Ultra-Orthodox UTJ split over potential coalition with Ra’am support

MK Pindros: ‘Not an ideal situation to rely on party that supports terror’; but Gafni hits out at Smotrich, saying his refusal may lead to anti-religious government, 5th elections

United Torah Judaism party members at the party headquarters in Petah Tikva, on election night, September 18, 2019 (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)
United Torah Judaism party members at the party headquarters in Petah Tikva, on election night, September 18, 2019 (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)

Amid signs of a split at the top of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party over a potential coalition based on the support of Ra’am, faction chair Yitzhak Pindros said Sunday that it was not ideal to rely on the Islamist party.

“It is clearly not an ideal and normal situation to rely on a party that supports terrorism,” he told the Kol Ba’Rama radio station.

“The question of relying on [Ra’am leader Mansour] Abbas has not yet arisen and there has not yet been a decision by the luminaries of Israel,” said Pindros, referring to the rabbinical leadership. “When it is a practical and non-hypothetical question, it will be up to the luminaries… But we must do everything we can so that it not become a practical question.”

Pindros’s comments came despite a senior ultra-Orthodox rabbi and spiritual leader of UTJ apparently having given a stamp of approval for the unprecedented possibility of a right-wing, religious government propped up by Ra’am.

United Torah Judaism party member Yitzhak Pindros reacts at the House Committee discussion to cancel the 2013 law limiting the number of ministers, at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, May 20, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, widely acknowledged as the preeminent living Ashkenazi Haredi sage, was apparently asked last week about such a scenario and reportedly said: “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.”

Meanwhile, UTJ party head Moshe Gafni on Sunday attacked far-right Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich for ruling out joining a coalition supported by Ra’am, saying he was acting against the interests of observant Jews.

Smotrich’s behavior will lead to “a government that is largely anti-religious or there will be fifth elections whose results are unknown, instead of preserving the world of Torah, education and Jewish tradition,” Gafni told Yated Ne’eman newspaper, which is affiliated with his Degel Hatorah faction in UTJ.

United Torah Judaism leader MK Moshe Gafni at a conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With the election results continuing the political deadlock of three other elections over the last two years, it seems that neither the bloc that supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor the bloc that opposes him will be able to form a government without the support of Abbas, whose Islamist party won four seats and will be the smallest faction in parliament.

Ra’am’s leaders have made no decision on who, if anyone, they will recommend that the president task with forming a government when he seeks recommendations this week, and have not indicated whether they will openly back any would-be prime minister’s effort to form a coalition.

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas at a press conference in Nazareth, April 1, 2021 (David Cohen/Flash90)

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 either all four of Ra’am’s lawmakers to back its coalition in order to have a majority in the Knesset, or 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 Netanyahu. But that would only give it 59 seats in total.

A scenario backed by a growing number of Likud lawmakers and feverishly rejected by the Religious Zionism party would see the pro-Netanyahu bloc swear in a coalition with the help of Ra’am from outside the coalition, to give them a majority in the Knesset.

Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich speaks at the annual Jerusalem Conference on March 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

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.

According to a survey published Sunday by the Israel Democracy Institute, UTJ supporters were 52% in favor of a government formed with Arab party support, compared to just 39% among voters for fellow ultra-Orthodox party Shas.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed