Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett promised Walla news site editor-in-chief Yinon Magal a spot on the party’s list for the next Knesset, the two announced Sunday.
Magal, 45, is the best-known of five media figures who hope to represent Bayit Yehudi in the next Knesset. He is a familiar face to most Israelis as former anchor of Channel 1 News, settlements correspondent for Army Radio and military reporter for Channel 10. Like Bennett, he served as a commander in the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit. He does not wear a kippa, but observes the Sabbath and sends his children to religious schools.
The journalist made waves during Operation Protective Edge when he said at a conference that he is first Jewish, then Israeli, then a journalist, adding: “Walla readers expect me to cover this as an Israeli journalist. I am not from the UN and I am not CNN.”
Magal argued with MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) when he appeared in the Walla studio saying that if he does not recognize Jewish history in the Land of Israel they have no reason to talk.
“I’m not embarrassed to love the Land of Israel, the people of Israel and the Torah of Israel. The Bayit Yehudi [party] is my home,” Magal said Sunday.
Bennett said Magal is a natural addition to the Bayit Yehudi because “the country’s Jewish identity burns in his bones,” and commended the journalist for standing up for his opinions even when harshly criticized.
According to Bennett, Magal is “reinforcing those who oppose the formation of a Palestinian terrorist state. He is giving power to Bayit Yehudi and represents many new voters who are joining us and accept the values of religious-Zionism without apologizing for it.”
Soon after his candidacy was announced, online commenters lamented that Magal does not represent the values of religious-Zionism, pointing to a perceived increase in stories with explicit sexual content on Walla, supported by an article on secular media criticism site The Seventh Eye from last year quoting Magal as joking that soft-core pornography is a legitimate news category and an Instagram post by Magal from the past week of a thong-clad woman’s posterior.
On Sunday night, Magal said in an interview on Channel 2 News that he recently smoked cannabis.
Magal may have a promised spot on the Bayit Yehudi list, but four other people who work in the media plan to run in the party primary on January 14.
Sofi Ron-Moria left her job as rightwing newspaper Makor Rishon’s political reporter to run to the party, and hopes to draw the Former Soviet Union immigrant vote, as she was born in Russia and was deported at age 21 as a result of her Zionist activities.
Avraham Azoulay, the publisher of Le P’tit Hebdo, a French-language newspaper in Israel, is running in the primary and has Bennett’s blessing. The two produced a video in which Azoulay teaches Bennett to say “happy Hanukka to all the people of Israel” in French.
Shimon Riklin was involved in founding several West Bank towns, including Migron, before becoming a radio host on Galei Yisrael, the Judea and Samaria regional radio station, and a panelist on programs on the Knesset Channel and Channel 20.
Avihai Boaron is the publisher of Mayanei Hayeshua, a Shabbat newsletter that is distributed in many religious-Zionist synagogues and the head of a forum of staunchly religious Bayit Yehudi party members. Army Radio reported that he is being investigated for illegally using funds from Mayanei Hayeshua, which is also the name of the nongovernmental organization of which he is chairman, for his campaign.
Outside of Bayit Yehudi, well-known Israeli-Arab IBA soccer reporter Zouhair Bahloul is running in the Labor party.
In addition, there were 11 former journalists and media professionals in the last Knesset: In Bayit Yehudi, Senior Citizens Minister Uri Orbach; in Likud, Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom and former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar; in Yesh Atid, former finance minister Yair Lapid and MK Ofer Shelah; in Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz; and in Labor, MKs Shelly Yacimovich, Merav Michaeli, Miki Rosenthal and Stav Shaffir.
All are candidates for the next Knesset except Sa’ar.
There was an attempt to require journalists to take a six-month break from their jobs before running for politics, in the form of a bill proposed in 2010. In 2012, when the bill seemed to be moving forward, Lapid resigned from position as anchor on Channel 2 News’ Friday night program, ahead of running in the 2013 election, but ultimately, it did not become law.
Also Sunday, Bayit Yehudi decided to extend its current membership drive by another day, until December 30 at midnight.
Over 13,000 new members joined the party in the last week, bringing it to over 70,000 and making it the second- largest party in Israel after Likud, which has about 99,000.