Bayit Yehudi membership changes could transform party

The party membership of those who did not renew it during the recent recruitment drive expired on December 31.

January 25, 2017 23:16
4 minute read.
MA’ALEH ADUMIM Mayor Benny Kashriel (third right) poses on January 2 with, from left, Bayit Yehudi’s

MA’ALEH ADUMIM Mayor Benny Kashriel (third right) poses on January 2 with, from left, Bayit Yehudi’s MK Moti Yogev, MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, Agriculture Minister Uriel Ariel, chairman Naftali Bennett, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. (photo credit: JEREMY SHARON)

A significant shake-up in the Bayit Yehudi Party membership could spell change for how the faction is governed and, in particular, give chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett greater room to maneuver inside his own party.

The party membership of those who did not renew it during the recent recruitment drive expired on December 31.

As of January 1, party membership had dropped significantly, from 77,000 members to just over 28,000, meaning a fall of more than 60%.

Party officials close to Bennett believe that the new membership will better reflect the direction in which the chairman wants to take the party; the old membership has been somewhat uncooperative with him in recent years.

Critically, elections to the party’s powerful central committee and its branch councils around the country are scheduled for September, and new members signing up now will not be eligible for those votes.

Currently, 51% of the party’s members are “new,” with some 80% of the members from 2015 now gone.

There have also been changes in the geographic distribution of members, with a strong 30% from the Central region, and boosts in cities such as Ra’anana, where Bennett lives, and Haifa.

The proportion of the party’s members who live in Judea and Samaria is double what it was before January 1; that might be due to the historical support for the National Religious Party and its Bayit Yehudi successor in those regions and members there maintaining their party membership, while others from around the country let theirs expire.

The 1,080-member central committee is particularly powerful. It approves coalition agreements and ministerial appointments, and determines the platform of the party.

It is possible that the elections in September to the central committee will give Bennett a greater influence over the party he leads than the old guard who have often viewed him with suspicion and opposed parts of his agenda.

Bennett was reportedly unenthusiastic about taking the role of education minister in the current government, but was persuaded to by the central committee.

The ongoing political alliance with Tekuma, which provides two of the eight MKs currently in the Bayit Yehudi faction – Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and MK Bezalel Smotrich – has also been something which Bennett has had less say over. This could also change if the new membership has the expected impact on the central committee’s composition.

In addition, many of the new members signed up through the various identity forums of the Bayit Yehudi party. The forums with the largest membership are those of the Anglos, secular, youth, women and party branch chairmen.

Bayit Yehudi forums get funding from party dues, and can raise issues at the Knesset faction meetings, as well as lobby MKs for policies close to their interests.

Party activists believe that Bayit Yehudi will now be able to become more mainstream, and step away from the image of the party as a sectoral political movement to one that has broader support around the country.

The party’s policies will remain right-wing, but it is hoped that the broader membership will make it easier to attract votes from a wider voting pool than previous.

The new membership could have a strong influence on the character of the party’s electoral list in primaries before the next national election, although it is likely that there will be a voter drive before then in which the balance of power might shift once again.

Changes to the type of candidates who run for municipal councils might be another result of the change in membership; the composition of the party branch councils will be decided in the September internal elections as well.

The party is also particularly well prepared to boost the number of Anglo votes it might get in a general election. Bayit Yehudi is now believed to have the largest number of Anglo members of any party, and its Anglo forum is in the top five largest forums in the party.

Anglo Forum Chairman Jeremy Saltan noted that a recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute showed that Bayit Yehudi voters are the most likely of all voters to view themselves as having influence over government policy.

“The Anglos that joined during this membership drive have particularly responded to that message, and I call on additional Anglos to join us now so that we can increase our influence in the future,” said Saltan. “The strong numbers are a vote of confidence in our chairman Naftali Bennett’s policies and reflect the desire of Anglos to see Minister Bennett lead the nationalist camp.”

Another party activist said, however, that identity and political inclinations of the new members could not be known for sure, and that there is no certainty that they will have any sizable impact on the character of Bayit Yehudi.

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