Relative newcomer Naftali Bennett defeated veteran MK Zevulun Orlev in a primary election for leadership of the right-wing and religious Jewish Home party on Tuesday, winning an estimated 70 percent of the votes.
As the results became clear, the outgoing party chairman called Bennett late Tuesday night to congratulate him on his victory. Orlev also announced his retirement from political life.
“I accept the results of the democratic process,” Orlev said. “All my life, I have accepted [positive] results, and now I must serve as an example of how a leader accepts results when they don’t go his way.”
Other senior members of the party were quick to follow suit and congratulate Bennett on his victory.
The party has three seats in the outgoing Knesset.
The race for the leadership was a fight over the future of the Jewish Home, formerly known as the National Religious Party. Orlev and Bennett represented a contest between the old and the new. A third candidate, Yehuda Cohen, did not pose a serious challenge to the other two.
Zevulun Orlev (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Orlev, a 67-year-old who headed the party in the past, was regarded by many as the face of the party as it has been known for decades. Bennett, a 40-year-old hi-tech entrepreneur who headed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office when he was opposition leader in the 1990s, was widely regarded as a newcomer who could shake things up.
Naftali Bennett (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
Both sides were confident of victory as they cast their votes in their respective hometowns of Jerusalem and Ra’anana. Orlev said he trusted the party’s traditional voters and asserted that his experience was needed. Bennett, for his part, expressed certainty that the thousands of young newcomers to the party were there because they wanted to see new leaders bring the Jewish Home back “where it belonged,” with more seats and leverage in the next Knesset.
In the first decades of the state the party, as the NRP, had as many as 12 seats in the Knesset. It had nine MKs in the 1996 elections, and dropped to an all-time low of three in the current Knesset.
A week after the 54,000 party members choose their new chairperson, they are scheduled to head to the polls once again to select the party list for the January 2013 national elections.