An ad for the Otzma Yehudit party with Dr. Michael Ben-Ari, Baruch Marzel, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and Bentzi Gopstein on a bus in Jerusalem, March, 2019.
(photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
The ultra-nationalist Otzma Yehudit Party declared on Tuesday that it was ending its partnership with the right-wing religious Bayit Yehudi Party, over what it described as the latter’s “shameful” behavior following the entry into the Knesset of the joint list of the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP), of which Otzma is a member.
Speaking later to The Jerusalem Post, however, leading Otzma member Itamar Ben-Gvir said that the decision to end cooperation with Bayit Yehudi in the current Knesset was not final, and that a restoration of the union with Bayit Yehudi, alongside the National Union, was still possible.
“It’s not a bill of divorce, but it is an unambiguous statement that we are dismantling cooperation, and we feel that from the very beginning this was not really a partnership,” said Ben-Gvir.
The URP – the joint list formed ahead of the last election by Bayit Yehudi, National Union and Otzma – garnered some 159,000 votes, of which Otzma claims some 70,000 came from its voters.
Without Otzma, URP would have struggled to pass the electoral threshold of 3.25%, which equated to approximately 140,000 votes.
In a letter to Bayit Yehudi leader and Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz, Otzma’s leadership said that Bayit Yehudi had used Otzma to get into the Knesset and then discarded the party after it was no longer useful.
“This is not how partners behave, this is not how you say thank you, and as education minister you know that the precise definition of this behavior is ingratitude,” the party leaders told Peretz in its letter.
“As you know, we have sacrificed for this union, we were pushed into unrealistic spots [on the electoral list] and we received a lot less then what we deserve, and despite all this, we did it for the sake of public responsibility, but it seems that our magnanimity led you to the erroneous interpretation that you could continue to walk all over Otzma Yehudit.
“For these reasons we will not be able to serve any longer as Bayit Yehudi’s springboard, and we will work toward other unions that will strengthen the power of the Right in the coming elections,” the letter continued.
Speaking to the Post on Monday, Bayit Yehudi MK Eli Ben-Dahan said “every effort” needed to be made to unite all of the small, right-wing parties including Otzma, Naftali Bennett’s New Right, and even the Zehut Party headed by Moshe Feiglin, who has threatened to sue Ben-Dahan for slander.
“We lost 260,000 votes which went into the rubbish bin,” said Ben-Dahan in reference to the votes lost by New Right and Zehut, which did not cross the electoral threshold. “If that hadn’t happened we would have had a right-wing government today.”
Feiglin has ruled out joining URP saying that the overtly sectoral, national-religious ticket would chase away many of Zehut’s voters, and has even likened the national-religious parties to “fascists” because of their ideology viewing the state as having central importance for religious and national life.
The other potential partner for URP is New Right, but Naftali Bennett has also been skeptical about joining the more religious right-wing union, although has not ruled it out.
“Any union to the right of the Likud is still possible,” New Right candidate Col. (res.) Matan Kahana, who was placed fourth on the party’s electoral list for the April election, told the Post. “Anything that can ensure that right-wing votes don’t go to into the trash and can strengthen the right wing is relevant and is under discussion.”
He declined to set out what New Right’s demands might be for a union with the URP or its constituent parties, but argued that New Right is the biggest single party by votes cast out of all the individual right-wing parties.
New Right took some 138,000 votes by itself, although this was not enough to put it over the electoral threshold, while URP combined took 159,000 votes.
“We are today the biggest single party to the right of the Likud, and this needs to be taken into account in coalition negotiations,” said Kahana.
He acknowledged, however, that New Right has a different approach to issues regarding religious life than URP.
“The Union of Right Wing Parties represents the perspective of the conservative national-religious community, and I say this with respect and appreciation for this approach, which is important but does not represent many people in the national-religious community.”
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