Daily Israel Report

PM's Choice of Bar Ilan Speech Venue Leaves MKs Guessing

Some MKs think PM is afraid of catcalls from left, but others believe he fears the nationalists. Speaker Rivlin also opposes Bar Ilan venue.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 6/7/2009, 6:48 PM

Knesset Members from several factions criticized Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Sunday for opting to deliver a major policy speech next Tuesday at Bar Ilan University instead of the usual venue for such addresses – the Knesset. MKs from the left end of the political spectrum hinted at fear that Netanyahu chose Bar Ilan because he intends to present hawkish views, while MKs from the right are concerned about the opposite possibility: that Netanyahu wants to present dovish views and wishes to avoid catcalls from nationalist MKs.

A surrender à-la Sharon?
Commenting on Netanyahu’s choice of venue, MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) said that “Prime Ministers in Israel have a worrying tendency – which sometimes indicates cowardice – to prefer places where no one argues with them. We saw this in Sharon’s and Olmert’s days, and there is concern that Netanyahu is on the same track, not just in his choice of place and podium but also in order to sound similar messages of surrender,” he warned.

“It is impossible to understand why Israeli prime ministers who head a large and stable coalition are afraid to make their political stands public at the Knesset,” Eldad added. “If someone is afraid of a few catcalls from the benches of his party and those of the national opposition, how will he face pressures from the United States?”, he asked.

Rivlin is opposed
Among the MKs voicing criticism of the decision is Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party.

“I do not understand Netanyahu’s wish to present his plan at the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar Ilan University,” Rivlin said Sunday. “I will not budge from my stand that the Knesset, as an arena for discussion and decision, is the sole venue for presentation of political plans and any move that has fateful ramifications for the State of Israel,” the second-time Knesset Speaker said.

“The Prime Minister would do well to bring to the Knesset the central matters on the agenda of the state and the nation, instead of continuing the tradition that his predecessors began,” he added, in an allusion to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s famous speech at the Herzliya Conference in 2003 in which he presented the idea of the Disengagement from Gaza, as well as subsequent speeches by Sharon and his replacement at the helm of state, Ehud Olmert.

Fearing the left?
MK Danny Danon, also of the Likud faction, agreed with Rivlin: “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should deliver his planned policy speech at the Knesset podium and not at Bar Ilan University, and he should not fear the catcalls by members of the extreme Left,” he said.

Meretz faction whip, MK Ilan Gilon, said that “if Netanyahu has something to say, he should say it from behind the Knesset podium and not at Bar Ilan, which he may see as the Israeli equivalent of Al-Azhar University [where U.S. President Barack Obama gave his speech last week].”

“We know that good things do not always come out of Bar Ilan University,” Gilon said, in a reference to Yigal Amir, the Bar Ilan student who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin in 1995.

MKs Nachman Shai (Kadima) and Uri Ariel (National Union) asked Speaker Rivlin to try to persuade Netanyahu to make his speech at the Knesset, out of respect for the parliament.