Bayit Yehudi in ‘existential crisis’ as Peretz pressured to allow primary

These demands have come from Bayit Yehudi deputy mayors, municipal council members and local party branch chiefs who have denounced what they describe as an assault on the party’s institutions.

Bayit Yehudi leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Bayit Yehudi leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Bayit Yehudi leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz is facing huge pressure to bring his agreement with far-right Otzma Yehudit to a vote in the party’s central committee and to hold primary elections for its electoral list, including for its leadership.
These demands have come from Bayit Yehudi deputy mayors, municipal council members and local party branch chiefs who have denounced what they describe as an assault on the party’s democratic institutions and character by Peretz following his hastily arranged unity agreement with Otzma.
Amiad Taub, deputy mayor of Modi’in for Bayit Yehudi and one of the leaders of the pushback against Peretz, said that the main demands are for primary elections to be conducted in the central committee and allow all-comers to submit their candidacy to run in those primaries, providing they commit to the values of Bayit Yehudi.
If Peretz refuses to meet these demands, Taub said there could be a mass desertion of party members from Bayit Yehudi, as well as a mass defection of its voters to other parties.
“You cannot sign an agreement with Otzma Yehudit without allowing primary elections in the central committee, without opening up candidacy for the electoral list, and without the approval of the central committee,” Taub told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday
Taub said that he believed the Bayit Yehudi central committee will now be convened and primaries held, and that an announcement as such would be forthcoming in the coming days.
He said that the far-right Otzma party is not at the ideological mainstream of the religious-Zionist community and does not hold the same values that Bayit Yehudi “has always sought” to advance.
“Before you open up the party to the entire spectrum of the religious-Zionist community, the liberals, the moderates, the conservatives, as well as the secular and traditional, you do a deal with Otzma? I think this is the liquidation of political religious-Zionism,” said Taub.
He said that the anger in the party was due largely to Peretz’s attempt to bypass the party’s democratic institutions and character in order to preserve his leadership of Bayit Yehudi without allowing the voting public to have its say.
“THE RELIGIOUS-ZIONIST public will not support these kind of processes which are totally political and designed for [political] survival,” Taub said. continued, in reference to Peretz’s relative lack of support within the religious-Zionist community.
“I believe that either there will be [primary] elections [in the central committee] or there won’t be a party,” said Taub.
“Party members won’t remain in the party and people won’t vote for it either. There is no other path in a democratic party other than a democratic path.”
He said that he believed Bayit Yehudi to be in “an existential crisis,” noting the poor polling numbers for the party, and said the only way out was to involve the religious-Zionist voting public in the critical decisions the party needs to make.
Before Friday’s deal was announced, it was thought that Bayit Yehudi would first form a unity deal with its more natural religious-Zionist partner National Union, and then go on to unite with Otzma.
National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich had been urging a joint, open primary with Bayit Yehudi for a unified party electoral list and its leadership, and was widely seen as likely to win that contest.
Peretz’s deal with Otzma, which gave the far-right party the 3rd, sixth, ninth, and twelfth position on a joint list, generated much anger in Bayit Yehudi whose senior officials believes Peretz has sought to preserve his leadership of the party without consulting the membership.
Peretz was never elected in primaries to the leadership, but rather was appointed by a party committee and approved by the central committee in February 2019, after former leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked quit in December 2018.
After the third round of elections was initiated earlier this month, pressure has grown in Bayit Yehudi to allow primaries for the leadership and electoral list in order to regain the faith of the religious-Zionist public which constitutes the party’s electorate.
Peretz has rejected these calls saying there is not enough time ahead of the January 15 deadline for submitting electoral lists to the Central Elections Committee.
Before the April election, Bayit Yehudi’s central committee voted overwhelmingly to add Otzma to the political union that had already been formed with National Union.
Several central committee members told the Post on Sunday that the anger with Peretz was not primarily regarding the union with the far-right party, but due to his circumvention of democratic norms in Bayit Yehudi, seen as an effort to preserve his own leadership position, regardless of the cost to the party.
On Saturday night, Peretz responded to the widespread criticism, stating that before the September election he had stepped aside as head of the joint Yamina list in favor of Ayelet Shaked, and had always put the good of the religious-Zionist community before anything else.
He said that the deal with Otzma was designed in the same vein, to maximize the community’s electoral power given the “short time frame” available.