Far-right Otzma Yehudit accuses Jewish Home of not honoring election pact

Faction wants URWP leader Rafi Peretz, now appointed a minister, to give up his Knesset seat so that Itamar Ben Gvir can take his spot and become an MK

Union of Right Wing Parties candidates (from L-R) Rafi Peretz, Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich pose for a photo on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy)
Union of Right Wing Parties candidates (from L-R) Rafi Peretz, Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich pose for a photo on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy)

The far-right Otzma Yehudit party on Wednesday accused Jewish Home chief Rafi Peretz of not honoring the terms of their pre-election merger, saying that he was ignoring their calls.

Ahead of the April elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu orchestrated a union between the extremist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) on the one hand and the already-merged Jewish Home party and the National Union on the other, into a joint slate called the Union of Right-Wing Parties in a bid to ensure they crossed the election threshold. The alliance, headed by Peretz, ultimately won five seats in the Knesset.

According to officials in Otzma Yehudit, one part of the agreement was that if any of the party leaders were appointed ministers, they would resign from the Knesset, allowing Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben Gvir, who was lower down on the list, to become a lawmaker.

On Monday, Netanyahu appointed the top two lawmakers in the Union of Right-Wing Parties as ministers in his interim cabinet, putting Peretz in charge of the Education Ministry and giving Bezalel Smotrich the transportation portfolio.

But since then Peretz has been avoiding calls from Otzma Yehudit and showing no intention he plans to resign, Otzma officials charged.

“Peretz is starting to disappoint us,” said the official. “Because of us he entered the Knesset, as he acknowledged himself, and in these circumstances we would expect him to be satisfied with the position of education minister, which is one of the most important positions, and make way for Itamar Ben Gvir.”

The official said that Smotrich had been more cooperative and was examining the legal implications of resigning his Knesset seat in favor of Ben Gvir.

On Thursday, a Jewish Home official told the Srugim news site that it wasn’t possible to implement the agreement due to the current political situation.

The tensions come as the various right-wing and far-right parties have been looking to unite into an even broader front for the September elections.

The entrance of Ben Gvir into the Knesset would likely cause a headache for Peretz and Netanyahu, as the specter of Otzma Yehudit gaining one or more seats has drawn criticism from Israeli lawmakers and major Jewish groups around the world.

Otzma Yehudit leaders have described themselves as proud disciples of the late rabbi Meir Kahane, who supported violently expelling Arabs from Israel and the West Bank and once proposed legislation outlawing inter-ethnic sexual relations. Kahane’s Kach party was declared illegal by Israeli authorities.

Otzma Yehudit now says it supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel, and expelling Palestinians and Arab Israelis who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state, whose sovereignty extends throughout the West Bank.

Ben Gvir is among several Otzma Yehudit leaders who has a photograph of mass-murderer Baruch Goldstein hanging on a wall in his home. Goldstein killed 29 Muslim worshipers and wounded another 125 in a shooting rampage at Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs holy site in 1994.

The party’s union with Jewish Home was orchestrated by Netanyahu in an effort to prevent losing right-wing votes if the individual parties failed to cross the Knesset threshold of 3.25%. He promised Jewish Home two ministerial posts in his next government, and gave a Jewish Home member the 28th slot on the Likud Knesset slate.

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