National-religious camp hopes to at least maintain strength despite division of party

The splintered national-religious camp sought to maintain its political strength in Tuesday's elections as a rightist bulwark to a Likud-led government despite its very public internal disputes and failure to unite into one party ahead of the race. Both the National Union Party and the recently formed Habayit Hayehudi, which has been advertising itself as "the new National Religious Party," were hoping to maintain the nine Knesset seats which the NRP and NU garnered in the 2006 elections when they ran on a joint list. "The whole land is orange," said National Union head Ya'acov Katz, during an 11th-hour campaign stop in Jerusalem Tuesday evening, referring to the color of the nationalist camp that opposed the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. He added that the hawkish party, which public opinion polls predicted would garner between four and six seats in the elections, was receiving support from among haredi voters as well, noting the endorsement of Rabbi Ya'acov Yosef, a son of Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. "We will be the surprise of the elections," Katz opined, predicting that party would win as many as eight to 10 mandates. Other party officials said that the National Union would be quite satisfied if they end up garnering six seats, its peak in pre-election polls. The party's "Anglo" candidate, American-born Uri Bank is No. 5 on the party list. Prof. Rabbi Daniel Hershkovitz, the head of the more moderate Habayit Hayehudi, which public opinion polls showed would garner two to four seats, has suggested that the party could join forces with the National Union after the elections. Both parties have said that they would support Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu for prime minister, and have been at pains to argue over the last 72 hours, amid public opinions polls showing that the race between Likud and Kadima was neck and neck, that a vote for them would not hurt Netanyahu's chances at victory. That concern was clearly apparent Tuesday among some national-religious voters at Jerusalem polling stations. "The truth is I would vote for National Union or Lieberman, but I think that Likud needs my support," said Hannah Cohen, 34, of Jerusalem, who said she was undecided until the last minute. A national-religious voter said that he was undecided even as he walked into the Jerusalem school where he was slated to vote. "I am thinking National Union, Habayit Hayehudi or Likud," Yaron Mizrahi, 25, said. "National Union is a bit too extreme, and Habayit Hayehudi is more my type of people, but the Likud is a possibility too, even though they are secular."