The Knesset building.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
With the departure of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked from Bayit Yehudi having splintered the right-wing electoral landscape, there is now talk of the possibility of a unified bloc of the remaining right-wing and far-right religious parties for the coming elections.
Such efforts will, however, face the considerable challenges of competing claims for obtainable places on a joint electoral list, as well as Knesset and government positions, not to mention political egos. And the various parties themselves are coy about the chances for such a union.
In the 2015 elections, the far-right National-Religious Otzma Yehudit party ran together with the equally hardline Sephardi haredi Yahad party, run by former Shas chairman Eli Yishai, but narrowly missed out on passing the electoral threshold.
The joint list garnered some 125,000 votes, enough for three Knesset seats but below the minimum 3.25% of the vote required to enter the Knesset.
Sources in both Yahad and Otzma have indicated that a joint run is being considered again, while at the same time there also appears to be a possibility that all the religious, right-wing parties will unite.
A source close to Yishai said that such an arrangement was desirable, but noted that any talk of a joint run with Bayit Yehudi and the National Union would have to wait until both those parties have chosen their leaders.
Bayit Yehudi will select a new chairman over the course of the next month, while National Union will select a chairman in the middle of January from several candidates, including current chairman and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and National Union MK Bezalel Smotrich.
A source close to Ariel said that “all options are open” in reference to unity with Bayit Yehudi, Otzma and Yahad, and said that the preferred outcome was “one, large, united block,” of the right-wing parties.
Ariel and Yishai spoke briefly earlier this week after Bennett and Shaked formed the New Right and agreed to continue a dialogue on a joint run.
Bayit Yehudi MK and Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, who is running for the party chairmanship, said that uniting with all the religious right-wing parties “is an option that I do not rule out,” but said that negotiations should be conducted first with National Union.
Head of Otzma Michael Ben-Ari said his party preferred to run together with the other right-wing parties because of the high electoral threshold, and that cooperation was therefore preferable.
He said, however, that unity was only possible with “a fair agreement,” explaining that his party would not agree to have its representatives relegated to the bottom of the electoral list.
“Unity is based on a fair agreement. Oftentimes when people say they want to unite, they mean they want someone to be their tail,” said Ben-Ari.
He added that he believed Bayit Yehudi and National Union, who are currently united in a single Knesset faction, “understand their situation,” in reference to the party’s perilous position in the polls, with some surveys putting it under the electoral threshold, insinuating that it would be in Bayit Yehudi’s interests to unite with Otzma.
“We have a path and we know which way we’re going. We are prepared to make concessions but are not prepared to be trampled upon. It wont happen,” he said.
Ben-Ari also had some choice words for Bennett, accusing him of being “a thief” for having legally defected from Bayit Yehudi together with Shaked and MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli to form their new party, meaning that the New Right will take substantial electoral funding, allocated per party for every serving MK, away from Bayit Yehudi.
“Bennett said he was the head of the religious Zionists and when it wasn’t worthwhile for him anymore he took three seats from there. It is thievery in broad daylight. If you want to leave, leave. But don’t take those seats with you. Those seats are worth NIS 5 million in the elections budget, not to mention indirect funds. This is not politics, we’re simply talking about a thief.”
He also denounced Bennett for having not done enough for the settlements, having been involved in a government that allowed terrorists to be released from prison and for failing to deport “infiltrators,” a reference to African asylum-seekers.
A spokesman for Bennett declined to respond directly to Ben-Ari’s comments, but pointed to recent comments by Bennett arguing that he had left Bayit Yehudi in a far better financial position than when he joined the party and had made “tremendous achievements” in the realms of Israeli security and the country’s legal and education systems.