Yamina leader Naftali Bennett received a boost on Sunday, when Sderot mayor Alon Davidi accepted his request to run with the party in the March 23 election.
Davidi is considered one of the most popular figures in religious Zionism. He is from a Sephardi background, was raised in Beersheba and has been credited with advancing the beleaguered town in the Gaza periphery in his seven years as mayor and before that in his five years as a member of the city council.
“Bennett is the only one who can lead Israel to defeat the coronavirus,” said Davidi, who was a member of Likud. “He will form a government after the election that will save us from the crisis.”
Davidi, 47, served in an elite IDF unit and then was the director of Sderot’s yeshiva. He also serves as deputy chairman of the Union of Local Authorities.
“Sderot is a symbol of the state and of success dealing with crisis,” Bennett said. “Alon has changed Sderot into a model city with terrific education and a large rise in population.”
The addition of Davidi will help Bennett take religious Zionist votes away from Likud and from the Religious Zionist Party headed by Bennett’s former political ally, Bezalel Smotrich.
It will also give greater urgency to efforts to unite the Religious Zionist Party with Bayit Yehudi and Otzma Yehudit.
The far-right Otzma Yehudit and Noam parties signed an agreement on Saturday night to run together in the March 23 Knesset elections after Noam agreed to allow women and secular people to run in the right-wing bloc.
“In light of the challenges facing the State of Israel and the need to establish a strong and stable right-wing government, and in light of the goal of connecting all parties representing religious Zionism and all of Torat Yisrael with Israel and the Land of Israel, the parties agreed on a joint run,” they in the agreement.
In the past, Noam and Otzma Yehudit failed to reach an agreement to run together due to a number of issues, including Noam’s refusal to allow women, secular people and those who visit the Temple Mount to run. Noam agreed to allow women and secular people to run in the merged list, on the assumption that the parties will split after the elections.
The parties called on Smotrich and Bayit Yehudi head Hagit Moshe, as well as other religious Zionist leaders, to sign agreements with them to run together in order to prevent the formation of a left-wing government.
Efforts have reportedly been made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to encourage Smotrich and Moshe to run with Otzma Yehudit, although both have expressed concerns that joining with the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit Party would make them seem too extreme. Such a union would now seemingly need to include the Noam Party as well.
“The people of Israel are waking up to a new morning with wonderful news,” said Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir. “In order to prevent the formation of a left-wing government, we need unions in the right-wing bloc and the connection with our dear friends from the Noam Party, who work diligently to ensure the Jewish identity of the state, for security and social resilience is a winning connection. Our strength is in our unity.”
Noam Party leader Avi Maoz said he was happy about the merger with Otzma Yehudit.
“We have witnessed in recent months the public atmosphere that calls for unity between the various parties in religious Zionism, and clear surveys that prove that the national religious public will know how to reward a united party that knows how to unite around Jewish identity,” Maoz said.
A number of Otzma Yehudit candidates have been disqualified from running in the past for racist statements against Arabs. The party is considered the ideological descendant of the Kach Party founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane, which was banned in the 90’s.
Otzma Yehudit’s platform aims to integrate Jewish law into Israel’s legal system, establish sovereignty over the Temple Mount, encourage settlement projects, engage in “total war” against the “enemies of Israel” and expel “Israel’s enemies” from the country. The party also states that it does not want to “lose the Jewish state, neither in war, nor in peace nor through Western democracy.”
Noam is an extremist party established by radical elements from the hard-line wing of the religious-Zionist community – specifically, close associates and allies of Rabbi Zvi Yisrael Tau, president of Yeshivat Har Hamor. In 2019, before the second round of Knesset elections, the party set up booths around the country manned by activists handing out pamphlets explaining Noam’s plan to make Israel “a normal nation” with anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-reform movement slogans.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform movement in Israel and a candidate in the Labor Party primaries blasted the bond.
“Netanyahu – a best man of a wedding of hate,” said Kariv. “Bibi is the best man in the connection between the two Israeli hate parties – Otzma Yehudit, which is engaged in hating Arabs, and Noam – which is engaged in hating Reform and LGBT people. It is amazing how two parties managed to take important attributes such as “power” and “pleasure” and turn them into dripping racism, xenophobia and moral corruption.”