Far-right parties heading for merger, National Union leader says

Far-right parties heading for merger, National Union leader says

Bezalel Smotrich says Jewish Home, Otzma Yehudit, Yachad and his own party can’t afford to be divided; accuses Bennett of leaving religious Zionist camp

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Head of the National Union party MK Bezalel Smotrich, speaks during an event of the Movement for the Quality of Government, in Modi'in, February 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Head of the National Union party MK Bezalel Smotrich, speaks during an event of the Movement for the Quality of Government, in Modi'in, February 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

National Union party head Bezalel Smotrich on Tuesday said that four religious right-wing parties are close to agreeing on a united slate for the upcoming elections.

His comments flew in the face of remarks from National Union and Jewish Home officials who over the weekend said unity talks between their parties had stalled.

“The news is that we will go together,” Smotrich declared at the annual Besheva right-wing media group conference in Jerusalem. “The news is that we are making every effort.”

He said a four-way agreement would be achieved between his faction and its erstwhile partner the Jewish Home; Otzma Yehudit, headed by far-right figures associated with the banned Kach movement; and Yachad, headed by one-time Shas leader Eli Yishai.

The deal would be sealed in the coming hours or days, he said.

Head of the Jewish Home party Rabbi Rafi Peretz arrives to the party’s preliminary elections in Ramat Gan on February 4, 2019. (Flash90)

The move to join forces would bolster the factions’ chances of entering the Knesset. Apart, none of them were projected to cross the 3.25% electoral threshold.

“We don’t have the privilege to be adventurous and lose a single vote,” he said. “It’s time to make concessions so that we can can unite and run together.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been pushing the factions to unite in order to have another potential coalition partner on the right should he be tasked with forming a government after the April 9 vote.

“You must not lose these votes, because at the end of this there is either a left-wing wing government or a right-wing government,” Netanyahu told a gathering of religious journalists Monday. “The split on the right will inevitably lead to a loss in the elections.”

Yachad chairman Eli Yishai and extreme Right politician Baruch Marzel, seen during a discussion in the Central Elections Committee in the next Knesset, on February 12, 2015. (photo credit: Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

It’s not yet clear what form a united faction would take.

Jewish Home and National Union have run together in the past, but the Jewish Home was seen as the senior partner, receiving the position of party chairman, more spots on the Knesset list and more ministerial posts in the government. Smotrich had reportedly sought to renegotiate that arrangement.

Hebrew media reports Tuesday said Jewish Home leader Rafi Peretz met with Yachad leader Eli Yishai the day before in Jerusalem.

A Jewish Home source said the meeting was aimed at “seeing if there is a connection to the public that Eli Yishai represents,” reported the Srugim website which caters to the religious Zionist community.

There was “a mutual examination of the electoral efficiency of uniting and the general atmosphere for possibility of running together,” the source added.

According to the report Yishai is willing to give up on the top slots of a combined slate in favor of Jewish Home and National Union members for the sake of forming a union. Yishai, who previously held several ministerial positions when he was a senior member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, left that party in 2014 amid a rift with chairman Interior Minister Aryeh Deri. He established the Yachad party, which ran in parliamentary elections the next year but failed to clear the threshold.

The source noted that there are separate Jewish Home negotiations with Otzma Yehudit.

At the conference Smotrich also blasted New Right party leader Naftali Bennett who had earlier Tuesday addressed the conference, positioning himself as head of the religious Zionist campaign.

Education Minister and leader of the New Right party Naftali Bennett speaks at the 16th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In December, Bennett, who is education minister, left the flagship religious Zionist party, Jewish Home, taking with him the party’s number two, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Together they jointly founded the New Right party.

“Bennett, you left religious Zionism,” Smotrich charged.

“Bennett is in crisis, that’s the truth,” he added. “He set off on his way and thought… that all the secular right wing will fall into his arms. He thought we were a millstone around his neck.”

Raoul Wootliff and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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