The Jewish Home party on Wednesday approved significant changes in its constitution that will give leader Naftali Bennett greater control over who gets to become an MK, and will open up the party’s ranks to non-religious candidates.
A solid majority voted in favor of the new rules in an open vote at a party conference.
Under the updated constitution, Bennett, who serves as the economy minister, will have the right to choose one out of every five candidates on the party list, as well as pick who gets to be a minister. One spot out of every five on the list is also guaranteed for a female candidate.
In what was one of the most controversial changes, the historically national-religious party will now also accept non-religious members, a move that was opposed by MKs Yoni Chetboun and Moti Yogev. Those against the change fear that it will water down the party’s religious ethos.
Chetboun had been campaigning for a secret ballot on the constitutional changes that, he said, would produce a different result. However, opposition to the open vote diminished amid assurances from Bennett that a special committee will be formed to thoroughly review any reservations about the changes.
“Bennett wants to change the Jewish Home into a Likud B, and to attract to himself secular right-wing voters,” said Chetboun last week, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party that formed the government. “We don’t need to be a right-wing secular party, even it that means that tomorrow we don’t wake up with 30 seats.”
In the run-up to the January 2013 elections, the then national religious party, Mafdal, had just three Knesset seats and forecasters predicted that it would not even make it past the vote threshold to sit in parliament at all. Bennett relaunched the party under the title Jewish Home and led the faction to 12 seats and a central role in the government.