Blue and White accuses Likud of trying to lure away its MKs

Moshe Ya’alon calls report that Netanyahu confidant working to convince ultra-Orthodox lawmaker to defect for coalition a ‘moral low’

Blue and White MK Omer Yankelevich poses for a photo with her family ahead of the swearing-in of the 21st Knesset on April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Blue and White MK Omer Yankelevich poses for a photo with her family ahead of the swearing-in of the 21st Knesset on April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The Blue and White party pushed back Wednesday against what it said were attempts by the Likud party to lure its lawmakers into the coalition it is building, as talks to form a government appear to hit loggerheads.

Moshe Ya’alon, a senior lawmaker from the opposition-bound Blue and White alliance, called the attempt to try and get its lawmakers to jump ship and join a Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu-led coalition “a moral low.”

The accusation came after an Israeli newspaper reported that a close confidant of Netanyahu was trying to convince Blue and White MK Omer Yankelevich to join a coalition.

“In a moral low, Netanyahu’s people are reaching out to MKs from Blue and White to join the coalition and whitewash his criminal convictions,” Ya’alon wrote on Twitter.

Ya’alon, a former Likud defense minister, was referring to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to indict Netanyahu in a series of corruption cases. Netanyahu, who has denied wrongdoing, is entitled to a hearing with Mandelblit before he is formally charged.

Blue and White MK Moshe Ya’alon speaks at a faction meeting ahead of the swearing-in of the 21st Knesset on April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

According to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, Natan Eshel, a Likud negotiator in the coalition talks, has reached out to unnamed ultra-Orthodox figures in a bid to have Yankelevich join the coalition.

Natan Eshel in February. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon / Flash90)
Natan Eshel (Kobi Gideon / Flash90)

“We don’t have a government without her vote,” Eshel is quoted saying of Yankelevich, an ultra-Orthodox woman. “We want her to leave Blue and White and join Likud.”

Yedioth reported Eshel said Yankelevich would head a special Knesset committee dealing with ultra-Orthodox matters if she joined Likud and not be “just another meaningless MK in Blue and White.”

The addition of Yankelevich or another Blue and White lawmaker to the coalition could allow Netanyahu to form a ruling majority of 61 MKs without Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, whose secularist party’s platform is sharply at odds with the ultra-Orthodox and religious parties expected to join a government.

Yankelevich later dismissed the report as a “fantasy” and expressed support for Blue and White and its leader Benny Gantz.

“This is a complete lie,” she wrote on Facebook.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset, October 12, 2015. To his left stands Moshe Ya’alon, behind him Avigdor Liberman (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Yedioth report came ahead of a meeting Wednesday between Netanyahu and Liberman aimed at solving the impasse in coalition talks.

On Tuesday, Liberman told his Yisrael Beytenu MKs that one of his key conditions for joining the coalition would be “creating an agreed-upon security policy.” But he admitted that his party’s position on religion and state issues presented a bigger obstacle.

One of the thorniest issue is legislation regulating — and limiting — exemptions to military conscription for ultra-Orthodox students, which the secularist Liberman is insisting should be passed without amendment, while ultra-Orthodox parties have said they will not join the coalition if it is advanced without changes. Both Yisrael Beytenu and the ultra-Orthodox are essential for Netanyahu if he is to assemble a governing coalition with a majority of Knesset seats.

In 2017, the High Court of Justice ruled that a 2015 version of Israel’s draft law granting most yeshiva students exemptions from service was unconstitutional, telling lawmakers they must pass new guidelines for ultra-Orthodox enlistment. In 2018, the court granted the government another month and a half to pass the bill, extending an early December deadline to mid-January, but the Knesset was then dissolved and elections set for April 9.

Earlier this month, the leader of ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party insisted that he would not join Netanyahu’s new government if the proposed legislation on drafting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students into the army isn’t changed, heralding tough coalition-building negotiations for the premier.

Yaakov Litzman, the current deputy health minister, said all his party’s demands were coordinated with fellow ultra-Orthodox party Shas. UTJ and Shas have eight Knesset seats each.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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