Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday fielded questions he did not get a chance to read in advance from MKs, in a fashion reminiscent of the British Parliament’s Question Time. This was Netanyahu’s first-ever Question Hour appearance.
Question Hour is a new parliamentary feature in the Knesset’s plenary sessions. Each year, the opposition has the right to invite 10 ministers to answer questions they did not see in advance. One of those times, it can be the prime minister. At least three-quarters of the questioners must come from the ranks of the opposition.
MK Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Camp) asked Netanyahu, “It was written that an allegation is being checked [by police] that your son, Yair Netanyahu, used a passport with a fake name that the Mossad gave him to open a bank account in Panama to which hundreds of thousands of dollars were funneled. I want to ask you, did your son Yair Netanyahu get a falsified passport, and in which situations can a citizen get a passport with a fake name?”
In response, Netanyahu said, “There’s no passport, no Panama, no bank account, nothing. There is a flood of foolishness, of nonsense, of fabrications, of lies. Although they’ve been dealing with this for many years, they haven’t found anything for one simple reason: there isn’t anything and there never was anything. There’s no fire and no smoke. There’s hot air – a lot of hot air. Spoiler alert – nothing will come of this, because there is nothing. Therefore, I ask all those who are asking questions and those who may have hope in their hearts: don’t hurry to have suits made. Stop the tailors. Spoiler alert – nothing will come of this, because there is nothing.”
“Since there are those who are still interested in all sorts of things like this, I want to give you all a tip: In the beginning of September I am going to Holland and afterwards I’m continuing to the UN General Assembly,” Netanyahu continued. “Since I’ve noticed that these piles (of nonsense) usually come in certain proximity to my political travels, here I’m giving you the time to come up with new things.”
Netanyahu told the House he was delighted to have this opportunity to speak to the MKs, whom he said asked better and more challenging questions than the press does. “I’m enjoying every minute,” he said, and looked it.
Addressing a question by MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) on the anti-gay remarks made by Rabbi Yigal Levinstein and why he did not address them, PM Netanyahu said “I’m not a professional internet commentator and neither do I work on MK Zandberg’s schedule, but the comments are unacceptable. The LGBT community is part of us. They are citizens like everyone else. Israel needs to be a home for all Jews.”
Asked by MK Esawi Frej (Meretz) whether he would “launder the land theft in Amona,” the prime minister said “I do not support the laundering or appropriation of lands anywhere, and I suggest that you be careful when using such terms, because they apply to many places. The court ruled that [the Jewish settlement Amona in Samaria] should be evacuated, even if there is no specific ownership over it. It is private land, but it is not known who it belongs to exactly.”
“Amona is a matter of doing justice in an issue that’s been going on for many years. Several proposals have come up, and the Defense Minister asked for a few days to examine the matter. All involved parties would like to see a settlement rather than anything else.”
MK David Amsalem (Likud) asked PM Netanyahu about the US Senate report establishing that the US State Department had interfered with the previous Israeli elections by funding the V-15, or “Victory in 2015” organization, which operated with the explicit goal of causing Netanyahu to lose the election. “I want to explain what is improper about V15,” Netanyahu said. “We have non-profits that need to work with the minimum transparency, but there is one thing that we cannot accept – bypassing the election law. How does the [election] financing law work in Israel? It sets out how each party should fund its election [campaign]. The law limits the amounts. V15 bypassed this. How? They said ‘we’re not giving to a party but rather opposing a party.'”
Netanyahu said the money was used to influence the results of last year’s Knesset election. “We in Likud complained about this loophole and didn’t get relief from the court. It’s clear to me that this is intervention. These are huge sums. This needs to be stopped, for everyone, by the way.”
Addressing a question by MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) on the conversion crisis, PM Netanyahu said, “The rabbinate is not mine. It was established in arrangement in the State of Israel from the time [the country] was established and even before that. I can’t tell you that I have managed to reach a consensus. I haven’t.”
MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Camp) asked Netanyahu about the “expulsion bill.” Netanyahu said, “In the United States [a legislator) can be dismissed with a small majority without any explanation. I believe that in Israel’s Knesset there cannot be MKs who support terror or the annihilation of Israel.”
MK Hilik Bar (Zionist Camp) mentioned a video clip from a 1990s talk show that resurfaced recently, in which Netanyahu said he supports a two-term limit for prime ministers.
Netanyahu – who is now on his fourth term, third consecutive one – said “When I made that remark I was referring to direct elections [for prime minister]. There are restrictions if someone is elected in the presidential system. I voted in favor of changing the system of government in contrast with my party’s position. If you strengthen governance, limit the number of terms, and if you do not strengthen governance, do not limit the number of terms.”
MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint Arab List) asked Netanyahu what his diplomatic plan was. “The desirable solution for us is a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state,” he said, adding that the Arab League’s peace initiative could be a basis for peace talks with the Palestinians, but only in a revised form.
“If it’s a script, then certainly we cannot [agree to it]. If it’s a basis to open talks, then sure,” he said.