Habayit Hayehudi membership drive comes to a close

Orlev touts importance of experience; Bennett personally calls new party members; Herschkowitz focuses on periphery, campaigns against Bennett.

Habayit Hayehudi English debate 370 (photo credit: Yehoshua Sigala)
Habayit Hayehudi English debate 370
(photo credit: Yehoshua Sigala)
After months of campaigning, the Habayit Hayehudi membership drive came to an end at midnight on Sunday, with each of the three leadership candidates certain he brought in enough new members to guarantee his victory.
MK Zevulun Orlev said he expects to register a total of 40,000 new members by the drive’s close, and is confident of his victory. On Thursday he revealed in a press conference that he had gathered nearly 30,000 paper and electronic forms from supporters.
“Members of the National Religious Party [Habayit Hayehudi’s forebearer] feel that they must defend their ideological home, and have expressed to me their opposition to turning the NRP into ‘Likud B,’ which is why so many of them joined,” Orlev stated.
The veteran MK and former minister said that Habayit Hayehudi members are sick of being presented with new, inexperienced leadership before every election, like former party leader Effie Eitam and current leader Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz.
“I don’t have anything personal against them, but there are no shortcuts in Israeli politics,” he added.
Orlev spent the last weekend of the membership drive in religious-Zionist stronghold Givat Shmuel, giving a sermon in one of the town’s synagogues.
However, Orlev’s office insisted that he only spoke about Torah, not the campaign.
Meanwhile, leadership candidate Naftali Bennett and his campaign’s volunteers spent Saturday night calling those who signed up through his website and trying to recruit new members.
According to Bennett’s office, over 1,000 new members signed up on Saturday night, and an additional 1,500 expressed interest. Bennett’s campaign filmed the effort, including a phone conversation in English with an immigrant from the US who registered for the party.
In addition, volunteers for Bennett visited synagogues during Saturday night’s traditional, pre-Rosh Hashana slihot prayers and registered more members there. Bennett chose the same location as Orlev – Givat Shmuel – to make a personal appearance and attempt to recruit potential voters.
“I remember seven years ago, after the destruction of Gush Katif, we found ourselves alone. We didn’t understand how the nation disengaged from us, how we disengaged from the nation,” Bennett said on Sunday. “We educated our children to give everything for Israel, sent them to the army, national service and continual contribution, and closed our eyes to what happened around us,” he continued.
“Today, we are a minor political force, and no one counts us, because we do not have the numbers in the political field.”
Bennett added that his campaign decided to start a revolution, help Habayit Hayehudi grow and open the eyes of religious-Zionists so they can be responsible for their own fate.
Herschkowitz’s campaign estimates that it gathered 21,000-22,000 membership forms in the past few months.
The science and technology minister registered 9,000 new members in Tel Aviv alone, particularly in southern Tel Aviv. Herschkowitz also focused on the large, traditional communities in periphery towns like Netivot and Ofakim.
On Saturday night, the Habayit Hayehudi leader began the final push before the end of the membership drive, giving a speech in his hometown of Haifa before slihot prayers Saturday night.
On Sunday, he laid a cornerstone marking the start of construction on religious youth movement Bnei Akiva’s new headquarters in Jerusalem.
“There is a surprising awakening amount of voters, and our numbers are higher than we expected, Herschkowitz told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “I meet with different communities every day, starting early in the morning until late at night, and I have a good feeling.”
Herschkowitz has also been overtly campaigning against Bennett, saying that “a vote for Bennett is a vote for Habayit Hayehudi to be in the opposition.”
According to the minister, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Office and Bennett himself have indicated that Bennett, a former adviser to Netanyahu, has burned bridges with the prime minister.
“If Bennett leads our party, we could end up in the opposition [and not the coalition], and that would make us worth nothing, meaningless,” Herschkowitz stated.
The party is scheduled to hold its primary election on November 6.