Likud officials slammed Finance Minister Yair Lapid as a bad steward of the economy on Tuesday, after Lapid accused the ruling party of “selling out” to the ultra-Orthodox by seeking early elections. “Yair Lapid failed miserably in his handling of the economy,” read a statement from the Likud party on Tuesday afternoon.
The comments came as the governing coalition fell apart, setting Israel en route to early elections, likely next March-April. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) said Tuesday afternoon that early elections “could have been avoided” but were now unfortunately “a done deal,” and that the challenge would be “to work out how to get [Israel’s governance] back on track immediately afterwards.”
The Labor Party’s Isaac Herzog urged all centrist parties to unite behind his leadership and told Army Radio he was “absolutely” sure he’d be Israel’s next prime minister.
And Shas leader Aryeh Deri said he’d spurned an offer Monday night, whose source he would not disclose, to join an alternative government without Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, and thus avert new elections. Deri also said he’d cut no deals with any parties about a post-election alliance; Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua parties have alleged that Netanyahu has struck a deal with Shas and the other ultra-Orthodox party, United Torah Judaism, for a new coalition after the elections.
The Likud statement accused Finance Minister Lapid of “preventing the transfer of a responsible defense budget to the IDF, torpedoing the move of IDF bases to the Negev, and advancing the ‘0% VAT’ bill, which is a complete fiction and won’t lower housing costs.” The Likud comments were a response to a Tuesday-morning attack by Lapid on Netanyahu, in which the finance minister charged that Netanyahu was seeking early elections in order to realize “a deal with the ultra-Orthodox.”
Speaking at an energy conference, the finance minister accused Netanyahu of attempting “a fire sale of the universal draft law, of the reduction in budgets for yeshivas, of the introduction of the core curriculum into ultra-Orthodox education — all of which were aimed at preventing an entire generation of ultra-Orthodox people from living a life of poverty.”
The universal draft law refers to legislation that would force the ultra-Orthodox into mandatory military or national service, a move long sought by Lapid and other secular politicians.
The third Netanyahu government has been beset by infighting from its very start 20 months ago. Tensions boiled over in the latest fight over the budget and the “Jewish state” bill, which the prime minister has vowed to advance despite vociferous objections by Lapid and Hatnua leader Justice Minister Livni.
At a meeting between Lapid and Netanyahu Monday night, Netanyahu insisted that Lapid accept five demands, including the transfer of billions of shekels in added funds for the Israel Defense Forces and the cancellation of Lapid’s flagship and controversial affordable housing program. Lapid refused, and the tense meeting ended with both sides announcing that the other had forced “unnecessary” elections on the country.
Likud has accused Lapid of attempting to form a coalition government headed by himself under the prime minister’s nose, and maintained that the Yesh Atid party leader “failed shamefully” in the attempted “putsch.”
“Lapid continues to attack, threaten and undermine the government in which he sits, and to concoct political deals with [Justice Minister] Tzipi Livni, acting out of the old and ugly sort of narrow political interest,” the Likud statement charged.
Netanyahu, by contrast, was a responsible leader, the party statement read.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists on a state budget that will be responsible, secure the national defense and ongoing investment in the might of the IDF, and will deal seriously with the cost of housing and food — unlike the politicized, irresponsible budget advanced by Lapid.”
In Lapid’s speech earlier in the day, the finance minister touted his party’s “list of achievements. Despite all the obstacles, we have achieved more in a year and eight months than other parties have achieved in decades.”
Yesh Atid, made up mostly of freshmen politicians like Lapid, swept into the Knesset nearly two years ago, winning 19 seats and placing itself as a linchpin of any governing coalition.
And in an explicit reference to the upcoming elections, Lapid pitted his own agenda against that of the ultra-Orthodox parties.
“The Israeli public will have to decide where it wants to go. Does the public want, as MK [Yaakov] Litzman from United Torah Judaism said, ‘to turn back the clock,’ or does it want to continue on the path we have started — to clean up the country, to change the country, to return the country to the hands of its citizens,” he said.
As the country goes to elections, the 2015 state budget is frozen in parliamentary limbo, while the “Jewish state” bill will not pass before new elections wipe the Knesset slate clean and cancel any pending legislation.
The ultra-Orthodox Shas party entered the fray late Monday, with chairman Deri reiterating his own demands for entering a post-election Netanyahu government. These included cutting the 18% sales tax on many basic grocery goods, raising the minimum hourly wage from NIS 23.12 ($5.87) to NIS 30 ($7.62), changing the recently passed ultra-Orthodox draft law, restoring some funds cut by the current government from ultra-Orthodox religious seminaries and schools — and the cancellation of Lapid’s tax-free housing program, which would only apply to those who served in the military, leaving many ultra-Orthodox out.
Lapid’s charge that Netanyahu was caving to ultra-Orthodox demands follows the publication of Deri’s list.
“Instead of lowering the cost of living, passing a social budget, improving salaries for the middle class and supporting the weakest in society — [Netanyahu] prefers to raise taxes and to pay the ultra-Orthodox parties now from the pockets of the Israeli middle class,” Lapid charged on Tuesday. “This is a deal with the ultra-Orthodox of the oldest kind.”
The rhetorical sparring between Yesh Atid and Likud is likely a preview of key points the sides will seek to make in the coming months ahead of the spring ballot, expected in March or early April of next year.