A seesaw of emotions at Bayit Yehudi HQ

Party leader Naftali Bennett says results show that Bayit Yehudi “had returned to the center of Israeli politics.”

Bennett voting 22.1.13  (photo credit: Reuters/Nir Elias)
Bennett voting 22.1.13
(photo credit: Reuters/Nir Elias)
Emotions swung like a seesaw from tension to excitement and back again at the party headquarters Bayit Yehudi had set up in a Kfar Maccabiah ballroom in Ramat Gan on Tuesday night.
As polls closed, reporters and politicians checked their SMS messages and looked at television polls on their smart phones as it appeared that Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid was the surprise miracle politician of the night, instead of Bayit Yehudi party head Naftali Bennett.
“We do not count our eggs before they are hatched,” said Bayit Yehudi candidate Jeremy Gimpel, who is 14th on the party’s list.
“To go from five mandates [in the last Knesset] to 12 is huge,” he said.
He had just arrived from Jerusalem and was seeing the numbers for the first time.
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Bennett, leaving his home after the exit polls, said the results showed that Bayit Yehudi “had returned to the center of Israeli politics.”
MK Uri Ariel, who was in the last Knesset under the National Union, and is No. 2 2 on the Bayit Yehudi list, urged caution.
“Let’s see what the numbers show tomorrow morning,” he said.
But, he noted, that already the results are a victory for the national religious camp, which has now returned to power.
Ariel said he was hopeful that the party would be in the government, but if not, he said, “we’ll be in the opposition.”
Unofficial initial poll numbers from Channel 2 had Yesh Atid as the second largest party with 19, while Bennett was tied with Shas for 12.
Reporters from all Israeli media, as well as some foreign outlets, including the BBC, had set up small studio platforms.
Inside the crowded room adorned with green and blue balloons a stage was set up at the front, with a large white screen showing screens from Israel’s three news stations, 1, 2 and 10. The party’s anthem, “Something new is starting” played loudly. A few young activists burst into song and waved Israeli flags as they waited for Bennett to appear.
On Tuesday morning Bennett was greeted by screaming and clapping activists shouting, “Here comes the next prime minister,” as he headed to cast his vote in Ra’anana.
Before placing his blue envelope in the box, he paused for the cameras, and said, “Something new is happening in Israel. When I see religious, secular and Druse [voters] uniting behind Bayit Yehudi, I believe we can do something good for this nation.”
Party politicians traveled from the South to the North soliciting support throughout the day.
Motti Yogen, Deputy Binyamin Regional Council head, began his morning by voting in his home settlement of Dolev at 7 a.m. Then he traveled north to Jaffa, Haifa, Kiryat Ata and Tirat Carmel before heading to the Samaria and Binyamin region.
Like Bennett, he touted the party’s message of unity.
“We are here after a long journey,” he said, as he looked out at the crowded ballroom.
“I am very happy and expecting good things for Israel, he told The Jerusalem Post.
He was glad to see that in the party’s branches where he traveled were activists of all stripes: religious, secular, kibbutz members and city residents all gathered together under the Bayit Yehudi banner.
But earlier in the day, under the afternoon sun, one young party activist was not as happy.
In Jerusalem’s German Colony, a heavily English speaking neighborhood, he gave up trying to find supportive voters.
Instead, the teen, wearing jeans, a kippa and a white Bayit Yehudi T-shirt, took a nap on the grass underneath a large green Meretz sign, which appeared to be the party of choice at his voting station.
But a short distance away, in the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, the third largest Jewish West Bank city, and a known Likud stronghold, it was hard to spot a Meretz sign.
The main Ma’aleh Adumim roads were lined with signs for Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Shas and Strong Israel.
Two young Likud volunteers, Yaakov Amsalem and Tomer Peretz, hung out by a polling station and urged everyone to vote Likud, although they admitted that pretty much any right-wing party was fine by them.
But they liked Netanyahu’s experience and appreciated that he had agreed to advance plans to construct 3,500 new homes in an un-built area of the city known as E1.
A larger group of female teenage activists who stood on the opposite side of the stairwell leading to the polls, however, were not convinced.
Emona Peretz, 14, was too young to vote, but hoped to make a difference by swaying voters to support Bayit Yehudi.
“They stand for the Torah and a united Israel,” she said.
“The Likud will give up territory in Judea and Samara, but the Bayit Yehudi won’t.”
One young couple that plan to marry this summer entered the Ma’aleh Adumim polling station arguing.
“I’m voting for Strong Israel,” said Oz Hayuka.
“You have to support Bennett,” said his fiancée, Sivan Sasson.” She turned to the Likud activists and said, “who should he support, Strong Israel, or Bennett?” “Bayit Yehudi,” they shot back.
“See? Even they agree with me,” she said.
When they emerged, she said, “He voted my way.”