Blue and White Party leader MK Benny Gantz on Tuesday said that he would not rule out New Right’s Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett as coalition partners should he be tasked with forming a government after the coming elections.
Still, Gantz said he would have a problem with their current campaign partner, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the Jewish Home party.
Gantz told the Kan public radio that his party has common ground “with most of the political map, but when there are extremists on one side — that’s a clear red line for us.”
Shaked currently heads the United Right, an alliance of New Right, Jewish Home and the National Union. Bennett, No.2 in New Right, is fourth on the combined slate, which was formed this week ahead of September 17 elections.
Smotrich, who leads the National Union, caused controversy last month by saying he “works for God” and not the prime minister, and also for calling for Israel to be governed by Jewish religious law, like in biblical times.
As a lawmaker in 2016, he stated his support for segregated Jewish and Arab wards in Israeli hospitals.
“When I set up a government and Bennett and Shaked want to join — that won’t be ruled out,” Gantz told Kan. “But when Smotrich offers racist opinions and preaches a Torah-law state — then the problem starts.”
Less than an hour after the United Right merger was announced Monday, Gantz’s party released an add attacking each of the joint slate’s top four members, Shaked, Education Minister Rafi Peretz, Smotrich and Bennett, as “radicals.”
Bennett has previously said the United Right alliance would serve as a “technical bloc” for the purpose of the elections only and that the sides would be free to go their separate ways after the next coalition is formed.
During his interview with Kan, Gantz also appeared dismissive of Democratic Camp candidate Ehud Barak’s calls for Blue and White to join with center-left slates in one “large union” aimed at preventing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection.
“I understand the words, but don’t understand the meaning behind them,” the Blue and White chief said.
Still, Gantz said that while his party has an “excellent slate” and there is no reason to change it, there could still be a “surprise” before it is sealed.
Parties have until a Thursday deadline to submit their slates for the elections.
Gantz, the main challenger to Netanyahu, repeated his insistence that his party won’t form a coalition with the Likud if it is still being led by the premier, due to the looming corruption charges against him. Netanyahu is facing an indictment pending an October hearing in three corruption cases, one of which also includes bribery suspicions.
Gantz also didn’t rule out a coalition with MK Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu Party. He noted that Liberman has said he will support the leader of the biggest party after the elections to form a government — a change from his stance before the previous vote in April, when Liberman said he would only back Netanyahu to be prime minister.
It was secular Liberman’s impasse with ultra-Orthodox parties that led coalition talks to fail in May. Netanyahu dissolved parliament and called fresh elections to prevent President Reuven Rivlin giving any other lawmaker the chance to form a government.
Likud accused Liberman of deliberately sabotaging the coalition, with some officials vowing they would never again invite him to join a Likud coalition.
A poll published Tuesday by Channel 12 news gave Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White 30 seats each. With no significant changes predicted between the right- and left-wing blocs compared to the results of the April election, Liberman and his party, to which the poll gave 10 seats, would be kingmakers in forming a majority coalition in the 120-seat Knesset. The United Right was predicted to win 12 seats.