In a scathing indictment of the party he once led, New Right chairman Naftali Bennett said Wednesday that he had no intention of returning to the Jewish Home, claiming its intolerance was not representative of the national religious community that it purports to represent.
Bennett was responding to remarks made earlier in the day by MK Moti Yogev of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, the current iteration of Jewish Home, who told Radio Galey Israel that his party would not welcome back someone who “betrayed” them.
Last December, ahead of the elections in April, Bennett and Ayelet Shaked left the Jewish Home in order to form the New Right, which campaigned to the right of Likud on security issues, while representing what it referred to as a “secular-religious partnership.”
The fledgling party narrowly failed to cross the electoral threshold in the elections, but with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu having failed to cobble together a coalition before the May 30 deadline and initiating snap elections in September, the New Right has been given another opportunity to make it into the Knesset. The party has announced that it will compete again, but will seek to form alliances with other factions in order to broaden its appeal. As part of this effort, it has entered into talks with URWP — an amalgam of the Jewish Home, National Union and Otzma Yehudit — over the possibility of a merger.
But as Yogev’s interview demonstrated, such a scenario is not welcomed by everyone in URWP.
“Bennett was not loyal to religious Zionism and its people,” Yogev said, going on to accuse the ex-Jewish Home leader of abandoning the party with debts of millions of shekels — a move he controversially characterized in February as “rape.”
In response to the criticism, Bennett penned a lengthy Facebook post in which he explained why he had no interest in returning to the party he once led.
He claimed he left “because you [Yogev] and others in the faction and outside of it have kidnapped the Jewish Home party to take it on a path that is far from what I and many others — including those within the party — believe in.”
“You have turned the Jewish Home into a place that really does not feel like a home, and it is very far from the values of the religious Zionist public, as well as the secular Zionist public,” Bennett wrote.
He then went on to point out a series of examples that he suggested were proof of the party having lost its way.
“We believe in the recruitment of religious girls to the IDF (as well as to the wonderful national service), but in today’s Jewish House they boycott [those girls],” Bennett said, referring to URWP head Rafi Peretz’s refusal to accept an invitation last month to address a graduating class at the national religious flagship Lindenbaum seminary prior to its girls’ enlistment into the army.
“[He is] afraid to speak in front of these girls as if they were despicable or impure. I am proud of you, dear girls!” he wrote.
Bennett also attacked members of the party, including Yogev, for blocking the appointment of a national religious candidate for chief rabbi of Israel, and instead opting for a Haredi competitor, as well as for banishing a Tzohar Rabbinical Organization representative from a Jewish Home meeting.
Bennett repeated the argument he and Shaked used in announcing their departure from Jewish Home, saying that Netanyahu had come to feel that the national religious community was “in his pocket.” He also attacked Yogev for briefing reporters with negative information about him whenever Bennett sought to criticize Netanyahu. It was the same “weak attitude,” which shies away from criticizing Likud leaders, he claimed, that allowed the 2005 Gaza disengagement to occur.
“You and others for some reason decided to make it your mission day and night to attack those who are different from you,” Bennett charged. “As if the glory and the heart of religious Zionism is its war against the LGBT community.”
Last week, Yogev addressed a homophobic counter-rally across the street from the Jerusalem Pride Parade, which used as its slogan “Father plus mother equals family: The courage to be normal.”
Bennett called the current URWP representatives a “desecration of God’s name.”
“I have a feeling that we [in New Right] represent religious Zionism far better than you do,” he concluded.
In response to Bennett’s broadside, both Peretz and its No. 2, Bezalel Smotrich, issued statements urging all parties to avoid personal attacks and instead focus on the goal they all share: establishing a right-wing government.
Talks between the parties to the right of Likud have been ongoing and among the options presented in addition to a wholly unified list has been a “technical bloc” that would be assured of passing the electoral threshold but would break apart immediately after the elections.
On Friday, a poll in the Makor Rishon paper found Shaked, Bennett’s partner in the formation of the New Right, to be far and away the most popular candidate among national religious voters to lead a united right-wing party in the upcoming elections. The survey found that 40.1% wanted Shaked to lead the hypothetical list. Bennett came second at 19%, while Smotrich received 15.1%, Peretz 14.8%, and far-right candidates Itamar Ben Gvir of Otzma Yehudit and Moshe Feiglin of the libertarian party Zehut 2.6% and 1%, respectively.
Shaked announced Tuesday that she plans to run in September, but did not say whether she intends to continue with Bennett in the New Right or join another platform.