(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett announced Wednesday that he is moving the next election for chairman of his party to an earlier date, immediately after Passover.
The Bayit Yehudi secretariat and election committee will meet on Thursday night to approve the request and set a time for the vote, which is expected to be held in mid- May.
Sources in the party explained the request by saying that Bennett sees Bayit Yehudi as a ruling party and wants to catch his opponents off-guard to prevent them from coming up with a candidate to run against him. But Mevaseret Zion branch head Jeremy Saltan, who is close to Bennett, said the reason was much more technical.
“Other parties don’t require elections because they are dictatorships, but we are forced to hold primary elections in polling stations all over the country,” he said. “Likud already had its leadership race, Labor just decided to hold theirs in July. We can’t afford to be caught off guard and to have to focus on domestic politics when a general election would be called, which would put us at a disadvantage.”
Bennett’s associates said the decision had nothing to do with the ongoing criminal investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which they said could take a long time. They claimed that Bennett would encourage competition, even holding a special membership drive to facilitate a candidate running against him.
Avraham Cimerring, a vocal critic of Bennett in Bayit Yehudi’s Jerusalem branch, called the decision to hold the primary on an earlier date “political thievery.” He said that at Bayit Yehudi branches across the country activists complain that Bennett does not care about them.
“Bennett did it, because he realizes he is not so strong among the party membership,” Cimerring said. “He and democracy don’t go together. I am sure there will be candidates who run against him, including someone of stature and I am not sure he will win. I’d say his chances are 50-50.”
All the MKs in Bayit Yehudi immediately endorsed Bennett.
“Our party chairman and candidate for prime minister after the Netanyahu era will be Naftali Bennett,” said Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Two names that have been mentioned as possible candidates are those of Amona residents’ campaign head Avichai Boaron, and Col. Yonatan Branski, a former commander of the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, who now serves as the director of the Nahal Haredi Foundation.