Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Saturday meeting with Likud ministers to discuss his backtracking on an agreement with his finance minister angered his religious party coalition allies, who rapped his “unacceptable” violation of the Jewish Sabbath.
Netanyahu, who was leaving for China later Saturday night, met with Likud ministers Miri Regev, Yariv Levin and Tzachi Hanegbi and coalition chairman David Bitan at his Jerusalem residence earlier in the day and discussed the developing coalition crisis resulting from his change of stance concerning the foundation of a new public broadcaster.
United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni said it was “unacceptable” for the prime minister to hold a meeting on the Sabbath.
“This is an unprecedented and grave incident which is religiously unacceptable, even if it was an unofficial gathering,” Gafni said.
The ultra-Orthodox lawmaker said that Netanyahu’s office told him in response that the Saturday meeting was unplanned and that the prime minister vowed he would never do it again.
“A few ministers came over in an unofficial capacity,” the Prime Minister’s Office told Gafni. “He [Netanyahu] himself does not violate the Shabbat and has promised the incident will not happen again in the future.”
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, also a UTJ politician, said he was “shocked” to hear of the meeting and would seek clarification from Netanyahu regarding the “serious incident” later in the evening.
“This is a severe injury in the sanctity of the Sabbath and a negative change in the status quo of not holding official government business on Shabbat and holidays,” he said.
With ongoing police investigations into Netanyahu in several separate cases leaving his political future unclear, all parties appear to be gearing up for new elections in the not-too-distant future.
On Saturday, Netanyahu intensified talk of early elections by backtracking on an agreement with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to set up a new public broadcasting corporation.
If Kahlon refuses to scrap the new broadcaster, Netanyahu was reported to have told Likud ministers at his home on Saturday, “we’ll go to elections.” In the elections, he further reportedly said, Kahlon’s Kulanu would be wiped off the political map, and then he would pass legislation to cancel the new corporation.
Infuriated, Kahlon was reported to have contacted opposition leader Isaac Herzog and discussed the possibility of introducing a motion of no-confidence in the government. “If Netanyahu wants elections, we’ll have elections,” Kulanu party leader Kahlon was said to have told colleagues.
“Netanyahu has lost his shame and is behaving irresponsibly,” a Kulanu party official told Army Radio late Saturday. “He has decided it suits him to go to elections; the broadcaster is just an excuse.”
The opposition Meretz party will submit a bill to dismiss the Knesset this week, with party leader Zehava Galon charging that Netanyahu was also causing the coalition crisis because of the police investigations against him.
Political analysts on Israel’s Channel 2 news suggested that the corruption allegations Netanyahu is currently fighting might be a factor in his tactics, and that he might deem it useful to have the possibility available of a rapid resort to elections as the police investigations into his conduct come to a head. His Likud is also faring fairly well in current opinion polls. Kahlon’s center-right Kulanu party, by contrast, is losing ground.
Litzman told Walla news that his UTJ party has no stake in the broadcaster issue, “but if they decide to go to elections over it, we’ll go. In my opinion it’s unnecessary but as I said we’ll contend with every outcome.”
UTJ has threatened it would not vote with the coalition next week unless a committee overseeing school licensing was established by Monday. The coalition agreements between Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox party in 2015 stipulated that the committee would be set up within 60 days of the establishment of the government.