Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz on Tuesday appeared to rule out forming a coalition with ultra-Orthodox political parties, as his campaign sought to sharpen the contours of a possible government he may look to form after elections on September 17.
The announcement signaled a shift for Gantz, who has been making efforts to keep in good terms with potential future political partners from the Haredi parties.
The new strategy aligned Gantz with Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid, who has been pushing a tougher stance against the ultra-Orthodox parties, accusing them of “extorting” money out of the government and refusing to have members of their community serve in the military.
In an interview with the Ynet news site Tuesday, Gantz indicated that he would not contact the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) or Shas parties for coalition talks after the election: “We are against blackmail, we will contact Likud to form a government that is based on the secular majority in Israel.”
Gantz has consistently expressed a willingness to form a unity coalition with Likud so long as the party is no longer headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces corruption charges in three cases, pending a hearing.
“I think his contributions to the State of Israel have ended,” Gantz said.
Later in the day, Gantz at an event in Beersheba appeared to also rule out joining forces with other religious right-wing parties.
“I promise that immediately after the elections we’ll establish a liberal unity government that will be based on the majority, not extremists and extortion,” he said.
“Prime ministers have surrendered to the blackmail of sectoral parties instead of worrying about what the majority needs,” he added.
His comments echoed Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman, who has vowed to force Likud and Blue and White to form a unity government without religious parties if neither is able to cobble together a ruling majority without him.
The ultra-Orthodox Shas and UTJ parties have been outspoken in their backing for Netanyahu, which they have committed to giving him after elections.
On Tuesday, Shas leader Aryeh Deri appeared to brush aside a new push by Netanyahu to funnel votes from the party to Likud, saying that his faction was still in the premier’s corner. He also told Ynet that he would be willing to form a government with Blue and White if Lapid were not part of it.
UTJ leaders Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni both lashed out at Gantz late Tuesday and accused him of “lacking morals and a backbone.”
“The truth is out. After trying to conceal his opinions for a long time and doing everything to separate himself from his partner Lapid, today it is revealed that there is no difference between them,” they said in a statement.
Gantz “has no problem sowing divide within Israeli society for a few Knesset seats,” Litzman and Gafni said, adding that he “isn’t worthy of any responsible position.”
Blue and White was formed ahead of the April elections by a union of Gantz’s Israel Resilience party, Lapid’s Yesh Atid and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem.
It is the main challenger to Netanyahu’s Likud party, having won 35 seats in the April elections to Likud’s 36 of the 120-seat Knesset. It is currently polling neck-and-neck with the ruling party ahead of the September 17 vote, which Netanyahu initiated when he failed to form a government in the wake of the previous elections over a dispute between Yisrael Beytenu and the ultra-Orthodox parties.