Ultra-Orthodox Party Leaders Say Early Election Would Be 'Utter Insanity'

Shas and United Torah Judaism leaders say they oppose calls to dissolve government over budget impasse, will not cooperate with any initiatives to do so

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Shas head Arye Dery and United Torah Judaism co-chair Moshe Gafni in the Knesset, May 20, 2020.
Shas head Arye Dery and United Torah Judaism co-chair Moshe Gafni in the Knesset, May 20, 2020.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Neither of the Knesset's two ultra-Orthodox parties will cooperate in any effort to promote early elections, the leaders of Shas and United Torah Judaism announced on Thursday.

“We will not cooperate with any initiative to advance the election and will do everything possible to prevent elections,” said a joint statement by Arye Dery of Shas and Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni, who head the two parties comprising the United Torah Judaism joint ticket.

The statement said the three met to discuss the delay in passing the state budget, which stems from a dispute between coalition parties Likud and Kahol Lavan. Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan insists on keeping to the coalition agreement, which calls for passing a two-year budget for 2020-2021, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud is pushing for a one-year budget, which would cover only the remainder of this year.

Interior Minister Dery, Housing Minister Litzman and Finance Committee Chairman Gafni did not specify in their statement which side they support in the dispute.

“Israelis are coping with serious health and economic problems right now, and the very thought of starting an election campaign at this time is utter insanity,” their statement said. “This is a time to set everything else aside and submit the state budget for urgent approval, so we can focus on the challenges to the economy and the health system caused by the coronavirus crisis that has befallen Israel and the entire world.”

Kahol Lavan responded with its own statement saying that “Israelis won’t forgive anyone who drags the country into elections during a medical and economic crisis.”

Coalition whip Miki Zohar of Likud said Wednesday that "Every professional supports a one-year budget. If we don't immediately approve a budget, we will enter a state of complicated economic chaos, which will create a deficit. A two-year budget is not the right thing at the moment." He added, "If this doesn't happen, we're liable to find ourselves in another unnecessary election campaign."

By law, unless the Knesset either passes the budget by August 25 or passes legislation postponing that deadline, it will automatically dissolve and new elections will be held in November. Approving a one-year budget would allow Netanyahu to dissolve the Knesset and hold new elections if the 2021 budget is not approved by March.

If this is the case, elections would be held in June and Netanyahu would remain prime minister in a caretaker government. Under his agreement with Gantz, should the government be dissolved for any reason other than failure to pass the budget, Gantz would be the caretaker prime minister.

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