Shas party leader Aryeh Deri on Wednesday assailed Blue and White head Benny Gantz, a day after the latter said he would seek a secular unity government with the Likud party but without ultra-Orthodox parties.
As his campaign sought to sharpen the contours of a government he may look to form after the elections on September 17, Gantz aligned Tuesday with Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid, who has been pushing a tougher stance against the ultra-Orthodox parties, accusing them of “extorting” government money and berating them for refusing to have members of their community serve in the military.
It was a strategy shift for Gantz, who had been making efforts to keep on good terms with potential future Haredi political partners.
Gantz’s comments echoed those of Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman, who has vowed to force Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Blue and White to form a unity government without religious parties if neither is able to cobble together a ruling majority without him.
“It is very hurtful and saddening that Gantz is being dragged by Lapid and Liberman and has chosen a path of hate, arrogance and division just to seek votes,” Deri, the interior minister, said in a statement Wednesday morning.
Addressing Gantz, he said: “You chose to reject and boycott your brothers and sisters, hundreds of thousands of Israelis, just because of their beliefs and way of life, and you will bear personal responsibility for a rift and split within the nation.”
Deri himself has for months ruled out political cooperation with Lapid, and conditioned teaming up with Gantz on the latter separating from his No. 2.
On Tuesday, Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni, leaders of fellow ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism (UTJ), lashed out at Gantz and accused him of “lacking morals and a backbone.”
“The truth is out. After trying to conceal his opinions for a long time and doing everything to separate himself from his partner Lapid, today it is revealed that there is no difference between them,” they said in a statement.
Gantz “has no problem sowing division within Israeli society for a few Knesset seats,” Litzman and Gafni said, adding that he “isn’t worthy of any responsible position.”
Liberman claimed Wednesday that the announcement by Gantz and the reactions by the ultra-Orthodox parties has been a coordinated effort by both to harm his Yisrael Beytenu party.
“We have been informed that Gantz’s announcement was part of a prearrangement between him and Litzman and Gafni, who were waiting with ready-made responses that came out a minute after Gantz’s announcement,” Yisrael Beytenu charged, despite Gantz having made the remark many hours before the reaction by Litzman and Gafni.
“It is clear that those who are made most afraid by the strengthening of Yisrael Beytenu are the ultra-Orthodox parties and Blue and White,” the party added. “Their collaboration only reaffirms Gantz’s real intention after the elections, having given the ultra-Orthodox a carte blanche. The only party that can prevent the formation of a halachic [religious] government and leave the ultra-Orthodox out of it is Yisrael Beytenu.”
In an interview published Wednesday with ultra-Orthodox newspaper Kav Itonut, Deri said he would only recommend Netanyahu as the next prime minister if he promises not to form a coalition that doesn’t include Shas.
“We are not suckers, we will sit down with Netanyahu before we go to the president and make a deal that he does not form a government without us,” he said, reversing his previous stance that he would recommend Netanyahu no matter what.
Shas and UTJ parties have been outspoken in their backing for Netanyahu, which they have committed to giving him after elections.
Blue and White was formed ahead of the April elections by a union of Gantz’s Israel Resilience party, Lapid’s Yesh Atid and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem.
It is the main challenger to Netanyahu’s Likud party, having won 35 seats in the April elections — like Likud — of the 120-seat Knesset. It is currently polling neck-and-neck with the ruling party ahead of the September 17 vote, which Netanyahu initiated when he failed to form a government in the wake of the previous elections over a dispute between Yisrael Beytenu and the ultra-Orthodox parties.
In an interview with the Ynet news site Tuesday, Gantz indicated that he would not contact UTJ or Shas for coalition talks after the election: “We are against blackmail. We will contact Likud to form a government that is based on the secular majority in Israel.”
Later in the day, Gantz at an event in Beersheba appeared to also rule out joining forces with other religious right-wing parties.
“I promise that immediately after the elections we’ll establish a liberal unity government that will be based on the majority, not extremists and extortion,” he said.
“Prime ministers have surrendered to the blackmail of sectoral parties instead of worrying about what the majority needs,” he added.