Long lines of Bayit Yehudi members wait to elect new party slate

Voter turnout rate for the primary was fifty seven percent.

January 14, 2015 22:17
4 minute read.

Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett at primary elections. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Fifty seven percent of Bayit Yehudi’s members participated in the party’s primary on Wednesday, with many waiting on long lines to vote.

Results are expected on Thursday.

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Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett arrived at the main Jerusalem polling station at the Crowne Plaza with his wife, Gilat, soon after it opened at 10 a.m., with young supporters singing “Bennett is the bomb, Bennett is a bro” – which rhymes in Hebrew – and “Here comes the next prime minister.”

Bennett expressed confidence that “something big is happening” in the party after emerging from behind the screen and quipping that it took him a long time to vote because he did not know whom to choose for party leader.

“Two years ago we were a small party with three [Knesset] members at the margins of Israeli politics. Today we are the second-largest party in Israel, in number of members,” he said. “We opened ourselves to all the people of Israel – religious, secular, haredi, new immigrants and old, Druse and even Zionist Muslims – and we are proud of it.”

According to Bennett, Bayit Yehudi became “the core movement in the State of Israel,” representing “those who are proud to be Israelis and don’t apologize for it.”

Dozens of party members waited outside the polling room while the Bennett and his wife and then MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli were allowed to cut the line, and by the early afternoon the queue grew to hundreds of people long, winding up a staircase, while some broke off to form a spontaneous Mincha prayer minyan.

Throughout the day, Bayit Yehudi candidates dropped by the central Jerusalem polling station, one of the more popular ones, to vote and talk to party members and the press.

Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan said he felt good about his chance to return to the Knesset, and that he does not regret his decision to give up on an opportunity to get a reserved spot with Tekuma, a party running on the Bayit Yehudi list, to run in the primary.

Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky and Im Tirzu founder Ronen Shoval conducted a joint interview, but denied they had a deal to help each other get into the legislature.

Slomiansky also claimed ignorance of any blacklists either by or against him, despite party activists’ reports of them.

Similarly, Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked, flanked by Slomiansky and MK Motti Yogev, said: “We don’t have blacklists and if they weren’t shomer negia [did not touch members of the opposite sex for religious reasons], I would hug them.”

When Shaked arrived at the Jerusalem polling station, she stayed outside the building, talking on the phone with a furrowed brow. She soon revealed that she forgot her government- issued ID card and driver’s license and could not vote.

Eventually, Shaked realized she had her MK identification with her, and was able to use that.

Meanwhile, Takana forum against sexual abuse director Yehudit Shilat loitered at the end of the line for hours, approaching those waiting and saying: “I’m running, can I tell you more about myself?” Two hours before the polls closed, Shoval’s wife, Hamutal, who went with him to vote earlier in the day, went into labor.

When the day began, it was uncertain that the vote could take place because of a temporary injunction placed by the Central District Court Tuesday night after a petition from candidate Eyal Bar-Lev.

Bar-Lev demanded that all the votes be counted in one place in a way that they cannot be divided by polling station, and that each candidate be allowed to send an observer to watch the counting, among other things.

However, the injunction did not remain in effect once the court began discussing the case on Wednesday morning, because the sides would not pay a NIS 100,000 fee. In addition, Bar-Lev eventually dropped his complaint after the presiding judge recommended he do so and told him he would need a more serious reason to delay a primary at the last minute.

More than 77,000 party members were eligible to vote in 140 polling places around the country for seven candidates – giving three candidates two points each and four candidates one point each.

Members voted for Bayit Yehudi chairman and chose between current leader Naftali Bennett, who is expected to win by a landslide, and Rabbi Shimon Or, head of the Torah Leadership Movement, which believes religious people should seize political control of Israel without partnering with secular people.

Between spots on the list saved for the Tekuma party and three more for candidates of party leader Naftali Bennett’s choosing, one of whom, journalist Yinon Magal, has already been named, there are only nine realistic slots for primary candidates, considering Bayit Yehudi’s average of 16 seats in last week’s polls.

The party guarantees that there will be at least one woman in every five spots on the list, which means three women or more of the 10 running will be in realistic positions.

Batya Kahana-Dror, director of Mavoi Satum, an organization that works for women who have been refused a religious divorce, dropped out of the race and left the party late Tuesday night, for ideological reasons.

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