Coalition Leaders Send Mixed Signals on Early Elections

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon addressing his Kulanu party on Monday. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Despite ominous rumblings about early elections due to the division among coalition parties on the chareidi draft bill, some were saying on Monday that the situation is not as serious as it sounds.

“If the budget doesn’t pass by the end of the session, I have lost my public mandate,” said Finance Minister and Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon on Monday. “I cannot fulfill my agreement with the voters. I don’t see how I can continue to serve as finance minister.”

Chareidi leaders have said that they will refuse to vote for the state budget until a draft bill is passed which will safeguard yeshivah students from military conscription.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman continued to oppose the Torah community on Monday, as he told a meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party he would only support the law being formulated by a committee in his ministry.

“We are not against the ultra-Orthodox,” claimed Liberman. But, he added, “everyone, not just the ultra-Orthodox, but the Arabs too, must contribute to the state in which they live.”

The chareidi bill seeks to formally define Torah study as a supreme value, and affirms that yeshivah students contribute to the security of the state no less than soldiers in uniform.

Committee Chairman and United Torah Judaism MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Knesset Finance)

Earlier on Monday, Knesset Finance Committee Chairman and United Torah Judaism MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni said, “My assessment is that there won’t be elections,” and noted the ongoing negotiations to reach consensus on the draft issue.

Jewish Home party chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett dismissed the whole matter on Sunday, saying that “it’s a fake crisis. If Netanyahu wants to solve it, he could do so in 10 minutes.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) said it would be “irresponsible” of PM Netanyahu to allow the “fake crisis” to bring down the government, though neither explained why the prime minister had so far not solved the problem.

Even Liberman denied that he was angling for early elections.“We have no interest in breaking up the coalition,” he said repeatedly. “I haven’t met anyone who voluntarily gives up the [job] of defense minister,” he quipped.

Before leaving for the AIPAC conference, PM Netanyahu told reporters, “There is no reason for us to go to early elections, and with good will that will not happen.”

That statement followed a Hadashot news report quoting coalition partners predicting elections in June, nearly a year-and-a-half before the next regularly scheduled voting for prime minister.