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Meretz says coalition deal includes push for LGBT rights; Ra’am vows to oppose

Left-wing party head Horowitz says agreement includes commitment to recognize same-sex marriage; Islamist party chief won’t support measure but says there could be freedom on vote

Meretz party chairman Nitzan Horowitz, center, attends a protest of the LGBTQ community in Tel Aviv, July 14, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Meretz party chairman Nitzan Horowitz, center, attends a protest of the LGBTQ community in Tel Aviv, July 14, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The diverse and conflicting ideologies in the emerging coalition shaped by MK Yair Lapid were brought into focus Thursday when Meretz chair MK Nitzan Horowitz said that his progressive party’s coalition agreement with Lapid’s Yesh Atid includes a commitment to advance LGBT rights, while the leader of the Islamist Ra’am party vowed to oppose any such legislation.

Lapid on Wednesday informed President Reuven Rivlin he was able to form a government in which he and Yamina chief Naftali Bennett will switch off as prime minister, positioning themselves to replace Israel’s longest-serving leader Benjamin Netanyahu as premier.

However, Lapid’s coalition of center, left, and right-wing parties, as well as the Islamist Ra’am party, has yet to be confirmed by a Knesset vote, and its members are still at odds on some issues.

Speaking to Army Radio on the eve of the Jerusalem Pride Parade, Meretz leader MK Nitzan Horowitz said that his party’s coalition agreement with Yesh Atid, one of the first that Lapid signed as he built his potential government, includes “a clear commitment to advance the rights of the LGBT community in Israel.”

“It was agreed to recognize the status of unmarried couples, including partners of the same sex, as married,” said Horowitz, who is openly gay. “Those are things we insisted on and they are in our agreement.”

Participants in Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade, August 2, 2018. (Gili Ya’ari/Flash90)

He said Meretz will advance LGBT rights in “every way possible” in the coming government.

Though he admitted “there are a lot of difficulties” in the path to finalizing the coalition, Horowitz said the “visions and the goal overcome all the obstacles.”

Horowitz’s pledge appeared to run counter to the coalition agreement signed with Islamist party Ra’am, according to which LGBT initiatives will be frozen.

MK Walid Taha in the Knesset, November 19, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Shortly after Horowitz’s interview with Army Radio, the station spoke with Ra’am MK Walid Taha.

Taha praised the new coalition, saying it is based on “the many things over which there is no disagreement,” but added, “We won’t support anyone forcing on us values that our community doesn’t believe in.”

Later, Army Radio spoke to Ra’am leader MK Mansour Abbas, who said he was not aware of any coalition commitment to advance LGBT rights.

“I don’t know about that, I didn’t see it in the basic guidelines [for the coalition] nor in the agreements,” Abbas said.

Asked if he would oppose the measures that Horowitz had raised, Abbas responded: “Without a doubt. We are a party with a religious background, all of our positions on the matter are drawn from the faith itself.”

Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra’am party seen after signing the coalition agreement, at the Maccabiah village in Ramat Gan on June 2, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“But we need to consider every matter separately,” he allowed, and noted that parties are granted, in some circumstances, the freedom to vote according to their guiding principles. He said that such matters would be dealt with in coalition agreements.

“There is no doubt that the path is difficult,” Abbas said of the efforts to finalize the coalition, but expressed optimism that it would happen.

He added that there were still efforts to bring other MKs into the coalition, including from Ta’al, another Arab party, headed by MK Ahmad Tibi, that is part of the Joint List alliance.

Abbas said that Netanyahu, who had tried to enlist Ra’am to back his own ultimately failed efforts at building a coalition, had spoken with him in recent days, including on Wednesday, but would not specify what was discussed.

“You can imagine what he said,” was all Abbas would say.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (L), Yamina leader Naftali Bennett (C) and Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas sign a coalition agreement on June 2, 2021 (Courtesy of Ra’am)

The agreement came together after Abbas threw his support behind the would-be government late on Wednesday night, setting up his Islamist party to be the first Arab party in decades to be part of a ruling coalition.

Under the terms of the new coalition, Bennett is to serve as prime minister until September 2023, when Lapid will take over from him until the end of the Knesset term in November 2025.

Despite Lapid’s declaration that a coalition had been formed, it remained unclear that the prospective “change government” will make it past the finish line. It is set to include 61 of the 120 MKs — the narrowest possible majority. And an MK from Bennett’s Yamina, Nir Orbach, earlier on Wednesday night announced he could vote against the new coalition, a move that could potentially doom the prospective razor-thin government.

The final coalition agreements have yet to be formally released and negotiations are expected to continue until the swearing-in later this month.

If the emerging government is sworn in, Israel will have a new prime minister for the first time since 2009. Along with the over 12 consecutive years he has served as premier since then, Netanyahu was also prime minister for three years in the late 1990s.

Israel has been mired in political deadlock since the Knesset dissolved in December 2018, with the four rounds of elections held since then failing to result in a decisive majority for either Netanyahu or his rivals. Besides fighting for his political survival, Netanyahu is currently on trial in three corruption cases.

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