New Right, Bayit Yehudi and National Union unite, leaving Otzma out

Despite deep personal and ideological differences between them and high drama negotiations, the parties came together.

Itamar Ben-Gvir at the unity announcement (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Itamar Ben-Gvir at the unity announcement
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
On a day of high political drama, the three parties of the right-wing, religious-Zionist sector – New Right, Bayit Yehudi and National Union – finally came together in a last-minute deal Wednesday night, despite deep personal and ideological differences between them.
The far-right, Kahanist party Otzma Yehudit was left out in the end, after New Right leader Naftali Bennett refused to accept the extremist party into his political union despite massive pressure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do so.
Netanyahu, the heads of the right-wing religious-Zionist parties except Otzma, and senior religious-Zionist leader Rabbi Haim Druckman were locked in discussions right up to the deadline for filing electoral lists to the Central Elections Committee on Wednesday night.
The day saw high political drama among all the right-wing religious parties, as New Right leader Naftali Bennett categorically refused to accept Netanyahu’s demand to include far-right Otzma Yehudit in his emerging right-wing, religious political union.
Over the last few days, Netanyahu brought huge pressure on Bennett to allow Otzma to join, to avoid right-wing votes being wasted on a party, or two parties, that will not pass the electoral threshold.
Earlier on Wednesday evening, however, Bennett strongly rejected the possibility of allowing the extremist Otzma to join the right-wing union he was forming, and strongly criticized Netanyahu for pressuring him to take the Kahanist group on board.
“I will not include someone on my electoral list who has a picture in his living room of a person who murdered 29 innocent people,” said Bennett in a statement on Facebook Wednesday afternoon.
He was referring to Otzma leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, who infamously has a picture of Baruch Goldstein, who carried out the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in 1994, on his living room wall.
“This should be so self-evident that I am shocked that I need to explain it,” continued Bennett.
“Imagine a US congressman who had a picture of someone on his wall who killed 29 Jews in a synagogue. Does this sound logical?
“I don’t care how much I am pressured; it’s not even an option; it won’t happen. This is my final decision.”
Netanyahu has strongly pressured Bennett to accept Otzma, similar to the events of the April and September elections, when the prime minister also exerted heavy pressure on the right-wing parties to accept the extremist Kahanist party in its joint list.
Bennett tweeted later Wednesday evening that if Netanyahu was so anxious to have Ben-Gvir in the Knesset, he should offer him a reserved seat on the Likud list and cease his pressure on New Right.
The religious-Zionist political parties have been riven by internal fighting and factionalism in recent months.
New Right, led by Bennett, initially refused to unite with any of the other religious right-wing parties, but on Tuesday acquiesced to Netanyahu’s demands to run together with the National Union Party.
This decision was taken due to internal Likud polling showing that Bayit Yehudi, National Union and Otzma would not pass the electoral threshold together, leading Netanyahu to panic and insist that Bennett bring in the rest of the religious-Zionist parties.
National Union then split from its longtime, natural partner, Bayit Yehudi, to join New Right, because of a fight over the leadership of a joint Bayit Yehudi-National Union list, and joined New Right.
Peretz had united Bayit Yehudi with Otzma in December to outflank Smotrich and reassert his position as head of the traditional religious-Zionist parties, but was forced to back down since a Bayit Yehudi-Otzma list would be hard pressed to pass the electoral threshold.
Despite his pledge to Otzma, Peretz was forced to abandon his far-right ally in order to save his political career and the political life of Bayit Yehudi.

Blue and White MK Yair Lapid responded to the announcement, saying: "I address the religious Zionism, the true religious Zionism. The formal, Zionist and non-extreme one. The one that believes in building bridges and not segregation and hatred. The one who won't vote to the list that united with a messianic and homophobic bunch against all promises. The one who won't vote for Bibi because it is against corruption. Tonight, you only have one alternative in the national camp: Blue and White"
Otzma Yehudit's leader Itamar Ben-Gvir responded to the right-wing unity, which means that he will have to run independently in the coming elections, and said: "The leadership of the religious Zionism has reached a now low. The man calling himself the minister of education has stabbed me in the back. Me and 84,000 other voters. And not just him, but Bennett and Shaked and Smotritch. To save the right-wing government I took down the photo in my living room. But they don't care about anything. The education minister who lies. This is not a group worthy of leadership.
Gantz responded on his twitter to the right-wing unity agreement and wrote that: "The voters of the religious Zionism have lost their political home. Racism, homophobia and segregation are not Jewish values. The right is not the promise of a personal immunity to a defendant of bribery."
Smotritch responded to the agreement, saying: "I bless my partners in the agreement. The religious Zionism is walking this path together. We will put the deeds of the past behind us and go on this new path. It is our duty to work hard and restore public trust in its representatives. Throughout this journey I thought the right and the religious Zionism didn't have the privilege to run in separate lists. I happily gave up my place for Rabbi Raffi and for unity and maintaining his honor as I have done before. It is good we have reached this agreement.
Head of Bayit Yehudi Rabbi Raffi Peretz wrote in his twitter account: "there are moment in the life of a man where he has to decide against all odds. With a heavy heart, I have received one of the toughest decisions of my life for one reason only: the religious Zionism, the Jewish identity and the state of Israel are the only things I thought of. I have decided to run in one list which will save the state of Israel from a left-wing government which will destroy every Jewish identifier of the Israeli people and which will negotiate with terror supporters. Coming from a huge responsibility to the values of the bible, the religious Zionism and the right-wing bloc, I made the difficult decision that will save the entirety of the bloc in the coming election.
"It's true that we are in the political playing field, but first I must be loyal to myself and that is why I will ask the forgiveness of my friend Itamar Ben-Gvir for having to cancel my agreement with him" Perez added. "When the left-wing is closing ranks in order to form a government, a painful decision has to be made. The gravity of the task necessitates that we unite" 
Eric Bender and Maariv Online contributed to this report.