A prominent Australian-Jewish philanthropist and mining tycoon who helped fund Binyamin Netanyahu’s razor-thin 1996 election victory has endorsed Ayelet Shaked’s Yamina party over the Likud.
Rabbi Joseph Gutnick, the 67-year-old Melbourne businessman who famously credited the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson with helping him to discover a series of gold mines in western Australia, donated heavily to the Likud and pro-Likud campaigns ahead of the 1996 elections. Netanyahu ended up defeating incumbent Premier Shimon Peres by just 29,457 votes, or just under 1% of the vote.
Now, however, Gutnick has called on Israeli voters to back Yamina, the alliance of small right-wing parties led by former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Gutnick fretted that Netanyahu may form a unity government with the center-left Blue and White party, adding that the best way to prevent such a scenario is to ensure Yamina becomes the third largest party in the Knesset.
“Yamina is a right-wing party, and if you want to ensure that there will be a right-wing government, Yamina needs 13 or 14 seats,” Gutnick told The Jerusalem Post.
“If Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc doesn’t win 61 seats, Netanyahu would form a unity government. He won’t get 61 if Yamina doesn’t get enough votes.”
Gutnick warned that if Netanyahu did form a government with Blue and White, it would destroy his “right-wing legacy”.
The Australian mining tycoon criticized Netanyahu for preventing Shaked from joining the Likud after the previous election, and said the Likud’s attacks on Yamina and Shaked were “shooting himself in the foot”.
Last year, Gutnick touted Shaked as a potential successor to Netanyahu, once the Prime Minister decides to retire.
“I would really love to support her as the [political] heir of Netanyahu,” Gutnick told Maariv.
“When Bibi [Netanyahu] retires, she will need to lead the Likud.”
Gutnick explained the reasoning behind his support for Shaked – who at the time was a secular member of the largely National-Religious Jewish Home party.
“It is for the sake of the integrity of the Land of Israel and the Jewish world,” Gutnick said.