Shas leader Aryeh Deri and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman traded barbs Sunday over their respective constituencies — the ultra-Orthodox and largely secular immigrants from the former Soviet Union — as political gridlock continued and new elections appeared imminent.
Liberman, whose tough stance against ultra-Orthodox parties following the elections in April and September prevented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming a government that includes both those parties and Yisrael Beytenu, accused both the Likud party and its rival Blue and White of being beholden to the ultra-Orthodox parties
In a Facebook post, Deri, the interior minister, responded: “You demanded over NIS 2 billion for pensioners from the former Soviet Union who don’t work and don’t pay taxes. You demanded [Israel] open 17 immigration offices in former Soviet countries, states in which it’s doubtful there are even any Jews. And more.
“So how do you have the audacity to accuse the Haredim [ultra-Orthodox] of extorting?” he said.
Deri denied Liberman’s claim that Blue and White had offered four ministerial portfolios to Shas last month to coax the Haredi party into joining it in forming a government.
Liberman, responding in a statement, said: “You seem to have a problem with reading comprehension. Maybe this is the results of the lack of core studies in the Haredi schools. In my post, I didn’t write a thing about Haredi extortion. My claims are against Netanyahu and Likud who bow to pressures by the non-Zionist parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.”
Liberman’s standoff with ultra-Orthodox parties over matters of religion and state has been a major obstacle in coalition negotiations. Two rounds of elections within a year, in April and then September, failed to produce a coalition or a unity government.
Liberman — who refused to join a Netanyahu government in May over disagreements with ultra-Orthodox parties on the military draft law of ultra-Orthodox students — has been pushing for a secularist unity government of Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beytenu.
However, last week, Liberman said that had Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu been willing to compromise on religion and state issues, he would have joined a right-wing government alongside the religious parties. On Sunday, he issued a list of what he said were his “minimum” demands from religious parties in order to serve with them in a coalition.
Two rounds of elections, in April and September, failed to produce an elected government — a first in Israeli political history. The Knesset now has a December 11 deadline for lawmakers to agree on an MK to form a government, or parliament will be dissolved and third elections set, likely for March.