It would be a “strategic liability” for Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains in power, due to his poor relations with the Democratic Party on the Iranian issue, Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli said Tuesday in an event for English speakers in Israel sponsored by The Jerusalem Post and the Tel Aviv International Salon.
Michaeli referenced Netanyahu’s March 2015 address to Congress, which angered then-vice president Joe Biden and congressional leaders. Since that speech, Iran has gotten closer to developing nuclear weapons, she warned.
“Labor will support an upgraded agreement on Iran to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capability, but Israel must make sure that its interests are taken into account,” she said. “This has become harder because Netanyahu has become a strategic liability on Iran.”
Michaeli said Labor would prefer a government led by opposition leader Yair Lapid, who she said is closest to her party among the declared candidates for prime minister. She said Labor would also “probably” be a part of governments led by Gideon Sa’ar or Naftali Bennett.
“Replacing Netanyahu is not all that matters, but it is a mandatory start,” she said, adding that no matter who forms the government, steps would need to be taken to rehabilitate Israeli democracy in the post-Netanyahu era.
Michaeli called Netanyahu “hypocritical” for instructing Likud representatives on the Central Elections Committee to oppose disqualifying two anti-Zionist Arab parties after voting in favor of preventing Labor’s seventh candidate, Ibtisam Mara’ana, from running.
The Supreme Court is expected to overturn the committee’s decision to disqualify Mara’ana, who angered Israelis across the political spectrum by boasting that she drove during Memorial Day sirens and by blasting IDF operations.
Michaeli defended Mara’ana, calling her “a great candidate for rebuilding” who strongly opposes violence, favors coexistence and purposely ran with a Zionist party.
A new poll broadcast on Channel 12 Tuesday night predicted six seats for Labor, which would put Mara’ana on the cusp of entering the Knesset. The poll predicted 28 seats for Likud, followed by Yesh Atid with 18, Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party with 13 and Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party with 11.
The Joint List would win nine seats, followed by the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties, Shas with eight and United Torah Judaism with seven, and Yisrael Beytenu also with seven. Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party cleared the electoral threshold with five seats. Straddling the threshold were Meretz and the Religious Zionist Party, with four seats each.
At the event, Michaeli spoke about her experiences meeting diverse Jewish communities in the United States. She singled out attending services at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, an LGBT synagogue in New York with a lesbian rabbi, Sharon Kleinbaum.
She called for the Israeli government to do more to reach out to Reform Jews in the US and advance religious pluralism in Israel.
“Israel has made mistakes in missing out on relations with large sectors of American Jews,” Michaeli said.
Cody Levine contributed to this report.
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