Top ultra-Orthodox rabbi said to prefer coalition that relies on Arabs over left

Comments from Chaim Kanievsky, 93, come as talk intensifies regarding possibility of right-wing, religious government reliant on outside support from Islamist Ra’am party

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky seen at his home in the city of Bnei Brak on his 92nd birthday, January 11, 2019. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky seen at his home in the city of Bnei Brak on his 92nd birthday, January 11, 2019. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)

A senior ultra-Orthodox rabbi and spiritual leader of the United Torah Judaism party appears to have given a stamp of approval for the unprecedented possibility of a right-wing, religious government propped up by the Islamist Ra’am party, according to a Thursday TV report.

Chaim Kanievesky, widely acknowledged as the preeminent living Ashkenazi Haredi sage, was asked about such a scenario following last week’s inconclusive election, which kept the country’s two-year political deadlock intact.

He reportedly responded as follows: “As far as safeguarding Jewish tradition is concerned, it is better to go with the representatives of the Arab public, than with the representatives from the left.”

Channel 12 published the quote, but without a recording, leading some to speculate regarding the report’s veracity, as the 93-year-old, wheelchair-bound rabbi has rarely ever been heard in recent years uttering more than a few words.

Nonetheless, the network said Kanievsky justified his position, arguing that Arab Israeli lawmakers are less likely to promote universalist ideas and “turn everyone secular” than left-wing lawmakers. Moreover, the rabbi reportedly said that it would also be easier for Haredi MKs to cooperate with conservative Arab representatives on a variety of issues such as respect of religion and family values and on the issue of military conscription.

The comments were publicized moments before Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas gave a highly anticipated, primetime address to the Israeli media in Hebrew, in which he expressed his desire for greater cooperation between the Jewish and Arab publics.

Mansour Abbas, head of Israel’s conservative Islamic Ra’am party, speaks during a press conference in the northern city of Nazareth on April 1, 2021. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Abbas, whose party received just four seats in last week’s election, has been widely regarded as a potential kingmaker as his support could be essential for either the pro- or anti-Netanyahu blocs to be able to form a government. The anti-Netanyahu bloc of Yesh Atid (17 seats), Blue and White (8), Labor (7), Yisrael Beytenu (7), Joint List (6), Meretz (6) and New Hope (6) won 57 seats in total and would need all four of Ra’am’s lawmakers to back their coalition in order to have a majority in the Knesset, plus the backing of the right-wing Yamina.

The pro-Netanyahu bloc of Likud (30), Shas (9), UTJ (7) and Religious Zionism (6) will need the support of Yamina, which is ardently right-wing, but ran on replacing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But that would only give them 59 seats in total. A scenario backed by a growing number of Likud lawmakers and feverishly rejected by the far-right Religious Zionism party, would see the pro-Netanyahu bloc swear in a coalition with the help of Ra’am from the outside, to give them a majority in the Knesset.

Nonetheless, Arab and Haredi lawmakers have a relatively long history of cooperating with one another in the Knesset on social issues. Arab lawmakers have backed Haredi moves to exempt ultra-Orthodox Israelis from military service while ultra-Orthodox MKs opposed along with their Arab colleagues the so-called “Muezzin Bill” outlawing the use of loudspeakers for religious purposes.

Kanievsky’s comments appear to give Haredi lawmakers, particularly those in the UTJ party, the political capital to back such an unprecedented coalition. However, lawmakers in both the far-right Religious Zionism and Ra’am parties have stated that they would not cooperate with or prop up a coalition with one another.

Abbas has yet to announce whom he will endorse as prime minister.

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