Far-right minister slams ‘peacock’ extremist party leader for election fail
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Far-right minister slams ‘peacock’ extremist party leader for election fail

Bezalel Smotrich says Otzma Yehudit chief Itamar Ben Gvir should ‘not show his face in public’ after costing right-wing bloc ‘tens of thousands’ of votes

Yamina party member and Transportation Minister  Bezalel Smotrich speaks at the Yamina party headquarters on election night in Ramat Gan, on September 17, 2019. (Flash90)
Yamina party member and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks at the Yamina party headquarters on election night in Ramat Gan, on September 17, 2019. (Flash90)

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Wednesday scorned the leader of an extremist right-wing party that failed to clear the Knesset threshold in elections, accusing him of wasting tens of thousands of votes that would otherwise have helped prop up right-wing parties in the Knesset.

The far-right Smotrich, a member of the Yamina national religious alliance, said Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir was running around “like a puffed-up peacock” and blaming everyone but himself.

“Zero acceptance of responsibility, zero introspection, zero concern for the results,” Smotrich posted on Twitter.

With 90 percent of the votes counted, Otzma Yehudit was shown to have won 2% of the vote, roughly 75,000 ballots, but far short of the 3.25% minimum threshold for entry to the Knesset, a significant blow to the bloc of right-wing parties, which has fallen short of a majority in parliament.

“At least this morning the truth is stronger than he is,” Smotrich wrote. “Ben Gvir again burned the right… tens of thousands of votes! In contrast to all his false claims, he didn’t even get close to the threshold.”

Itamar Ben Gvir, center, head of the Otzma Yehudit party speaks to the media at the party headquarters on elections night in Jerusalem, on September 17, 2019. (Flash90)

Referring to an earlier April election, which did not result in a majority coalition, leading to Tuesday’s do-over vote, Smotrich said that “last time around he brought the [right] alliance at most 30,000 votes, and this time with a deceiving campaign he pulled tens of thousands more innocent votes [from people] who believed his lies.”

“In a perfect world the man would be too embarrassed to show his face in public,” Smotrich wrote.

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s vote, the far-right party campaigned on the notion that its ability to cross the electoral threshold would decide whether or not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be able to form a right-wing government. Without Otzma Yehudit, Ben Gvir argued, the seats garnered by Likud, the national religious Yamina and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties would not add up to the 61 needed to form a right-wing coalition.

For their part, Likud and Yamina asserted that Otzma Yehudit was never going to cross the threshold and that its candidacy was simply taking votes from the other right-wing parties.

Ben Gvir in a Facebook post Wednesday wrote, “I am disappointed, sad, hurting, and in pain. I believed victory was possible, but there were those who did everything so that we wouldn’t win.

“My understanding this morning is that Netanyahu doesn’t want us in the leadership alongside him because he doesn’t really want to make a change here — not to security, not to the justice system and not in the economy,” Ben Gvir wrote, while also blaming Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett and the media. “My understanding is that Smortich doesn’t want next to him an entity that will put in a bad light the fact that he is willing to make far-reaching compromises to sit in the cabinet.”

Yamina party chairwoman Ayelet Shaked, right, with party members Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, center, and Education Minister Rafi Peretz at the Yamina party headquarters on election night in Ramat Gan, September 17, 2019. Photo by Flash90

On Tuesday night, at his campaign headquarters, Ben Gvir similarly lashed out at those he claimed had foiled his Knesset run.

“They say he [Netanyahu] is a political genius, but these results show that he’s nothing of the sort,” Ben Gvir sneered. He also blasted “arrogant” Yamina leaders Shaked, Bennett and even the more hard-line Smotrich, whose views he largely shares.

Near-final results Wednesday showed Netanyahu’s Likud party won 31 seats, edged out by MK Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party with 32. Yamina won seven seats.

The results give the center-left bloc, along with the Arab alliance Joint List’s 13 seats, a total of 56 seats, still short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in 120-seat Knesset. A right-wing bloc including the ultra-Orthodox parties could muster 55.

The remaining nine seats — and the balance of power — are held by hawkish MK Avigdor Liberman and his secular Yisrael Beytenu party. Liberman has vowed to see the establishment of a broad, secular national unity government comprising his party, Likud, and Blue and White.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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