Mutiny in Bayit Yehudi as candidates refuse to run with Otzma Yehudit

Otzma Yehudit is led by students of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was banned from running for the Knesset on grounds of racist incitement

Eli Yishai and Rabbi Meir Mazuz (Yahad) (photo credit: YAHAD)
Eli Yishai and Rabbi Meir Mazuz (Yahad)
(photo credit: YAHAD)

Top candidates for Bayit Yehudi have refused to run and threatened to quit if the extremist Otzma Yehudit runs on a merged list with their party, as negotiations between the parties broke down Tuesday, the night before the deadline to submit a list, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal intervention.

Bayit Yehudi director-general Nir Orbach and number three in the party, journalist Yifat Ehrlich, threatened to quit if they run with Otzma. MK Moti Yogev, number two in the party, has been campaigning against the merger. Bayit Yehudi is already running with National Union in one list.

Orbach shared a Facebook post in Bayit Yehudi WhatsApp groups in which Tirza Kalman, a member of the public committee who chose the party’s list, said: “I thought morality, logic, instinct and a minimal backbone would be enough. With the increasing calls and pressures I feel responsible to say: I will not take responsibility for bringing Otzma Yehudit into the Knesset... My political worldview cannot accept their ideology or their political behavior.”

When her threat became public, Ehrlich said she told Bayit Yehudi party leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz her opinion of a merger with Otzma, but that she would accept the party’s decision.

Otzma Yehudit is led by students of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was banned from running for the Knesset on grounds of racist incitement.

Also Tuesday, talks between Bayit Yehudi-National Union and Otzma broke down, with the former offering the latter fifth and eighth places on the list, while Otzma insisted on getting fourth and eighth places.

Bayit Yehudi leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz and National Union chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich continued to refuse to meet with Netanyahu to discuss the possibility of adding Otzma to the list. The bloc maintained that Netanyahu could add Otzma to Likud’s list, and that the prime minister is not really acting in their interest.

Netanyahu continued his efforts to convince the parties to run together in the next election to add seats to the right-wing bloc, offering former Shas leader Eli Yishai a cabinet post if he runs with Bayit Yehudi-National Union in the upcoming election.

Netanyahu and Yishai held a late-night meeting, and the latter’s spokesman confirmed on Tuesday that the prime minister offered Yishai a cabinet post.

The idea would be for Yishai to take a realistic spot on the Bayit Yehudi list, but to resign from the Knesset once he gets the ministry, so that someone else can take his place as an MK.

Yishai has yet to respond to the offer, and sought the advice of Rabbi Meir Mazuz, a leading Sephardi haredi rabbi, especially for those of Tunisian descent, on Tuesday afternoon.

“As I have done my whole life, I do not move one step without asking the advice of my rabbis,” Yishai said.

The former Shas leader is not a religious-Zionist, but Bayit Yehudi and National Union are thought to be more willing to accept him into their ranks than Otzma Yehudit.

A Likud spokesman said that Netanyahu is acting to unite the various parties “to save the right-wing bloc and prevent votes from being lost. Contrary to the spin, Likud will not attack this union in any way during the election; it will do the opposite.”

Meretz criticized Netanyahu for working to get Otzma into the Knesset, releasing a statement that “when the Right was ideological and not crazy, [former prime minister and Likud leader] Yitzhak Shamir would leave the Knesset when Kahane representatives would speak. Today, Netanyahu is doing the opposite by working with all his might to bring the Kahanist list into the Knesset.”