The ultra-Orthodox Shas party leader castigated lawmaker Naftali Bennett on Sunday evening for his “insolence” in believing that he could replace longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Such impudence “has never been seen before,” Interior Minister Arye Dery was recorded saying during a speech at a family event. They are like “children with five, six seats who want to be prime minister,” Dery said referring to Bennett's Yamina.
A close ally of Netanyahu, Dery also blasted Bennett on Twitter on Sunday, calling his alliance with lawmaker Yair Lapid who currently holds the mandate to form a government and is a harsh critic of the ultra-Orthodox community, an “unforgivable mistake.” He also accused him of “blocking the possibility that [Gideon Sa’ar’s] New Hope [party] will join in the formation of a right-wing government.”
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While the primarily Sephardic Shas has stuck by Netanyahu, there have been rumblings of discontent by members of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, despite its public commitment to the prime minister.
Earlier this month, two UTJ lawmakers were reported to have asked Netanyahu to relinquish the leadership of the right in favor of a less divisive figure, a statement at odds with public assurances that the party would not join an alternative government should Netanyahu fail to cobble together a coalition.
Over the past decade, Haredi parties have become staunch allies of Netanyahu. In return, they have enjoyed a continuing monopoly over several issues of domestic policy related to religion and state, as well as an exemption for ultra-Orthodox men from Israel’s mandatory military draft.
Past governments that have attempted to abolish Haredi privileges have seen those reforms erased after only a few years. In the 2013 election, Yesh Atid had the second-most votes and formed a coalition with Netanyahu.
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Yesh Atid managed to push through significant cuts to Haredi entitlements and pass a law requiring Haredi men to participate in the military draft. But those changes were reversed after the subsequent election, which saw Haredi parties rejoin the governing coalition.
However, the formation of a government including both Lapid’s Yesh Atid and the vocally anti-Haredi Avigdor Liberman, who is expected to become finance minister, could have a deleterious impact on the cash flow of ultra-orthodox institutions dependent on government support, creating an incentive for Shas and UTJ to leave the pro-Netanyahu camp.
Some ultra-Orthodox lawmakers who spoke anonymously with Haredi news website over the weekend indicated that going into the opposition may to their electoral benefit even it hurts their supporters.
“Maybe we will sit in the opposition without budgets and without the possibility of helping, but at last the disgruntled ultra-Orthodox public will understand how much the ultra-Orthodox lawmakers work for them,” one lawmaker told the site.
JTA contributed to this report.