Jewish Home leader rules out joining Gantz-led coalition

Jewish Home leader rules out joining Gantz-led coalition

Rafi Peretz claims ‘Blue and White party is leftist. Period,’ draws parallel between its policies and the 2005 Gaza pullout

Rafi Peretz, head of the Union of Right Wing Parties, at a political event in Petah Tikva, Feb 20, 2019. (Yehuda Haim/Flash90)
Rafi Peretz, head of the Union of Right Wing Parties, at a political event in Petah Tikva, Feb 20, 2019. (Yehuda Haim/Flash90)

Union of Right Wing Parties head Rafi Peretz on Tuesday ruled out joining a coalition led by the Blue and White party, days after he appeared to indicate he was open to such a partnership.

Peretz, who served as chief military rabbi when Blue and White leader Benny Gantz was head of the army, said his far-right faction had too many differences with the centrist party.

“The Blue and White party is leftist. Period. And that is why we will never be able to join a government headed by it,” he tweeted.

Peretz, who was evacuated from his home in the Gaza Strip during the 2005 disengagement, published a video indicating he feared Gantz would seek the same policies as prime minister.

Gantz recently praised the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, but his party clarified he was against unilateral retreats. While the party has yet to publish its platform, recent reports have suggested it will veer to the right, including opposition to dividing Jerusalem and unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, and will not include support for Palestinian statehood.

Last week, Peretz spoke more positively of the former IDF chief of staff amid a stream of assaults from other right-wing politicians. “I wouldn’t dream of ruling him out,” he told Army Radio. “You can’t call a chief of staff ‘dangerous.’ He was my commander and he’s my friend. Politics don’t determine everything,” he said then.

Blue and White party members (L-R) Gabi Ashkenazi, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon during a press conference in the Golan Heights on March 4, 2019. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

However Peretz may have been using the term “rule out” to mean he did not disqualify Gantz as a legitimate candidate, rather than to express possible support for him winning the premiership.

Peretz also said at the time that the URWP would continue to back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lead the next government. “I’m behind him,” he said.

Gantz served as IDF chief of staff between 2011-2015. Peretz, the head of the newly formed alliance between the Jewish Home, National Union and extremist Otzma Yehudit, served as IDF chief rabbi between 2010-2016.

The union Peretz leads has been subject to a chorus of condemnation from Israelis and Diaspora Jews alike, over the inclusion of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) faction led by former disciples of the extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.

The deal was facilitated by Netanyahu in a bid to strengthen the position of a possible Likud-led coalition after the April 9 vote. Jewish Home and Likud had feared that the former would not pass the electoral threshold if it ran alone, following the departure of former leader Naftali Bennett and his formation of the competing New Right party.

Blue and White last week joined a petition by members of the Labor and Meretz parties to the Central Elections Committee to stop Otzma Yehudit from running in the election. The appeal said the party was racist and rejects Israel as a democratic nation.

Michael Ben Ari (right) and Itamar Ben Gvir of the Otzma Yehudit party outside the Central Elections Committee office in the Knesset on February 21, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

When lobbying for the merger, Peretz admitted that he himself had a hard time swallowing the notion at first, but said “our home is on fire.” He asserted that the arrangement reached with Otzma Yehudit was not a unity deal, but “a technical agreement for a limited period of time, and after the elections we will separate.”

Peretz on Sunday told the Israel National News website that Otzma Yehudit members were legitimate candidates.

“The Kahanists are outside the law. Those we’ve joined, if they were outside the law, they wouldn’t be with us,” he said. “If they had said Arab blood was cheap and it was permissible to kill them without a trial, they wouldn’t be with us. I looked into it extensively.”

Under the terms promised by Netanyahu, Jewish Home would get two ministerial positions in a new Likud-led government, and, in a highly unusual arrangement, one of Jewish Home’s candidates has been given the 28th slot on Likud’s slate for the elections.

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