Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Two of the candidates running against Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett in the party’s April 27 leadership race decided this week to join forces in an uphill battle to try to defeat him.
Rabbi Shimon Or of Jerusalem’s Kiryat Yovel neighborhood, who won some 10% of the vote in the last Bayit Yehudi leadership race, decided not to run this time. Or said he “did not succeed in building enough resources to run,” referring to the NIS 15,000 fee to join the race by the April 9 deadline.
Instead, Or endorsed Yonatan Branski, a retired colonel who headed the ultra-Orthodox Nahal Haredi unit and served as deputy head of the Gaza Brigade.
Branski currently heads Hosen, a movement that works to build leadership in the periphery and strengthen families.
He lived in Buffalo, New York, as a child and speaks fluent English.
“Bennett thought this race would be a piece of cake, and now he realizes it will be much harder than he thought,” Branski’s spokesman said. “Bennett is under pressure. Suddenly he is meeting with rabbis and calling people who have been trying to reach him unsuccessfully for four years.”
Branski hosted campaign events Wednesday in Hebron and Shilo and has events planned for Thursday at Rav Kook House in downtown Jerusalem and in the Old City after he and dozens of other kohanim bless the masses in a prayer service at the Western Wall.
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Also challenging Bennett is Rabbi Yitzhak Zaga, who heads the organization Spirit of Jerusalem, which is committed to studying the works of former chief rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook.
“There are good feelings of people connecting with our path,” Zaga said. “The public is awakening and seeing a springlike renewal.”
Zaga is in the process of translating into his English his diplomatic plan, which he intends to distribute internationally.
All of the MKs in Bayit Yehudi have endorsed Bennett. Last week he held events in the three cities with the largest number of Bayit Yehudi members: Jerusalem, Petah Tikva and Safed. He is also working on organizing an event for English-speaking members ahead of the election.
However, Bennett does not intend to campaign during Passover, which he is spending touring the country with his wife, Gilat, and their four children.
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