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Unveiling party slate, Liberman vows not to enter coalition with ultra-Orthodox

Yisrael Beytenu chief says it’s impossible to ‘rehabilitate the economy and reach equal rights’ with Haredi factions holding sway in government

Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman visits Ashdod after clashes broke out between police and ultra-Orthodox people over lockdown restrictions, January 12, 2021. (Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman visits Ashdod after clashes broke out between police and ultra-Orthodox people over lockdown restrictions, January 12, 2021. (Flash90)

Avigdor Liberman, head of the secularist right-wing Yisrael Beytenu, unveiled the party’s slate for the March 23 elections on Tuesday and vowed not to sit in a coalition with ultra-Orthodox parties.

After Liberman, MK Oded Forer got the second spot on the party’s slate, followed by, in descending order, MKs Evgeny Sova, Eli Avidar, Yulia Malinovsky, Hamad Amar, and Alex Kushnir.

Professor Yossi Shein got the eighth slot, attorney Limor Magen-Telem was placed ninth, and Dr. Elina Bardatz was 10th.

Liberman, a former foreign and defense minister, said he will not join a government with the ultra-Orthodox political parties that are close allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Following the three previous rounds of elections over the past two years, Liberman refused to join a coalition led by Netanyahu, his ally-turned-rival, taking his party to the opposition.

Liberman made the statements at a live-streamed party event in front of the slogan “An end to ultra-Orthodox rule,” and called on Gideon Sa’ar of the New Hope party and Yair Lapid of the center-left Yesh Atid faction to join him.

Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman at a live-streamed party event, February 2, 2020. The slogan behind him reads, “An end to ultra-Orthodox rule.”

The staunchly secularist Liberman has clashed with the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, parties over issues including draft laws that exempt ultra-Orthodox men from military conscription.

“Yisrael Beytenu won’t enter a coalition with Shas or United Torah Judaism,” Liberman said. “We cannot rehabilitate the economy and reach equal rights and obligations so long as Shas and United Torah Judaism are tipping the scales. I am telling Sa’ar and Lapid, don’t have any illusions about this.”

“Since the second round [of elections], we have stood against what is happening in the ultra-Orthodox community. For years, I have tried to reach compromises on religion and state and on the issue of integrating the Haredi public in Israeli society,” Liberman said.

“But my conclusion is that the other side is unwilling to make any compromises, any concessions, even a small concession. We see this in the fight against the coronavirus, there are no concessions,” he said.

There have been ongoing, flagrant infractions of lockdown restrictions in some parts of the ultra-Orthodox community. On Sunday, thousands of Haredim packed into two massive funerals for rabbis, sparking widespread outrage. The ultra-Orthodox political leadership has been largely mum about the rule-breaking and has fought against increasing penalties.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with then-Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism, during a situational assessment at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, February 23, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Liberman said in December he was aiming to become Israel’s next finance minister. Yisrael Beytenu will also seek the interior, immigration, and health portfolios, he said.

He told Channel 12 news that he did not rule out sitting with the Meretz party, a leftist faction that shares some common views with Yisrael Beytenu on issues of religion and state. The two parties are entirely at odds, however, on issues relating to the Palestinians and Arab Israelis.

Liberman said he wants to establish a bloc of four parties — Yisrael Beytenu, the nationalist Yamina led by Naftali Bennett, centrist Yesh Atid and right-wing New Hope, a party recently established by former Likud MK Sa’ar to challenge Netanyahu. According to recent polling, such a bloc would not amass the 61 seats needed to establish a majority coalition in the 120-seat Knesset.

Liberman, Bennett and Sa’ar, the leaders of the three right-wing parties besides Netanyahu’s Likud, are all former allies of the premier who are now his bitter political enemies.

Israel heads to its fourth national election in two years on March 23.

In a Channel 12 poll released Sunday, Likud was predicted to win 30 seats; Yesh Atid 17; New Hope 14; Yamina 13; the Joint List 10; Shas 8; United Torah Judaism 8; Yisrael Beytenu 7; Labor 5; Meretz 4; and Blue and White 4.

The survey did not show a clear path to a majority coalition for any party. Likud and its longtime ultra-Orthodox allies would have 46 seats, far short of the 61 needed to form a majority. With the right-wing Yamina, the bloc would still fall short, with 59 seats. It is unlikely that any other party would join a coalition led by Netanyahu.

An anti-Netanyahu coalition, meanwhile, would need to bridge significant differences to amass 61 seats by reconciling factions, such as the right-wing New Hope and dovish Meretz.

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