An absence on a March vote over ultra-Orthodox army enlistment may come back to haunt presidential hopeful Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor), after Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid instructed his party colleagues Sunday not to cast ballots for Ben-Eliezer in the closed vote next week.
Yesh Atid party members said Lapid gave the instructions in order to offset the votes of various ultra-Orthodox MKs, who have vowed to support candidates who voted against the Yesh Atid-backed Equal Service Bill, which established a new conscription policy for the ultra-Orthodox community, Walla news reported.
Lapid had warned in the past that he would not back Ben-Eliezer’s candidacy, a retaliatory measure for the Labor Party’s decision to boycott the Knesset votes on several major bills, including the Haredi draft legislation, promoted by Yesh Atid two months ago.
Ben-Eliezer met on Sunday with Yesh Atid members, but the party leadership did not change its stance against backing him, Channel 2 news reported. The TV report said the decision not to support Ben-Eliezer was taken by the party as a whole, not imposed by Lapid.
The president will be picked from among six candidates by the 120 Knesset members in a confidential vote set for June 10.
Aside from Ben-Eliezer, the candidates are Reuven Rivlin of the Likud, Hatnua MK Meir Sheetrit, former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, and Chemistry Nobel Prize laureate Daniel Shechtman.
The race to find a successor to the incumbent, Shimon Peres, whose term officially ends on July 27, has been marked by gossip and controversy over several months.
Last month, Hebrew media reported that Netanyahu was aiming to postpone the elections for up to six months, during which time he could push through a law abolishing the presidential office — an idea quickly shot down by Lapid.
Three week ago, a negative campaign video targeting front-runner candidate Rivlin was sent anonymously via email to all of the 120 Knesset members.
The video purported to show Rivlin grouped alongside “wheeler dealers,” including the recently sentenced former prime minister Ehud Olmert, the incarcerated former president Moshe Katsav, and former finance minister Avraham Hirschson, who served time for embezzlement. The clip also features news clippings about Rivlin from the past, and features the caption “How much does it cost to buy a Knesset member in Israel?”
Meanwhile, Ben-Eliezer was accused of gambling in London between 1999 and 2002, during his tenures as deputy prime minister, communications minister, housing minister and defense minister.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.