In coalition talks, Haredi parties and URWP to present unified front on religion
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In coalition talks, Haredi parties and URWP to present unified front on religion

Parties to form ‘an identical and uncompromising’ alliance on matters of religion and state to combat the secularist Yisrael Beytenu, says MK Moshe Gafni

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Then-Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich, left, speaks with then-health minister Yaakov Litzman during a plenary session in the Knesset on January 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Then-Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich, left, speaks with then-health minister Yaakov Litzman during a plenary session in the Knesset on January 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset’s two ultra-Orthodox factions have reached an agreement with the Union of Right-Wing Parties to coordinate on issues of religion and state during this week’s coalition negotiations, an ultra-Orthodox MK told his community’s Yated Ne’eman daily on Monday.

“There is coordination between the ultra-Orthodox parties to form a united front against (Avigdor) Liberman,” United Torah Judaism’s Moshe Gafni said, confirming reports of collaboration between his party, Shas, and the national religious slate, in an effort to combat the Yisrael Beytenu head’s demands for changes to the status quo on issues of religion and state.

The parties will present “an identical and uncompromising front” on matters such  as the sanctity of the Sabbath, Yated Ne’eman reported.

Gafni told the Ashkenazi Haredi daily, “If our positions are not accepted, there will not be a coalition. It is inconceivable that Liberman, with his five seats, would establish terms (against the beliefs of) three larger parties.”

United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman holds a press conference after meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, April 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The reported agreement came four days after URWP leader Rafi Peretz reached out to the chairmen of Shas and United Torah Judaism, proposing that they form a technical bloc in order to arrive at this week’s coalition negotiations with more influence, particularly on issues of religion and state on which the three parties largely agree. Peretz was seeking for the three parties, which will hold a combined 20 seats in the next Knesset, to then work together in parliament as well.

The move, confirmed to The Times of Israel by a URWP spokesman, is meant to serve as a countermeasure to the leverage Liberman is expected to wield during the talks given his party’s size of five seats in an expected right-wing coalition of 65.

Liberman, whose base of supporters is largely made up of secular immigrants from the former Soviet Union, campaigned on opposing “religious coercion,” and supports public transportation and allowing mini-markets to remain open on the Shabbat in addition to ending the Chief Rabbinate’s control over marriage and divorce and passing legislation regulating exemptions to military conscription for ultra-Orthodox students.

But it is exactly on these matters that Peretz told Shas head Aryeh Deri, whose party won eight seats, and United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman, whose party won seven seats, that they were all in agreement against Liberman, who has sparred intensely with the ultra-Orthodox parties on these issues.

Peretz has said his party will demand the justice and education portfolios in coalition talks, likely a tough sell given the URWP’s relatively small number of seats.

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