zevulun orlev 298 88 aj.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The united religious Zionist list being created by the National Religious Party and National Union is ready to join Labor and Kadima in the free-agent market and seek a Sephardi candidate for the next Knesset, NRP chairman Zevulun Orlev said on Tuesday.
Orlev said the list would fail unless it changes its Ashkenazi image and adds Sephardi MKs to its ranks.
"Among NRP's four MKs and National Union's six there is only one Sephardi, Yitzhak Levy, and he is not even identified as Sephardi," said Orlev. "That is a problem. I will demand that this is rectified as a condition for uniting with the National Union."
The Sephardi vote has come to the forefront in the present election after Amir Peretz, the Labor underdog with a strong Moroccan identity, beat out Shimon Peres to take over party leadership.
Likud leadership candidates Silvan Shalom and Shaul Mofaz have emphasized their Sephardi backgrounds, while Shas has rejected overtures by Ashkenazi haredi parties to unite for fear it would turn away its predominantly Sephardi constituents.
"If we want to hold onto Beit El and Ofra, we have to help Sderot and Kiryat Shmona," said Orlev, who said that social welfare issues would be one of three central issues showcased in the united list's campaign. The Sephardi vote is identified with development towns outside the nation's large cities that suffer from high unemployment and low income.
"We have to bring on board people who are identified with social welfare issues," said Orlev, implying that the newcomers would be Sephardi.
Orlev said that one-third of the list would be made up of newcomers, including three people among the first 10. The NRP chairman also said that the issue of Greater Israel would be played down in the campaign.
"With Effie Eitam and Tzvi Hendel in the list I don't need to talk about Greater Israel.
"Instead, education, Jewish identity and social welfare issues - in that order - will be emphasized on the united list's election platform," said Orlev.
Orlev added that National Union Chairman Benny Elon was in agreement regarding the issue of Greater Israel.
"That is the understanding. Without Elon's promise I would not start negotiations. If we just fuse the two parties and find some sort of compromise without radically changing the agenda than 10% to 15% who don't identify with the National Union will not vote and 10% to 15% who dislike the NRP won't vote.
"We have to create a new home that is large enough to accommodate all kinds of religious Zionism."
However, there were signs Tuesday evening that several National Union MKs oppose Orlev's and Elon's vision of a new religious Zionist agenda.
In response to this opposition, Orlev demanded an urgent meeting with Elon before a National Union meeting slated for Wednesday in order to iron out differences.
"I hope that the National Union changes its position before the meeting, otherwise the negotiations are liable to fail," said Orlev in press release Tuesday evening.
Orlev said that aiming at the widest common denominator in the religious Zionist community - education and Jewish identity - is the only hope for success.
"Based on the number of students attending state religious schools, we make up about 18% of the population, which is 21 to 22 mandates. The problem is that people who pray with us, send their children to our schools, to our yeshivot, do not vote for the NRP."
Orlev estimated that the Likud took about 10 mandates from religious Zionists, Shas took another 2. Shinui and Labor-Meimad took 2 between them.
Orlev rejected the possibility of a united bloc with the haredi parties.
According to a survey commissioned by an unidentified National Union MK that was reported on Army Radio, the unification of the religious parties, including the National Union, the National Religious Party (NRP), Shas and Agudat Yisrael was to experience an electoral failure.
According to the survey, the unified parties were to receive 23 mandates running together, as opposed to 26 mandates if they were to run separately.