Ahead of Yamina split, Smotrich calls for religious slates to stick together

Ahead of Yamina split, Smotrich calls for religious slates to stick together

With New Right branching off, National Union head urges permanent alliance with Jewish Home, but latter party says it first has internal matters to deal with

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Bezalel Smotrich adresses a National Union faction event on October 6, 2019. (National Union)
Bezalel Smotrich adresses a National Union faction event on October 6, 2019. (National Union)

MK Bezalel Smotrich on Sunday called on fellow lawmaker Rafi Peretz to meet immediately in order to merge their two nationalist religious factions as Yamina, their alliance with the New Right, is slated to splinter later this week.

The Knesset Arrangements Committee had been scheduled to convene on Sunday in order to approve the Yamina breakup, but the meeting was cancelled after the  alliance of right-wing parties failed to provide a representative who would explain the move to the panel. While some in the party told the national religious Srugim news site that the delay was merely technical, others said it had to do with internal disagreements over whether the breakup is at all necessary.

Yamina had announced it would break into factions minutes after exit polls for the September elections showed the party comfortably sliding into the Knesset. Later, Yamina leader Ayelet Shaked of New Right indicated that she didn’t support dissolving her slate, citing “what’s right” for the country, but said it was important to uphold campaign promises.

A new date for the Arrangements Committee meeting has yet to be scheduled. If the breakup is approved, as widely expected, Yamina would break off into New Right, which would be headed by Naftali Bennett, Peretz’s Jewish Home and Smotrich’s National Union.

Union of Right-Wing Parties chairman Rafi Peretz (R) and National Union faction chair Bezalel Smotrich at the party’s 2019 election campaign launch, March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Speaking at a National Union new year’s toast, Smotrich said: “I do not see justification for the existence of two parties. An immediate merger between the National Union and the Jewish Home must be made.”

Smotrich acknowledged the existence of differences of opinion between his more hardline party and the Jewish Home, but said the gaps were bridgeable.

He called on Peretz to meet with him in the coming days in order to reach an agreement.

Responding to Smotrich’s comments, a Jewish Home official told the Walla news site that his party was first concerned with sorting out its internal issues after a lackluster electoral performance (Yamina received just 7 seats), and only afterward would it be prepared to negotiate with the National Union.

New Right, National Union and Jewish Home came together ahead of the election to run on a joint slate as Yamina to ensure they all clear the 3.25% electoral threshold.

Shaked and Bennett split from the Jewish Home in December 2018 to form the New Right in a bid to appeal to less religious nationalist voters. The two had hoped to pull votes away from both Likud and the Union of Right-Wing Parties – a faction comprising of the Jewish Home, the National Union and the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party – but the maneuver failed and New Right did not pass the 3.25% electoral threshold in the April 9 elections.

Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett (L) at a press conference in Ramat Gan announcing Shaked as the new leader of the New Right party, July 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Ahead of September’s vote, the New Right joined forces with Jewish Home and the National Union to form the Yamina alliance. In an attempt to broaden voter appeal, it named Shaked – a controversial but very popular politician – as its leader.

However, a review of the New Right’s party bylaws by The Times of Israel partner site Zman Yisrael last month revealed that Bennett remains the New Right’s chairman, despite Shaked being publicly presented as its leader throughout the campaign and being placed at No. 1 on Yamina’s Knesset slate.

The reason for the ambiguity appeared to be part of the party’s effort to maintain Shaked’s status as head of Yamina during the election campaign and defer any discussion on the faction’s political future.

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