Australian mining tycoon and Chabad rabbi Joseph Gutnick, who is credited with helping Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu get elected the first time in 1996, endorsed Yamina over Likud on Sunday. Gutnick made a fortune from taking Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s advice to mine diamonds in Australia’s Northern Territory. He helped Netanyahu come from behind to defeat heavily favored incumbent Shimon Peres in the May 1996 election thanks to the “Netanyahu: Good for the Jews” campaign he funded.
But in a phone interview from Melbourne, Gutnick said he was worried that Netanyahu could form a national unity government, and said voting for Ayelet Shaked’s party was the best way to stop it.
“Yamina is a right-wing party, and if you want to ensure that there will be a right-wing government, Yamina needs 13 or 14 seats,” Gutnick said. “If Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc doesn’t win 61 seats, Netanyahu would form a unity government. He won’t get 61 if Yamina doesn’t get enough votes.”
Gutnick warned Netanyahu that forming a unity government would “destroy his right-wing legacy.” He expressed concern that Netanyahu would want the Blue and White party in his coalition in order to advance US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.
In a correspondence with Schneerson in 1990, the rebbe appointed Gutnick as his emissary for ensuring that the Land of Israel remains whole. He told Gutnick to stay in touch with Israeli politicians to prevent the formation of a Palestinian state, and Gutnick became close to prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Netanyahu.
Gutnick surprised many when he endorsed Shaked to be the next prime minister last year and revealed that he was helping her politically and financially. But he said then and still says now that he hopes Netanyahu remains prime minister.
Netanyahu prevented Shaked from entering Likud, which Gutnick said she needed to do to become prime minister. He said he was upset about Netanyahu’s repeated attacks on her and Yamina during the current campaign.
“Criticizing Shaked is senseless, totally irrational, destructive to Likud and shooting himself in the foot,” Gutnick said. “Netanyahu’s family, which has endured so many attacks, should know attacking a lady is not right. If they have differences of opinion, it shouldn’t be expressed in such a hateful manner.”
Gutnick also warned against the Otzma Yehudit party running in the September 17 election. He said the party failing to cross the threshold and losing tens of thousands of votes “could lead to disaster.”
“It would be outrageous for anyone to vote for them because it could lead to a unity government, which could lead to a Palestinian state,” he said. “That would be a danger for Jews in Israel and the whole world.”