With three months to election day, cracks may be forming in the top ranks of the Blue and White party.
In leaked comments carried by multiple Israeli media outlets, the party’s no. 3, MK Moshe Ya’alon, reportedly criticized faction co-chair MK Yair Lapid’s aggressive campaigning against ultra-Orthodox parties over religious and other social issues.
“Lapid is pushing away potential voters on the center-right and in religious communities,” Ya’alon is reported to have said at a closed gathering of party activists.
“Lapid is a liability. He went for a negative campaign, a campaign of hatred that’s causing us damage,” the former IDF chief added, according to the reports.
“He’s attacking groups that could otherwise find their home in Blue and White, or be our partners in the future. His rotation for prime minister with Benny Gantz turned voters off.”
Ya’alon’s comments were reported separately by prime time television news broadcasts on channels 12 and 13.
A former Likud defense minister, Ya’alon now heads the Telem faction, which joined up with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party and Lapid’s Yesh Atid to form Blue and White ahead of this year’s first round of elections.
A political and defense hawk who opposes Palestinian statehood, Ya’alon is considered to be further to the right than many others in the centrist party. Yesh Atid bills itself as socially liberal and opposed to religious coercion by ultra-Orthodox political factions.
Ya’alon claimed Blue and White could attract more center-right voters if not for Lapid’s presence on the party list.
“Polls show this, including now. There are many people in the center and on the right who want to and could vote for Blue and White but are worried about [Lapid’s] views. He’s seen as ‘anti.’ We thought he would be a more unifying element, but there are those pulling him to the left.”
Reached for comment by Channel 12, Ya’alon’s office insisted Lapid was “a friend and partner” and suggested political opponents were behind the reports of “imaginary conflicts” in the party — but stopped short of explicitly denying the comments.
“Blue and White will run in the coming elections under the leadership of Benny Gantz, backed by a strong and unified leadership, in order to form the next government for the benefit of Israelis,” the official statement read. “Yair Lapid is a friend and partner. I urge our political opponents to focus on public opinion and not on imaginary conflicts.”
An unnamed Yesh Atid official slammed Ya’alon in comments to the Ynet news site on Wednesday evening, saying, Ya’alon “forgets that it was Yesh Atid’s voters who got him and his friends into the Knesset after he lagged far below the vote threshold. [Ya’alon] and his friends undermine our unity and our collaboration again and again. Despite that, we’re committed to running together in the coming elections — and winning.”
The comments underlined internal tensions among Blue and White’s various factions in the run-up to new elections scheduled for September 17.
Religious issues have taken center-stage in the new election after Netanyahu failed to broker a compromise between Yisrael Beytenu and ultra-Orthodox parties in the wake of the April 9 elections over those very issues.
Lapid has been harshly critical of attempts to introduce Jewish religious strictures into public life and has positioned himself as a counterweight to the ultra-Orthodox on religion and state issues.
Earlier this month, he accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of pushing to institute Iranian-style theocracy in Israel after Likud was reported to have negotiated a coalition agreement with the Haredi party United Torah Judaism that acquiesced to UTJ’s demand to overturn legislation that prohibits gender-segregated events in public spaces.
A draft of Likud’s agreement with the Haredi United Torah Judaism party, which was leaked in early June to the Kan public broadcaster, stated that “within 90 days the government will amend the law in such a way that it will be permissible to provide public services, public study sessions and public events in which men and women are separated. This separation will not constitute discrimination according to the law.”
Ultra-Orthodox groups have pressed in the past to have gender-segregated events or facilities, like public transportation, but the moves have been knocked down by the courts, which ruled they constitute discrimination.