MK Yoni Chetboun
MK Yoni Chetboun Flash 90

Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) MK Yoni Chetboun has called for his party to end its political alliance with Yesh Atid - and claims that many within the party feel the same way.

In an interview with Arutz Sheva, Chetboun expanded on comments he made Tuesday, in which he warned that a bill promoting civil marriage could be the last straw in breaking the political alliance between the two coalition partners.

Currently, marriages conducted within the state of Israel are recognized by the government only if conducted within the framework of a recognized religion. The current law means that some couples are unable to marry in a recognized ceremony within Israel, among them same-sex couples, Jews who wish to marry non-Jews but do not want a non-Jewish religious wedding ceremony, couples who do not affiliate with any religion, and those who wish to enter a marriage prohibited by their religion.

Many such couples fly to Cyprus, the United States, or other foreign countries and marry there. Their marriages are then recognized under Israeli law.

Yesh Atid has been a key advocate for a change in the law which would allow secular, civil marriages to be conducted in Israel. The move is facing stern opposition, however, due to the negative social impact critics say it would inevitably have.

"This bill threatens to tear the very fabric of the Jewish nation, creating two separate 'peoples': those who marry according to Jewish law and those who do not," Chetboun warned. Marriages and divorces within Jewish law must follow a certain procedure, and the passage of a law allowing Jewish couples to bypass those procedures would result in many Jews being born from marriages that are prohibited under Jewish law (halakhah), which in turn would prevent Jews from various communities from marrying each other.

Bayit Yehudi opposition to a Yesh Atid-sponsored bill that was a key election promise of the latter is complicated by the ongoing political alliance between the two.

That alliance was forged in the aftermath of last February's general elections, which saw two political newcomers and leaders of their respective parties - Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) and Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) - rock the Israeli political establishment by reaping 31 seats between them. It was a pact which ensured that neither party would agree to join a coalition government without the other, leaving a weakened joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list with little choice but to include them both.

Yet it has been the source of much controversy and intrigue inside Israel ever since. In particular, hareidi parties have relentlessly criticized the Religious Zionist Jewish Home for working together with a party whose leader is an avowed secularist.

But, whilst maintaining that the agreement was the right thing to do at the time, the freshman MK is now calling for it to end.

"I personally think it's time to break the alliance with Yesh Atid," he says. "They are causing great damage to the State of Israel, as well as to the Bayit Yehudi party."

According to Chetboun, the civil partnership bill was merely a "symptom" of what he sees as a wider agenda by Yesh Atid to "break the status-quo" between religion and state in Israel - one which could cause irreparable damage to the Jewish people.

The move by Yesh Atid to promote such a bill - and in contrast, Bayit Yehudi's fervent opposition to it - underlines the key differences between the two parties, he says - differences which are fundamentally irreconcilable. 

"Yesh Atid is promoting a 'civil agenda', and we are promoting a Jewish one," he explained. "What they are doing is worse than the freeing of terrorists... it will lead to intermarriage and assimilation."

Bayit Yehudi should explore the possibility of alternative alliances, he said, for example with Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party - who were the only other coalition faction which voted with Bayit Yehudi in opposition to Tuesday's controversial prisoner release - or with the hareidi parties.

But after all the bad blood between them, how can he foresee his party working with the hareidi factions?

"Politics is politics," he answers with a smile.

In truth, he continued, the Jewish Home had preferred a partnership with the hareidi parties from the very start - overlooking a vitriolic and sometimes personal attacks by the latter during election season - "but they refused to cooperate with us".

The alliance with Yesh Atid was "a tactical decision, not an ideological one", which was made in order to enable Bayit Yehudi to enter the government and fulfill its election promises, he explained. Despite their angry rhetoric, he claims, the hareidi parties know that, and would still be open to working together with his party.

"I have conversations with the members of the hareidi parties regularly. Of course we have many disagreements... but they also understand that is is better for them and for Israel - despite the bad-blood - to have a coalition with us," he said.

Recent cooperation between hareidi and Religious Zionist candidates during local elections may lend credence to his claims.

"But that just wasn't the situation after the elections. After the elections we had a conversation with the hareidim and they did not want a coalition with us. Period. But now I think we understand the need to cooperate," he said, calling for a "Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu-Bayit Yehudi-hareidi" alliance "to promote Jewish identity."

In spite of a recent reaffirmation of the pact between the two parties' heads, Chetboun explained that his view was shared by many others within Bayit Yehudi, and that there was "an ongoing discussion" about the issue.

Regardless, Chetboun declared that Bayit Yehudi would "not allow" such a bill to pass, saying that under the terms of the coalition agreement the party holds an effective veto over such laws concerning changes to the religious status-quo in Israel. If given an ultimatum on the issue, however, his party would leave rather than be a partner to the passage of such a "terrible" law, he added.