Could Kahana join Yisrael Beytenu? - analysis

Politically, Kahana is currently part of Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked's Yamina, but is widely expected to leave.

 RELIGIOUS SERVICES Minister Matan Kahana arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem earlier this month. He is resigning from the cabinet in order to return to the Knesset.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
RELIGIOUS SERVICES Minister Matan Kahana arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem earlier this month. He is resigning from the cabinet in order to return to the Knesset.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu were in “advanced talks” about Kahana joining the party, Channel 12’s Amnon Abramovitch reported on Wednesday.

Both sides denied the report.

At first glance, the idea seems bizarre. Yisrael Beytenu is a party that traditionally represented secular Israeli citizens from former USSR countries. One of its core demands is to separate religion and state and break the ultra-orthodox monopoly on issues such as conversion, marriage and divorce, burial and more.

Kahana is a religious-Zionist and wears a kippa. He is not of USSR descent and has said in the past that he is against the total separation of religion and state.

Despite the obvious differences, the idea actually makes sense.

 Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman (credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET) Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman (credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)

As Religious Affairs Minister, Kahana succeeded in pushing through a substantive reform that ended the Chief Rabbinate’s long-held monopoly over the kashrut supervision industry. He also succeeded in diversifying Israel's religious institutions by installing women on municipal religious councils, among other moves.

What can happen with Kahana?

While Kahana and Liberman don’t see eye-to-eye on the long-term strategy regarding religion and state, his actions brought more plurality and broader freedom of choice to religious services, which Yisrael Beytenu supports.

Politically, Kahana is currently part of Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s Yamina, but is widely expected to leave as he has ruled out sitting under opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in a narrow right-wing government, while Shaked has not.

Kahana is most likely unwelcome in the new Blue and White-New Hope merger either. Defense Minister and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Justice Minister and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar want to retain the option of adding the haredi parties to their possible future coalition. Adding Kahana will make this more difficult.

Kahana is a moderate and will not consider joining the far-right Religious Zionism party. The only other right-wing party is Yisrael Beytenu.

From Liberman’s perspective, adding a moderate, religious, native Israeli figure to his list will add to its appeal. Kahana served in the IDF for over 20 years as a pilot and commando, and thus also brings with him a military background popular among Israeli voters.

While at first glance Yisrael Beytenu seems like a farfetched option for Kahana, the two sides may have an alignment of interests that could benefit both, and may not be a bad idea.

From Liberman's perspective, adding a moderate, religious, native Israeli figure to his list will add to its appeal. Kahana served in the IDF for over 20 years as a pilot and commando soldier and commander, and thus also brings with him a military-bent that is popular among Israeli voters.

While at first glance Yisrael Beytenu seems like a farfetched option for Kahana, the two sides may have an alignment of interests that could benefit both, and may not be a bad idea.