Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to aid the extremist Otzma Yehudit party enter the Knesset, with his aides offering to help it pass the electoral threshold in the upcoming election in exchange for the far-right leader promising not to run if the party’s effort is nevertheless unsuccessful and if an additional election is called, Itamar Ben Gvir said Wednesday.
Ben Gvir, who has resisted heavy pressure to withdraw from the race amid fears his party could end up “wasting” tens of thousands of right-wing votes if it fell short of the electoral threshold, made the remark in a radio interview with the Kan public broadcaster.
He was asked in the interview about a report that appeared earlier in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily that said — without citing a source — that Netanyahu’s associates had offered to get ultra-Orthodox or religious Zionist rabbis to publicly support Ben Gvir during this campaign in exchange for him vowing not to run again if it didn’t win enough votes to enter the Knesset in March.
Asked if he could confirm or deny the report, Ben Gvir said: “I don’t deny.”
While cautioning that nothing was final and that he wanted to hear confirmation of the deal from Netanyahu himself, Ben Gvir said: “The talk is that after Netanyahu helps [us] … their proposal is that if Otzma enters [the Knesset] there is a right-wing government, and if Otzma isn’t in — yes, they are saying that we shouldn’t run if there is another election.”
Ben Gvir said that “if Netanyahu will be decent and will help, we will have to think what we do if there are fourth elections.”
Netanyahu’s Likud party denied the report, calling it a “lie.”
“There is no deal with Ben Gvir,” it added. “A vote for Otzma Yehudit and for Ben Gvir endangers the right wing’s victory.”
The report was quickly seized upon by Likud’s main rivals in the March 2 vote, the centrist Blue and White party.
Party chief Benny Gantz tweeted a screenshot of the Yedioth report and added a reference to Netanyahu’s efforts to secure immunity from criminal charges and to Ben Gvir famously having a photo of Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein — who killed 29 Muslim worshipers in Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994 — on his living room wall.
“I won’t be surprised if to evade a trial he will put up Baruch Goldstein’s photo at [the Prime Minister’s Office on] Balfour [Street],” Gantz wrote.
“Likud is already working on the fourth election. Only a vote for Blue and White can prevent that,” tweeted Blue and White’s No. 2 Yair Lapid, ahead of coalition talks that are likely to involve mutual accusations that the other party wants another costly vote.
Before the September elections, and after failing to convince leaders of the right-wing Yamina party to include Otzma Yehudit in their alliance, Netanyahu waged an aggressive campaign against Otzma.
Nevertheless, the party got some 84,000 votes — far from the 3.25% electoral threshold which stood at 144,196, but still a large number of votes that didn’t eventually count toward any party and likely contributed to the deadlock that yielded an unprecedented third election in one year.
In his interview Wednesday, Ben Gvir also assailed Yamina and its leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, alleging that they were “very close” with Blue and White and looking for an opportunity to part with Netanyahu.
Shaked responded by telling Army Radio: “We will definitely not join a government headed by Gantz.”
In announcing that he wasn’t quitting the race last month, Ben Gvir had claimed that overtures for him to drop out included promises of sweetheart jobs in influential quasi-government bodies, ministerial positions and even an ambassadorship, all of which he rejected.
“It’s no secret that officials in the coalition have offered me many proposals in the last few days that would have kept me comfortable for years.”
“The Prime Minister’s Office has denied [these offers], but they know very well which important officials in the coalition offered to make me minister. And not just minister. I was offered a position in KKL JNF Jewish National Fund, the World Zionist Organization… and even an ambassador posting,” Ben Gvir claimed.