The far-right Otzma Yehudit party announced on Sunday that it had agreed to merge with Noam, a similarly ultra-nationalist, religious faction that has made combating LGBT acceptance the focus of its fledgling campaign.
The two parties announced the union less than an hour after Union of Right-Wing Parties chairman Rafi Peretz declared that he had agreed to give New Right leader Ayelet Shaked the top spot on a joint right-wing electoral ticket for the September 17 elections. URWP and New Right leaders were meeting Sunday evening to hammer out final details of their merger.
Otzma Yehudit, which ran in the April elections as part of the URWP, and the anti-LGBT Noam party said their merger “will bring victory to the right, prevent the establishment of a leftist government, and give [a political] home to hundreds of thousands of people who are loyal to the integrity of the Torah, the integrity of the people and the integrity of the land.”
The sides said their agreement to form a “technical bloc” would not go into effect for another 36 hours. Otzma Yehudit has continued to express interest in joining a united slate led by Shaked and a party official told The Times of Israel on Sunday night that he was hoping the former justice minister would take the next day and a half to seriously consider Otzma Yehudit’s demands for two slots in the top ten of a joint list. He said candidate Itamar Ben Gvir, in particular, deserves a “respectable spot” on the slate.
“I’d like to believe Ayelet understands how much we are worth, and if she puts forth an offer that demonstrates that understanding, we would be happy to consider it,” the Otzma Yehudit official said.
According to Channel 13 news, Shaked wants to include the far-right party in the right-wing union.
Ahead of the previous election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu orchestrated Otzma Yehudit’s merger with Rafi Peretz’s Jewish Home and Bezalel Smotrich’s National Union to form the URWP, promising the latter two ministerial posts in his government in exchange for taking in the slate of self-described disciples of the extremist rabbi Meir Kahane. The merger was credited to have saved thousands of far-right votes, which might have gone to waste had the parties run separately. Together, they managed to win five seats. However, Otzma Yehudit split off last month, claiming Peretz and Smotrich had not held up their end of the merger deal.
As for Noam, a spokesman for the party said that while it has been in talks with various right-wing factions, it would not run on a joint slate with Shaked or New Right No. 2 Naftali Bennett, who “don’t represent religious Zionism.”
Shaked herself is secular and a number of prominent national religious rabbis affiliated with Noam have ruled her candidacy out in recent weeks due to the fact that she is not religious.
Since bolting the Jewish Home with Shaked ahead of the last election to form the New Right, Bennett has taken on a sometimes combative tone against some of the more extreme elements in the national religious community. Before he handed the keys to the New Right over to Shaked last week, the party championed the notion of secular-religious partnership. Bennett claimed that the Hardal (an acronym for “national Haredi”) flank of the Jewish Home had prevented his previous attempts to promote such cooperation.
While Otzma Yehudit and URWP each have a base of that increasingly religious, increasingly nationalist subgroup, the Noam party was established earlier this month to appeal to Hardal Israelis who want a stronger emphasis on “traditional family values.”
Noam kicked off its campaign with a series of provocative highway billboards and video ads with the slogan “Israel chooses to be normal.” The party claims that the LGBT community has “forced its agenda” on the rest of Israeli society, which believes in a “normal” (heteronormative) family structure.
The extremist party enjoys the express backing of Rabbi Tzvi Tau, the founder of the Har Hamor yeshiva in Jerusalem. The 81-year-old has been a leading voice in the national religious community against LGBT acceptance. In 2017, he wrote that homosexuality is the “ugliest deviation, which breaks down family life… and contradicts the first basis of human existence.”
The party’s founders include the Hazon anti-LGBT group’s head, Dror Aryeh; Migron settlement rabbi Itai Halevi, high-tech businessman Ariel Shahar; and Kfar Adumim resident Yigal Canaan, who works in tourism.
While Otzma Yehudit’s members including Ben Gvir, anti-miscegenation activist Benzi Gopstein and Hebron community leader Baruch Marzel regularly protest the annual pride parade in Jerusalem and other cities, Noam leaders told the B’sheva religious Zionist weekly that the Kahane disciples had not made the LGBT issue central enough in their previous election campaign.
Earlier Sunday, Channel 13 reported that Netanyahu’s Likud party had asked Noam to work with it to prevent New Right and URWP from merging.
Netanyahu is reportedly concerned that a united bloc led by Shaked would take votes away from Likud.
Noam refused the offer, according to Channel 13, though Likud denied the report outright.
A number of opposition figures hit out at Netanyahu over the report.
“In other words, Likud is not only cooperating with the Kahanists,” tweeted Blue and White MK Yair Lapid, referring to the ruling party’s efforts to include the extremist Otzma Yehudit in the Union of Right-Wing Parties.
The left-wing Democratic Camp alliance also criticized Netanyahu over the report, saying “he is now cooperating with an extremist movement that promotes hatred of LGBT individuals.”