Blue and White MK: In knocking Joint List, PM ‘declared war’ on Jewish democracy

Ofer Shelah slams Likud leader for claiming votes for predominantly Arab party don’t count; asserts that there’s a majority in Knesset against ‘Netanyahu state’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah attends a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah attends a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Blue and White MK Ofer Shelah on Thursday castigated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for having “declared war against [Israel’s] Jewish democracy” after the Likud leader gave a speech at the Knesset insinuating that the majority-Arab Joint List is illegitimate.

“Netanyahu’s statement yesterday that he won the election because the Joint List is not counted was an official declaration of war on the Jewish and democratic state,” Shelah said in a Facebook post.

“In the Israel of [our] founding fathers… the Arabs and other non-Zionists are citizens of equal right, [but] in the State of Netanyahu, they have no right to vote, be represented or participate in the democratic game,” Shelah charged.

Netanyahu gave a fiery speech at a joint meeting of the Likud, Yamina, Shas and United Torah Judaism factions on Wednesday, during which he claimed to have won Monday’s election because his “Zionist-right” bloc received more seats, 58, than the Zionist-left bloc, 47.

“The Joint List, which attacks our soldiers and opposes the State of Israel, is not part of the equation,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the heads of right-wing parties, after Israeli elections once against appear to leave him without a clear majority, March 04, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Blasting Netanyahu’s remarks, Shelah said they were akin to those made by extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned as racist from the Knesset in the 1970s. Lawmakers at the time made a habit of walking out of the plenum when the anti-coexistence MK spoke.

“There is a majority in the new Knesset that is for the State of Israel and against the State of Netanyahu. We will use it without hesitation to act decisively in the campaign over the image of our country,” Shelah concluded, in apparent reference to a law his party plans to advance to prevent Netanyahu from forming a coalition due to the indictments against him.

The proposed legislation received a boost earlier Thursday when the Yisrael Beytenu party announced that it would support it.

“At the faction meeting that just ended, it was decided to move forward with the promotion of two laws,” the secular, right-wing party said in a statement. “The first law [will] limit the tenure of a prime minister to two terms. The second law [will] prevent an MK facing indictment from forming a government.”

The legislation is aimed directly at Netanyahu, who has served four terms as prime minister and has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases against him that are slated to begin on March 17.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a meeting with members of the right-wing and Orthodox parties. On the board, he writes that the Zionist right has won 58 seats in the elections, and the Zionist left 47 — comprising Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu and Labor-Gesher-Meretz. (Crossed out is “Left-wing camp – 54.) These figures exclude the Joint List of mainly Arab parties, which won 15 seats in the March 2 election (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu joins MKs from Blue and White, Labor-Gesher-Meretz and the Joint List who have said they would back legislation barring Netanyahu from forming a coalition. If all members of the four parties support it, the law will pass with a majority of 62 votes in favor.

Netanyahu in his speech at the Knesset accused rival Benny Gantz of seeking to undermine democracy and defy the will of the public in backing such a law.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz at the party’s post-election event in Tel Aviv on March 3, 2020. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)

After more than 99 percent of the votes were tallied, Likud and its allies had 58 seats combined. The right-wing religious bloc supporting Netanyahu — consisting of Likud, Shas, UTJ and Yamina — thus fell short of the 61 seats needed to form a government.

A similar law to the one being pushed by Blue and White, that would have ousted a premier facing an indictment, was supported by Netanyahu himself in 2008, when Ehud Olmert was facing corruption charges, Hebrew-language media reported. The law didn’t pass, but Olmert resigned before the charges were filed.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the plan to pass a law barring a person facing criminal charges from serving as prime minister was technically possible to implement, with some observers arguing that private, non-governmental draft laws cannot be filed during a transitional government.

Blue and White is apparently convinced it is possible, and that it isn’t different from Likud proposing a law to dissolve the Knesset and call new elections, which was voted on and passed.

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