Ohana leaves Bayit Yehudi after three days of hostility

"I did not expect the public outcry that arose from my joining politics," Ohana says.

Naftali Bennett  and Eli Ohana. (photo credit: BAYIT YEHUDI SPOKESMAN)
Naftali Bennett and Eli Ohana.
Soccer legend Eli Ohana dropped out of the Bayit Yehudi list Thursday, after days of backlash from the party’s MKs and members.
“I did not expect the public outcry that arose from my joining politics, and I feel that, at this stage in my life, I am not prepared for this,” Ohana said.
Ohana, a former Betar Jerusalem star and coach of the National Under-19 Team, was set to be in the eighth place on the party’s list for the Knesset.
Past statements supporting the Gaza disengagement, from which Ohana distanced himself this week, drew hostility from the Bayit Yehudi base, and party members and MKs complained that Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett was ignoring the results of the primary to mold the list as he liked. Bayit Yehudi central committee members circulated a petition asking Bennett to remove Ohana from the list.
Outside the party, some accused Bennett of racism, saying that choosing Ohana, whose parents immigrated from Morocco, was a transparent attempt to attract Sephardi voters.
Ohana explained that he was very happy when Bennett asked him to join the list, and he wants to help the weaker sectors in society, but he feels that he was being attacked despite his good intentions.
“I do not want Minister Bennett or my family to be harmed because of me,” he explained.
Ohana thanked Bennett for trusting him and promised to contribute to society while continuing his work as a coach and commentator.
Bennett wrote on Facebook that he loves Ohana and learned important lessons from him.
“Three days ago, I announced that Eli Ohana is joining Bayit Yehudi. The idea was to connect large and new populations to our wonderful party. I knew I would get opposition from in and out of the party, because that is how it is when you want to change... Unfortunately the attack from everywhere was too much, even for a brave fighter like Eli,” he wrote.
Still, Bennett added, Ohana’s life story – he grew up in a Jerusalem refugee camp and began working at age 16 to support his family before becoming a soccer star – shows determination and national pride.
“In recent days, he prepared to be an MK and told me he was learning about the committees and economic issues…I am proud of Eli Ohana, and gained a great friend, while the Knesset lost a great representative of the people,” Bennett wrote.
Gaza evacuee MK Zvulun Kalfa of Tekuma, a party running on the Bayit Yehudi list, withdrew his candidacy Tuesday morning following the announcement of Ohana’s addition to the list and asked Tekuma leader Construction Minister Uri Ariel to put him back on the list on Thursday, when Ohana left.
However, Kalfa’s resignation had already taken effect by Thursday and the next person on the Tekuma list, Nachi Eyal, became 18th on the Bayit Yehudi list.
A Jerusalem Post/Panels poll found that half of Israelis felt Ohana’s addition weakened Bayit Yehudi and only 9 percent thought he strengthened the party. Of Bayit Yehudi voters, 39% thought Ohana weakened the party and 18% thought he strengthened it.
However, Bayit Yehudi has three Sephardic candidates in realistic spots: Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, and Ayelet Shaked, who is of mixed Sephardic and Ashkenazi descent.
Also Thursday, Danny Dayan, former chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, who ran in the Bayit Yehudi primary, turned down Bennett’s offer to be bumped up to the 17th slot, and asked for his name to be removed from the party list.
Dayan had asked to be pushed to a higher spot, but turned down an offer of the 17th spot after Ohana already left, saying it was a ploy to make sure Avichai Boaron, who represents a very religious group of Bayit Yehudi members and is currently in 17th place, does not get into the Knesset.
“I didn’t enter politics to keep away a candidate who someone thinks is an image problem. Giving me that spot was meant entirely to keep Avichai Boaron away. I have no interest in being part of a list that was formed with such considerations,” Dayan wrote on Facebook.