The right-wing and religious Jewish Home party opened its polls on Tuesday afternoon for thousands of party members to choose who would lead the party in the upcoming national elections.
The race for the leadership is also a fight over the future of the Jewish Home, formerly known as the National Religious Party. The two leading candidates, MK Zevulun Orlev and Naftali Bennett, represent a contest between the old and the new. A third candidate, Yehuda Cohen, was not expected to pose a serious challenge to the other two.
Orlev, a 67-year-old who headed the party in the past, is regarded by many as the face of the party as it has been known for decades. Bennett, a 40-year-old who headed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office when he was opposition leader in the 1990s, is widely regarded as a newcomer who can shake things up.
Both sides seemed 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.