Tue. Jun 15th, 2021

On the verge of being replaced after 12 years in power, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is waging a desperate, Trump-style campaign to de-legitimize the incoming government and accuse its leaders of perpetrating “the fraud of the century.”

Why it matters: The situation has become so tense — with members of the Israeli Knesset facing death threats and demonstrations from angry Netanyahu supporters outside their homes — that the director of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency issued a rare warning of potential political violence.

The backstory: Netanyahu failed to form a government after Israel’s fourth consecutive election in March, after which Naftali Bennett — a right-wing former Netanyahu protege — cut a power-sharing deal with the “anti-Netanyahu bloc” to become the next prime minister.

  • Netanyahu’s best hopes of sabotaging the new government involve convincing members of Bennett’s Yamina party to abandon the alliance before it can be sworn in.
  • But some members of Netanyahu’s base appear to be taking that pressure to an extreme. Yamina members were given full security details after — in addition to the death threats and protests outside their homes — one member was followed by a suspicious car for a full day.

What they’re saying: Netanyahu initially refused to condemn the incitement against Bennett and his allies, but on Monday afternoon he condemned the violent rhetoric on “every side” and falsely claimed that the media had refused to cover similar incitement against his family.

  • He said the accusations of incitement were a biased attempt to silence the right, and complained that Facebook and Twitter had suspended the accounts of his son and several of his supporters.
  • The speech drew comparisons to the video Donald Trump released during the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, calling for the protesters to “go home” while also praising them and repeating his false claim that he won in a “landslide.”

In Monday’s speech, Netanyahu also doubled down on his attacks against Bennett and said his power-sharing government with opposition leader Yair Lapid was “the biggest election fraud in history.”

  • Netanyahu was referring to the fact that Bennett had promised during the campaign not to join forces with Lapid.
  • Although the incoming government will include mainly centrist and right-wing members, Netanyahu called it “a dangerous left-wing government” and told his party members, “don’t be afraid to go after them.”

The other side: Bennett responded with a speech of his own during the evening news, echoing the tone used by Joe Biden on Jan. 6 and calling on Netanyahu to commit to a peaceful transition of power.

  • “Mr. Netanyahu, don’t leave scorched earth behind you,” Bennett said.
  • While Bennett was speaking, Netanyahu appeared live on the Israeli equivalent of the right-wing One America News channel and called Bennett a “liar” and a “fraud.”
  • Netanyahu’s Likud party has also claimed on Twitter (in English) that Bennett and Lapid would turn Israel into a “dark dictatorship” akin to North Korea.

What to watch: Bennett and Lapid need to survive a confidence vote in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to ensure they take power.

  • Knesset speaker Yariv Levin, a Netanyahu ally, was caught on a hot mic saying he would schedule that vote when it “serves us best,” rather than following the tradition of scheduling it as soon as possible.
  • Levin announced on Tuesday that the vote would be Sunday, forcing Bennett and Lapid to submit their final coalition agreement two days before the vote rather than one, because they can’t submit it on a Saturday.
  • That gives Netanyahu’s Likud party more time to scrutinize and criticize the agreement in hopes of convincing right-wing members of the new coalition to abandon it.

What’s next: If the confidence vote succeeds, the swearing in of the new government will take place on Sunday at 9am ET. Netanyahu is expected to give a speech beforehand attacking the incoming government.

  • On Monday morning, Bennett is expected to enter the prime minister’s office in an official ceremony. Usually the outgoing prime minister attends to congratulate his successor, but it’s unclear whether Netanyahu will do so.