The Knesset Guard decided Sunday to increase security for Yamina party No. 2 MK Ayelet Shaked as she and party leader Naftali Bennett faced threats from right-wing activists over a decision to join with the Yesh Atid party in a unity government, Hebrew media reports said.
Right-wing activists have been lobbying Bennett and Shaked to not join with Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid in a coalition that would oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Sunday, Bennett announced that he would do just that.
In a bitter counter-address minutes later, Netanyahu said Bennett was cheating his voters, and called the planned Bennett-Lapid coalition “a left-wing government” that constituted “a danger to the security of Israel and a danger to the future of the state.”
Later that evening, 300 people gathered outside Shaked’s home in Tel Aviv to protest against the move, with some holding signs reading “leftist traitors.”
There were also posters showing portraits of Bennett and Shaked with the slogan “Lapid’s collaborators.”
There was also a counter-demonstration of about 100 people in support of the emerging coalition government.
There have been harsher tones taken in some of the thousands of text messages that Bennett and Shaked have received in recent days urging them to not join Lapid, Channel 12 news reported.
The lawmakers received messages to their cell phones warning: “We will turn your lives into hell” for “you and your children,” while other messages threatened “you will know no peace” and “we will make your lives unbearable.”
One message to Shaked threatened that there would be demonstrations outside her home like the weekly protests against Netanyahu in Jerusalem “but on steroids,” meaning far more vigorous.
Sources close to Shaked said that she asked the Knesset Guard for increased security.
The guard responded that it would wait to hear from police on the matter but later Sunday evening said that security for Shaked will be increased from Monday, multiple Hebrew reports said.
Security around Bennett was already increased earlier this month in response to threats against his life, Yamina said at the time.
There was sharp criticism of the Yamina party from Hagi Ben-Artzi, the brother of Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, who called Bennett’s intention to partner with Lapid “treason” and said it met the biblical definition of that crime.
“This is not only a group of cheaters and swindlers from a political point of view, who abandon all their promises, but also a group of traitors to the Jewish people,” Ben-Artzi said in an interview with the Knesset television channel.
“It is nothing less than a betrayal of the Jewish people, of Judaism, of Zionism, of Israel, because it is a government that relies on an Arab-Islamic party of actual terror supporters, who back all terrorists to this very day, and that is part of the global Islamic movement,” Ben Artzi said referring to the Ra’am party whose outside support is needed by Lapid and Bennett to reach a majority in the Knesset.
Netanyahu also tried to establish a government based on the support of the Islamist Ra’am party.
Political incitement, and in particular the use of the phrase “traitor,” is a contentious issue in Israel as it is an accusation that was made by right-wing protesters against prime minister Yitzhak Rabin before he was assassinated in 1995 by a far-right Jewish extremist. The incitement against Rabin, which included him regularly being called a traitor by protesters, was seen as contributing to the motivation of his killer.
On Saturday, Hebrew media reports said police were probing threats made on social media networks against Bennett ahead of his announcement that he is forming a government Lapid.
The probe was opened after images were shared of Bennett in an Arab headdress with the caption “the liar,” according to the reports. A similar image of Rabin was circulated in the run-up to his assassination.
Bennett’s announcement confirmed days of rumors that he had opted for a rotational deal with Lapid that will place the right-wing party leader in the prime minister’s chair for the next two years, potentially setting in motion a sea change in Israeli politics that will see Netanyahu shunted from power by his former allies after repeatedly failing to cobble together enough support for his own coalition.
Under the emerging rotation deal between Yamina and Yesh Atid, Bennett will serve as prime minister first before handing the reins to Lapid.
Joining the coalition will be a mix of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties that have refused to continue joining governments led by Netanyahu, who is on trial in three criminal cases.
Bennett’s announcement could bring to an end 12 consecutive years of Netanyahu rule. But the prime minister still has a few days to try to thwart a Bennett-Lapid coalition before it can be sworn-in at the Knesset next week. The possibility of lawmakers defecting or absenting themselves, combined with Israel’s fast-shifting current affairs, means uncertainty will prevail until parliamentary approval is secured.
The nascent Bennett-Lapid coalition apparently has the support of 61 MKs in the 120-seat Knesset, so even a single defection could deprive it of a majority. And it still needs the confirmed support of the Islamist Ra’am party, which has yet to publicly commit to giving the coalition the backing of its four Knesset members.
Lapid’s mandate to form a government ends at midnight Wednesday. He has so far reached informal coalition agreements with Yisrael Beytenu, Meretz, and Labor, and is hoping to seal deals with Blue and White and New Hope in the next few days, though the coalition would likely only be voted on and sworn in next week.
Likud and other parties opposed to the government are planning on using the intervening time to ratchet up pressure on right-wing MKs in a bid to get them to defect and torpedo the coalition before it is sworn in.
Header: Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked holds a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 26, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)