Israel opposition leader slams Netanyahu in key speech

Published January 11, 2019, 10:01 AM

by AJ Siytangco

By Agence France-Presse

A key Israeli opposition figure on Thursday slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public criticism of authorities investigating him on graft allegations, saying such behavior was not “normal”.

Avi Gabbay, chairman of Israel's Labour Party, delivers a speech at a party conference in Tel Aviv on January 10, 2019 (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)
Avi Gabbay, chairman of Israel’s Labour Party, delivers a speech at a party conference in Tel Aviv on January 10, 2019 (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

“In a normal country the prime minister does not attack the justice authorities,” Labour party leader Avi Gabbay told a party convention for the first time since the start of campaigning for April’s general election.

“Millions of decent Israelis are yearning for a normal country,” he said in a speech.

“Let’s roll up our sleeves and replace the prime minister, who has mired the whole country in his personal affairs.”

Police have recommended Netanyahu be indicted in three separate corruption cases and the attorney general is expected to announce his decision on whether to indict the premier in the weeks or months ahead.

Netanyahu has openly urged the attorney general not to issue his decision before the election.

On Monday he slammed the investigations as “biased”, during a live, prime-time television address slammed by his opponents as a stunt.

Polls show Netanyahu is likely to remain prime minister after the elections despite the allegations.

Gabbay’s speech on Thursday evening was punctuated from the start by boos and whistles from the floor.

There have been rumblings of dissent over his political leadership and management of party affairs.

They were fueled last week by his surprise ditching of an opposition alliance with veteran politician Tzipi Livni and her Hatnuah party.

Their Zionist Union coalition won the second most seats in the last general election in 2015, but Labour has since tumbled in opinion polls.

Gabbay sought to make light of the heckling that greeted him when he walked onto the stage.

“I want to congratulate you on all the different opinions and voices in our party,” Gabbay said. “Even the criticism and the shouting.”

The noise in the hall, he said, was proof that Labour was “a truly democratic party.”

He pledged that if Labour was able to form a government it would resume long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.

It would also amend a contentious law defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, making Hebrew the official language and downgrading the status of Arabic, he said.

Despite the outbursts in the convention center, a Labour party statement said members had voted to approve Gabbay’s proposed procedures for primaries slated for February.