Middle East Eye / September 18, 2023
The Israeli prime minister lashed out at protestors accusing them of working with the country’s enemies, in comments condemned by opposition figures.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused protesters against his rule of “joining forces with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Iran,” as he set off for a visit to the US on Monday.
As the right-wing leader departed from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, hundreds of protestors chanted: “Go and don’t come back.”
Mass protests have gripped Israel for eight months following Netanyahu’s move to overhaul the judiciary and significantly water down its oversight power.
Protestors have promised to follow Netanyahu wherever he goes on his overseas trips.
In comments made to reporters, the Israeli leader said that protestors were against the state of Israel itself rather than just against his government.
“Whoever organizes the protests does it with a lot of money,” he said. “They have made it so that blocking roads is a normal thing, that refusal [to serve in the military and in the reserves] is a normal thing, and they are defaming Israel before the world.
“We are seeing people that are joining forces with the PLO, with Iran, and with others. Nothing surprises me anymore,” he added.
Netanyahu’s first stop is in San Jose, California, where protestors are expected to greet him.
“Welcome to Alcatraz, Bibi,” read an image showing Netanyahu in an orange prison uniform projected onto the famous San Francisco-area prison.
Netanyahu is then expected to travel to New York to address the UN General Assembly and meet with US President Joe Biden. Further protests are planned in that city too.
Israeli opposition leaders have criticized Netanyahu for attacking protests in the US and Israel and for comparing them to the country’s enemies.
“There is no person who has destroyed our image in the world more than Netanyahu in recent months,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said.
“Nothing helps the Iranians more than the ‘coup d’état’ of his government. His accusations against the patriots of the protest is more proof of the serious disruption to his judgement and understanding of reality,” he added.
Another opposition leader and retired general, Benny Gantz, said that Netanyahu was causing “tremendous damage” to Israeli society.
“Netanyahu’s attack, accusing the protesters in the US of colluding with our enemies, is serious and worthy of all condemnation,” Gantz said in a statement.
“Even if we disagree on the course of action, we are talking about patriots, lovers of the country. Even a thousand flame-throwing speeches at the United Nations will not repair the tremendous damage that Netanyahu is causing to Israeli society through his conduct. It’s time to stop the ‘coup d’état’ and bring order to the government, instead of blaming the protesters,” he said.
The government’s planned judicial overhaul has split opinion within Israel’s political establishment and triggered widespread protests since it was first floated in January
Opponents of the overhaul fear the changes may lead to a more authoritarian government by removing judicial oversight of decisions made by the government and ministers.
In July, parliament passed the first key component of the reform package, which limits judicial oversight.
Netanyahu, who is fighting corruption charges in court, has said he would be willing to negotiate with the opposition. However, previous mediation efforts have failed.
The indignation is not limited to the streets and has caused ruptures within the military, long seen as one of the most revered institutions in Israel, as well as amongst former officials, including ex-senior Mossad officers.
In July, while reflecting on the bill, former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said Israel had come under the “grip” of extremists far worse than the Ku Klux Klan.
In April, US intelligence leaks suggested Mossad was encouraging people to join the protests against the bill.
Within the military, some reservists have refused to train in response to the law.