Haredi party claims it was approached over new coalition

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers say they were offered a part in alternative government, which would replace Netanyahu with Lapid and Herzog

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

MK Moshe Gafni (left) addressing the Knesset. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
MK Moshe Gafni (left) addressing the Knesset. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Amid increasing signals that seem to point towards an imminent collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, ultra-Orthodox lawmakers claimed Sunday to have been approached by politicians and businessmen, who urged the Haredi parties to join in forming an alternative government headed by Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid and Labor party leader Isaac Herzog.

MKs Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni, both members of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, said that in recent weeks they rejected two offers to join the putative center-left-leaning coalition, which would hypothetically replace Netanyahu’s current ruling government.

Litzman added that one of the offers was issued to him by a businessman affiliated with Lapid, whose party is currently in the coalition, while the second offer came from a “political figure,” Israel Radio reported. Litzman did not provide any further details as to the identity of the two individuals.

Over the past weeks, Netanyahu has faced growing pressure from the center-left members of his coalition, who have voiced criticism over his handling of the collapsed peace process with the Palestinians. Several coalition members were also sour over the prime minister’s failed efforts to relieve tensions with Arab Israeli citizens.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo credit: Flash90)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: Flash90)

Inter-coalition tensions spiked Sunday, as Netanyahu announced that he would override Justice Minister Tzipi Livni’s surprise decision to abruptly cancel, mid-session, a ministerial debate on a contentious bill that would enshrine Israel as a Jewish state.

The prime minister stressed that the bill would not be presented to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation for a second time — as Livni wished — and would instead be debated next week by the full government cabinet, which has the authority to forward legislation to the Knesset plenum for a vote.

Livni, whose Hatnua party’s six MKs sit in Netanyahu’s 68-member coalition, halted the debate following a request by Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri. During the session, he urged the committee members to reconsider voting on the proposed law, due to the “volatile situation in the Arab sector” — apparently referencing the sporadic riots that broke out in several Arab Israeli communities across the country over the past week.

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Tzipi Livni during a plenum session in the Knesset in June 2014. (Photo credit: Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu (left) speaks with Tzipi Livni during a plenum session in the Knesset, June 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

Last week, Peri said the Yesh Atid party — of which he is a member — would have to reconsider its position in the government over the prime minister’s increased “leaning to the right, apparently because of internal party considerations.” This shift, Peri told Army Radio, means that the centrist Yesh Atid “may have to make a decision regarding staying in the government… Without a doubt, we will have to consider in the next few weeks where the wind is blowing, where things are headed.”

Peri’s November 10 statement came only hours after Hatnua’s Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz resigned and slammed Netanyahu over the budget. Before resigning, Peretz maintained in a TV interview that “the time has come to start talking about alternatives to the prime minister.”

Herzog, who also serves as opposition leader, publicly urged the whole Hatnua party to quit the coalition.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has also been facing pressure from the right, especially from the 12-member Jewish Home party.

Two weeks ago, amid riots in East Jerusalem neighborhoods and after a series of terror attacks in the capital, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett sniped that the government had “no right to exist” if it could not ensure security in its capital.

“A government that does not know how to regain deterrence and sovereignty and provide security for its citizens in their capital does not have a right to exist,” the Jewish Home party leader said.

Marissa Newman contributed to this report.

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