Far-right party says bad-boy MK Oren Hazan seeking to join after Likud defeat
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Far-right party says bad-boy MK Oren Hazan seeking to join after Likud defeat

Otzma Yehudit says enfant terrible of Israeli politics has contacted it, trying to stay in Knesset after faring poorly in Likud primaries

Likud MK Oren Hazan in Jerusalem on September 19, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK Oren Hazan in Jerusalem on September 19, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After bad-boy Likud MK Oren Hazan suffered a defeat this week in the ruling party’s primary, the scandal-prone lawmaker is now seeking another way to remain in the Knesset, with the far-right Otzma Yehudi party saying Thursday that he has asked to join its nationalist slate ahead of the April elections.

Itamar Ben Gvir, a well-known right-wing lawyer, agitator and senior Otzma Yehudi member, said in a statement that Hazan’s associates have contacted the party to weigh the option of him joining.

Hazan refused to confirm the claim, uncharacteristically saying he preferred to remain silent at this time. However, he also said that he enjoys considerable public support and that many would like to see him stay in the political arena, adding that “all options are open.”

Otzma Yehudit said in a statement that “out of responsibility for the ideological right-wing votes, and unlike some who prefer to ignore that responsibility for tens of thousands of votes that could be wasted… we are weighing many options that would boost the national camp,” a term frequently used to describe the right-wing political bloc.

Otzma Yehudit leaders (from L-R) Michael Ben Ari, Itamar Ben Gvir, Baruch Marzel and Benzi Gopstein in a crowdfunding campaign video on November 5, 2018. (Screen capture/Otzma Yehudit)

Hebrew-language media reports said the party had commissioned a public opinion survey to check whether including Hazan on the slate would garner enough votes to catapult it into the parliament in the April 9 elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been reaching out to leaders of the smaller right wing parties, urging them to unite in order to avoid a scenario where one or two factions do not receive enough votes in April to cross the electoral threshold, hurting the right-wing Knesset bloc.

Netanyahu asked National Union Chairman Bezalel Smotrich to merge with Otzma Yehudit, in addition to calling on Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri to form a united ultra-Orthodox bloc with the United Torah Judaism Party, Channel 12 reported earlier this week.

National Union and Otzma Yehudit are both seen as falling well below the threshold without a merger.

Party lists must be finalized by February 21.

Hazan, who entered the Knesset in the 2015 election, has become known as the enfant terrible of Israel’s parliament. He notoriously took a selfie with US President Donald Trump when Trump was being welcomed at Ben Gurion Airport on his arrival in Israel in May 2017, leading to a change in government protocol.

US President Donald Trump poses for a selfie with MK Oren Hazan at Ben Gurion Airport on Monday, May 22, 2017. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hand can be seen in the lower right-hand corner, in a failed attempt to deflect Hazan’s arm. (Oren Hazan)

Shortly after he went into politics, a Hadashot news exposé alleged that Hazan had previously run a casino in Bulgaria where hard drugs and prostitution were allowed. He sued the station’s journalist Amit Segal for libel, but the court rejected the bulk of the lawsuit.

Since then, Hazan has been temporarily banned from the Knesset multiple times over various wrongdoings. Last year, the Knesset Ethics Committee handed Hazan a six-month ban on parliamentary activities, the maximum possible punishment — unprecedented in all the years of the Knesset — for a series of incidents in which he insulted fellow lawmakers.

The insults included publicly mocking a disabled colleague, telling a female MK she was too ugly to be a prostitute, and calling another wheelchair-bound MK “half a human.”

Hazan’s father Yehiel Hazan lost his Knesset seat after a 2003 incident in which he was caught casting a double-vote in the plenum, and then attempting to remove a voting computer from a Knesset storage room to hide evidence of the act.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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