Smotrich, Ben Gvir downplay ‘Netanyahu is liar of all liars’ recording

Religious Zionism chairman says leaked recording is left-wing attempt to “drive a wedge” into right-wing unity ahead of national election.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Religious Zionism Chairman Betzalel Smotrich harshly criticized Benjamin Netanyahu in an explosive voice recording that was leaked to the media on Sunday, slightly more than a week ahead of Israel’s national election.

Smotrich, whose party is seeking to form a right-wing government with Likud under Netanyhau’s leadership, is heard saying that the former prime minister is the “liar of all liars” and that he had misled the public about his intention to form a government with Islamist party Ra’am in 2021.

Netanyahu “desperately wanted” to ally with the party, which is rumored to be linked to Hamas, and is now “lying through his teeth” about engaging in advanced negotiations with Ra’am.

The Religious Zionism head also said he expects the political career of Netanyahu, 73, to come to an end in the coming years due to his advanced age or a possible criminal conviction.

Although the leaked recording made headlines, Smotrich and MK Itamar Ben Gvir, his party’s popular number two member, downplayed the significance of the recording.

“Someone leaked some old recordings of mine from a long time ago,” Smotrich explained in a video statement. “I want to say clearly: I spoke with my partners and friends, including Benjamin Netanyahu, and we will not allow anyone to [stir up] conflict between us.”

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In a formal statement released several hours later, Smotrich added that he had been working for the past year in “full and close cooperation” with Netanyahu, and that “together we have successfully led the fight to overthrow the evil Lapid-Bennett government.”

The intention of the leak was to “drive a wedge into the [right-wing] camp out of pressure and panic,” he said.

Ben Gvir said that while he “didn’t like the recording I heard,” the statements appear to have been made “a long time ago.” While criticism of Netanyahu is legitimate, he said, “we shouldn’t speak about someone who we want to be prime minister in that way.”

The MK stressed that “we need to tell Netanyahu – we want you to be prime minister, but only in a full right-wing government.”

Speaking to Hebrew-language media outlets, Ra’am chair Mahmoud Abbas confirmed his statements from 2021. He said that Netanyahu and the Likud party had engaged in intense negotiations, ahead of the previous election, aimed at getting his Islamist party to support a Likud-led government coalition from the outside although not officially becoming part of it.

In exchange, Abbas’ party would have received some 15 billion shekels in funding for the Arab community, Abbas said.