A far-right religious party on Sunday said it was withdrawing its candidacy in Tuesday’s Knesset elections, following intense efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his Likud and other right-wing parties to prevent precious votes for their bloc being wasted on the fringe party.
The extremist conservative religious party has polled far below the 3.25 percent vote threshold for entering the Knesset. It has made combating LGBT acceptance the focus of its campaign, along with opposing egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall. It has funded provocative billboards and video ads with the slogan “Israel chooses to be normal,” and claims the LGBT community has “forced its agenda” on the rest of Israeli society. It also likened LGBT and Reform Jews to the Nazis.
Netanyahu and Likud have been pressuring smaller right-wing parties to either merge or pull out of the September 17 elections to prevent votes being “wasted” on them if they do not clear the electoral threshold. Polls have shown that neither a right- or a left-wing bloc will have a clear path to forming a majority in the 120-seat Knesset and the election results are expected to be close.
Noam said in a statement that the decision to quit was made at a meeting at its headquarters on Sunday, after in-depth surveys showed it lacked the support needed to clear the electoral threshold.
The decision will be formally announced at 4 p.m. at a press conference at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem, it said.
The party added that it did not strike any deal with another party and was not throwing its support behind any bigger party. But it added it wasn’t dissolving and would continue its campaign outside the Knesset, aiming to become a more significant force in the next elections.
“Noam is here to stay,” party chairman Dror Aryeh said, claiming that some 70,000 people had signed on a petition in support of Noam and 250,000 more had been considering voting for it.
“This is no doubt a tremendous success,” he said. “We managed, with God’s help, to bring to the agenda the story everyone is trying to silence. We managed, using thousands of volunteers, to reveal to the nation of Israel the attempt by foreign entities to take over the country and dismantle our basic values as a nation and as a state.”
“The distance we’ve come in two months is nothing short of amazing,” said the party’s No. 2, Eldad Rabinowitz. “A new party that nobody knew of became one of the most discussed parties in the elections. We have great faith in our path, but the short time we had didn’t leave us the option of convincing the potential supporters of the party’s ability to clear the threshold.”
Netanyahu’s associates were quoted by Hebrew-language media as hailing the decision as “good news for right-wing voters.
“Noam’s leadership has understood that the only thing it could cause if it stays in the race until the end was burning right-wing votes.”
Education Minister Rafi Peretz of the Yamina party expressed a similar sentiment, saying in a statement: “I congratulate Noam’s leadership on showing responsibility and quitting the race.”
Noam’s departure could potentially boost support for another far-right party, the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit, which has been projected by several polls in the past week to squeak into the Knesset with four seats, but is still being pressured to quit by Netanyahu, who says it won’t end up clearing the threshold.
“Noam quitting is a decisive moment in these elections,” Otzma Yehudit said. “Noam’s departure strengthens Otzma Yehudit in light of the vote-siphoning campaign by Likud and Yamina, and guarantees Otzma Yehudit will pass. It transfers to Otzma Yehudit almost an entire Knesset seat of ideological voters who naturally won’t vote for [Yamina candidate Naftali] Bennett or Netanyahu.
“We now expect Likud and Yamina to stop the internal squabbling and act with responsibility to save the right-wing bloc.”
Raoul Wootliff and Stuart Winer contributed to this report.