A minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party on Tuesday attacked key coalition partners, saying there should be no religious parties in the political system.
There are currently three religious parties in the ruling coalition: the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, and the religious-Zionist Jewish Home.
“If there was an option to not mix ultra-Orthodox and religious parties in the political system, I would definitely prefer that, because politics is a matter of compromise and religion is simply unyielding,” Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel said Tuesday in an interview with Army Radio.
“We see this breakdown playing out in a lot of issues, and therefore there should have been a clear separation,” Gamliel charged. “I always say we should change the system of government. And there should be a public outcry to demand exactly that.”
Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich fired back hours later, telling the radio station that “whoever thinks they can make part of the Israeli public disappear and then reach compromises with themselves — is definitely not a democrat.”
Gamliel’s fellow party member Nava Boker renounced the remark, telling Radio Kol Chai that Gamliel’s words were “wrong” and “don’t reflect Likud’s position.”
Last week, Transportation Minister Israel Katz (Likud) halted all Saturday work on a pedestrian bridge in Tel Aviv because ultra-Orthodox coalition members protested construction on the Jewish day of rest. It was the latest in a series of controversies over religious issues that has threatened to bring down the government and call early elections.
Gamliel tied the matter with the wider issue of governance in Israel’s political system, echoing longtime claims that the fractured coalition system makes the ruling party dependent upon smaller parties and makes it impossible to promote many of its own policies on various matters.
Asked about her own goals for primary polls for the next elections, Gamliel said she was working “very hard” to become one of the top five Likud members on the ruling party’s slate, and that she aims to be education minister in the next government — a position currently held by Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett.
On Sunday, Netanyahu told his party members that their goal was to win 40 Knesset seats in the next national election.
He told a group of party candidates running in upcoming municipal elections the results of that vote would “strengthen the power of Likud throughout the country.”
He said reaching 35 seats, up from the Likud’s current 30, was a “reasonable” goal, but that 40 was the real target.
Recent polls show Likud winning around 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
Although national elections are not scheduled until November 2019, earlier this month Netanyahu told fellow coalition party leaders that if the ultra-Orthodox parties don’t compromise on a military draft law, he will announce early elections at the beginning of September, likely to be held early in 2019.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.