Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, said on Tuesday that he will not commit to endorsing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the September 17 election.
"I have no commitment to crown Netanyahu," Lieberman said. "My first commitment is first of all that the right-wing wins, [and] secondly that a liberal national government be established, not an ultra-Orthodox- Hardali government."
The reference to Haradlim is Hebrew shorthand for members of the religious Zionist community who tend towards ultra-Orthodoxy.
Speaking to Israeli news site Ynet, Lieberman said Netanyahu was portraying his own candidacy as a personal issue even though Israeli voters elect parties and not individual candidates.
"There are no personal elections. I know it's convenient for Netanyahu to present it as if it is a direct election. Ultimately you don't vote for a person. You vote for a party," he said.
It was Netanyahu's inability at the end of May to bridge differences between the ultra-Orthodox parties and LIeberman on the conscription of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students that prompted the prime minister to seek new elections , following the deadlock in coalition negotiations. After the Knesset voted to dissolve itself and hold the new elections, Netanyahu accused Lieberman of being "obsessed" with toppling the prime minister's right-wing government.
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"Whenever he can, that's what he does and if he is able to, he will try to do it again with this election." He also called Lieberman a "serial saboteur." Lieberman resigned last November as defense minister, claiming that the government needed to take a harder line in its policy toward Gaza.
Lieberman may have declined to commit to recommending that Netanyahu be tapped as the prime minister following the September election, but he also discounted the electoral prospects of Netanyahu's major competition, the Kahol Lavan party headed by Benny Gantz.
"Their only chance to form a government is at the North Pole along with the bears," he said.