Ultra-Orthodox parties are reportedly exploring the possibility of offering the far-right Otzma Yehudit party a ministerial post in a possible coalition if it agrees to drop its Knesset run.
The ploy, similar to a Likud offer made to another right-wing slate ahead of the September elections, has the blessing of senior Likud MK Miki Zohar, according to a Channel 12 news report Sunday.
Likud has been placing heavy pressure on Otzma Yehudit head Itamar Ben Gvir to drop out of the election race, fearing that he could draw votes away from other right-wing parties with his long-shot Knesset bid.
Under the terms of the suggested plan, one of the two main ultra-Orthodox parties, either Shas or United Torah Judaism, would commit to giving a non-MK ministerial post to Ben Gvir, who would drop out of the race and advise his voter base to cast ballots on March 2 for the ultra-Orthodox faction instead.
Zohar, a close confidant of Netanyahu, was said to have expressed his keen support for the arrangement in private conversations.
Otzma Yehudit, composed of self-described disciples of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, was left to run on its own after three other parties to the right of Likud combined into the Yamina alliance but slammed the door on Ben Gvir’s faction joining them.
Otzma Yehudit has insisted it has no intention of dropping out. It said in a statement on Sunday that “we will not deliberate on the offers in the media, we will make a decision soon” and added that the party’s central committee will convene in the coming days when “we will make decisions.”
Ben Gvir recently told The Times of Israel that he believes his slate will remain in the race until the end.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pushed for Otzma Yehudit to be included in the alliance, but is seen as wanting little to do with the extremist party himself. He was widely criticized, including by some of his staunchest allies, after engineering a merger between Otzma Yehudit and Jewish Home/National Union that nearly saw the far-rightist enter the parliament in a previous election.
Giving Ben Gvir a ministerial post would likely invite an even larger outcry at home and abroad.
Sources close to Netanyahu responded to the report of the ministerial plan, saying the idea was not something the prime minister is considering “and it will not happen.”
Nonetheless, the report sparked a vociferous backlash from political rivals, who are hoping to unseat Netanyahu on March 2 after two unsuccessful tries.
Blue and White leader MK Benny Gantz tweeted, “There are no depths to which Netanyahu will not sink for the sake of immunity,” a reference to three criminal cases against the prime minister for which he is seeking parliamentary immunity, which would only be granted if it has the backing of a majority of lawmakers.
MK Yair Lapid, Blue and White No. 2, tweeted, “You voted Bibi and you got Kahane.”
Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu has also in the past asked Shas to merge with Otzma Yehudit but party chairman Interior Minister Aryeh Deri refused.
Before elections in September, which failed to produce a government, the premier promised Moshe Feiglin a ministerial portfolio for pulling his Zehut party out of the race.
Netanyahu also reportedly unsuccessfully pushed for Otzma Yehudit to drop out of the September elections. In that vote the faction received 83,600 votes, nearly 50,000 shy of the 3.25% of the national vote required to make it into the Knesset.
A political deadlock has seen two elections fail to produce a majority government, sending Israel back to another vote on March 2.
Parties on both the left and right of the political field have been merging to prevent votes for either camp from being lost on runners who fail to beat the 3.25% Knesset threshold.