In recording, Netanyahu says far-right merger saved Likud from election defeat

PM tells members of his party ‘the elections would already be decided’ if not for alliance he brokered including extremist Otzma Yehudit

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a signing ceremony for an agreement to build new apartments in Jerusalem on March 11, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a signing ceremony for an agreement to build new apartments in Jerusalem on March 11, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told lawmakers from his ruling Likud party that it would have lost the upcoming national elections if not for an alliance he brokered of far-right factions, in a recording aired Tuesday on Israeli television.

Netanyahu pushed hard for the Jewish Home and National Union parties to run on a joint election slate with the extremist Otzma Yehudit, arguing right-wing votes would be “wasted” if any of the parties failed to enter the Knesset on their own.

The prime minister took considerable flack for the merger from opposition figures in Israel, as well as leading Jewish groups in the United States such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Under the deal, Netanyahu promised Jewish Home two ministerial posts if he forms the next government and gave a Jewish Home candidate the 28th slot on Likud’s election slate.

“I say we would have lost the elections. Without this merger we would’ve lost,” Netanyahu said in the recording aired by the Kan public broadcaster.

The broadcaster said the recording was made at a closed meeting of Likud officials, but did not specify when it took place.

Michael Ben Ari, center, Itamar Ben Gvir, left, and Lehava chair Benzi Gopstein, all of the Otzma Yehudit party, at an event in Jerusalem marking the 27th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Meir Kahane, November 7, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu said the party’s campaign messaging would be influenced based on which smaller parties they thought would not have a good chance of crossing the electoral threshold.

Netanyahu did not name any parties specifically but appeared to be referring to Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu, with the latter falling below the threshold in a number of recent surveys.

Likud itself is trailing in polls behind Blue and White, an alliance of Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party and former military chief Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience, but is seen as still having the best chance of forming a governing coalition after the April 9 vote due to the electoral landscape.

Much of that is thanks to a constellation of smaller right-wing parties. If one of those parties falls below the 3.25 percent threshold, it could mean a loss of four potential seats for a Likud-led coalition.

The Union of Right Wing Parties — the name of the joint far-right faction — is currently polling around six seats, which would bring one of Otzma Yehudit’s members into the Knesset.

Otzma Yehudit is led by former disciples of Rabbi Meir Kahane, a Jewish supremacist whose Kach party was barred from running in elections for inciting racism and outlawed as a terror group.

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