The ruling Likud and Yamina parties traded barbs Monday night after two MKs from the right-wing opposition faction voted for a no-confidence motion in Prime Minister Netanyahu that would have seen him replaced by Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party.
Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and MK Matan Kahana both backed the motion, which was decisively voted down in the plenum by 53 votes to 30.
“Once a conniver, always a conniver. Bennett decided this evening to finally quit the right-wing bloc and recommend Yair Lapid [for prime minister],” Likud said in a statement.
Defending its vote, Yamina said Bennett and Kahana were voting to topple the government, not to back Lapid.
“Every novice knows that there was no chance of crowning Lapid as prime minister,” the party said in a statement. “We suggest that Likud Knesset members deal with eradicating the coronavirus and restoring the livelihood [of Israelis] and not more third-rate spin.”
Later, Bennett himself responded on Twitter, saying, in comments directed at Netanyahu, “You simply do not understand the terrible suffering that your citizens are going through. The meaning of losing your livelihood. Because if you understood… you would also be voting no-confidence in this terrible government.”
Bennett said it was inappropriate of Netanyahu to be concocting political jabs “on the evening when the 2,000th Israeli died of corona, and as 9 million citizens are imprisoned in their homes in existential and economic anxiety.”
Likud also castigated Bennett for voting along with Arab members of the opposition — to which Yamina retorted that Netanyahu had also voted with Arab parties when in opposition.
Bennett’s Yamina opposition party has been surging in the polls amid widespread criticism of Netanyahu’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. A survey last week gave Yamina 23 seats to 26 for Netanyahu’s Likud. In March’s election, Yamina won 6 seats to Likud’s 36.
Earlier Monday, Bennett tore into Netanyahu after the premier touted the government’s imposition of a second nationwide coronavirus lockdown to curb sky-high infection rates.
“Mr. Prime Minister, you know why there is such a loss of the public’s trust in the government? Because you don’t tell the truth. A lockdown isn’t an image of victory. A lockdown is an image of a failure. A terrible failure,” Bennett said in a speech from the Knesset rostrum during the session opening the Knesset’s winter session.
In his own address at the event, Netanyahu praised the decision to impose a full second lockdown and said that, while Israel was the first country in the world to do so, others were now following in its footsteps.
“Today, most of the public sees that the decision I led to impose a closure was the correct one. Without it, we would be stepping straight into the abyss,” the prime minister maintained. “This is exactly what happened in the first wave. We were among the first to close the borders and impose a closure, and others followed us.”
Accusing Netanyahu of not being honest with the Israeli public, Bennett said, “States that conduct themselves badly reach lockdowns. Whoever says they are all reaching a lockdown is lying.
“The nation lost its faith in you because you don’t believe in the nation. Whoever believes in the nation doesn’t use a lockdown and take pride in it,” Bennett added.
Yamina has been steadily making gains as a protest movement against Netanyahu’s corruption charges has gained steam and as the country has floundered in efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday evening, Israel passed the bleak milestone of 2,000 deaths due to the coronavirus, the Health Ministry announced, with more than 1,000 people dying in a little over a month, as the toll accelerated in the second wave of the pandemic.
The grim landmark was reached even as contagion appeared to ebb, with transmission rates declining after an ongoing month-long nationwide lockdown.
Israel recorded its first COVID-19 death on March 21 — 88-year-old Holocaust survivor Aryeh Even — and reached 500 deaths on July 30. In just over a month from that date, the country recorded 500 more, reaching the 1,000 death milestone on September 5. Barely a month later, on October 12, it has doubled.
As of Monday evening, 2,016 Israelis had died of the disease, of 293,553 confirmed carriers of the virus, the Health Ministry said. Of 52,892 active cases of COVID-19, 827 were in serious condition, including 227 on ventilators. There were 287 patients in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.