The Yamina party issued an apology on Sunday after its chairman Naftali Bennett was recorded telling synagogue-goers in a Tel Aviv suburb that ultra-Orthodox parties are willing to accept any policy as long as they receive funding for their community members.
The national religious party said in a statement that a report in The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, Zman Yisrael, “distorted and took [Bennett’s] comments completely out of context.”
“Minister Bennett works in cooperation with ultra-Orthodox [politicians] and greatly values the ultra-Orthodox public. There was no intention of offending, and we apologize if anyone is hurt,” the statement added.
The Yamina chairman was asked at Lechu Neranena Synagogue in Givat Shmuel why he was not pursuing alternative government constellations that would not include the Haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.
According to the Zman report, which the site later backed up with a recording, Bennett told synagogue-goers in Givat Shmuel, “because it’s super easy with the [ultra-Orthodox].”
He indicated that the parties were political chameleons, willing to go along with any political, security or economic policies so long as they continued to receive earmarks for various pet projects benefiting their communities.
“The ultra-Orthodox just say ‘Show me the money.’ You want a Palestinian state? Have a Palestinian state. You don’t want a Palestinian state? Don’t have a Palestinian state. You want this or that economic process, the Second Lebanon War? They just say ‘Show me the money.'”
Bennett was one of several Yamina politicians to blitz religious Zionist synagogues around the country for stump speeches on Saturday.
Yamina joined with UTJ and Shas after September elections to form an alliance with Likud aimed at keeping Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in power.
Previous characterizations of ultra-Orthodox politicians as primarily concerned with money have been met with accusations of anti-Semitism by those parties.
There was no immediate reaction from Shas or UTJ.
Bennett said national-religious parties were in the past viewed as similarly willing to support Likud and not intervene in political, defense or economic policy decisions that did not directly relate to their voter base, something he had worked to change.
“[Late prime minister] Ariel Sharon, and Netanyahu as well, both loved us when we were docile. Sitting in the back of the bus and letting them drive, taking us to the Gaza Disengagement while we rode along, taking us to the Second Lebanon War failure.”
Despite the criticism, he said his party had no intention of joining up with Blue and White, Likud’s chief rival, which has attempted to lure small right-wing parties away from Netanyahu in coalition talks.
“There is zero chance,” he said of joining with Blue and White. He described Blue and White MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, both former Netanyahu aides seen as the rightist flank of that party, as mere fig leafs. “The DNA of the party is leftist anti-religious.”
He said the government formed in 2015 — led by Likud and made up of Bennett’s Jewish Home party, Shas, UTJ and the now-defunct Kulanu party — was better than a Likud-led government formed in 2013 with Jewish Home and Yesh Atid, which has since been subsumed into Blue and White.
“That government didn’t hold because it wasn’t coherent,” he said. “The chances that one of us will go with [Blue and White leader Benny] Gantz are zero.”