Bayit Yehudi ups offer to Tekuma to avoid religious-Zionist split

Polling data suggest united list would draw more seats; rebel MK Yoni Chetboun announces he’ll run with ex-Shas leader Eli Yishai.

 Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett
The future of the Bayit Yehudi-Tekuma alliance hung in the balance Monday, as Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett made a more generous offer than before to Tekuma leader Uri Ariel.
Bayit Yehudi proposed that Tekuma – the more rabbinically oriented party that ran on a joint list with the religious-Zionist Bayit Yehudi in the last election – receive four of the first 20 slots on a joint list. The fourth person would a candidate Bennett and Ariel chose together.
In addition, Ariel would be promised the list’s second ministerial slot, if it is in the next coalition.
As of press time, Tekuma had not responded to the proposal, which would give the party one more potential MK than previously offered, but Ariel and Bennett are expected to meet Tuesday.
Both parties say they favor a united list, but Tekuma has been playing hardball on ideological issues. A letter from Tekuma director-general Ofir Sofer to his Bayit Yehudi counterpart, Nir Orbach, this week lamented the media focus on saving slots on the list. Sofer wrote that ideological differences will take longer to work out, including Tekuma’s call for a rabbinical advisory board for the joint list, which Bennett rejected.
Though Tekuma can no longer threaten Bayit Yehudi financially by splintering the religious-Zionist vote, as it missed last Thursday night’s deadline for MKs splitting from a party to take campaign funding with them, past polling data show that a division in the religious-Zionist vote hurts the parties.
Past elections and polling data show that religious-Zionist parties do significantly better when they are united. In the 17th Knesset the parties’ forerunners – the National Religious Party and National Union – ran together and received nine seats.
In the 18th Knesset the parties ran separately – with Tekuma as part of the National Union – and received a combined seven seats. In the 19th, the parties united and received 12 seats, though the novelty of Bennett’s leadership and a list of mostly new faces could also be credited for the uptick in seats.
Polling data ahead of the 19th Knesset, from before the parties announced they would run together, gave them significantly fewer seats than when they united.
On Sunday night, MK Yoni Chetboun (Bayit Yehudi) announced that he wouldn’t run with either party and threw his lot in with former Shas leader Eli Yishai’s new faction.
“We are bringing unity between haredi, religious and traditional people, concern for the weaker sectors and strengthening Jewish tradition.
That is what the nation is desperate for,” he said.
Chetboun sparked his fellow Bayit Yehudi MKs’ ire earlier this year when he was the only member of the faction to vote against a haredi enlistment bill.
Bayit Yehudi English Forum chairman Jeremy Saltan called for Chetboun to give up his seat in the Knesset, but party officials said Bennett is not demanding he do so.
Chetboun’s spokesman said that in splitting from Bayit Yehudi, the MK intentionally waited until after he could take campaign funding with him, because he does not seek to harm the party that brought him into the Knesset.
While one MK departed, several well-known right-wing figures, religious and secular, announced they are running in the party’s January 14 primary.
One is Ronen Shoval, former chairman of campus Zionist education NGO Im Tirzu, who met with Bennett Monday.
“Ronen was the founder, initiator and chairman of Im Tirzu, which absorbed a lot of hits from the media and made a historic change in the way the public saw the New Israel Fund and more…. You did very important work there. Ronen is a great, courageous Zionist, and I want to see him with us in the next Knesset,” Bennett said.
Bayit Yehudi opened its online membership drive Monday, which will continue until December 29.
Members who register on the party’s website will be able to vote in the upcoming primary.
The party will soon open a registration site in English, making Bayit Yehudi the only party allowing new members to sign up in English.