Economy Minister Naftali Bennett may face competition for the chairmanship of the Bayit Yehudi party ahead of the next general election, sources in the party said Monday.
The sources confirmed that backbench MK Yoni Chetboun had met with activists in the party and told them that he is considering challenging Bennett.
A race by Chetboun would be seen as nothing more than a curiosity and not a serious challenge, much like the races in Likud when MK Moshe Feiglin ran against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Chetboun has sparred repeatedly with Bennett since the Bayit Yehudi leader supported him over American-born Jeremy Gimpel in a race for a slot on the party’s Knesset slate reserved for a young candidate.
Chetboun angered Bennett six months ago when he voted against drafting yeshiva students, and their relations have not improved since.
“He is not dealing with [running] but he is under heavy pressure to run from many, many people, including rabbis and central party activists,” a spokesman for Chetboun said in response. “He is busy with guaranteeing the religious Jewish future of Bayit Yehudi.”
Tension in the party has increased ahead of a Bayit Yehudi central committee meeting at Bar-Ilan University next Wednesday when Bennett will try to make key changes in the party constitution that strengthen the power of the party chairman.
If the new constitution passes, Bennett will be able to choose three Knesset candidates on his own among the first 15 names on the Bayit Yehudi slate. He will also be able to appoint people to key party committees and its secretariat.
The proposed constitution, which was sent to central committee members Monday, would make it much harder to overthrow a party leader. Seventy- five percent of the central committee would have to approve initiating a leadership primary at any time other than just ahead of a general election, except if Bayit Yehudi lost half of its support in a general election.
“Only a weak leader fears the public,” Chetboun said. “The time has come to believe in the public and its strength. Canceling party members’ voting rights [for the three slots] could turn us into Kadima or Shinui, which collapsed.”
Chetboun vowed to fight to prevent Bayit Yehudi from becoming a second Likud. He warned of “the end of religious Zionists having a party,” if the party continued to seek more mandates by sacrificing its values.
MK Mordechai Yogev warned that the proposed constitution would make Bayit Yehudi a dictatorship.
He complained that he was not consulted about the constitution, which was drafted by a committee led by Rabbi Daniel Tropper.
Tropper responded that the party was far from being a dictatorship and that some of the powers that were initially given to the party chairman had been removed. Nevertheless, he said it was important that Bayit Yehudi have a strong leader.
“Politics in Israel are not like they used to be,” he said. “People used to vote for parties and now they vote for leaders. Naftali Bennett is proof. He led the party to big success.”
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