Naftali Bennett greets Bayit Yehudi supporters after the election results were announced.
(photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
“The eternal nation is not afraid of a long road,” the crowd at Bayit Yehudi’s Ramat Gan campaign headquarters sang, dancing in circles and waving Israeli and party flags after exit polls showed that the national-religious party had lost four Knesset seats.
Watching the returns being announced on giant projection screens, the mostly teenage and kippa wearing supporters groaned at the first exit polls but quickly rallied, cheering when it was announced that one poll showed the Likud one mandate ahead of its rival, the Zionist-Union, potentially paving the way for another right-wing coalition.
Right after the polls closed at 10 p.m., Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett announced that he had received a telephone call from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and that the two had agreed to start negotiations for a national government and to “work together for the security of the state and people of Israel.”
“We could have done better, but what matters is that we have a right-wing coalition,” one young party supporter said, summing up the atmosphere at party headquarters.
“The results are not very good, but what is important is [the Likud and Bayit Yehudi] speaking together,” concurred Rabbi Avichai Rontzki, former commander of the IDF Chaplaincy Corps, who was also watching the returns.
Clad in a blue and white robe covered in a Star of David pattern and clutching an Israeli flag, Avi Farhan, a white-bearded former resident of both Yamit and the Katif settlement bloc, said that he was disappointed in the premier for going after Bayit Yehudi supporters instead of looking to draw votes from the Center and Left.
He said that he was kicked out of both his homes in Sinai and Gaza by Likud governments and is “worried about what will happen to the state” if Bayit Yehudi is not included in a coalition.
The two parties struggled for voters during the final run-up to the election, with Netanyahu, slipping in the polls, calling on members of the national camp to support the Likud to prevent the Left from taking power.
In response, Bennett told reporters on Tuesday morning that “we cannot let religious Zionism fail” and that “the bloc is what matters, not the party.” He said that as long as there is a sufficiently large nationalist contingent in the Knesset, Netanyahu will be able to form a government even if his party does not come out ahead of the Zionist Union.
He also said that there is “reason to fear that the prime minister would draw off [Bayit Yehudi] seats” and vowed he would make “every effort to stop Likud’s attack.”
Bennett’s desperation showed through in a video in English posted on Facebook on Tuesday.
Videoing himself while seated in his car while traveling between campaign appearances, Bennett called on voters to “go out and get 20 or 30 people to vote Bayit Yehudi.”