Why did so many religious-Zionist voters choose Bibi not Bennett?

Yamina gained seven seats in last September's election, but just six in Monday's ballot.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett tour Mount Avital in the Golan Heights (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett tour Mount Avital in the Golan Heights
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
The election this week which once again failed to produce a clear outcome, proved to be yet another blow to the consolidated political power of the religious-Zionist community as represented by its sectoral party.
Having slipped from eight seats in 2015 to six in the April 2019 election after Naftali Bennett’s New Right party failed to cross the electoral threshold, the united Yamina party gained seven seats in the September election, but just six in Monday’s ballot.
What has happened to the current incarnation of the religious-Zionist political party which in the past enjoyed much greater power than it does today, despite the fact that the population of the sector continues to grow in relation to the rest of the general public.
In truth, the current low-water-mark of six seats has a rather proximate cause: the all out war to eject Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office and the counter-offensive to keep him in power.
Both of the largest parties, Likud and Blue and White have been dramatically inflated by voters coalescing around these goals, and it has affected not only Yamina but also the left-wing Labor-Meretz-Gesher party too which crashed to just seven seats in this week’s election after a combined 11 in September when they ran separately.
For religious-Zionist voters, keeping Netanyahu in power means keeping the right-wing more broadly in power, and that is far more important than party or sectoral loyalty for many in the community.
Despite Blue and White’s unimpeachable security credentials and strong tilt rightwards in the last election, the party is seen, or has been painted, as leftist and religious-Zionist voters worry that the party would advance the two state solution and give up control over large parts of Judea and Samaria, and some of the settlements.
So even though Yamina campaigned furiously for immediate annexation of territories in the West Bank allocated to Israel under the Trump peace plan, religious-Zionist voters still flocked to Netanyahu’s cause to restore Likud as the biggest party in Israel and ward of Gantz’s “threat.”
But Yamina was also encumbered by deeper problems.
Bayit Yehudi and National Union, two of its constituent parties, went to war with each other before the election because of the competing claims of their respective leaders Education Minister Rafi Peretz and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich to head a joint list.
And Bayit Yehudi went to war with itself after fury amongst the party’s senior membership and activists with Peretz for refusing to allow a leadership primary and for pushing MK Moti Yogev out of a realistic spot on the Yamina list without permission from the central committee.
Some disgruntled Bayit Yehudi voters could well have voted for Likud in this weeks election, further depleting Yamina’s voter base.
Beyond the last 12-month cycle of elections, is the question as to whether significant sections of the religious-Zionist sector are outgrowing the idea of a sectoral party, and instead inclining towards supporting national parties, primarily the Likud.
In the September election some 35% of the religious-Zionist community voted for Likud or Blue and White, while both of those parties include numerous religious-Zionist MKs, as well as the Knesset speaker and two ministers.
Increasing numbers of the religious-Zionist community now worry about what is best for the right-wing in general, not just their own sectoral needs, and this is what led Bennett to establish the New Right party which was explicitly a non-sectoral, right-wing party including both religious and secular candidates.
Whenever the day comes that Netanyahu is no longer a player on the political stage, whichever iteration of a religious-Zionist party remains will likely receive a significant boost, as voters from the sector return when the mission of keeping Netanyahu in power is no longer necessary.
But in the long term, it may be that the notion of a sectoral religious-Zionist party increasingly loses its attraction.