Top religious Zionist rabbi evasive on prospect of coalition backed by Islamists

Chaim Druckman avoids directly saying a right-wing government must not cooperate with Ra’am party, urges Sa’ar to back Netanyahu, is ‘1000%’ certain Bennett won’t join Lapid

Rabbi Chaim Druckman, right and MK Naftali Bennett attend the campaign launch of the right-wing Yamina party, February 12, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)
Rabbi Chaim Druckman, right and MK Naftali Bennett attend the campaign launch of the right-wing Yamina party, February 12, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

An influential rabbi in the religious Zionist community was evasive Wednesday about the possibility of establishing a right-wing government with the help of the Ra’am party, an Islamist movement that has been emphatically rejected as a government-building partner by the religious Zionist parties in the Knesset.

Despite being directly asked to clarify his stance several times during an interview with Army Radio, Rabbi Chaim Druckman avoided giving a clear answer, saying only, “There is no need for a government that relies on Ra’am, that is hypothetical.”

Druckman’s opinion carries great weight in the religious Zionist community and could sway Religious Zionism party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich to reconcile with the idea of a government that is helped into office by Ra’am.

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas has not committed to either the pro- or anti-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blocs after emerging as a potential kingmaker following last week’s inconclusive election, Israel’s fourth in two years. Both Netanyahu’s Likud and the so-called “change bloc” of parties opposing the premier have been courting Abbas since the vote.

Likud, which before the election also rejected working with Ra’am, is reportedly seeking support from the party in the form of its abstention or absence for parliament when a vote on forming the next government is held. However, the prime minister will also need the backing of the Religious Zionism faction, an alliance of right-wing nationalist religious parties that see Ra’am as anti-Zionist and supportive of Palestinian terrorism.

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas at the party headquarters in Tamra, on election night, March 23, 2021. (Flash90)

Druckman, in a message to New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar, who is striving to broker a coalition that will oust Netanyahu, told Army Radio “he needs to give it up, because the people spoke differently.” Sa’ar, a former Likud minister, picked up just six seats in the election.

As for the possibility that Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett will ally with opposition leader MK Yair Lapid to replace Netanyahu, Druckman asserted: “I am a thousand percent sure that he won’t go with Lapid.”

Later, Druckman told the Kan public broadcaster that if getting Bennett and Sa’ar on board with a Netanyahu-led government requires ditching Smotrich’s far-right faction partner Itamar Ben Gvir, it would be worth it for the sake of a stable government.

“In principle, I am against boycotts but if that is the price so that there is a government that the people want, it can happen,” he said.

Both Sa’ar and Bennett, though right-wing, declared before the election that they want to replace Netanyahu. Following the vote, Sa’ar has remained committed to changing the prime minister though Bennett has left his options open.

Left to right: Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (Miriam Alster/Flash90); Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett; and New Hope party head Gideon Sa’ar (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the days since the election, both Ra’am and Ben Gvir, who leads the Otzma Yehudit faction within the Religious Zionsim party ruled out joining forces with each other in a coalition, dimming the already slim prospects that Netanyahu could form a razor-thin government.

Smotrich himself also dismissed any talk of parliamentary cooperation with Ra’am as “irresponsible” and declared it won’t happen “on my watch.”

Further rejection of collaboration with Ra’am came from Simcha Rotman, a candidate for the Knesset for Religious Zionism, who told the Kan public broadcaster Wednesday that “a government supported by Mansour Abbas is not really a solution; we will not be part of government that is not a functioning right-wing government.”

Religious Zionism head MK Bezalel Smotrich in Modiin, March 23, 2021 (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Smotrich himself on Monday evening “liked” a tweet that declared Abbas will only be suitable to join the government when he and his party reject Palestinian nationalism and terror against Israel, the Israel Hayom daily reported.

Ra’am won four seats in last week’s election, and along with the right-wing Yamina, with seven seats, has not committed to either bloc. The two parties hold the balance of power, but it is still not clear if any grouping can cobble together a coalition due to ideological differences among parties in each prospective bloc and disputes in the anti-Netanyahu bloc over who would lead it.

A Tuesday report said Ra’am was leaning toward giving outside support to a Netanyahu-led government.

Intensive negotiations between parties are ongoing as President Reuven Rivlin will next week begin meetings with party leaders to hear their recommendations as to who should be given first shot at forming a government.

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