How the Rabbis Could Save Netanyahu

Israel’s most powerful rabbi sees one chance, slim though it may be, of keeping Bibi on top and the secularists at bay

Top rabbis go to bat for Netanyahu
Aharon Krohn/Flash90

On the surface of it, Benjamin Netanyahu would be the big loser should his right-wing rivals join the center-left bloc in a national unity government that excludes Likud. But the ultra-Orthodox community has just as much, if not more on the line, prompting some powerful rabbis to quietly assist Bibi in his efforts.

While the aforementioned national unity coalition would include some religious right-wing elements, it would be dominated by secularists and progressives. Some of those parties are vehemently opposed to existing policies put in place to benefit the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel.

Should such a government materialize, the rabbis fear that the secular parties Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beiteinu, and the ultra-liberals of Labor and Meretz, will drive an agenda that’ll see funding slashed for ultra-Orthodox schools and stipends, as well as a military recruitment policy that forces all Jewish citizens to serve.

But as Netanyahu’s window of opportunity to form the next government and remain in power rapidly closes, this alternative “government of change” seems increasingly inevitable.

The rabbis see only one chance of success, and it’s a slim one.

Earlier this week, Yaakov Kanievsky, grandson of and advisor to arguably Israel’s most powerful rabbi, Chaim Kanievsky, held an urgent meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The aim was to convince Gantz to join his “Blue and White” party to Netanyahu’s coalition, thus giving the prime minister a boost of 8 seats. Netanyahu had earlier wooed Gantz with a promise of the latter serving first in a new prime ministerial rotation.

On the one hand, going that route would require Gantz to yet again violate his electoral promise to not sit in a Netanyahu government. On the other, at least half of the eight “Blue and White” lawmakers are right-wingers, meaning there is no major ideological hindrance to the party joining a Likud-led coalition.

With the Kanievsky name behind him, Gantz would have newfound clout in the next government, perhaps enabling him to give a better showing than he did in the last. And Netanyahu, while making certain compromises, would largely preserve his leadership.

In terms of numbers, a Netanyahu-Gantz coalition would definitely include:

  • Likud (30)
  • Shas (9)
  • Blue and White (8)
  • United Torah Judaism (7)
  • Religious Zionism (6)

That already puts them at 60, just one seat shy of a majority, and probably already enough to govern. But in such a scenario, it would be far more likely that Naftali Bennett could be convinced to bring his Yamina party (7 seats) into the coalition, thus giving it a clear and rather stable right-wing majority. And that even without the remaining right-wing factions New Hope and Yisrael Beiteinu, which despite their distaste for Netanyahu, would certainly continue to vote in favor of many, if not most of the government’s decisions.

Can the rabbis pull it off? The clock is ticking…

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