Justice minister warns Netanyahu early elections would be ‘historic mistake’

Jewish Home’s Ayelet Shaked says it would be a travesty for the PM to bring down a right-wing government, calls dispute ‘a bogus crisis’

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at a conference hosted by the Makor Rishon newspaper and the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem, March 11, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at a conference hosted by the Makor Rishon newspaper and the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem, March 11, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Tuesday warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against calling early elections, saying to do so would be repeating a “historic mistake” in bringing down a right-wing government.

“This is a bogus crisis,” tweeted Shaked, a member of the right-wing Jewish Home party. “To topple a right-wing government over nothing would be a historic mistake similar in scope to the fall of the Shamir government in 1992.”

She was referring to the collapse of Likud prime minister Yitzhak Shamir’s government, which led to his election defeat to Yitzhak Rabin, and the eventual launch of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the signing of the Oslo Accords. Many on the right view the accords as an unmitigated security disaster for Israel.

Shaked’s comments came as the government faces a series of tests likely to determine its survival Tuesday, with the coalition wobbling over legislation exempting ultra-Orthodox students from military service.

The military exemption bill has pitted ultra-Orthodox parties against Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who has insisted his Yisrael Beytenu party will only back legislation approved by the Defense Ministry.


Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party at the Knesset on March 12, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

While analysts have speculated Netanyahu is seeking a snap vote to shore up support ahead of a possible indictment on corruption charges, the prime minister stressed Monday he isn’t seeking elections while vowing to win them if they’re held.

Transportation Minister Israel Katz, a senior figure in Netanyahu’s Likud, reiterated Tuesday the prime minister and the ruling party have no interest in fresh elections, but are ready if they come.

“Likud and the prime minister aren’t interested in elections but also aren’t worried about them. In order to end the crisis all the pieces of the coalition need to unconditionally withdraw their ultimatums,” he told Israel Radio.

Katz also criticized the Jewish Home party, whose leader Naftali Bennett demanded the post of defense minister as a condition for sitting in a future Netanyahu government.

“The coalition parties challenged the prime minister and threatened to run against him. This is impossible. A state must be managed. Everyone has political ambitions but they must be put aside for the right time,” said Katz.

Culture Minister Miri Regev, a Netanyahu ally, said she does not know whether there will be elections while touting surveys suggesting Likud will cruise to victory if a vote is held.

“The public understands there is a serious prime minister and serious party — it doesn’t want [Zionist Union leader Avi] Gabbay. The public has full confidence [in Netanyahu],” she told Army Radio.

Regev, who said Monday she has her own eyes on the Defense Ministry, set off a flurry of speculation when she was caught on camera at the Knesset on Monday afternoon texting an assistant, “Cancel the hotel. Elections are on.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Culture Minister Miri Regev at a Knesset plenum on March 12, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Tuesday afternoon, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation is set to hear an appeal by Landver against a decision to allow the Knesset to vote on the controversial legislation.

Liberman warned Tuesday that firing Yisrael Beytenu minister Sofa Landver for opposing the bill would bring on early elections.

“If the prime minister doesn’t want elections he won’t fire Minister Landver. If he fires her, we’re on the way to elections,” he was quoted by Israel Radio as saying.

The draft legislation is backed by the United Torah Judaism party, which has threatened to veto the 2019 state budget if its bill isn’t passed. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has threatened in response to pull his Kulanu party out of the government if the budget isn’t passed this week.

Liberman’s vociferous opposition to the bill — which is seen as giving the ultra-Orthodox the ability to dodge the country’s mandatory military draft — has stoked speculation that a snap vote as early as June is all but assured.

Should Liberman pull his Yisrael Beytenu party out of the coalition over the bill, leaving it with 61 seats out of 120, that would likely spell early elections, as Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he will not lead a government with such a razor-thin margin.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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