During Wednesday`s plenary sitting, opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Camp) turned to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) and said: ”I call on you in the name of a large part of the Israeli public to come to the podium and declare that Reuven ‘Ruby’ Rivlin is your president. Your supporters among the people of Israel must hear you say this explicitly.”
”Not far from here in Zion Square 20 years ago there were those who called to ‘drive out Rabin with blood and fire’ and you didn’t see and didn’t hear it, Herzog told the PM. ”This time you won’t be able to claim that you didn’t see and hear it because you must take a step, make a statement and make a decision,” he said.
In response to the opposition leader`s remarks, Netanyahu said ”From personal experience, I can tell you there is criticism of leaders. I oppose all incitement and all violent discourse against the president and against all other leader and public figure in Israel. At the same time I will continue to fight for each and every person’s right to express their opinion because that is how democracy works.”
The prime minister then challenged Herzog: ”MK Herzog, I have a request of you. I want you to come up to this stage and condemn ‘Breaking the Silence,’ that is slandering IDF soldiers around the world,” he said.
Breaking the Silence, its website says, is ”an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.”
The opposition leader then took to the podium to respond and said, ”I noticed that you compared yourself to Abu Mazen,” adding that just as the Palestinian leader doesn’t condemn attacks, ”neither do you.”
He said the prime minister had fallen short of condemning the incitement against Israel’s president.
Herzog was received applause from the opposition, at which point Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein stopped the debate and called for a five minute recess.
Following the short recess, Edelstein reproached the MKs for their applause and said that the Knesset was ”not a circus.” He then invited Herzog to return to the podium and conclude his remarks.
”Breaking the Silence has crossed the line in certain situations, but people who have fought on the frontlines should be able to express themselves in the right places,” Herzog said. ”I am disgusted by this opinion, but I will fight to the end to allow people to say it.”
Addressing the natural gas deal, the PM said ”unfortunately, the discussion on the gas has become political. The gas must not remain in the sea. We must extract it from the ground. Without the gas plan we will remain with a small monopoly. I received the recommendations of the Economic Affairs Committee, and I will give my response soon.”
Netanyahu also discussed the diplomatic situation and said: ”There are two contradicting trends in the international arena. One is hostile to the State of Israel and is manifested in hypocritical decisions – and this has been going on for years. But there is also a positive trend at the level of the countries themselves, which are tightening the relations with Israel and the cooperation. The United States is being joined by other superpowers, because they want to fight fanaticism and connect with progress. Our feet are planted in the fight against the terror of yesterday`s world, and also in the innovation of tomorrow`s world.”
The PM said ”something important” is also happening in Arab countries, ”and I believe that one day this will perhaps help us in our relations with the Palestinians. Recent Palestinian public opinion polls are not encouraging, and the Palestinian leadership is continuing the incitement. There is no progress because prime ministers before me offered things that it is hard to believe were offered, but sooner or later the Palestinians will have to give up on the right of return and recognize the State of Israel.”
”We will not achieve stability and security if we accept the simplistic and dangerous solution of `leave the territory, close your eyes and hope for the best`. In this case we will get either Hamas, or ISIS, or both. This is exactly what happened in Gaza. Peace is not achieved out of weakness, but out of strength.”
The argument between Netanyahu and Herzog erupted in the midst of a debate on the war on poverty, which was held at the request of 40 MKs. Earlier this week the National Insurance Institute released its annual poverty report, which found that 1,709,300 people – some 22% of the population – including 444,900 families and 776,500 children were living below the poverty line.
In his initial remarks, the PM addressed the poverty rate and said that since 2009, under his leadership, there has been a steady and continual decline in the poverty rates among families and children, as well as a decline in the GINI index of inequality.
The prime minister noted that the year 2014, in which poverty rates increased, was an exception. He attributed this to the cancellation of child allowances in 2013 by the former government.
”The facts speak for themselves,” he told the plenum.
Netanyahu said the government has taken a number of steps to reduce poverty, including increasing child allowances and introducing a new long-term savings plan for children in need, increasing the minimum wage and increasing pension supplements for the elderly.
”I am talking about data relating to people and I believe that our policies will have a lasting impact on children, on the elderly, on the families whose heads are struggling to provide for their households with dignity, and these families will feel the difference in the coming year because we have taken measures and we will continue to fight against poverty. It is a struggle for all of us,” he said.
Turning to PM Netanyahu, opposition leader Herzog, said: ”In 2007 you vowed, and I quote, `within one term in office every average person will have increased his monthly salary by a third, and poverty will decrease by 80%`. You also promised: `I will eradicate poverty in Israel within three years`. Six years, eight months and 17 days have passed since then, and you, Mr. Economy, did not make good on your promise… Poverty only intensified during your term.”
”You want to be prime minster of cyber and fear and continue with poverty for the masses,” Herzog added. ”We have a prime minister that doesn`t care about the citizens. Did you watch `Magash Hakesef` [a three part documentary about the Israeli economy]? Listen to the person who was once your advisor – Prof. Yaron Zalika. See what he says about how the strong state transfers its money to those who are connected and how a citizen feels when he sees he is being robbed in broad daylight, and has nothing to do about it.”
Herzog asked ”Why is it under your watch that the poor are getting poorer. Maybe your honor Mr. Economics can explain how a month after the budget is approved your government transfers billions to interest groups without any logic. Maybe you don`t want less poor people – because if you did, you would take action to raise the salary of conscripts, raise the budget for government subsidized medicine, tended to manageable housing prices, and to lower the price of living. But you claimed you didn`t have time for it. How do I know? Because you showed us that when you want something, you get it – apparently you didn`t really want to lower the poverty rate. Atonement will only come when you vacate your position as prime minister.”
During the debate, MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) noted that the poverty rates in Israel are the highest among OECD states and said those who live beneath the poverty line are mainly children and the elderly. ”The State of Israel is the most unequal state in the west, and it is approaching the inequality levels of third world countries. We live in a country where people work the most hours and earn the least amount of money.”
MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Camp) mentioned that 52% of the Arab-Israeli public and 54% of the ultra-Orthodox population live in poverty. She said human rights organizations are assisting these segments of the population ”because the government is not allocating funds for this.”
MK Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) said the poverty rates ”lie on the country`s back like an open wound,” while MK Elie Elalouf (Kulanu) told the plenum that poverty ”is not a divine decree” and that ”the poor people of today are not only those who were born into poverty, but also those who deteriorated into it. Some of them work full time.”
”It is our duty to guarantee that there will be a significant security net for the citizens in education, welfare and suitable public housing. This must be done without populism or demagogy. Jewish values oblige us to care for those who cannot care for themselves, mainly the elderly and children,” he stated.
Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) said the war on poverty will begin ”when we will stop fighting families that are blessed with many children,” and MK Avi Dichter (Likud) said ”If we succeeded in getting 500,000 children out of the cycle of poverty over the past five years, then we are heading in the right direction.”