Senior ultra-Orthodox MK said wooing Gantz to join government to ‘balance’ far right

UTJ’s Moshe Gafni reportedly makes offer during recent meeting, is rebuffed by leader of centrist National Unity party

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, left, speaks with then-defense minister Benny Gantz in the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, June 1, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, left, speaks with then-defense minister Benny Gantz in the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, June 1, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A senior coalition lawmaker wants Benny Gantz’s National Unity party to join the coalition in order to “balance” it, a report said Thursday.

Moshe Gafni, No. 2 in the United Torah Judaism party and the leader of its Degel HaTorah faction, met Gantz recently as part of efforts to reach an agreement on acceptable judicial reforms, the Kan public broadcaster reported, citing unnamed officials familiar with the content of the meeting.

Dialogue was launched this week between the coalition and opposition parties after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a timeout on the government’s highly divisive push to radically remake the justice system, politicizing the court and, the attorney general has warned, giving the government almost unrestrained power.

During the meeting, the report said, Gafni conveyed the message that he would like to see Gantz and his centrist party join the coalition to balance it — a likely reference to the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism coalition parties.

The report said Gantz has recently received other messages from coalition officials who were feeling out the option of him joining the ranks of what is currently widely regarded as the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

While the efforts were predicted to continue, Gantz has rejected them so far, likely due to having been burned in the past by Netanyahu when the two formed a short-lived unity government in 2020.

Gantz, who had run in three successive deadlocked elections as the main contender to replace Netanyahu, ended up breaking a central election promise and joining a government under Netanyahu, who pledged that Gantz would become prime minister midway through the term.

The premier, unwilling to hand over the premiership, ended up exploiting a loophole in their coalition agreement by refusing to pass a state budget, whose failure to pass by a certain deadline automatically topples the government. Rather than wait for that to happen, Gantz quit the government and triggered elections by himself.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and then-outgoing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the Knesset plenum, June 13, 2021. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)

That history has made him wary of joining a Netanyahu government, but his party is nevertheless seen as the most pragmatic in the opposition and the most willing to engage in dialogue with the coalition.

Gantz’s office refused to confirm or deny the report, telling Kan that he “maintains ties with many Knesset members in the coalition and the opposition, especially in the recent period to stop the threat of the regime coup and civil war in Israeli society. Beyond that, we don’t comment on the content of the personal meetings Gantz holds.”

Most Popular
read more: