Opposition lawmaker: Likud asking us to join government to save it from far-right

Chili Tropper says members of Netanyahu’s party have offered MKs from his own National Unity faction coalition spots instead of Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit

Then-culture minister Chili Tropper, in Tel Aviv, April 6, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90/File)
Then-culture minister Chili Tropper in Tel Aviv, April 6, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

A lawmaker for the opposition’s center-right National Unity party said Sunday that offers were coming from the ruling Likud party to join the government in order to push out two far-right parties.

MK Chili Tropper told the Knesset’s official channel in an interview that senior Likud party MKs had recently asked National Unity lawmakers to join the coalition and replace Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud heads the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, relying on the far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit to maintain its parliamentary majority. The two parties are led by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, respectively, and are closely allied in pushing hardline agendas.

According to Tropper, the Likud representatives implored National Unity MKs to “come and save us from the government we have set up.”

However, Tropper said that all such offers have been turned down due to his party’s unhappy experience in the past joining a Netanyahu-led government.

“We understood that we don’t have a real partner,” Tropper said of Likud. In 2021, National Unity’s predecessor Blue and White entered into a power-sharing government with Likud that was supposed to rotate the premiership. Netanyahu received the first stint as prime minister, but the government fell before Blue and White leader MK Benny Gantz got his turn as premier, in a move widely seen as engineered by Netanyahu.

Religious Zionism party head MK Bezalel Smotrich (right) with Otzma Yehudit party head MK Itamar Ben Gvir in the Knesset, on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Tropper’s remarks came as the government is pushing ahead with a controversial overhaul of the judiciary that has sparked weeks of demonstrations.

Hebrew media reports have said that Likud sees Gantz as the opposition party leader most likely to reach some sort of compromise with the government on the plan.

In another indication of alignment between the parties, last week Likud MKs Yuli Edelstein and Danny Danon issued a joint call with National Unity lawmakers Gadi Eisenkot and Tropper for discussions to be held on the judicial overhaul based on a framework proposed by President Isaac Herzog.

The reported overtures by Likud came amid outrage provoked at home and abroad by Smotrich, the Religious Zionism leader and finance minister, who said a West Bank Palestinian town should be erased. Netanyahu on Sunday said the remarks were inappropriate after the United States demanded that he reject them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) chairs the weekly cabinet meeting, flanked by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 5, 2023. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / POOL / AFP)

In a Twitter thread posted in English shortly after midnight, Netanyahu did not appear to condemn the remarks outright but implied Smotrich misspoke.

Netanyahu thanked Smotrich for later walking the comments back and “making clear that his choice of words” was “inappropriate.”

The incident underlined how Netanyahu has had to balance the ideologies of the far-right members of his government with the expectations of Israel’s chief ally, the US.

Netanyahu has also reportedly clashed with Ben Gvir over his policies and demands to step up the demolition of illegally built Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. Also, while the settlers were rampaging through Huwara, Netanyahu reportedly held an emergency meeting with top security officials — but did not invite Ben Gvir.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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