Otzma head: We'll get at least 5 Ben Gvirs into the Knesset

Netanyahu brokers deal for far-right’s Smotrich, Ben Gvir to join forces in election

After ex-PM hosts them at his Caesarea home, Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit chiefs announce agreement to reunite for November 1 vote, resolving disagreements over electoral slate

Far-right MKs Itamar Ben Gvir (L) and Bezalel Smotrich at the Damascus Gate outside Jerusalem's Old City on October 20, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Far-right MKs Itamar Ben Gvir (L) and Bezalel Smotrich at the Damascus Gate outside Jerusalem's Old City on October 20, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit announced Friday that they agreed to run together in the upcoming Knesset elections, after opposition chief Benjamin Netanyahu hosted a meeting with the leaders of the far-right parties to broker a merger agreement.

The two factions ran on a joint slate in last year’s elections but split in recent weeks over the makeup of the slate, with Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir seeking greater representation as recent polls showed him surging in popularity while Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism received mixed results.

A joint statement from Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism said they agreed on a “joint run for the 25th Knesset.” It also said the deal would help lead to a “victory” for the Netanyahu-led right-wing religious bloc.

“We’ll continue to act for additional link-ups,” Smotrich tweeted. “Together we’ll succeed.”

Ben Gvir praised the “equal list,” saying “we’ll get at least five Ben Gvirs into the Knesset.”

Netanyahu, who hosted the two at his home in Caesarea Friday afternoon, also hailed the agreement.

“Unity is presently needed to ensure the victory of the national camp and the formation of a stable, national government for the next four years,” he said.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu urges the far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit parties to reunite for the upcoming Knesset elections, in a video released on August 23, 2022. (Screen capture: Facebook)

Under the deal, Otzma Yehudit is set to get the second, fifth, seventh, ninth and 10th on the realistic spots on the joint list. The anti-LGBT Noam party will be offered the 11th spot, according to Hebrew media reports. Noam’s MK Avi Maoz entered the Knesset last year after securing a spot in a joint run with the other two parties.

The slate will be led by Smotrich, with the rest of the top five filled out by Ben Gvir, Religious Zionism MKs Ofir Sofer and Orit Strock, and Otzma Yehudit director-general Yitzhak Wasserlauf. Two more Religious Zionism MKs — Simcha Rothman and Michal Waldiger — are expected to get the sixth and eighth spots, respectively, while Otzma Yehudit’s Almog Cohen and Amichai Eliyahu will be seventh and ninth. The tenth spot will go to a yet-to-be-named member of Ben Gvir’s party.

A Channel 12 news report branded the deal “the Caesarea agreement.”

Netanyahu had been urging the far-right parties to join together again, warning that only by running together are both assured of entering the Knesset and preventing wasted votes. Both factions are expected to back his bid to regain the premiership, with the Likud leader likely needing every possible bit of support to reach a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

Polls published Wednesday showed Otzma Yehudit soaring to become one of the nation’s largest parties, even if the extremist firebrand resisted pressure to again merge Knesset slates with Religious Zionism.

Polls on all three major Israeli networks gave Otzma Yehudit between eight and nine seats were elections held today, a stunning result for Ben Gvir, whose hardline ideology was until recently considered well outside the mainstream of Israeli politics.

In a potential blow to Netanyahu’s chances of retaking power, one survey showed Religious Zionism falling below the threshold unless it merged with Ben Gvir, while another had it barely squeaking in.

Far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference in Ramat Gan ahead of the upcoming Knesset elections, August 15, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Overall, the surveys indicated that no presumptive camp would have enough support to break the political deadlock that will have sent Israelis to the polls five times in under four years when the November 1 election rolls around.

Israeli TV polls are often too small to accurately predict election results, with margins of error large enough to sway as many as five seats, but they can offer a general overview of public opinion and often influence jockeying between politicians.

Smotrich and Ben Gvir ran on a shared ticket in the 2021 elections, winning six seats, and their parties had been part of the Netanyahu-brokered Union of Right-Wing Parties that ran in the April 2019 vote. But negotiations to once again submit a joint electoral list in November’s election collapsed earlier this month, with Ben Gvir accusing Smotrich of negotiating in “bad faith” and refusing to make any concessions.

Aware of the possibly harmful outcome of them running separately, Netanyahu on Tuesday publicly urged the two parties to not “take the risk.”

In a video message posted on social media, Netanyahu pleaded with Smotrich and Ben Gvir to resurrect their alliance — echoing his previous efforts.

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