Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies stick loyally by his side
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Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies stick loyally by his side

Shas endorses PM for top job, with United Torah Judaism set to follow suit, amid fears of a ‘secular’ unity government

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri speaks at a Knesset faction meeting of his Shas party on September 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri speaks at a Knesset faction meeting of his Shas party on September 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox political allies are backing him for the premiership, shutting down speculation that they could cross the aisle and partner with Blue and White’s Benny Gantz.

Aryeh Deri’s Shas party on Sunday nominated Netanyahu for prime minister during its talks with President Reuven Rivlin. Yaakov Litzman’s United Torah Judaism said it would do likewise during a meeting with Rivlin scheduled for Monday evening.

A document pledging unified support for Netanyahu by leaders of Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina was signed during a meeting of the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox party heads last Thursday. It came on the heels of a press conference, in which Netanyahu announced the 55-strong united front designed to pressure Gantz into dropping his demand for a “secular” unity government with Likud, minus the ultra-Orthodox and religious parties.

The ultra-Orthodox parties, which carry 17 Knesset seats between them, have ruled out joining a coalition with the secularist Yisrael Beytenu or Blue and White’s No. 2 Yair Lapid.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at the ceremony for the opening of a new branch of his Agudath Israel party, ahead of the upcoming elections, in the northern city of Safed, July 4, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Though reports last week suggested the Haredi politicians were consulting with their rabbis on ending their boycott of Lapid, no such decision appeared to have been taken.

With nearly all votes counted from last Tuesday’s election, Blue and White led with 33 seats to Likud’s 31. Third was the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties at 13, followed by the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas with nine and United Torah Judaism with eight. Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu also had eight seats. Rounding out the list were Yamina with seven seats, Labor-Gesher with six and the Democratic Camp with five.

The Joint List on Sunday broke with its longstanding policy of not backing a Zionist candidate and recommended Gantz for prime minister, while Liberman refrained from nominating any candidate. Blue and White and Likud backed their respective leaders.

Rivlin will decide which candidate to task with assembling the next coalition by next week after wrapping up his meetings with party leaders on Monday night.

Gantz is expected to pick up 57 recommendations to Netanyahu’s 55, but neither have a clear path to forming a coalition without each other, with the Joint List ruling out joining a government, Liberman insisting on a national unity government, and no other party likely to budge from its bloc to round out a majority coalition of at least 61 MKs.

Netanyahu last week urged Gantz to form a national unity government under his leadership. The Blue and White leader rebuffed the offer, noting his party received more seats and should therefore lead such a coalition. Gantz has insisted that Netanyahu, who is facing a looming criminal indictment, relinquish the premiership as a condition for a Blue and White-Likud alliance.

Then Yesh Atid party leader MK Yair Lapid and at the time defense minister Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, June 12, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last Tuesday’s election was called after a previous round of elections in April did not result in a government. The Knesset was dissolved in late May and a new vote called after Liberman conditioned his entry into Netanyahu’s government on the advancement of a law regulating the military draft for ultra-Orthodox students — a demand rejected by the Haredi political parties.

Liberman on Sunday appeared to soften his position toward the ultra-Orthodox slightly, calling them “political rivals” rather than “enemies” — such as members of the Arab alliance the Joint List.

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