The squabble over right-wing votes between Likud and Jewish Home appeared to escalate on the weekend, as officials in Naftali Bennett’s national religious party accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s camp of seeking to undermine its appeal to voters for its own political interests.
Some even went so far as to accuse the premier of seeking to weaken Jewish Home in order to form a centrist coalition with the center-left Zionist Union after the election.
MK Ayelet Shaked, one of the party’s leading members, warned on Facebook on Friday that “without a large Jewish Home a left-wing government will be established.”
Shaked reprimanded Netanyahu’s campaign for seeking to take votes away from Jewish Home. “I suggest that the prime minister try and widen the (right-wing) bloc (in the next Knesset) at the expense of centrist parties and not his natural right-wing partner at Jewish Home.”
On Thursday night an unnamed source in Jewish Home told Ynet news that Netanyahu was “trying to wipe out the party in order to prepare the ground to invite the Zionist Union to the government the day after the election.”
“Netanyahu wants to form a left-wing government,” the source said.
Following a private meeting of Jewish Home officials on Thursday, the source claimed that Likud was strategically targeting the party in order to damage its reputation and capture votes from its traditional voting base — nationalists and settlers opposed to a two-state solution — according to Ynet.
Many of Jewish Homes’ Knesset seats in the 2013 elections are thought to have been gained through disgruntled Likud voters who tired of Netanyahu and turned to Bennett as their new champion. Likud has recently sought to draw these voters back into the fold, warning right-wing voters that they must rally to the premier if they want a strong Likud that will block the centrist Zionist Union from forming the next government.
Jewish Home officials were reportedly enraged with the Likud strategy, asserting that it ran counter to the right’s purpose of decisively winning the election.
“He is causing grave damage to the right’s chances,” the source told Ynet. “The polls had us at over 40 seats together, but [Netanyahu’s] preoccupation with Jewish Home has dropped us to below 35 seats combined,” the official claimed.
“Unfortunately, Netanyahu has declared war on us,” the source said.
Likud fired back at the accusations on Friday, maintaining that it had no intention of forming a coalition government with the Zionist Union.
“The prime minister has made it clear several times that he will not form a government with the left-wing parties and that Jewish Home will sit in the government,” the party said in a statement. But, it added, “there is no certainty that Benjamin Netanyahu will be tasked with forming the government unless Likud is big enough.”
According to Ynet, Likud officials were angered by Jewish Home’s attempt to add Israeli soccer legend Eli Ohana to its roster last month — a move which seemed aimed at drawing in some of Likud’s traditional base.
At any rate that plan failed: Ohana’s addition was met with derision in the Jewish Home party, with many saying he was unqualified for politics and too dovish, as he had previously supported the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. Shortly after accepting Bennett’s invitation, the 51-year-old Beitar Jerusalem hero backed out of the party — perhaps at Bennett’s own request.
Bennett seemed intent on calming the spirits on Friday, writing on Facebook: “My brothers in Likud, cease fire. Let’s bring in votes from outside the bloc… I hereby declare: we will back Netanyahu for the premiership (as we did last time) and he will be the next prime minister. Period.
“My brothers in Likud, the campaign against us is unnecessary. Our mission now is to bring in votes from the other camp,” he said.
But on Thursday Bennett sang a different tune. Speaking at a high-school in Ramat Gan, the economy minister attacked the prime minister for flip-flopping and pandering to the left.
“Before the election, everyone is right-wing and campaigns in the West Bank; after the election, they talk of [settlement] freezes or speak in favor of a Palestinian state at Bar-Ilan University,” he said.
“I’m afraid that (after the election) we will wait for Netanyahu’s phone call in the same way one waits for a date. The fear is that it will turn out like last time, where he allowed Tzipi Livni with all of her six mandates to manage the negotiations (with the Palestinians),” the Jewish Home leader warned.
Livni, who now heads the Zionist Union with Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog, served as justice minister in Netanyahu’s coalition after the last election and was appointed chief envoy in the failed 2013-2014 negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
Hebrew media polls published ahead of the weekend showed Likud and the Zionist Union neck and neck with little over a month remaining before the vote. A poll published by Maariv on Thursday showed the Likud receiving 24 seats, as opposed to 23 for the Zionist Union. Another poll published by the business daily Globes showed the two parties tied at 24 seats. And a survey published by the news site Walla on Friday gave Likud a 25-23 lead.
Meanwhile, Jewish Home was in contest with the United Arab List over who would become the third-largest party in the Knesset, the polls found.
Two of the three polls gave Jewish Home a slight edge, with 13 seats (Globes and Walla), while Maariv said the party would only garner 11.
The Joint List, which unites three Arab parties — Balad, Ra’am and Ta’al — with the socialist, Arab-Jewish Hadash, would receive 12 seats, according to Globes and Walla, while Maariv placed it ahead of the Jewish Home with 13 seats.