Shas minister quits over fight with Blue and White

Gantz sets new deadline for leaving government

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset plenum, Oct. 15, 2020 (photo credit: GIDEON SHARON/KNESSET SPOKESPERSON)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset plenum, Oct. 15, 2020
Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz issued a new deadline for his decision on whether to remain in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government at a meeting with Blue and White activists at the Knesset on Monday.
Gantz told the activists that Netanyahu must take steps to pass the 2021 state budget by the end of November or beginning of December. The Blue and White leader backtracked from a previous deadline of "the third week of November" and a deadline set by Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi at the end of October. The actual legal deadline to pass the  2020 state budget is December 23 and the 2021 state budget's legal deadline is March 31.
In private conversations, MKs in Blue and White accused Gantz of repeatedly flip flopping, talking tough in one speech and then conceding in the next. But a source close to Gantz said he has been consistent.
"There never was a deadline, not two weeks ago and not now," the source said. ""Benny Gantz said dozens of times that it would not take until December 23 to determine whether the Finance Ministry is working on the budget and that it would soon be clear whether progress is being made. We are not working with a stop-watch."
Blue and White  will face a test in the Knesset on Wednesday, when there will be a vote on a bill sponsored by Yesh Atid-Telem that would prevent anyone under criminal indictment from serving as prime minister.
"If Gantz and Ashkenazi really have values and they really care, they should vote for the bill," Lapid said Tuesday. "They should not vote based on political considerations but because they think it is right for Israeli society and the people of Israel at this time."
Netanyahu warned Gantz at a press conference on Sunday that "if Blue and White continues acting like a government within a government, everything is open," a reference to Netanyahu initiating an early election. He went further in an interview with the right-wing radio station Galei Israel.
Asked if Gantz will become prime minister in a year, as the coalition agreement states, Netanyahu said, "if they give, they will get" - a phrase he used with the Palestinians to indicate that concessions would be predicated on good behavior.
Asked by reporters on Tuesday if he will become prime minister, Gantz said: "I think it needs to happen. We have an agreement. He has to abide by it. We will see."  
A dispute flared up on Tuesday between Blue and White and Shas that led to Shas Minister Yitzhak Cohen quitting his post as a minister-without-portfolio in the Finance Ministry. Cohen held the post from the start of the government in May, but he switched last month to the Construction and Housing Ministry in place of United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman who had quit.
When Litzman came back to the post on Monday night, Blue and White did not approve Cohen returning to his previous post, arguing that he served in the Construction and Housing Ministry as a representative of UTJ, not Shas, and therefore his appointment was new.
Blue and White released a statement saying that new appointments can only be made as part of a large package of appointments, including Justice Ministry director-general.
A Shas spokesman said party leader Arye Deri received a promise from Gantz on Monday to not protest Cohen's return to the Finance Ministry, but Gantz backtracked after facing pressure from within his party.
"This behavior is unacceptable to us," the Shas spokesman said.