Ultra-Orthodox party rules out coalition with Lapid

Ex-finance minister ‘damaged both our pockets and our laws,’ says UTJ leader Litzman, whose colleague Gafni endorses ally Netanyahu for PM

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, standing, speaks at the United Torah Judaism party's campaign kickoff in Bnei Brak, on February 24, 2019. (Yehuda Haim/Flash90)
Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, standing, speaks at the United Torah Judaism party's campaign kickoff in Bnei Brak, on February 24, 2019. (Yehuda Haim/Flash90)

Leaders of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party on Sunday ruled out joining a government that includes former finance minister Yair Lapid, while voicing support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next ruling coalition after the elections in April.

Lapid, who last week merged his Yesh Atid party with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience to form the Blue and White alliance, has been a vocal supporter of introducing core curriculum studies into ultra-Orthodox schools and ending blanket exemptions to mandatory military service for seminary students.

“Lapid humiliated the ultra-Orthodox public, and we will not sit in a government in which he is a member,” Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said at UTJ’s campaign launch in Bnei Brak.

“Lapid was the worst finance minister in Israel’s history,” he added. “He damaged both our pockets and our laws and looted from us.”

The comments echoed remarks Litzman made earlier this month, when he said he would not join a government with a united Gantz-Lapid party.

Blue and White party leaders Benny Gantz (L) and Yair Lapid embrace after giving a statement to the media in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Lapid served as finance minister between 2013 and 2014 in a government led by Netanyahu that did not include UTJ or Shas, another ultra-Orthodox party. The Knesset passed legislation during that time mandating criminal penalties for ultra-Orthodox students who shirk military conscription, but portions of the law were rolled back in 2015 following the ultra-Orthodox parties’ return to government.

Recent opinion polls have given Blue and White a lead over Netanyahu’s Likud, but have also forecast the new party would struggle to form a government without the support of some of the prime minister’s current religious and right-wing coalition partners.

Speaking at the same event, MK Moshe Gafni of UTJ also ruled out sitting in a coalition with Lapid and said his party would recommend Netanyahu be tasked with forming the next government, barring any legal impediment preventing him from continuing as premier.

MK Moshe Gafni speaks at the United Torah Judaism party’s campaign kickoff in Bnei Brak on February 24, 2019. (Yehuda Haim/Flash90)

“What if there is an indictment? There are laws in the country and we’ll act according to the law,” Gafni said.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will reportedly announce in the coming days whether he intends to indict Netanyahu in three separate cases, pending a hearing process that could take months.

The prime minister, who has denied any wrongdoing, has indicated that he will not resign during the hearing process.

Gafni also said UTJ would not relate to former defense minister Avigdor Liberman during the election campaign.

Liberman, who heads the secular right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, pushed for legislation opposed by UTJ regulating military exemptions for seminary students before resigning in November. He has also long been a critic of ultra-Orthodox influence on issues concerning church and state.

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