MK says ultra-Orthodox bloc will back Netanyahu for next PM

Tzipi Livni says she’s ready for elections, will resist Elkin’s version of ‘Jewish state’ bill

Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party at a Finance Committee meeting, December 16, 2013 (Flash90)
Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party at a Finance Committee meeting, December 16, 2013 (Flash90)

Knesset member Yaakov Litzman, a leader of the United Torah Judaism party, said Thursday that the religious parties would recommend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lead the next government should snap elections be held, but at a price.

After elections, the leaders of all parties that make it into the Knesset submit their recommendations for a party to lead the government. The leader of the party with the most recommendations is then invited by the president to attempt to form a coalition with 61 or more Knesset members.

The UTJ leader’s comments followed a Channel 2 report the night before that intimated that Netanyahu may dissolve the government in coming weeks if he can garner guarantees from the two ultra-Orthodox parties to support him in a new coalition after elections. The prime minister, currently weathering a coalition crisis over a controversial nationality bill, asked the opposition Shas and United Torah Judaism factions to commit to lending support for him to form a new government after elections, the report said.

Speaking with Army Radio Thursday, Litzman said he “must make every effort to topple the current government,” which he accused of harming ultra-Orthodox interests by cutting children’s benefits and yeshiva funding, easing the process of conversion to Judaism, and working to increase military enlistment among the ultra-Orthodox.

He said his party was discussing possible political horse trades with Netanyahu’s people to cobble together a theoretical future coalition.

“It’s clear to everyone that at the end of 2015 they’ll need to pay the price for all these economic failures,” Litzman said, and noted, “I don’t think it’s likely that we’ll join the coalition.”

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni reiterated Thursday that she was willing to go to early elections over the controversial “Jewish state” bill.

The bill, which would enshrine Israel’s character as a Jewish state in Israel’s de facto constitution, has come under harsh criticism from Livni and the leader of the Yesh Atid party, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, as well as opposition lawmakers.

Netanyahu has vowed to push the measure through, saying that it would guarantee equal rights for the country’s citizens and put Israel’s democratic and Jewish characters on equal footing.

Critics say the law is undemocratic to Israel’s Arab and other minority populations. A stormy cabinet meeting on the bill at the beginning of the week saw Livni accuse Netanyahu of backing the legislation as a move to try and pry apart the coalition so that he can call elections.

Speaking to Army Radio, Livni said that she would stand on her principles on the issue of the “Jewish state” bill, and that “we” — meaning her party and Yesh Atid — “won’t let [the Elkin bill] pass.”

The bill is slated to be voted upon by the Knesset in a first reading on Wednesday of next week. Netanyahu indicated on Wednesday, however, that he would advance his own version of the bill, with different language from Elkin’s.

Livni called Elkin’s draft of the legislation “anti-Jewish, anti-democratic and anti-Zionist,” and said it relegates the Declaration of Independence, one of Israel’s primary constitutional documents, “to the garbage can.”

“It’s no secret that this government wasn’t Netanyahu’s first choice, [that] Yesh Atid forced the presence of the Jewish Home party in the government, and the result is that all of Israel pays the price,” she said.

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