Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained Thursday that he has been subjected to a relentless campaign of personal attacks by opponents who have not spared his wife, his children or his friends.
"There is a personal price," Netanyahu said in an unexpected outpouring at what was supposed to be a brief appearance before photographers. "It's not true that I have the skin of an elephant. There is a personal price - and it hurts."The latest attack on the prime minister came this week when an opposition legislator called for an investigation of allegations that Netanyahu had tried to influence the judge in a high-profile treason case.
The legislator, Nissim Zvili, has since withdrawn the demand, saying he accepted the judge's denial. Netanyahu also denied having had contact with the judge.
Netanyahu Thursday blamed "elements in the opposition," who he said "took advantage of this ugly opportunity to discredit me . . . even at the expense of the good name of a judge and at the cost of undermining confidence in the Israeli judicial system.
"If I ever thought there was a limit to how low my opponents were willing to go, it turns out I was wrong," he said.
"This is not a thing of a day or two," he added, speaking slowly and emotionally. "In the past few years, I have been the target of insults, ridicule, lies, jabs and baseless claims. I, my wife and my children, my colleagues serve as targets of stories that never existed.
"These things have one name: character assassination."
Netanyahu's bitter attack seemed disproportionate to the accusations made against him this week, although it was not the first time he has claimed to be the victim of a conspiracy by opponents who have never accepted his election.
Netanyahu said he and his family had paid "a heavy personal price," and that in addition there was a national price - the fomenting of hatred that "destroys Israeli society and brings us down.
"It's time to stop it," he said. "Enough."
As opposition leader, Net-an-yahu was accused of failing to discourage his supporters from savage attacks on Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that were blamed for helping create an atmosphere that led to Rabin's assassination in 1995.