Shas chairman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri lashed out Thursday at Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, accusing him of anti-Semitic rehtoric against the ultra-Orthodox parties and of “extorting” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others during the failed recent coalition negotiations which resulted in new elections being called for September.
“For reasons of rivalry and hatred, he decided to drag the entire county into this whole situation,” Deri said at the opening of a Shas faction meeting at the Knesset.
The Knesset on Wednesday night voted to disband itself and called new elections for September 17, after Netanyahu failed to broker a compromise between Yisrael Beytenu and ultra-Orthodox parties.
Liberman demanded that coalition agreements include an obligation to pass, unaltered, a version of a bill regulating the draft of the ultra-Orthodox into the military, which last year passed its first reading. That draft of the bill is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, which want to soften its terms. Netanyahu needed both Yisrael Beytenu and the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox parties to form a majority government.
Deri, in his criticism of Liberman, went as far as to accuse the Yisrael Beytenu chief of anti-Semitism in his opposition to the ultra-Orthodox draft exemptions and attacks on the Haredi community.
“The only thing missing was him saying we have big noses or don’t bathe,” Deri said of an article that Liberman wrote during the coalition negotiations attacking Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community for their “questionable contribution” to the State of Israel.
“If the word Haredim were replaced by ‘Jews’ – we would say that it was an article from Europe,” Deri said.
But while taking Liberman to task for what he called “discrimination, plain and simple,” the Shas leader also took a broad swipe at Israel’s Russian community, which serves as a base for Liberman’s secularist Yisrael Beytenu party.
“I’m willing to go up against Liberman’s voters to see who pays more taxes,” he said. Claiming that Shas received significantly more of the soldiers’ votes than Yisrael Beytenu, Deri added, “And this is the same public that says [we] do not serve in the army.”
In a prolonged and personal account of his relationship with his former coalition partner, Deri said Liberman had once been a good friend but betrayed the respect both he and the ultra-Orthodox community had given him.
“It’s over,” he said of their relationship.
“It’s difficult to describe their demands, but we agreed to them,” Deri said. “This is the first time in my life that I have ever felt extorted, but extorted in the most obvious sense of the word.”
“And yet despite this, we did everything possible to form a government. Every time we approached them, we were greeted with another delusional demand — and I have no doubt these demands were made intentionally for us to say no — but each time we said yes, there was another demand,” he said.
“I feel very hurt and disappointed that he used us these past 40 days instead of just openly saying that he doesn’t want Netanyhau as prime minister,” Deri said.
Deri vowed that he would do “everything in my power” to ensure that the next government is able to be formed without Yisrael Beytenu.
United Torah Judaism’s Moshe Gafni said earlier Thursday that in light of Liberman’s conduct, his party would not sit with Yisrael Beytenu in the government after the next election.
“I will recommend to my colleagues not to sit with him,” Gafni told Army Radio.
He said he believed Liberman wouldn’t pass the electoral threshold in the September election. “The public won’t forgive him.”
Meanwhile, Liberman accused the Likud party Wednesday night of surrendering to the ultra-Orthodox factions.
“Unfortunately, Israel is going to repeat elections because of the refusal of Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties to accept our proposal and to vote on the draft law in second and third readings in the original version,” Liberman said.
He said the Haredi parties’ refusal to pass the law, which he described as the best possible version of such legislation, as “just one symptom of ultra-Orthodox extremism.”
A visibly angry Netanyahu launched a diatribe against Liberman in the early hours of Thursday morning. The prime minister blamed the Yisrael Beytenu party chief for “dragging the country to unnecessary elections.”
“Avigdor Liberman is now part of the left. He brings down right-wing governments. Don’t believe him again. I will tell you about it tomorrow. Maybe I will tell you some things you don’t know. He deceived the electorate just to get votes,” Netanyahu charged.