Bennett offers Shaked the leadership of New Right — party officials
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Bennett offers Shaked the leadership of New Right — party officials

Right-wing party confirms popular former justice minister in talks with ex-Jewish Home chair on future role, declines to comment on specific offer

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett (left) and MK Ayelet Shaked before an event at party headquarters, May 10, 2015. (Flash90)
Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett (left) and MK Ayelet Shaked before an event at party headquarters, May 10, 2015. (Flash90)

New Right co-chairman Naftali Bennett has offered his longtime political partner Ayelet Shaked sole chairmanship of the struggling party to prevent the popular former justice minister from jumping ship in favor of a different party ahead of the September elections, party sources said on Thursday.

According to the offer, Bennett would step down as co-chair and give up his number one slot on the party list to Shaked, who would be named as the only party leader, two sources claiming knowledge of the negotiations told The Times of Israel.

A spokesperson for the party declined to comment on the specific offer but confirmed that Shaked and Bennett were engaged in ongoing discussions over their future roles in the party.

Last December, ahead of the elections in April, Bennett and Shaked left the Jewish Home party 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 April elections, but with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu having failed to cobble together a coalition before the May 30 deadline and initiating snap elections for September, the New Right has been given another opportunity to make it into the Knesset.

New Right co-leaders Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett address supporters at their campaign headquarters in Bnei Brak at the end of election day, April 9, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

The party sources said the two are currently in talks over which specific ministerial positions they would each be given preference for if the New Right, which was only some 1,500 votes short of entering the Knesset in April, were to fare better in September and join the coalition.

Bennett and Shaked were both fired last month by Netanyahu from their positions as education minister and justice minister, respectively, in a move widely seen as designed to prevent the once-popular right-wing politicians from using their positions to bolster their campaigns for the fall vote.

After he was fired, Bennett announced he would run in the September elections as the leader of the New Right. Shaked was noticeably absent from his press conference.

Shaked later confirmed that she was staying in politics and would run in the  September elections, but has not yet said whether she intended to continue with Bennett in the New Right or join another party.

A party source confirmed to The Times of Israel on Tuesday that Shaked had not officially resigned from her shared chairmanship of the New Right.

The talks between Bennett and Shaked come as the Union of Right-Wing Parties, made up of the Jewish Home party and other factions, has reportedly offered Shaked the No. 2 spot on its slate if she joins without Bennett.

Ayelet Shaked and Bezalel Smotrich (L) attend a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting in the Israeli parliament on July 9, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The URWP’s leaders, Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich, are seeking to separate the two former ministers — with Shaked seen as an electoral asset and Bennett viewed with distaste for quitting the leadership of Jewish Home to form the New Right alongside Shaked, according to Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel group’s Hebrew site.

Shaked was also rumored to mull joining the ruling Likud party, with several of its lawmakers saying she would be welcome. Netanyahu eventually decided against waiving the mandatory three-year qualification period before being able to run for a spot on the party’s Knesset slate. Reports said that was due to a veto from his wife, Sara Netanyahu, who is said to harbor a grudge against Shaked since she worked at Netanyahu’s office more than a decade ago.

Last month, a poll in the Makor Rishon paper found Shaked 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 National Union leader Betzalel Smotrich got 15.1%, current URWP leader Peretz received 14.8%, and far-right candidates Itamar Ben Gvir of Otzma Yehudit and Moshe Feiglin of the libertarian party Zehut had 2.6% and 1%, respectively.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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