Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t let the coalition collapse over a controversial bill to legislate Israel’s Jewish character, Channel 2 reported Saturday night.
With this in mind, the prime minister will not present a harshly worded version of the “Jewish state” bill for a first Knesset reading this Wednesday, as had been scheduled, but will instead present his own softened version of the bill to the cabinet on Sunday and to the Knesset for a first reading in the week starting December 7.
Opposition to the law was highlighted at a demonstration outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on Saturday night. The protest, which was attended by Labor, Meretz and Peace Now supporters, drew some 2,000 people, Channel 10 reported.
Former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon, who was among the speakers, reportedly castigated the “pyromaniacs” leading Israel, and branded Netanyahu “an egomaniac.”
The TV report on Netanyahu’s new stance on the bill indicated that feverish speculation about imminent general elections may die down a little for a few days.
However, Shas party leader Aryeh Deri told Channel 2 that moves had been afoot in recent weeks by some of Netanyahu’s coalition partners to unseat him in mid-government, and that he had been asked to help them form an alternative government. Refusing to name those who had approached him, Deri said he rejected their approaches.
Deri also said that Netanyahu also talked to him about this effort to oust him as prime minister, and that Netanyahu sought promises from Shas and the other ultra-Orthodox party, United Torah Judaism, that they would partner with him in a new coalition.
Deri told Channel 2 he promised Netanyahu that he would not join a new government without Netanyahu before the next elections, but refused to make any promises regarding whom Shas would partner with after elections.
Meantime, Labor opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Saturday that he was confident he would be Israel’s next prime minister.
According to the Channel 2 report, Netanyahu said in a recent closed door meeting that he wouldn’t jeopardize the current government over the “Jewish state” bill, which has caused a rift between him and two of his key coalition partners, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. At the same time, however, Netanyahu has also been quoted saying privately that it is becoming impossible to govern with the current coalition.
The controversial bill, which would enshrine Israel’s character as a Jewish state in Israel’s de facto constitution, has come under harsh criticism from Lapid, Livni, as well as opposition lawmakers, President Reuven Rivlin, and his predecessor Shimon Peres.
Netanyahu will attempt to ease tensions over the bill by presenting his own softened draft of the bill, the wording of which Livni and Lapid reportedly do not oppose, to cabinet ministers on Sunday. Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin’s version of the “Jewish state” bill, which was approved in principle by ministers at a raucous meeting last Sunday and has received vociferous criticism from across the political spectrum, won’t be voted on this Wednesday and will now apparently be superseded by Netanyahu’s milder formulation. Still, Elkin himself said Saturday night that he had not yet been asked to withdraw the bill.
The PM last week drew up 14 “principles” — a two-page articulation of the guiding principles for the as-yet unsubmitted government version of the nation-state bill — as a softened version to the more “right-wing” versions submitted by Elkin and fellow MKs Yariv Levin, Robert Ilatov and Ayelet Shaked.
More critical to Netanyahu, Channel 2’s Amit Segal said Saturday night, is the governability of the current coalition and finding common ground with Lapid. The two are at an impasse, and Lapid said earlier Saturday that he and Netanyahu have not had substantive discussions for some time.
Lapid charged that Israel was “deadlocked” — economically and diplomatically, with its international relations at an “unprecedented nadir” — while Netanyahu stood idly by and worried about narrow political interests.
Likud sources responded later Saturday that Lapid was “two-faced” — claiming to stand for clean politics, but actually playing narrow politics himself, including advancing legislation to cut VAT on new housing “in order to help the building contractors who are close to his own party’s advisers.”
Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, the Knesset’s largest, holds 19 seats in parliament and is a key component of Netanyahu’s government.
Critics say the “Jewish state” law is undemocratic to Israel’s Arab and other minority populations. A stormy cabinet meeting on the bill at the beginning of the week saw Livni accuse Netanyahu of backing the legislation in order to try and pry apart the coalition so that he could call elections.