Rivlin: Likud's Attack on Bennett Was Wrong

"The intensity of the criticism against Bennett raised him up a few levels," says Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.

Elad Benari,

Speaker Reuven Rivlin
Speaker Reuven Rivlin
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Likud was wrong to launch such a wide-scale attack on Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) chairman Naftali Bennett, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said on Wednesday.

Speaking during the cornerstone laying ceremony for Yeshivat Neve Dekalim in Ashdod, Rivlin said that criticizing Bennett for his comments about refusal of orders was correct, but the intensity of the attack was too much and strengthened Bennett instead of weakening him.

"The intensity of the criticism against Bennett raised him up a few levels, making it seem as though he's more nationalist than the Likud and can be a substitute for the Likud. I do not think this is so, but it appears to be the result of the criticism," Rivlin said.

"I would lower the level of the criticism," he added.

Bennett, who served in the elite IDF unit Sayeret Matkal, said during a television interview last Thursday that if he ever receives an order to evict Jews, he would ask his commander to release him from his position and added he would be willing to serve time in prison over this issue.

While he did not advocate refusing to obey orders, candidates from other parties and particularly from the Likud were quick to seize the opportunity to claim that he did.

On Sunday, the Likud launched a massive anonymous ad campaign which appeared in all the country's newspapers and which claimed that Bennett is dangerous to democracy, while presenting his quotes from the television interview.

The campaign followed a slew of interviews by Likud members who spoke out against Bennett. These interviews included several by Netanyahu himself, in which he hinted that he would not allow Bennett to be part of his coalition because of his remarks.

The harsh criticism, however, did not seem to have hurt the Bayit Yehudi chairman – and in fact, the party is doing better than ever.

Several polls showed that Bayit Yehudi has pulled ahead of Shas, and with its 12-13 seats (depending on the poll), the party will be the third largest, after Labor and Likud-Yisrael Beytenu.

Yesha Council members told Netanyahu on Wednesday they were not pleased by his party's personal and public attacks against Bennett, saying they viewed the attacks as an assault on the national camp as well, and that the attacks definitely cost Likud votes in the upcoming elections.

"Jewish Home party is a 'sister party' of Likud and so instead of criticizing the party and Bennett, we must focus on more important things, like authorizing Beit Ezra in Hevron, and authorizing the Levy report," one member said.

Despite their disapproval of the Bennett/Netanyahu clash that is playing out in the media, the Yesha Council agreed that Netanyahu would be best to lead the country during the next term.