Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett is expected to ask party members to approve fundamental changes to its constitution at the party conference next Wednesday, which, critics say, will diminish its national religious character in a bid to draw support from secular voters.
According to party sources, the changes aim to address the possibility that Jewish Home will be the faction that forms the next government, Haaretz reported on Thursday.
Recent surveys have shown Bennett, who is minister of the economy, riding on a wave of popularity after the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip during which he called for decisive military action against Hamas rather than a more tempered approach seeking a long-term ceasefire.
However, some within the party are appalled at the proposed changes that, they say, will trade the national religious character in the hope of more seats in parliament.
“Bennett wants to change the Jewish Home into a Likud B, and to attract to himself secular right-wing voters,” said party MK Yoni Chetboun earlier this week, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party that formed the government.” We don’t need to be a right-wing secular party, even it that means that tomorrow we don’t wake up with 30 seats.”
Chetboun believes that maintaining the traditional values of the national religious movement will be more attractive.
“If we continue to stick to the attitude that we have responsibility for the religious and Zionist identity of Israel, then the voters will come to us,” he said.
Other party sources said that the new plan will abandon some of the central tenets of the faction’s ideology including its commitment to national religious education, the Bnei Akiva youth movement and socialist ideals that are to be replaced, instead, with calls for a free economy. The party would also no longer require members to be religious, or at least adhere to a traditional Jewish lifestyle, the report claimed.
Chetboun added that he will push for a secret ballot on the new constitution that, he believes, would shoot down the plan, rather than a public vote that is more likely to go Bennett’s way.
In the run-up to the January 2013 elections, the then national religious party, Mafdal, had just three Knesset seats and forecasters predicted that it would not even make it past the vote threshold to sit in parliament at all. Bennett relaunched the party under the title Jewish Home and led the faction to 12 seats and a central role in the government.