(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Former IDF chief rabbi Rafi Peretz was selected to be the Bayit Yehudi’s new leader on Sunday, pending authorization.
Peretz, 63, is a retired brigadier-general in the IDF who was the army’s chief rabbi from 2010 to 2016. He was previously a helicopter pilot in the IAF and the head of the Otzem Pre-Military Torah Academy, which was originally located in Gaza, before the 2005 disengagement. He returned to Otzem when he left the IDF.
In a video message, Peretz said: “I hope and believe that God will bless me to work and carry this special public burden, and with God’s help we will glorify God’s name and bring sympathy between members of the Jewish people. That is our goal. That is the mission of religious Zionism.”
During the 2005 Gaza disengagement, Peretz spoke out strongly against soldiers refusing orders during the disengagement, even when his yeshiva and his home were being evacuated. He courted controversy in 2014, when he said the Temple Mount is of no religious significance to Muslims, because they pray facing Mecca, not Jerusalem. At the time, the IDF Spokesperson’s Office said his words were taken out of context, and that he “apologizes if his words offended the Arab population.”
Peretz is a respected rabbi in the “hardal” sector of religious-Zionism, which is more to the Right politically and religiously. He is associated with the influential Har Hamor yeshiva, but is considered a relative moderate
in the hardal camp. Hardal
is an acronym for HaRedi Dati Leumi
, which means “ultra-Orthodox/National-Religious.”
The likely Bayit Yehudi leader is married and the father of 12 children. He lived in Gush Katif in Gaza before the disengagement, and currently lives in Neveh, in the Negev, with other Gaza evacuees.
A 13-member committee appointed by Bayit Yehudi chose Peretz on Sunday out of more than 70 candidates, and that choice will have to be authorized by the Bayit Yehudi central committee on Monday night. The central committee will also vote on the party’s list for the Knesset at that time.
National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich, who hopes to lead a religious-Zionist bloc, said: “There are great challenges before us, and I am certain that we can work together with mutual appreciation to rebuild religious-Zionism quickly... With God’s help, we will go forth on a joint path of writing the next chapter in the great influence religious Zionism has on the Jewish people. Rabbi Rafi, I am happy you joined us and look forward to working together.”
Smotrich called on Peretz to meet on Monday to reach agreed-upon principles for a joint run “with the rest of the Right.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Peretz, and called on Bayit Yehudi to unite with the National Union and Otzma L’Yisrael “to prevent the loss of votes in the right-wing bloc, which could bring about the establishment of a left-wing government.”
Netanyahu is concerned about losing the Right’s majority if one of those parties, or any of the parties in his current coalition, falls below the 3.25% electoral threshold.
Otzma, a party led by disciples of Rabbi Meir Kahane
, who was banned from running for the Knesset due to racist incitement, is thought to be worth two seats in the Knesset, which is not enough to pass the threshold on its own.
Yesh Atid pointed out that Netanyahu “just asked to bring into the Knesset Baruch Marzel, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Benzi Gopstein,” right-wing extremists, “just so he can stay in his seat and avoid a conviction for bribery. Netanyahu lost control of the brakes. He is no longer interested in the State of Israel.”
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