Under attack for ambiguity, Gafni says UTJ will stick with Netanyahu ‘at all costs’

Amid speculation he might shift allegiance after the election, ultra-Orthodox party leader pledges loyalty to former PM, even if it means heading to the opposition

United Torah Judaism party chief Moshe Gafni, during an interview with Channel 12 on August 8, 2022. (Channel 12)
United Torah Judaism party chief Moshe Gafni, during an interview with Channel 12 on August 8, 2022. (Channel 12)

United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party chief Moshe Gafni said Monday that he would only join a government led by current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu following the November election, after recently suggesting that he would consider shifting his party’s allegiance.

In an interview with Channel 12 news, the Haredi lawmaker said that “some people are trying to defame me and say ‘Gafni will go with the left,'” but insisted he had no intention of doing so.

“I won’t join another government, even if [Netanyahu’s bloc] doesn’t reach 61 seats, but it will,” he said, expressing confidence about Netanyahu’s chances of forming a government following the vote.

Asked what has changed since the last four rounds of elections that have failed to establish a stable government, Gafni said that the Israeli public “has learned this past year how bad it can get when we’re not in power.”

Gafni insisted that the various parties in Netanyahu’s bloc would overcome any differences between them, and vowed they would hold firm even if they did not return to power on November 1.

“I’ve reached the conclusion that we need to run with Likud at all costs,” even if it means serving in the opposition, he concluded.

United Torah Judaism party chief Moshe Gafni during an interview with Channel 12’s reporter Yair Sherki on August 8, 2022. (Channel 12)

Gafni’s UTJ has been seen by some political commentators as a party that could potentially tip the balance after the November elections.

Gafni himself has hinted on several occasions that he would consider joining forces with a party other than Netanyahu’s Likud, if the latter fails to muster a majority.

In an interview with the Kan public radio in June, shortly after former prime minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition collapsed, Gafni suggested he was considering forming a future political partnership with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz.

Last year, Gafni said that perhaps the Likud party should have replaced Netanyahu as leader in order to avert the formation of the current government. As the coalition was sworn in in June 2021, Gafni said Netanyahu stepping aside to let a different Likud lawmaker form a government “may have been the right thing to do.”

Gafni is known to have spoken to Prime Minister Yair Lapid on two occasions since the latter was sworn in as premier, with one of those conversations taking place during the wedding of the UTJ chief’s granddaughter, an event that raised some eyebrows over a guestlist that included MKs and ministers from across the political spectrum.

But it seems like something changed in recent weeks, with Gafni stating clearly for the first time in a long time that he intends to remain loyal to Netanyahu and his bloc.

One reason could be backlash from his Haredi constituents. The ultra-Orthodox sector has remained largely supportive of Netanyahu.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and UTJ MK Moshe Gafni attend a conference arranged by the Israeli Television News Company in Jerusalem, March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to polls conducted Monday by Channels 12 and 13 and the Kan broadcaster, the bloc that supports Netanyahu — the Likud, Religious Zionism, Shas and United Torah Judaism — would garner 59 seats, two short of the majority needed to form a government.

At the same time, according to Channel 12 and Kan, the anti-Netanyahu bloc — Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor, Meretz and Ra’am — would get just 55 seats, six short of a majority. The Channel 13 poll found that the anti-Netanyahu bloc would get 51 seats and the Zionist Spirit party, which is ambiguous about its willingness to sit with the indicted former premier, would receive four seats. Both Channel 12 and Kan had Shaked’s party failing to clear the electoral threshold.

Israeli TV polls are notably unreliable, but nevertheless, often steer the decision-making of politicians.

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