With coalition negotiations at an impasse, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has reportedly tried to tempt a lawmaker away from its rival Blue and White faction to form a coalition.
Senior members of the Blue and White party said that Likud officials this week contacted Gadi Yevarkan to try to convince the freshman Knesset member to jump ship and join Likud, according to a Friday report from Channel 12 news.
The Likud officials offered the Ethiopia-born MK the immigration and absorption portfolio, which Avigdor Liberman had reportedly demanded for his Yisrael Beytenu faction. Yevarkan, who entered the Knesset in the 33rd slot on Blue and White’s slate, told the Likud members that he respects their party, but could not serve under its leadership, which he considers immoral, the report said.
Yevarkan was previously a Likud member, and ran on its list for elections for the 19th Knesset, but failed to make it into the parliament.
The addition of Yevarkan or another Blue and White lawmaker to the coalition could allow Netanyahu to form a ruling majority of 61 MKs without Yisrael Beytenu, whose secularist platform is sharply at odds with the ultra-Orthodox and religious parties expected to join a government.
Netanyahu spoke Friday with Liberman, who earlier this week said he was ending coalition talks unless Likud agreed to a series of demands he laid out. Sources quoted in Hebrew media said there was no progress during their talks.
Likud has yet to sign a coalition deal with any other party. President Reuven Rivlin on Monday granted Netanyahu’s request for a two-week extension of the deadline to form a government, after the expiry of the initial 28-day period he had to assemble a ruling majority in the Knesset.
This week’s pitch to Yevarkan wasn’t the first time Likud reportedly tried to boost an MK from its rival.
Earlier this month, an Israeli newspaper reported that a close confidant of Netanyahu was trying to convince Blue and White MK Omer Yankelevich to join a coalition.
According to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, Natan Eshel, a Likud negotiator in the coalition talks, reached out to unnamed ultra-Orthodox figures in a bid to have Yankelevich join the coalition.
“We don’t have a government without her vote,” Eshel is quoted as saying of Yankelevich, an ultra-Orthodox woman. “We want her to leave Blue and White and join Likud.”
Eshel reportedly said Yankelevich would head a special Knesset committee dealing with ultra-Orthodox matters if she joined Likud and not be “just another meaningless MK in Blue and White.”
Yankelevich later dismissed the report as a “fantasy” and expressed support for Blue and White and its leader Benny Gantz.
“This is a complete lie,” she wrote on Facebook.
Yevarkan was head of the Be’eri military academy and a longtime activist with the Campaign for the Equality of Ethiopian Jews before entering the Knesset on the Blue and White slate.
He made headlines last month when he kissed his mother’s feet in a show of gratitude upon taking the oath of office as a member of the 21st Knesset.
He unsuccessfully ran in Likud’s internal elections in 2008, and again failed to make it into the Knesset with Likud in 2012. Earlier this year he joined Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party, which merged with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience faction, which joined Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid to form the Blue and White party.