Netanyahu calls on Otzma to drop out, Otzma refuses

Bayit Yehudi in chaos, with efforts afoot to oust leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed the International Criminal Court’s investigation. (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed the International Criminal Court’s investigation.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the far Right Otzma Yehudit Party to drop out of the election on Thursday after it was excluded from the right wing, religious political union that was formed at the last moment on Wednesday night.
A Likud spokesman issued a statement to the press on Thursday in the name of sources “around the prime minister,” saying that “the prime minister expects [Otzma leader Itamar] Ben-Gvir [to] drop out of the race in order to guarantee the [continued] rule of the right wing,” and to “prevent the uprooting of settlements.”
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, also of the Likud, issued her own call for Otzma to drop out, and said that failure to do so would allow the establishment of a minority government with the support of the Arab parties.
Netanyahu worked tirelessly to have Otzma included in Yamina over the last week, and indeed in the April and September elections, but now that the Kahanist outfit finds itself alone, the prime minister is seeking to persuade Ben-Gvir to withdraw its candidacy altogether.
In the September elections, Otzma also ran alone and garnered 84,000 votes, worth roughly two Knesset seats but well below the electoral threshold of 3.25% of the vote, and its votes were therefore lost to the right wing.
Otzma rejected the entreaties of Netanyahu and Regev, saying that the prime minister himself could have resigned after the last election to allow the establishment of a new government but wouldn’t do so, and shouldn’t ask the same of Otzma.
“If the prime minister would have resigned his position, then we would have had a government. He should not preach to Ben-Gvir to do what he himself is not willing to do, and with good reason,” said Otzma in response.
The party statement, likely written by Ben-Gvir, also called on Netanyahu not to attack Otzma during the campaign, and to let right-wing voters decide what they want.
The sources “close to Netanyahu” mentioned earlier, who in all likelihood was Netanyahu himself, also issued a fierce broadside against Bennett, saying that his refusal to allow Otzma into Yamina endangered the continuation of a right wing controlled government.
Wednesday night’s last-gasp deal between Bennett’s New Right, Bezalel Smotrich’s National Union and Rabbi Rafi Peretz’s Bayit Yehudi brought together all three mainstream right wing, religious parties under the banner of the Yamina party, which secured seven seats in the September election.
In another surprise move, Bennett announced on Thursday that the united list would not go its separate ways after the election as it did after the September poll, but would stay together after the elections too.
This step appears designed to calm the political storm raging within the religious-Zionist political camp, reduce the tensions, stop the infighting and give at least an outward impression of unity, so as to conduct an effective campaign and reassure the voter base that Yamina is a viable political unit.
Bennett has the top spot on the Yamina list and will likely take the most senior ministerial portfolio, although the issue of ministerial jobs has yet to be agreed upon.
Peretz has second place, New Right co-founder Ayelet Shaked is in the third spot and Smotrich is number four.
Following them is Matan Kahana of New Right, Ofir Sofer of National Union, Idit Silman who switched from Bayit Yehudi to New Right at the last moment, and Sarah Beck, who is technically a representative of the Achi party but in practice is Bayit Yehudi’s candidate.
The number two on the Bayit Yehudi list was MK Moti Yogev, but due to the terrible relations between him and Peretz, the Bayit Yehudi leader sought to oust Yogev from the Knesset.
Peretz could not do this through the mechanism of the Bayit Yehudi party because its central committee strongly supports Yogev and is furious with Peretz for refusing to allow primary elections for the party leadership and electoral list.
Yogev, who won the primary for the Bayit Yehud electoral list in February last year, reacted with fury to being forced far down the electoral list and announced he would not be running on the joint list as a result.
He also denounced Peretz for his management of the party and his refusal to allow primaries.
“Party head Rafi Peretz has displayed throughout his political journey a lack of honesty, a lack of leadership, and has acted against the will of the public in whose name he was elected; he is not fitting to be a representative of the public,” fumed Yogev late Wednesday night.
Bayit Yehudi central committee members will meet on Tuesday and will seek to oust Peretz due to his actions, although it is unclear if there is any realistic way of deposing him.
According to one central committee member, if it secures the signatures of 25% of the central committee, the committee can be convened and then vote to have primaries for the leadership of the party.
According to the central committee member, there is a high likelihood this will occur and Peretz will be ejected from the leadership due to the fury directed at him from within the party.