Netanyahu’s main rival says he will not rule out coalition partners based on ethnicity

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(JTA) — The main party in Israel challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud said it will not rule out coalition partners based on ethnicity, clarifying a controversial statement reportedly made by its leader, Benny Gantz, at a campaign event.

Gantz, of the newly formed centrist Blue and White party, was quoted Monday saying that he would sit in government with “anyone who is Jewish and Zionist.”

The statement appeared to rule out Arab-Israeli partners — even if they were to embrace Zionism or the Jewish character of the state, two sticking points that have kept previous governments from partnering with Arab parties.

Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Blue and White of planning to create a coalition with Arab-Israeli parties — an accusation that Gantz has consistently denied.

A Blue and White spokesperson said Gantz misspoke and meant to say that the party would sit only with partners that are “democratic and Zionist.” That does rule out Arab-Israeli parties, but the spokesperson said it’s because they oppose Zionism, not because of their ethnicity. The statement also eliminates Jewish parties on the far right like Jewish Power, or Otzma Yehudit.

“We will only sit in a coalition with parties who are Zionist and democratic,” the spokesperson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a statement. “It isn’t about ethnicity, it’s about values.”

Over the weekend, Netanyahu said Israel is a state “not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people.”

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