Perhaps Likud should have replaced Netanyahu, says senior Haredi MK

United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni insists his party would have stuck with Likud no matter who was leading the party

United Torah Judaism leader MK Moshe Gafni at a conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
United Torah Judaism leader MK Moshe Gafni at a conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The leader of a key party allied with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mused Sunday that perhaps the premier’s Likud party should have replaced him as leader in order to avert what has now transpired — the government’s impending ouster by a coalition of eight parties.

United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni told the Kan public broadcaster that Netanyahu stepping aside to let a different Likud lawmaker form a government “may have been the right thing to do.”

Gafni’s remarks came hours before the new government was scheduled to be sworn in, ending a political deadlock that forced four inconclusive elections in the space of two years. Following the most recent election, held in March, Netanyahu was unable to form a majority government. An unlikely coalition of right-wing, centrist, left-wing and Islamist parties, unified largely by their desire to oust Netanyahu, is slated to take power later today.

Gafni stressed that UTJ would have stuck by Likud no matter who led the party, but added that he could not rightfully demand that “a party with 30 seats” replace its chosen leader.

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) in the Knesset on November 24, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

He also said that UTJ would have remained loyal to Likud and not joined the incoming “change coalition” even if it had been a possibility.

“Likud decided what it decided, I support them,” Gafni said, but admitted that UTJ would pay a “heavy price” for following the Likud into the opposition.

The UTJ leader speculated that prime minister-designate and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett never really intended to join a Likud-led coalition, and had planned to join with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid all along.

But in February, Gafni suggested that he would not rule out joining forces with Lapid. “After the election results we’ll see what the options are,” he said at the time. But he also said that the one party he would fully rule out working with is Yisrael Beytenu, which is also a part of the nascent government.

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, left, and Yash Atid leader Yair Lapid in the Knesset during the presidential election, June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Following the March election, Gafni’s Degel HaTorah faction — one of the two parties that make up UTJ — said it was “making every effort so we do not go to a fifth election.” The faction said it was working hard to assemble a coalition with “the right-wing and traditional bloc,” but did not explicitly call for Netanyahu to be tasked with forming a new government.

On Sunday, Gafni predicted that the incoming government would be unstable and “there will be a crisis every day” due to the wide disparity of views held by its eight constituent parties.

“There is no connection between different members of the coalition,” he said.

Gafni himself will lose his spot as chairman of the powerful Knesset Finance Committee, which he has held on and off since 2009.

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