoing Environment Minister: Netanyahu, Wake Up. Israelis Don't Want an Extremist Government

Avi Gabbay delivers a searing indictment of the prime minister as he resigns from cabinet in protest of the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as defense minister.

Outgoing Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay.
Moti Milrod

Israel's environmental protection minister delivered a searing indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government on Friday as he resigned from the cabinet

In a press conference on Friday morning, Avi Gabbay said he found it difficult to remain part of a government that undermined the ties with the U.S., broadened the rift within Israeli society and tried to silence critical voices. 

Gabbay also slammed the natural gas deal that was approved by the government earlier this week, saying that it was driven by "lack of knowledge and fundamental understanding in finance and managing negotiations," as well as "weakness and pandering to the interests of powerful individuals." He said he considered quitting the cabinet after voting against the deal. 

The straw that broke the camel's back and finally led him to resign, he said, was the dismissal of Moshe Ya'alon as defense minister and his replacement with Avigdor Lieberman. 

"A defense minister in a country surrounded by enemies isn't just another minister," he said. "He is the most important minister the removal of a professional and reasonable defense minister who in a year managed to calm the uprising is a step I couldn't make peace with."

Gabbay said the cabinet reshuffle will further widen the rifts within Israeli society. "The public wanted a rightist government, but the establishment of an extremist government isn't right," he said. 

He called on Netanyahu "to wake up before it's too late and remember that defense is defense, and that he leans on people and leadership, and not just tanks and planes."

Gabbay further accused the government of trying to weaken public service and bar officials and military officers from publically expressing their opinion. He listed the dismissal of the Electricity Authority chief who was critical of the gas deal and the backlash against Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan's Holocaust Day remarks as examples. 

Responding to Gabbay's resignation, Ya'alon, the former defense minister, said that in Israeli politics "standing up for principles has become a subject of ridicule, while flip-flopping and deceit are seen as sophistication Avi Gabbay has proven that there is another way. We can't give up."

Gabbay announced his resignation earlier in the day, saying that the recent political upheaval and the replacement of the defense minister endanger national security.  "I cannot be partner to this line of action," he said.

Gabbay, a founding member of the Kulanu party, is not a member of the Knesset, which means that his resignation has no bearing on the size of the coalition. 

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the chairman of Kulanu, said Friday that he has informed Prime Minister Netanyahu of his intention to hold on to the environmental protection portfolio. He lauded Gabbay's service but made no comment about the latter's criticism of the government. 

"The national plan to minimize pollution in the Haifa Bay will go on, alongside other important initiatives led by the ministry under Gabbay," he said in a statement.