A furious Yair Lapid led the charge to condemn former Blue & White leader Benny Gantz on Thursday, after his surprise announcement that he would stand for Knesset speaker despite his party picking another candidate - a move that won the backing of his ostensible rival Benjamin Netanyahu and appeared to hint at a secret deal for a unity government.
Lapid lambasted Gantz's actions as "a betrayal to voters and a theft of votes."
“We ran together because Benny Gantz looked me in the eye and said he would never sit in this bad government. I believed him," Lapid said at a joint press conference with fellow Blue & White leader Moshe Ya'alon.
"Together with us, over a million Blue & White voters marched from street to street and from bridge to bridge… They feel betrayed today, and justifiably so. Their votes were stolen and given as a gift to Netanyahu," Lapid said.
“What’s being formed today isn’t a unity government or an emergency government. It’s another Netanyahu government. Benny Gantz surrendered without a fight and crawled into Netanyahu’s government.”
Ya'alon said this was "a sad evening" and that Gantz's decision to join a Netanyahu government "symbolizes everything we oppose."
"Therefore, Yair and I have no choice but to declare our partnership as a faction that will fight against this negative phenomenon from the opposition."
Blue & White MK Meir Cohen, who was supposed to be tapped for the position of Knesset speaker before Gantz submitted his candidacy, told Blue & White supporters that, "unfortunately, Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded in dismantling Blue & White."
"We did not oppose unity, certainly not at such an hour, but we first and foremost had to insist on democracy, which has been rudely booted today by those who hasten their way," he said.
Earlier Thursday, lawmakers of the center-left bloc took the Knesset podium to condemn Gantz and his clandestine partnership with Netanyahu.
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg protested Gantz’s imminent alliance someone who she said would use him and mistreat him.
“You’ll end up a rug under the feet of an alleged crook, an inciter and racist,” Zandberg said. “We’re standing here in shock trying to internalize the depth of your deception… the disaster you’re inflicting on millions of voters [who backed] the left-democratic bloc… who sought an alternative [to Netanyahu].
“What have you done, Benny Gantz? How can you do this to the millions of voters who supported you? Meretz will have no part in this.”
MK Yousef Jabareen of the Joint List slammed Gantz's Israel Resilience party and called it a "Likud B", an offshoot of Netanyahu's ruling party.
"Likud B, who spoke of a "Jewish majority" and backed a unilateral annexation [of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank] during the election campaign, has finally joined Likud A," said Jabareen.
MK Merav Michaeli of Labor said, "Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, many Israelis took to the streets this week, people who voted for you, who supported you, who believed in you and gave you the power to replace Netanyahu. They fought to safeguard our democracy, and what do you do? You go and form a government for him."
Gantz's move received backing from his party's co-leader, Gabi Ashkenazi, who published a tweet expressing his support for the move.
“The country is in the midst of a national crisis, one of the worst we’ve known. A difficult crisis demands difficult decisions," wrote Ashkenazi. "We could not keep standing on the sidelines at a time like this. Israeli citizens now need a national emergency government.”
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, a member of Netanyahu's right-wing bloc who backed Gantz for speaker, also took to Twitter to congratulate the former Blue & White leader for his decision and declined previous reports that ministerial jobs have already been handed out as part of government negotiations.
"I congratulate Benny Gantz on his brave move to join a unity government headed by Netanyahu, this is the right thing for Israel in this time of emergency," Bennett twitted. "Any reports of [ministerial] portfolio talks are completely fake news. The prime minister or his team did not talk to or my team about such a thing."
The Knesset plenum was convened on Thursday to elect a replacement for outgoing speaker Yuli Edelstein, who resigned after the High Court of Justice ruled, he must convene parliament to vote on his replacement.
Shortly before the vote, a fierce internal conflict broke out within Blue & White, when Gantz submitted his candidacy to for the position of speaker, despite an internal agreement that Cohen would step into office after Edelstein.
The disagreement eventually led to the party to split hours later. Gantz and his Israel Resilience party will maintain 15 seats of Blue & White's 33.
Blue & White, now comprised of Lapid's Yesh Atid and Ya'alon's Telem factions, will maintain 18 seats in parliament.