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Gantz launches civil marriage bid as poll shows him failing to enter Knesset

Blue and White party leader says he received AG’s okay for move, during campaign, to help those who can’t go abroad to register as married; Yesh Atid MK urges him to quit race

Election campaign posters showing Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz next to the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv. February 1, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Election campaign posters showing Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz next to the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv. February 1, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz launched a bid to approve civil marriage in Israel on Monday, five weeks before national elections, as a poll showed his Blue and White party failing to enter the Knesset and a rival centrist party called on him to quit the race.

Currently the alternate prime minister, Gantz last year entered a power-sharing government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after challenging his leadership for three elections, but the unity government has been short-lived and full of internal battles. Blue and White has lost most of its support after going back on its key promise not to join a Netanyahu government.

Gantz, who is also justice minister, has received Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s approval for his proposed legislation, which would allow thousands of couples who cannot marry through the Chief Rabbinate to be registered as married without needing to travel abroad and get married there — the usual workaround — as a temporary measure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported.

Couples who don’t wed through the Rabbinate — because they don’t want to, because they are LGBT, or because they aren’t recognized as Jewish by religious authorities — can normally undergo a civil marriage abroad and then be registered as married with Israeli authorities.

But with this option severely curtailed by pandemic travel restrictions, Gantz was cited as saying that “the current situation doesn’t allow us to ignore the fact that many are having their basic right to marry taken away from them.”

A Blue and White official was quoted as saying the party “hopes Netanyahu won’t succumb to campaign considerations and won’t disturb this important amendment.”

However, the ultra-Orthodox and religious parties are vehemently opposed to the bill, and Netanyahu’s Likud — which depends on those parties to build a coalition after the vote — is highly unlikely to support it.

Activists, among them Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova (second from right), holding signs and wearing wedding veils as they protest for the right to civil marriage in front of the Knesset in Jeruslaem on November 2, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The development came as a survey by the Panels Politics research group predicted that if elections were held today, Blue and White would fail to pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold, getting just 2.2% of the vote.

The poll, for the 103FM radio station, showed Netanyahu with a path to a 62-member right-wing coalition, providing Naftali Bennett’s Yamina would join, with the Religious Zionism party of Bezalel Smotrich and extremist Itamar Ben Gvir winning five seats.

His Likud was seen winning 29 seats in the 120-member Knesset, followed by Yesh Atid with 18, New Hope with 14, Yamina with 13, the Joint List with 9, Shas with 8, United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beytenu with 7 each, Labor with 6, Religious Zionism with 5, and Meretz with 4. The poll had a 4.3% margin of error.

Following the poll, a member of Opposition Leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party called on Gantz to withdraw from the March 23 election and prevent center-left votes from going to waste.

“Gantz needs to take responsibility and quit the race,” MK Ram Ben-Barak told Radio 103FM. “I expect Benny Gantz, after saying ‘Israel before everything else’ for so long, to also make a move that puts Israel before everything else. If he runs, he endangers the entire ability to form a government without Netanyahu.”

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