'Religious Zionism will be part of our gov't in any case'

Netanyahu says he’ll ‘examine’ far-right ally’s proposals that could end his trial

Likud chief insists no plans ‘to cancel anything retroactively,’ denies avoiding photo with Ben Gvir, as he urges right-wingers to back his party over Religious Zionism

Opposition leader and Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a conference of the Manufacturers Association of Israel in Tel Aviv on October 19, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Opposition leader and Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a conference of the Manufacturers Association of Israel in Tel Aviv on October 19, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said he would consider a proposal by the far-right Religious Zionism party that would overhaul the legal system and possibly get him off the hook in his ongoing corruption trial.

Netanyahu also urged right-wing voters to back his Likud party in the upcoming election, with recent polls showing his party bleeding votes to Religious Zionism.

“Religious Zionism will be part of our government in any case, but what we need is a large Likud to prevent a left-wing government and to govern,” Netanyahu said during a conference of the Manufacturers Association of Israel in Tel Aviv.

The ex-premier called for key cabinet ministries like finance and defense to remain with Likud if it leads the next government, “to ensure a strong and stable government for four years.”

Netanyahu’s remarks come as television surveys showed support for Religious Zionism surging at Likud’s expense, two weeks ahead of the November 1 vote.

In the run-up to previous elections — the upcoming vote is Israel’s fifth in less than four years — Netanyahu similarly appealed to supporters to vote Likud instead of other factions in his right-religious bloc, as he sought to best position himself to get the first shot at forming a government after ballots are cast.

Chairman of the Religious Zionism party MK Bezalel Smotrich presents his party’s “Law and Justice” program during a press conference in Kfar Maccabiah in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Turning to Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich’s proposed legal reforms, which would drastically curb judicial authority and potentially terminate Netanyahu’s criminal trial, the Likud leader was asked if they were aimed at helping him beat the rap.

Smotrich’s program includes completely eliminating the charge of fraud and breach of trust — which Netanyahu was indicted for in a trio of graft cases — from the Israeli criminal code.

“Lots of times I encounter friends who want to help me more than I need, and this is an example of that. Smotrich is raising his own proposals and we will examine them,” he said.

Netanyahu said his trial would not be cut short and insisted he had no intention of changing Israeli laws or “canceling anything retroactively,” referring to the charges against him.

Along with fraud and breach of trust, Netanyahu also faces a bribery charge in one of the cases. The ex-prime minister and his allies have frequently claimed without evidence that the charges were part of a trumped-up effort by political rivals, the media and law enforcement to remove him from office.

Netanyahu was also asked about his reported refusal to share a stage with Religious Zionism’s MK Itamar Ben Gvir at an event Monday in Kfar Chabad in order to avoid being photographed with him.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit political party, campaigns in Kibbutz Ayelet HaShahar in northern Israel, October 6, 2022. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

“I did not avoid being photographed with Ben Gvir,” Netanyahu said, claiming he believes in giving everyone time alone on stage to shine.

Despite Netanyahu’s denial, he has yet to be pictured together with Ben Gvir, a disciple of the late racist rabbi Meir Kahane who has seen a groundswell of support over the past year. Ben Gvir heads the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit, which along with the anti-LGBT Noam are running as part of Religious Zionism in a deal brokered by Netanyahu.

According to a pair of TV polls aired Tuesday, Netanyahu and his partners are expected to again fall short of a majority in the election, likely prolonging Israel’s years-long political deadlock unless Prime Minister Yair Lapid or another Knesset member can find an unexpected source of support for assembling a ruling coalition.

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