Netanyahu seeking solutions after Bayit Yehudi split threatens majority

Netanyahu also accused Bennett of Shaked, the former leaders of the most right-wing party in the Knesset, of being left-wing.

Naftali Bennett (L) and Benjamin Netanyahu (R) in Knesset, November 19, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Naftali Bennett (L) and Benjamin Netanyahu (R) in Knesset, November 19, 2018
The Right is in danger of splintering into tiny parties that won’t pass the 3.25% electoral threshold, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in a press conference in Rio de Janeiro on Monday.
In light of Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked breaking off from the Bayit Yehudi to form Hayamin Hehadash (the New Right), Netanyahu said: “This new part endangers many parties that they won’t pass the electoral threshold.
“I am going to check, and do what I can to prevent this,” he said, adding further criticism of Bennett and Shaked. “I will act responsibly so that the right-wing bloc retains its strength and I will not act irresponsibly and take actions that endanger the Right.”
An attempt by the Likud to lower the electoral threshold already failed this week, but Hadashot News reported that Netanyahu has had polls taken to see how the Right would fare if his party united with Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu. A Netanyahu spokesman did not confirm or deny the report, and Yisrael Beytenu said the party plans to run alone.
In his press conference, Netanyahu also accused Bennett and Shaked, the former leaders of the most right-wing party in the Knesset, of being left-wing: “I’m surprised that the first thing they did was to attack me, and I ask myself: Why?”
“They could easily move seats from the Right to the Left. They were already in a ‘brotherhood’ with the Left, with [Yesh Atid leader] Yair Lapid,” he said, referring to a short period in 2013.
The prime minister called on anyone who wants “a certain right-wing party, a sure vote” to choose the Likud, and said he will form his next government based on the coalition he has had for the past four years.
Still, when asked if he will bring Hayemin Hehadash into his coalition, Netanyahu said he will partner with anyone who meets the baseline of right-wing positions.
Netanyahu also addressed comments made by Shaked at a conference hosted by the Calcalist economic newspaper that day, in which she argued that after the election, “I estimate it will be the prime minister’s last term, because he is not young and there are investigations. We don’t know what will happen with the investigations.”
The prime minister remarked that throughout his political career people said it was his last term.
“We are successfully leading the country,” Netanyahu said of his government. “Politicians don’t decide if I’m worthy of leading; the citizens do. Let them decide.”
Hayamin Hehadash’s spokesman said the party won’t be dragged into responding to the prime minister’s attacks on them and suggested that Netanyahu join them in bringing centrist voters to the Right.
Bennett and Shaked said in a joint statement: “Instead of going to fake right-wing parties and getting the Left in camouflage, come and join us, a true Right that will unwaveringly for the interests of the people of Israel and the State of Israel. It began in the polls yesterday and will continue until election day. Those on the right who went to [centrist parties led by Benny] Gantz, Lapid and Orly Levy are returning home.”
Bennett expanded upon this theme in an open letter to the religious Zionist community on Facebook. He argued that, according to polling, his move can bring eight to 10 more seats to the Right. Bayit Yehudi without him and Shaked will be able to attract people who voted for far-right parties that did not pass the electoral threshold, he wrote, and Hayamin Hehadash will be able to bring voters into the right-wing bloc who were planning to vote for centrist parties, which he called “left-wing parties masquerading as right-wing.”
In Sunday night’s polls, taken out by five different media outlets, several right-wing parties’ seats were just above the 3.25% electoral threshold, which in most cases would mean a minimum of four seats. Shas, Yisrael Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi all had low polling numbers, and in one poll, the latter two came out below the threshold. In at least one poll, the Right did not have a majority in the Knesset, and in others, its majority was narrower than the 66 mandates it had in the 20th Knesset.
Bayit Yehudi MK Moti Yogev, who is running for party leader after the departure of Bennett and Shaked, tried to leverage the situation by asking Netanyahu’s office if the ministers could be fired from the cabinet, but was rebuffed. Yogev’s spokesman explained that if they had split the party before an election was called, they probably would not have retained their portfolios, because the coalition agreement was made with Bayit Yehudi, and not with Bennett and Shaked personally.
Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, who is also running for Bayit Yehudi leader, called Yogev’s actions “irresponsible and not representative of the party. We are not busy with revenge… We need to focus on uniting religious Zionism, and not on Shaked and Bennett.”
Yogev wrote on Twitter: “Unfortunately, there are some in Bayit Yehudi who don’t understand that the age of Bennett in the party is over.”
Meanwhile, MK Nissan Slomiansky accused MK Bezalel Smotrich, who would also like to lead Bayit Yehudi, of being in cahoots with Bennett. Because Smotrich is seen as extreme, it would benefit Hayamin Hehadash if Smotrich heads Bayit Yehudi, Slomiansky argued in a closed meeting with activists.
Smotrich did, in fact, know about the split before other MKs in the faction, but he argued against it in a meeting with Shaked and Bennett, leading Religious Zionist Rabbi Haim Druckman, and others on Thursday, Hadashot News reported.
Another candidate who may join the race to lead the Bayit Yehudi after the ministers’ split is Avihai Boaron, leader of the protests against the demolition of the Amona outpost. He also used to be the publisher of Ma’ayanei Hayeshua, a religious newsletter distributed in synagogues, which censored images of women.
Boaron ran in the Bayit Yehudi primary in 2015, but did not get into the Knesset, and quit the party after Amona was razed. He told the Religious Zionist news site Srugim that he is considering running to lead the party.