Feiglin says he’ll give up No.1 spot to Bennett for sake of right-wing merger
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Feiglin says he’ll give up No.1 spot to Bennett for sake of right-wing merger

Zehut head willing to play second fiddle to New Right chair – but demands 2nd and 3rd spots on slate, putting prospect of Shaked partnership at risk

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

(L) Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin, casts his ballot at a voting station in the Karnei Shomron settlement during the Knesset elections on April 9, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90). (R) then-education minister Naftali Bennett speaks during an exchange ceremony of ministers ceremony at the Education Ministry on June 26, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
(L) Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin, casts his ballot at a voting station in the Karnei Shomron settlement during the Knesset elections on April 9, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90). (R) then-education minister Naftali Bennett speaks during an exchange ceremony of ministers ceremony at the Education Ministry on June 26, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin has told New Right chair Naftali Bennett that he is willing to give up the top spot in a union of the two right-wing factions, but only if his party is given both the second and third slots on the merged electoral slate, Zehut sources confirmed Wednesday.

Earlier this month Zehut said it had agreed in principle to a joint Knesset run with the New Right in the upcoming elections — both parties failed to pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold in the previous vote, in April — but said the merger would not be made official unless open primaries were held for the top slot on the joint list.

The two parties share many of the same views on economic matters as well as issues involving religious and state, and they competed over many of the same libertarian-leaning voters in the last election.

Despite negotiations between the sides having broken down in recent days after Bennett rejected the proposal, Zehut has now agreed to a merger even if Feiglin does not sit atop the list, according to a report by Kan public radio that was later confirmed to The Times of Israel by party sources.

Feiglin, a former Likud MK, is also willing to let Bennett take the senior ministerial portfolio if the joint slate ends up entering the Knesset and joining the coalition, the report said.

Feiglin’s only condition in terms of seniority is that Zehut be given the two spots on the slate right after Bennett, one for Feiglin and another that will likely be reserved for economist Gilad Alpher.

Ayelet Shaked speaks during her farewell ceremony, at the Justice Ministry offices in Jerusalem on June 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

That demand could put a nail in the coffin of a prospective Bennett partnership with former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, as it would push one of them to the fourth slot on the joint list.

While both Bennett and Shaked have declared that they intend to run in the upcoming September elections, the latter has yet to announce the vehicle for her candidacy.

Polls have indicated that the former justice minister — who left the Jewish Home party last December along with Bennett to form the New Right — is one of the most popular politicians in her camp. She is widely reported to be deciding between running as the head of the New Right with Bennett as her deputy, or as the No. 2 in the Union of Right-Wing Parties.

It is likely that Zehut and New Right would prefer to wait until Shaked makes a decision before they move forward with a merger.

If a merger deal is sealed, it could be the first step toward creating a mega-union of all the small parties to the right of the ruling Likud, though the prospect seems unlikely.

On Tuesday, Education Minister Rafi Peretz, who heads Jewish Home, and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the National Union leader, renewed their agreement for the two parties to run together in the coming elections as the Union of Right Wing-Parties. They also called on other right-wing parties to join them, saying in a joint statement that unity among national-religious parties is needed to “in order to maximize our electoral potential and prevent the wasting of votes.”

Jewish Home party leader Rafi Peretz (L) and National Union head Bezalel Smotrich sign an agreement to renew the Union of Right-Wing Parties electoral alliance on July 9, 2019. (Courtesy)

The far-right Otzma Yehudit party, which also ran in April as part of the URWP, said on Tuesday that it had been excluded from the alliance but that it would consider joining if its candidates were given significant enough spot on the list. A URWP party source said on Tuesday that Otzma was demanding the 3rd and 6th spots.

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.

While Feiglin had campaigned in the last election on refusing to characterize his party as belonging to either the right or the left, after failing to cross the electoral threshold he said Zehut had learned its lesson and would no longer play down its right-wing credentials.

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