After Labor merger, Levy-Abekasis rules out joining government with indicted PM

Leader of Gesher faction says Netanyahu should resign if charged, says she won’t vote in favor of immunity laws, doesn’t disqualify working with Likud party

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis attends a Knesset committee meeting on March 15, 2017.(Miriam Alster/Flash90)
MK Orly Levy-Abekasis attends a Knesset committee meeting on March 15, 2017.(Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In her first statements since merging her Gesher party with Labor, Orly Levy-Abekasis said Friday that she would not sit in a government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if he is indicted.

“Sitting with Netanyahu while he’s under indictment isn’t an option. He’ll be forced to spend many hours in the courthouse, and the country needs a prime minister who can give his full time,” Levy-Abekasis told Channel 13.

Netanyahu is facing indictment, pending a hearing with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, on fraud and breach of trust charges in three corruption cases, and on a bribery charge in one of them.

He has proclaimed his innocence and said that even if he is charged, which could occur as early as October, he can continue to serve as prime minister.

On Thursday, Levy-Abekasis said her Gesher party would ally with Labor, seemingly marking a rightward shift for the center-left Labor.

The move by leader Amir Peretz drew the condemnation of left-wing leaders Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz and Ehud Barak of the newly formed Israel Democratic party, who charged that Peretz and Levy-Abekasis could end up joining a Netanyahu government.

Peretz also said Saturday that he would not join a government led by Netanyahu “under suspicion or under indictment.”

Levy-Abekasis, a former Knesset member with the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party led by Avigdor Liberman, split off to form her own party, Gesher, earlier this year but failed to make it into the Knesset in April.

Though she focuses on social issues, the daughter of former Likud foreign minister David Levy has remained largely identified with the right, and the merger was seen as a move by Labor to push for more support from the political center rather than from Meretz, which is further to the left.

Gesher party chair Orly Levy-Abekasis (L) and Labor head Amir Peretz announce their joint run in the September election, in Tel Aviv, July 18, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

On Friday, Levy-Abekasis told Channel 13 that she did not rule out partnering with Likud, but said that Netanyahu had led the party astray, away from its social principles, and that he should resign if indicted. She rejected the idea of voting for of so-called immunity laws that would grant Netanyahu immunity from prosecution.

“It’s not the party that I grew up with,”she said, referring to Likud. “I won’t vote for immunity laws, and Likud is a worthy party but whoever stands at its head needs to prove that Israel’s interests are important to them. We won’t sit with Netanyahu until it’s clear there won’t be an indictment against him.”

She said it was necessary to wait on a decision from Mandelblit before deciding whether or not to work with Netanyahu, whose hearing with Mandelblit is scheduled for October 2-3, after the attorney general declined last month to delay it due to the September 17 elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 14, 2019. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)

An official indictment can take weeks or months after the hearing.

She gave tentative support to Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, saying “not everyone’s perfect, but he’s worthy of being prime minister.”

Despite her partnering with the left-wing Labor, she said Gesher, which means “bridge” in Hebrew, would maintain its positions to the right of Labor.

“I’m coming as a ‘bridge.’ Gesher is an independent faction. Gesher will maintain its agenda,” she told Channel 12.

She said she would be in favor of a potential peace agreement with the Palestinians, which she said would require concessions regarding West Bank settlements. Any politicians who said otherwise were lying or unrealistic, she said.

“If there is a peace agreement, of course I’ll be in favor, as long as our security needs are met, and our interests regarding borders,” she said.

Gesher is expected to receive three seats in the joint slate’s first 10 spots, Channel 12 news reported. It is not clear where exactly party members will be placed.

At the press conference announcing the merger, Levy-Abekasis said she had received merger offers from right and left but “when the offer came from Amir it felt natural to me to bring down the walls and look at what unites and connects us… it’s time we let go of the terms ‘right’ and ‘left’ and come together for the good of the country.”

She added that some offers had been “more enticing and safer, but I preferred to go with someone I could trust. He’s proven himself in the past.”

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed