Far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise appearance in the Knesset on Wednesday, November 13. While Islamic Jihad rockets paralyzed the south and as Israel teetered on the brink of a full- scale military operation in Gaza, the urgent need that took Netanyahu away from his post was to lambast the thirteen MKs from the Joint List for their unequivocal condemnation to the assassination of Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata and his wife early Tuesday morning.
Netanyahu seized upon a Hadash Tuesday night demonstration in Central Tel Aviv near the Likud headquarters in which two Communist Joint List Knesset members – Ofer Cassif and Aida Touma-Sliman – accused the PM of warmongering and MK Benny Gantz of supporting “calculated murder.” Through his spokespersons and in his Knesset appearance, Netanyahu spread the news everywhere while fanning the flames of racist hostility toward the Joint List and Hadash.
In the Knesset on Wednesday, Netanyahu accused them of encouraging terrorism. Some Joint List Knesset members responded by shouting “you are lying and inciting against us” during his speech, and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein subsequently ejected MK Ahmad Tibi from the chamber. In protest, all Joint List members walked out of the plenum.
Explaining later why he left the hall while Netanyahu was speaking, Hadash MK Ofer Cassif said: “Netanyahu isn’t content with the starvation, death and destruction he imposes on Gaza and the severe harm to the communities around Gaza. Today he added insult to injury and came to the plenum to incite and lie and justify himself. We walked out because there was no point in staying. Even Netanyahu doesn’t believe Netanyahu.”
On Tuesday, Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) slammed Netanyahu, accusing him of ordering the killing of Abu al-Ata for political gain. “A cynical man who lost two consecutive elections will leave only scorched earth in a desperate attempt to remain in office,” Odeh tweeted. “For ten years he has woken up every morning with the aim of deepening the occupation [of the West Bank] and distancing the chances for peace.”
MK Touma-Sliman wrote on Twitter: “Netanyahu stood in the Knesset and said that the Israeli military doesn’t commit war crimes and does not strike civilians. What about the wife of the senior Islamic Jihad commander who was killed while she was sleeping in bed with him? What about the thousands of civilians killed in Israel’s repeated rounds of war with Gaza? They’re not civilians?”
Netanyahu’s surprise appearance in the Knesset on Wednesday was designed to serve his political and personal interests by driving a wedge between Jewish public opinion and the Joint List in order to block any possibility of their allying with Gantz to set up a minority government that would depose the prime minister. In addition, as Netanyahu has proven repeatedly over the past year, his personal interests, repackaged as national priorities, dictate his government’s policies.
Apparently, Netanyahu’s scheme achieved its goal. The possibility of a minority coalition supported from the outside by the Joint List was quickly abandoned by Gantz and his colleagues, leaving Kahol Lavan leaders with two stark choices: Either join a broad-based national unity government headed by Netanyahu, in contravention of their oft-repeated vows during the campaign, or bear responsibility for taking Israel to its third election campaign this year.
Prior to the disruption caused by the Gaza attack, Joint List leader Odeh has led a series of demonstrations protesting rampant violence in Arab society and demanding true equality for Arab-Palestinians citizens in Israel. The outbreak of violence in Gaza orchestrated by Netanyahu has provided the latter with the coup de grace that’s allowing him to demolish any chance of a Gantz-led coalition that would have enjoyed parliamentary support of Hadash and Arab-affiliated parties – for only the second time in Israel’s history and the first since 1992.