Polls in the Bayit Yehudi primary opened at 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning with party leader Naftali Bennett declaring that the party had successfully moved from a fringe group to a core movement in Israel.
"Two years ago we were a small party with three seats on the outskirts of politics. Today we are the second largest party in number of members," Bennett stated. "Something big is happening."
He said that the party was opened to all people of Israel, whether secular, religious, Druse or even Zionist Muslim - "Those who are proud to be Israeli and don't apologize."
Polls opened after a temporary injunction which sought to delay the vote was revoked because the sides did not pay NIS 100,000 in court fees.
Forty-one candidates were scheduled to vie for nine realistic spots on the Bayit Yehudi slate for the Knesset.
On Tuesday evening, the Central District Court ruled to block the primary from taking place following a complaint by long-shot candidate Eyal Bar-Lev. Bar-Lev was one of many candidates who lamented what they called a lack of transparency in the planned primary in recent days.However, the presiding judge at the Central District Court told Bar-Lev Wednesday morning that he would have to have much more serious complaints to cancel a major primary at the last minute.
Bar-Lev rescinded his complaint in accordance with the judge's recommendation.
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Following the complaints, the party agreed to have three neutral observers, including Bayit Yehudi Anglo Forum leader Jeremy Saltan and Gilad Luz, present while the votes are counted, but not in the polling stations.
Every candidate agreed on the observers, except for Bar- Lev.
In addition, the party will release the voting numbers from each individual polling station upon request, as opposed to its original plan to only release the total voting numbers.
Still, several candidates remained unsatisfied.
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.
“They’re doing us a favor by allowing us to bring in observers. There are only three,” media personality and settlement builder Shimon Riklin, one of the few disgruntled candidates who agreed to speak on record, said before the injunction.
“It’s not okay; it shouldn’t be like this in 2015.”
Bayit Yehudi spokesman Pinchas Wolf responded: “That’s nonsense; we are the most transparent in the world. Labor and [the] Likud don’t have a better situation with observers. We allowed a small amount, three, that were agreed-upon by the candidates; that doesn’t exist in other parties.
“It’s impossible to have observers representing all 42 candidates at every ballot,” he added.
More than 77,000 members are 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.
The results of the vote are to be released on Thursday.
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.
Because of the tight race, blacklists have begun to proliferate, released by religious-Zionist publications, interest groups within the faction representing regions, religious views, immigrant groups and more – and the candidates themselves. Deputy Education Minister Avi Wortzman has it in for Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky, party sources say.
Instead of recommending for whom like-minded people should vote, they put out lists of the candidates who, under no circumstances, should get points.
The race between women in Bayit Yehudi brought its own version of blacklists, with some female candidates telling supporters not to vote for any other women, though the Bayit Yehudi Women’s Forum asked party members to vote for at least three female contenders.
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 11 running will be in realistic positions.
Faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked is considered likely to get on the list and MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli has a good chance, as well.
Batya Kahana-Dror, director of Mavoi Satum, an organization that works for women who have been refused a religious divorce, said she was considering dropping out of the race “for ideological reasons” in an interview with the Knesset Channel on Tuesday.
There were two Druse candidates running, but Gasoub Hasoon dropped out, leaving only Roni Hasoon, who is backed by former Kadima MK Akram Hasoon. Most of the party’s Druse members come from Daliat al-Carmel, but there are several hundred from Hurfeish, as well.
Earlier this week, the Bayit Yehudi Anglo Forum, which influences nearly 5,000 votes, released its list of recommendations, giving two points each to Bayit Yehudi faction secretary Uri Bank, Shaked and Slomiansky, and one point each to Im Tirzu founder Ronen Shoval, Moalem-Refaeli, Riklin and Senior Citizens Minister Uri Orbach.
The Anglo Forum also recommended voting for Nir Orbach for the spot reserved for central committee members.
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