Opposition and Likud party Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu accused MK Moshe Gafni of sabotaging the right-wing bloc with which Netanyahu expects to establish his next government, Kan 11 News reported Wednesday morning. The former Prime Minister was responding to news of the threat of a split that hangs over the United Torah Judaism faction, as the Lithuanians and Hasidim that comprise it do not agree on their future together.
On Monday, Agudath Israel newly appointed Chairman Yitzhak Goldknopf (Hasidim) arrived at the Ze’ev Citadel, Likud’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, for an introductory meeting with Netanyahu. On Tuesday, veteran politician Moshe Gafni (Lithuanians) arrived with the aim of calming down Netanyahu. When Netanyahu reportedly inquired if he could help, Gafni pushed back, saying the dispute inside UTJ was not over who gets more slots (there are seven realistic mandates) but over ideology.
Goldknopf told Netanyahu he had been boycotted by Gafni. They don’t communicate at all – hence Bibi’s concerns.
Lithuanian daily Yated Neeman last week mentioned for the first time the possibility of a split. And then, to make matters worse, Rabbi Shaul Alter, the leader of the rebels inside the Gur Dynasty (Hasidim) was the guest of honor at an assembly with Rabbi Ya’akov Edelstein, considered the leader of the Lithuanian faction in Israel.
Gafni has also gone to war against Shas leader Aryeh Deri, rejecting his offers to help make peace within the sister Haredi party. It appears that the Lithuanian politician is on a rampage to solidify the Haredi voting public which only a few years ago he and his Hasidic partners took for granted. This is no longer the case. The Lithuanian faction inside UTJ is hemorrhaging voters in every direction: in the last election, Bezalel Smotrich siphoned at least one mandate – with Netanyahu’s encouragement, which Gafni will never forget or forgive. Then there was the passing of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who marked the center of the Haredi world. And while some Haredim go nationalist-Zionist, others, especially the Jerusalem-based Lithuanian Haredim are moving away from the state-based system to the anti-Zionist Eda Haredit.
In their meeting on Tuesday, Netanyahu told Gafni that he was destroying his bloc, and warned that the possibility of three Haredi parties competing in November spells the loss of thousands of votes – the same as the emerging split between Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir.
Gafni responded that the Haredi halakhic authorities would decide this issue, thank you very much.
Netanyahu knows that Gafni is not a friend, as opposed to Deri. The expectation is that should the Likud chairman fail to cobble together a viable coalition government, UTJ or whatever remains of it, would insist on a broad coalition led by Benny Gantz and Netanyahu, with Gantz going first in the rotation as prime minister.
Tough times for the old leader for whom this will probably be his last great battle.