(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The race to lead Bayit Yehudi heated up Sunday, the day after the religious-Zionist party’s former leaders Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett left to form the Hayemin Hehadash (The New Right) Party.
Several polls showed Bayit Yehudi hovering just above the electoral threshold, emphasizing the need to tighten ranks and start campaigning in order to save the party, which has been represented in the Knesset since the establishment of the state under various names, including the National Religious Party. Hayamin Hehadash would get from six to 14 seats.
MK Bezalel Smotrich of the National Union, which ran on the Bayit Yehudi list for the last Knesset, plans to challenge Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel for the smaller party’s leadership and then try to lead the whole bloc.
Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan and MK Moti Yogev are planning to run for leader of the post-Bennett Bayit Yehudi.
The faction’s lawmakers reportedly agreed to take out a poll after the two parties elect leaders, and whomever is most popular will lead the bloc. An online poll of the religious-Zionist news site Srugim found on Sunday that 60% of its readers prefer Smotrich, followed by Ben-Dahan with 15%, and Yogev with 9%. Ariel received 6% of the vote.
Smotrich said “our goal is to unite religious Zionism so it will stand strong and prepared for the next election, bring a good result and continue to represent the values religious Zionism has represented since the establishment of the state.”
To that end, Smotrich seeks to negotiate a joint run for Bayit Yehudi with the extremist Otzma L’Yisrael Party, led by Hebron activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Ariel lashed out at Bennett and Shaked for their departure, telling Army Radio that they “lied to rabbis in order to get their permission to form the party.”
Bayit Yehudi activists called for the party to demand Prime Minister fire Bennett and Shaked from the cabinet, but the MKs thus far are uninterested in heeding the call.
Also Sunday, the Knesset House Committee voted to permit Shaked, Bennett and MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli break off from the Bayit Yehudi to form their Hayemin Hehadash faction.
The trio made up more than a third of the eight-seat faction, allowing them to take government funding for the next election with them. However, in order to make the move, they needed to join an existing party, rather than legally form a new party.
As such, the party’s name will be “Tzalash” for technical reasons, but they plan to campaign as Hayemin Hehadash and to have that be the name of their faction in the next Knesset.
Tzalash is a Hebrew acronym for tzion lashevah, a military citation. The phrase is also used colloquially for any medal, commendation, award, or praise.
The party was an inactive one, formed by Yosef Paritzky, a former MK and minister from the Shinui and Meretz parties, on the opposite side of the political spectrum from Shaked and Bennett’s former home Bayit Yehudi. Tzalash as the party name is a Hebrew abbreviation for Zionism, liberalism and equality. Attorney Amihai Weinberger took over the party’s ownership in August 2018, and now Bennett has power of attorney over it.
House Committee chairman Miki Zohar (Likud) questioned if the party changing hands in 2018 was a sign that Bennett and Shaked planned their move months in advance, but Moalem-Refaeli shrugged off the accusation.
“Maybe this is Shaked’s revenge on Paritzky,” Moalem-Refaeli cracked.
In 2015, Paritzky sparked outrage when he said that Shaked was better suited to posing for calendars than being justice minister.
In a later Knesset meeting the Likud sought to lower the electoral threshold from 3.25% after the split in Bayit Yehudi, but was blocked by opposition parties. There are two more days of voting planned in the Knesset, but only on bills supported by the coalition and opposition, and the latter refused to support lowering the threshold.
With the current threshold, parties would, in most cases, need four seats in order to get into the Knesset, though there is a statistical possibility of getting in with three seats.
Any party dropping below the threshold would mean that the Right would lose tens of thousands of votes and could lose its parliamentary majority.
Shas and Yisrael Beytenu have long been hovering close to the threshold, with recent polls giving them five seats, and now, after Bennett and Shaked broke off from Bayit Yehudi to form Hayamin Hehadash (The New Right), the former may find passing the threshold to be a challenge.
Opposition whip and Zionist Union faction chairman Yoel Hasson said “the Likud’s attempt to lower the electoral threshold is another hysterical move by a prime minister who’s afraid of losing. We oppose this move and will not allow this bill to be brought up in the plenum.”
Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg, whose party would likely be the greatest beneficiary in the opposition of raising the threshold, also opposed the change.
“Meretz will not be a tool of the terrified Right and will not lend a hand for the Likud’s whims to change the rules of the elections and democracy over and over according to their fears,” Zandberg said. “If the Likud thought they could rely on Meretz, they should think again.”
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