Smotrich hopes to head religious-Zionist bloc after big win over Ariel

Smotrich received 83 votes while Ariel had the support of 40 central committee members.

National Union leader MK Betzalel Smotrich (photo credit: HILLEL MEIR)
National Union leader MK Betzalel Smotrich
(photo credit: HILLEL MEIR)
MK Bezalel Smotrich won a resounding victory over Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel to become the new head of the far-right National Union party on Monday night.
Smotrich, known for his outspoken views opposing concessions to the Palestinians and for his effectiveness as a lawmaker, received 83 votes, while Ariel had the support of 40 central committee members.
The new National Union leader did not hide his aspiration to head a united bloc of religious-Zionist parties with Bayit Yehudi, which led a list with National Union in the last two Knessets and in 2006 and recently lost its leaders Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who left to form the New Right Party.
“I call on my friends in Bayit Yehudi: Let’s reconnect,” Smotrich said. “This is the time for unity. I hope that our friends in Bayit Yehudi will steady their ship quickly, build their list and reconnect [with the National Union].”
Smotrich also hopes – though he did not mention it in his victory speech – to unite with extremist party Otzma L’Yisrael, led by Hebron activist Baruch Marzel, a disciple of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was banned from running for the Knesset due to racist incitement.
“My friends,” Smotrich said, “we go from here to unite religious Zionism, to consolidate it and to bring it home.”
Smotrich said he is not happy about his victory, rather he feels the weight of the responsibility of his new role. To emphasize the point, he quoted from the “Hineni” prayer cantors read on Yom Kippur, in which they say they are not worthy to represent their congregations before God.
“Religious Zionism is the most influential movement in the State of Israel, and it will continue to be so, with full force,” he vowed.
Smotrich added that the party is open to “anyone who feels connected to the values of the Torah of Israel, the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.”
Ariel did not run for the National Union list other than for the leadership role, and will retire from politics following his loss.
The New Right released a statement congratulating Smotrich. Last week, a senior party source told The Jerusalem Post that internal polling showed Smotrich would net a united Bayit Yehudi-National Union an additional two to three seats. The source had also expressed hope that Smotrich would win, in order to make a clear differentiation between the two parties.
National Union also chose its list for the Knesset. Smotrich will be followed by the party’s director-general Ofir Sofer and former MK Orit Struck.