Ultra-Orthodox Shas Leader Dery Says He Will Back Netanyahu for Prime Minister

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Shas party leader Arye Dery
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Shas party leader Arye Dery in a file photo from 2015.Credit: Reuters

The leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Arye Dery, said Monday that his party would recommend that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be tapped to form the next government following the March 23 vote, as Shas had promised during the election campaign.

"Shas will work for the establishment of a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu that will protect the country's Jewish identity and work on behalf of weaker segments of society," Dery, who is the interior minister, said. "Shas calls on all of the right-wing parties, particularly Yamina and New Hope, to rise above any other considerations and join a fully-right week government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu." 

Meanwhile, Minister Yaakov Litzman, leader of the Agudat Yisrael faction of ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism, said on Monday there was "no question" his party would recommend Netanyahu for prime minister. 

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"We told the public before the election we'll go with Netanyahu," he said at a meeting with party activists, adding, "As far as I'm concerned, Agudat Yisrael at least only would recommend Benjamin Netanyahu to the president."

United Torah Judaism is expected to back Netanyahu for prime minister in next week's consultations with President Reuven Rivlin, but its leader, Moshe Gafni, hasn't yet declared wether the entire party would endorse Netanyahu's candidacy.

According to Litzman, "Our goal is to form a right-wing coalition for all Israeli citizens. All other rumors are just [political] spins."

In other efforts to form a new government, Yesh Atid party chief Yair Lapid held talks with Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz on Sunday, following a meeting with United Arab List head Mansour Abbas, who has been thrust into the center of Israeli politics as an unlikely kingmaker.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud emerged as the largest party in Israel's unprecedented fourth election in two years, it still lacks an immediate majority to form a coalition. The anti-Netanyahu bloc, of which Yesh Atid is a part, is now trying to secure the majority needed to form a coalition. But since his meeting with Lapid, Gantz has not said whether he intends to recommend that Lapid be tapped to form a government. This, as well as the personal animosity between the two, gives Gantz room to maneuver between recommending Lapid or Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett or New Hope leader Gideon Sa'ar, provided the latter two agree on a joint axis within the anti-Netanyahu bloc.

On Sunday, Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman said his party would recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that Lapid be tasked with forming a coalition government. Lieberman didn't explicitly name Lapid in his Facebook post, but wrote that he would "back the chairman of a party from the opposition bloc that received the most Knesset seats as the candidate for Prime Minister."

Lapid's Yesh Atid, a member of the anti-Netanyahu bloc, secured 17 Knesset seats in Tuesday's election. "Anyone who attempts to sabotage this move and puts his ego above the national interest will bear the responsibility for a fifth election," Lieberman wrote.

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