'There will not be a halachic state here,' he promises

Netanyahu: There will be electricity on Shabbat, religious status quo will continue

After bombshell claims of coalition demands by ultra-Orthodox party, presumptive incoming PM also nixes more separate beaches; Lapid pans incoming ‘radical’ government

Presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to assuage fears over the impact that ultra-Orthodox parties would have on the coalition he is seeking to form, telling the Knesset on Tuesday that the religious-secular status quo will remain as it is and promising not to give in to demands to stop the production of electricity on the Sabbath.

Netanyahu’s Likud party faced outrage the day before, after an unsourced Channel 12 report claimed the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party was making far-reaching demands on applying religious standards to the public sphere in return for joining the coalition, including shutting down the country’s power stations during Shabbat, forming and funding bodies to provide answers to the public on questions of halacha (Jewish law), and designating additional gender-segregated beaches.

“There is and will be electricity on Shabbat, there are and will be bathing beaches for everyone,” Netanyahu said during a plenum session to vote for a new Knesset speaker. “We will maintain the status quo — everybody will live according to their own beliefs.”

“There will not be a halachic state here,” he said, referring to a code of Jewish religious rules and practices. “There will be a state here that will take care of all the citizens of Israel without exception. We were chosen to lead in our own way, the way of the national right and the way of the liberal right and we will do so.”

Netanyahu accused the current government, set to head into the opposition, of “spreading intimidation and lies” and called on its lawmakers to “accept the people’s decision in the elections.”

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid in his address to the Knesset attacked Netanyahu as being overshadowed by his prospective coalition partners drawn from religious and far-right parties, alleging the Likud leader is beholden to them because he wants their support in ending his ongoing corruption trial.

“This is not the Likud government, this is certainly not the Netanyahu government,” Lapid said. “Netanyahu is weak, terrified of his trial; he has been taken over by people younger than him, more radical and determined than him.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid addresss the Knesset on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“[Bezalel] Smotrich and [Aryeh] Deri control this government,” Lapid said, referring to the leaders of the far-right Religious Zionism and ultra-Orthodox Shas parties, respectively. “Netanyahu is a junior partner.”

“We are not suckers,” Lapid said in remarks apparently aimed at the incoming government’s ultra-Orthodox elements. “We are not here just to pay taxes and send our children to the army. We love this country just as much as you do, and we are Jews just as much as you, and we will not let you destroy our democracy.”

Appealing rhetorically to Likud voters, he asked, “Is that what you voted for? That your vote will establish the most radical government in the country’s history?”

Later Lapid tweeted: “I am not prepared to give you ownership over Judaism. It is not yours. You are not more Jewish than us.”

Channel 12’s Monday report laid out a series of clauses reportedly included in the Likud-UTJ coalition deal, which it described as only a partial list.

The alleged demands included passing a law that would regulate the exemption of ultra-Orthodox youth from enlisting in the army, barring electricity production on Shabbat, increasing the number of gender-segregated beaches, and requiring more religious studies in the state’s secular school system.

Likud party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with United Torah Judaism party leader Yitzchak Goldknopf in the Knesset plenum on November 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, who leads the secularist Yisrael Beytenu party, tweeted, “Netanyahu has sold out the country!”

Economics Minister Orna Barbivay, a member of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, responded to the TV report in a tweet saying Netanyahu’s emerging government will make Israel “a halachic state.”

Netanyahu is currently racing the clock to form his likely 64-seat coalition with partners UTJ, Shas, Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit and Noam. President Isaac Herzog granted him a 10-day extension on Friday.

Last week, UTJ and Likud signed an interim deal agreeing to the allocation of roles in the next government but holding off on deciding on “fundamental issues,” the party said at the time.

In the agreement with UTJ, the party is slated to receive control of the Construction and Housing Ministry, expected to go to faction chief Yitzhak Goldknopf, and the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee, slated to be held by MK Moshe Gafni.

The party will also control the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry, receive several deputy minister positions, and control a handful of other Knesset committees.

Previous reports described UTJ demands for a law giving the Knesset the ability to legislate rules struck down by the court, favorable military draft deferments for yeshiva students, and increased funding for religious schools regardless of whether they teach core curriculum subjects.

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