Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to a far-reaching agreement with Bayit Yehudi and National Union on Wednesday, in exchange for the latter adding representatives of Otzma Yehudit to their list.
Bayit Yehudi’s central committee approved the move on Wednesday night, although senior members of the party made their averseness to it known. Party leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz said, “We have different worldviews. I refused and refuse to unite with Otzma Yehudit. They are not part of our household, but I accept them as guests who want to enter our home for a short time.
“This is a technical agreement, and we will split up after the election,” Peretz added.
The sweetener Netanyahu offered to a reluctant Bayit Yehudi includes two cabinet seats for the list, as well as the 28th spot on the Likud’s list, to which Netanyahu is allowed to appoint someone. The Bayit Yehudi representative on the Likud list would move back to his or her party after the election.
In addition, they agreed to broaden the “Norwegian Law” from the current version, to allow more than one minister to quit the Knesset so there will be more active MKs, but the ministers could return to the legislature if they leave the government.
The sides also agreed not to attack each other during their election campaigns. In addition, they signed their surplus vote sharing agreement, a common practice before elections, in which the votes that they receive that do not add up to a whole seat will go to whichever party is closer to receiving an additional seat.
Netanyahu said: “The next election is between a left-wing government led by [Yesh Atid leader Yair] Lapid and [Israel Resilience Party leader] Benny Gantz or a right-wing government led by me.... Bayit Yehudi and National Union showed responsibility for the Land of Israel and united to ensure that right-wing votes are not lost.”
Peretz said the agreement makes Bayit Yehudi “a senior partner in leading the country and the next government,” and scoffed at “those lecturing us from the Left.”
“The central message is not to lose any votes,” National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich told Kan radio.
The parties plan to form a “technical bloc” whereby Bayit Yehudi and National Union will be a joint faction, as they have been for the past two Knessets, and Otzma will operate independently. Otzma will take the fifth and eighth places on the list, the first of which is realistic now that the three parties are running together.
The purpose of the bloc is so that Otzma’s votes, which are worth two to three Knesset seats but don’t reach the 3.25% electoral threshold, expand the right-wing bloc in the elections.
Otzma is led by students of Rabbi Meir Kahane, including former MK Michael Ben-Ari; Hebron activist Baruch Marzel; Benzi Gopstein, who leads an organization opposing Jewish-Muslim marriages; and far-right activist attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir. Kahane was elected to the Knesset in the 1980s and subsequently banned on grounds of racist incitement; Marzel was his parliamentary aide.
Ben-Gvir said that Otzma’s representatives are “putting our personal honor aside.... We took the right step for the people of Israel and the Land of Israel.”
Smotrich explained the hesitation to – after weeks of negotiations – add Otzma Yehudit to the Bayit Yehudi-National Union list, saying “religious Zionism is not Rabbi Kahane,” in reference to Otzma’s extremism.
Yifat Ehrlich, who is seventh on the newly combined list, spoke out against the merger, saying most of Bayit Yehudi opposes it and the central committee will reject it.
“The New Right will drink our votes with a straw, because our base is not there,” Ehrlich told Kan.
Though earlier this week Netanyahu offered former Shas leader Eli Yishai a cabinet post if he runs with Bayit Yehudi and National Union, that deal seems to no longer be on the table, in light of opposition from current Shas leader Arye Deri.