'If Bibi doesn’t get 61 we’ll consider other options' - UTJ head

Senior ultra-Orthodox leader Rabbi Gerson Edelstein says in UTJ campaign ad. that party cannot back left-wing leaders because “the left wants to uproot religion.'

Members of UTJ hold a press conference after meeting with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem after the April 2019 election. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Members of UTJ hold a press conference after meeting with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem after the April 2019 election.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
United Torah Judaism chairman MK Moshe Gafni said on Saturday night that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot form a government after the next election, his party will consider other options.
Although his ultra-Orthodox party has loyally stuck by Netanyahu for the last 12 years, his comments indicate even UTJ’s fatigue with the ongoing election cycle.
“I have been with Netanyahu for many years. I go with him, because the [religiously] traditional community is with the Likud. If the traditional community was with another party, I would go with another party too,” said Gafni in an interview with Channel 12 News.
“If Netanyahu will not have 61 seats [in his right-wing bloc to form a coalition], we will think before going to fifth elections.” He did not rule out recommending Yamina’s Naftali Bennett or New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar to form a government.
The options for UTJ and the other ultra-Orthodox party Shas would appear to be slim, however, without Netanyahu and the Likud, since both Bennett and Sa’ar would have almost no path to a 61-seat majority in Knesset without Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu, both of which would almost certainly balk at the ultra-Orthodox parties’ coalition demands.
Gafni said he believed Netanyahu would get a majority to form a government but added that fifth elections would be “a disaster.”
The UTJ leader blamed Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman for the electoral impasse. “Liberman took votes from the Right and turned them over to the Left for personal reasons,” Gafni charged, adding that Liberman wanted to harm the ultra-Orthodox parties, “because we are in a coalition with Netanyahu.”
Gafni also addressed broader issues, including his party’s position on the recent decision by the High Court of Justice to recognize Jewish conversions of non-Israeli nationals performed by the Reform movement in Israel for the purposes of citizenship under the Law of Return.
“This is a religious issue and those who deal with this issue must be people who are involved in conversion, as we have always claimed,” said Gafni, implying that rabbis who deal with conversion should be the ones who can make such judgments.
ON SATURDAY night, UTJ released a campaign ad featuring Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the second of the two most senior ultra-Orthodox non-hassidic rabbis in the country. It addressed many of the concerns of ultra-Orthodox voters, which UTJ is concerned will lead its constituents to either stay at home or to vote for the ultra-nationalist and religiously ultra-conservative Religious Zionist Party.
The ad focused on the frustration of many in the ultra-Orthodox community with Gafni and the rest of the UTJ MKs, because they perceive that the party did not fight hard enough: either to allow ultra-Orthodox Israelis to continue praying, studying and in general maintaining their way of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, or to enforce the novel coronavirus regulations in the sector and prevent the high infection rate that affected their community.
Asked why such people should vote for UTJ if they were upset with the work of its MKs, Edelstein replied “If you don’t vote for UTJ, you are preventing the sanctification of God’s name. They’re declaring ‘I am not ultra-Orthodox.’”
Edelstein said that on some other issues besides COVID-19 policy, there are things which ultra-Orthodox voters “are actually right”  about and that “there is indeed a need to fix these things.”
But, continued the rabbi, “This disappointment is not, however, a reason not to vote.”
Edelstein also addressed UTJ’s concerns that its voters might vote for MK Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionist Party, which has appeal to some ultra-Orthodox voters.
“Even so, they are not ultra-Orthodox, it is not UTJ, they are not subordinate to the instructions of the [UTJ] rabbis,” replied Edelstein.
He also said that it would be a risk for UTJ to support any party leader to form a government that was not from the right wing, saying that the left-wing parties “are against us in general... the goal of the Left is uprooting religion and against the ultra-Orthodox; you can’t give them a kashrut certificate.”