Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett tried to block a stream of voters leaving his party for the Likud on Monday, a day before the election, amid concerns that the Bayit Yehudi’s number of seats will drop drastically in the next Knesset.
Bennett said his biggest concern is that there will be a national unity government with the Likud and the Zionist Union, which he said will “lead Israel to disaster.”
“We’re working as hard as we can to prevent that great danger to the Land of Israel,” he added, following a visit to Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market and the Western Wall. “To have a strong, big rightwing bloc and avoid a second disengagement like the one [in 2005 from Gaza] that the Likud caused and a deal dividing Hebron like the one the Likud caused [in 1997]. We need a big Bayit Yehudi.”
Bennett said “the Likud’s attacks on us in the last three days lowered [our numbers] a lot.”
In what has come to be known as their gevalt
– a Yiddish term implying use of full force – campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud have been campaigning heavily with the message that a vote for any other party will bring a Zionist Union-led coalition.
Bayit Yehudi officials confirmed on Monday that internal polling showed the party dropping to a single- digit number from last week’s polls giving it an average of 11.8, shrinking the gap between the Likud and the Zionist Union.
The shift is likely attributable to the Likud falling below the Zionist Union in the last polls published on Thursday by an average of three seats, raising concerns among rightwing voters that Netanyahu will not be tasked with forming the next government.
“People don’t understand that the size of the bloc determines [who forms the next government]. The law doesn’t say anything about the size of the party,” Bennett explained, repeating what has long been a Bayit Yehudi campaign message, and pointing out that in 2009, Kadima got one more seat than the Likud, but the latter party formed the government.
While in the Mahaneh Yehuda market, Bennett explained to vendors and shoppers that the bloc is more important than the party size.
“We’re trying to pass the message and people are starting to absorb it,” he said. “The minute we explain it to people, they understand, but I have to admit that the Likud’s spin worked and caused a lot of harm.”
The second part of the message is that a large Bayit Yehudi that will recommend Netanyahu as prime minister will not hurt his chances to get the role, and will ensure that the party is in the next coalition, keeping it right-wing.
Bennett described his plan to offer Netanyahu to go together to President Reuven Rivlin after the election so he sees them as one large bloc, which he predicted would have 35 to 40 seats, though last week’s polls gave the two parties a combined average of 33.5.
“I’m convinced the prime minister will go with [the idea], because it strengthens him,” Bennett said. “It means anyone can vote for either of us... because there’s a nationalist camp bloc.”
The Bayit Yehudi chairman vowed that he is “not trying to take Likudniks from the Likud,” but to reassure those who believe in his party’s positions to vote for it without feeling like they’re removing Netanyahu from the premiership.
Bennett also emphasized his party’s bona fides on socioeconomic issues, saying that he finds many people “who think we need to be left-wing in order to be social and mistakenly vote [Kulanu]... You can be right-wing and social.”
“They don’t understand that [Kulanu chairman Moshe] Kahlon said he may recommend Tzipi and Buji, and he won’t say that he’ll recommend Netanyahu,” he stated, referring to Zionist Union heads Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog.
Referring to his performance at Sunday night’s right-wing demonstration, Bennett joked: “After I sang ‘Jerusalem of Gold,’ I think the whole nation of Israel is more motivated to vote for me, because, if not, they’ll have me as a singer, and I’m pretty bad at that.”
MK Ayelet Shaked, No. 3 on Bayit Yehudi’s list, said that, in visiting Jerusalem synagogues on Friday night and Saturday, many people told her they planned to vote Bayit Yehudi but changed their mind and will vote Likud to ensure Netanyahu’s continued premiership.
Shaked wrote on Facebook Monday that “24 [for the Likud] and 12 [for Bayit Yehudi] are 36 seats loyal to the Land of Israel, but 27 seats for the Likud and nine for Bayit Yehudi, God forbid, means that there won’t be a change in the Justice Ministry, that Naftali Bennett will be the head of a faction in the opposition, that the Land of Israel will be left at the mercy of [former Shin Bet director and current Likud candidate] Avi Dichter.”
According to Shaked, “last time this happened, the Likud took the votes of lovers of the Land of Israel and evacuated Gush Katif [in Gaza].”
The battle to win over voters debating between the Likud and Bayit Yehudi was part of the subtext at Sunday night’s right-wing rally.
Netanyahu said that “Bayit Yehudi will be a senior member of my government.”
Bennett, the next speaker, vowed that “when the polls close on Tuesday at 10:01 p.m., I will call Prime Minister Netanyahu and tell him: Let’s go to the president together, as one nationalist camp. One bloc, one heart. One big bloc will defeat the whole Left.”
Also Sunday, former Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip chairman Dani Dayan, who ran in the Bayit Yehudi primary in December, endorsed Netanyahu and said he would vote Likud.