Report: Lapid Caught Nixing Shas as Coalition Partner

YERUSHALAYIM -

Every day of the coalition-making process brings with it fresh rumors and revelations, accusations and denials about who’s who — and who’s not going to be who — in Israel’s next government.

After months of avoiding saying it in public, Yair Lapid was caught saying it in private: His Yesh Atid party will not join a coalition with Shas, according to a Jerusalem Post report Thursday night.

“I am not even considering entering a government with Shas,” Lapid said in a closed conversation. “If I will be in the traditional photograph at the president’s residence the day the government is sworn in standing next to a minister from Shas, my political career is over.”

A Yesh Atid spokesman declined comment.

Shas co-chairman Arye Deri responded, “Lapid apparently is not aware that those who care about the good of the state and avoiding a national rift do not resort to boycotting other parties.” Deri said that Shas would “continue to behave responsibly and sensitively on all issues to achieve a broad consensus.”

Lapid’s late father Tommy Lapid, who led the Shinui Party, had centered his political career on excluding chareidi parties from the government. Since entering politics, the younger Lapid has insisted that he harbors no animosity against chareidim. Instead, he claims that he wants to save them from themselves, help them improve their living standards and integrate them into Israeli society.

If accurately quoted, this private remark would seem to undercut the younger Lapid’s public position, and lend support to Deri’s post-election charge that  Lapid’s ultimate motive is to exclude the chareidim from the next government.

It remains to be seen if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly said that no party or sector should boycott other parties or sectors in Israeli society, will take Mr. Lapid to task for doing just that.

Meanwhile, earlier in the day, Likud-Beiteinu made Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett an offer he could refuse — and did — on Wednesday, a source close to him told The Jerusalem Post.

The proposal reportedly included the Education Ministry, a top socioeconomic portfolio, and a deputy defense minister who would deal with Yehudah and Shomron, a main concern for the right-wing party.

Bennett and other Jewish Home officials were angered by the way the offer was made, via the press with a 48-hour take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum attached to it, the latest in a string of insults, as they see it.

“Since the election, the Likud has been acting against us,” a Jewish Home source said. “They attacked us non-stop during the election. Then they called every party but us and met with Meretz before us. Then they announced to the press that [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu would meet with us, but did not call us for three days. Here again, they made us an offer [in the media] and only called us a day later. This is not serious. It smells like a trick to lower the price of the other parties.”

Meanwhile, reports persisted that Bennett and Lapid have made a deal — either Netanyahu will have both parties in his coalition or neither. According to Arutz Sheva on Thursday, their alliance was formed to prevent Netanyahu from creating a coalition that excluded one of them in favor of chareidi or center-left parties.

As yet, neither party has admitted to such an agreement.

Netanyahu has reportedly responded with a divide-and-conquer strategy, hoping to lure either Lapid or Bennett into the coalition without the other, and the offer to Bennett may have been part of that strategy.

Pressure on Bennet to modify his position on the draft continued on Thursday from leaders of the national-religious camp.

Rabbi Tzafaniya Drori, the Rabbi of Kiryat Shmona said that any plan to increase chareidi enlistment by coercion was doomed to failure, Arutz Sheva reported.

“Even Lapid knows this,” Rabbi Drori said. “Maybe his current position is a negotiating tactic, because anyone who goes down the path of coercion doesn’t understand Israeli society.”

Rabbi Drori also stressed that security goes hand-in-hand with the spiritual well-being of the nation, and added that Bennett “had been even sharper than me” in his defense of the importance of preserving Torah study in Israel.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, rabbi of Beit El and dean of the Yeshivas Ateret Yerushalayim in the Old City of Yerushalayim, similarly rejected the idea of trying to force chareidim into the army and said that “men of faith” were vital to the state.