URP to demand Diaspora Ministry

Thus far, no other party has expressed interest in the portfolio.

April 17, 2019 01:57
2 minute read.
Bezalel Smotrich

Member of Knesset Bezalel Smotrich, head of the National Union faction of the United Right-Wing Parties. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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The Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP) plans to ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, the party confirmed on Tuesday.
Thus far, no other party has expressed interest in the portfolio.
URP was promised two portfolios in its negotiations with Netanyahu before the elections, in exchange for adding the radical-right Otzma Yehudit to its bloc. However, the faction plans to demand a third.
They also had a representative – MK Eli Ben-Dahan – running with the Likud, guaranteeing them an additional Knesset seat even though they only received five seats in last week’s election.
Rafi Peretz, leader of URP and of its Bayit Yehudi Party, hopes to take on the role of Diaspora Affairs minister previously held by Naftali Bennett, who had led Bayit Yehudi but left to start the New Right Party, which didn’t make it into the Knesset.
Bennett was in contact with non-Orthodox streams of Judaism in the Diaspora and granted them funds, but Peretz – a rabbi with strong ties to the conservative “hardal” stream of religious Zionism – has a more staunchly Orthodox outlook. Under Peretz, the ministry could be less friendly to the Conservative and Reform movements.
The Immigration and Absorption Portfolio is shaping up to be a battleground for the first time in years, with Shas demanding the ministry, held by Sofa Landver of Yisrael Beytenu for the past decade, with some short breaks.
On Monday night, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman talked tough against haredi parties but did not specifically mention Shas pursuing the immigration portfolio.
MK Oded Forer – a former Immigration and Absorption Ministry director-general – is Yisrael Beytenu’s candidate for the job, which the party plans to demand in coalition talks.
Shas campaigned in areas of new French immigrants during the election, and hopes to capitalize on more aliyah from the country’s community, which mostly came from North Africa and has a large traditional or Orthodox membership.
Shas also pursued Immigration Absorption roles after last year’s municipal elections, and has city councilmen on the immigration committees in the municipalities of Jerusalem, Ashdod, Modi’in Illit and Kiryat Ye’arim, among others.
In March, Shas leader Arye Deri said that the Immigration Absorption Ministry “will no longer be a ministry only for immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU). You can’t walk around there without speaking Russian. We will take care of new immigrants from France and Ethiopia and make sure people there will speak French and Amharic.”
However, a poll last year showed that only 5% of immigrants from France planned to vote Shas and that a plurality of 26% supported Likud.
During the election campaign, Liberman and Yisrael Beytenu criticized Deri, because the Interior Ministry under his leadership conducted DNA tests on some immigrants from the FSU to check if they have Jewish roots.
“Yisrael Beytenu will act against the humiliating DNA checks that haredi [ultra-Orthodox] political operatives invented,” Liberman said in March. “We will stop the racism and discrimination promoted by the haredi establishment against those from the former Soviet Union.”
URP also has plans for immigration, though it does not plan to seek the portfolio. National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich has a plan for absorbing French immigrants, which he will ask Netanyahu to incorporate into the coalition agreement.

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