UTJ launches its campaign, with leaders to weigh boycotting Liberman

UTJ launches its campaign, with leaders to weigh boycotting Liberman

Party’s Gafni in favor of rejecting Yisrael Beytenu if it passes electoral threshold; Litzman: ‘We’ll remember this. We were extorted’

United Torah Judaism's Yaakov Litzman (left) and Moshe Gafni at a press conference in Bnei Brak on May 30, 2019. (Flash90)
United Torah Judaism's Yaakov Litzman (left) and Moshe Gafni at a press conference in Bnei Brak on May 30, 2019. (Flash90)

A top ultra-Orthodox legislator said Thursday that in light of Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman’s conduct in failed coalition negotiations in recent weeks, he will recommend that his party not sit with Liberman in the government after the next election.

“I will recommend to my colleagues not to sit with him,” United Torah Judaism’s Moshe Gafni told Army Radio.

The topic was on the agenda as UTJ leaders met to officially launch their new election campaign.

The Knesset on Wednesday night voted to disband itself and called new elections for September 17, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to broker a compromise between Yisrael Beytenu and ultra-Orthodox parties.

Liberman demanded that coalition agreements include an obligation to pass, unaltered, a version of a bill regulating the draft of the ultra-Orthodox into the military, which last year passed its first reading. That draft of the bill is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, which want to soften its terms. Netanyahu needed both Yisrael Beytenu and the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox parties to form a majority government.

On Thursday afternoon UTJ leaders met in Bnei Brak, with Gafni accusing Liberman of “dictatorship” for seeking to pass the bill without any additional debate. He said the nation was going to an election “on the whim of one man.”

Litzman said the party would discuss its future position on Liberman during the meeting, but added: “We’ll remember this… we were extorted.”

According to the Walla news site, until Wednesday night ultra-Orthodox parties had given Liberman the benefit of the doubt as they believed he would eventually come around, but that attitude may now be changing.

Deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman seen during a press conference after meeting with president Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gafni on Wednesday night claimed that Liberman hated Netanyahu and “used our community with all sorts of tales about the draft law” as an excuse for “a political maneuver” against Netanyahu.

He said he believed Liberman wouldn’t pass the electoral threshold in the September election. “The public won’t forgive him.”

“Liberman chose a campaign of incitement against the ultra-Orthodox public and the Torah and used us to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government,” he told the Kan public broadcaster.

The leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Aryeh Deri, also weighed in, saying the prime minister had said throughout negotiations that Liberman was acting against him.

“I apologized to Netanyahu this evening for persuading him for a month that Liberman would enter the government. He told me all the time that Liberman was acting against him and would not join the coalition, and he was right,” Deri told members of his faction on Wednesday evening.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on May 29, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Liberman meanwhile accused the Likud party Wednesday night of surrendering to the ultra-Orthodox factions.

“Unfortunately, Israel is going to repeat elections because of the refusal of Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties to accept our proposal and to vote on the draft law in second and third readings in the original version,” Liberman said.

He said the Haredi parties’ refusal to pass the law, which he described as the best possible version of such legislation, as “just one symptom of ultra-Orthodox extremism.”

A visibly angry Netanyahu launched a diatribe against Liberman in the early hours of Thursday morning.  With Liberman having prevented Netanyahu from forming a majority coalition, the prime minister blamed the Yisrael Beytenu party chief for “dragging the country to unnecessary elections.”

“Avigdor Liberman is now part of the left. He brings down right-wing governments. Don’t believe him again. I will tell you about it tomorrow. Maybe I will tell you some things you don’t know. He deceived the electorate just to get votes,” Netanyahu charged.

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