Jewish Home central committee to vote on electoral pact with Otzma Yehudit

Merger with far-right party, along with ensuring placement of female candidate among top five on slate, expected to be approved by internal body

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

The Jewish Home party votes on a pre-election alliance with Otzma Yehudit in Petah Tikva, February 20, 2019. (Yehuda Haim/Flash90)
The Jewish Home party votes on a pre-election alliance with Otzma Yehudit in Petah Tikva, February 20, 2019. (Yehuda Haim/Flash90)

The Jewish Home’s central committee will be given an opportunity to vote on an agreement reached by the national religious party’s chairman Rafi Peretz to run on a joint slate in the upcoming election with the far-right Otzma Yehudit faction, the party confirmed Tuesday.

Peretz came under fire among some members of the party, who were unhappy that the chairman had acted alone last Friday, in inking a deal with the slate of self-described disciples of the extremist late rabbi, Meir Kahane.

Peretz, who is also education minister, met earlier Tuesday with the party’s secretary-general Nir Orbach, along with Jewish Home mayors and deputy mayors from around the country, according to a statement from the faction.

In addition to the agreement with Otzma Yehudit, the central committee will also vote on a measure to ensure that the party will have a female candidate in one of the top five spots on its Knesset list.

In the previous election, Jewish Home ran as part of the Yamina alliance, with their traditional partners in Bezalel Smotrich’s National Union, along with their former colleagues Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked who started their own party, New Right, last year. Shaked was placed at the top of the slate, making it the only party with a female leader. However, New Right announced  earlier this month that it will be running independently in the March election.

The measure for female representation, if passed by the central committee, would force Jewish Home to shuffle its list of candidates.

Jewish Home leader Rafi Peretz, right, with Itamar Ben Gvir, left, of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party on Friday, December 20, 2019. (Courtesy)

The sides will meet again in the next 48 hours to make further decisions, the statement said, without specifying when the central committee vote will be held.

A senior official in the party told The Times of Israel that both measures are expected to pass, and that opposition heard in recent days to the deal with Otzma Yehudit was voiced by a “vocal minority” and was largely over “the fact that Peretz did not consult with anyone.”

The official explained that party members recognize the importance of having female representation on the list and had overwhelmingly voted in favor of an alliance with Otzma Yehudit ahead of the year’s first election in April. Then, the two parties ran together along with the National Union in an alliance dubbed the Union of Right Wing Parties.

On Saturday evening, MK Moti Yogev, the party’s No. 2 spoke out against the Otzma Yehudit deal and over 80 Jewish Home senior members sent an open letter to Peretz lambasting him for his conduct.

The letter’s authors warned that if Peretz did not convene the central committee, they would seek to do so themselves “and announce democratic elections to bring back public legitimacy and trust.

(From L-R) URWP MK Idit Silman, Rafi Peretz, Bezalel Smotrich and Moti Yogev during a visit in south Tel Aviv on March 25, 2019. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)

״There is no reason to drag a grand party into the political abyss and prevent the ability to unite all religious Zionist factions just because of your fear of having to compete for your spot,” the party officials wrote.

Peretz last week came out against the idea of open primaries for a united national religious faction, expressing concern that the resulting party would not properly represent the camp, partially due to the New Right’s refusal to participate in them.

Polling has indicated that Peretz would have had the most to lose in an open primaries scenario, with other national religious politicians, including Smotrich and Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir, being far more popular than he is.

Peretz has called on the New Right and National Union to join the Jewish Home-Otzma Yehudit alliance.

The deal is seen as a blow to Smotrich, who — polls suggest — is the most popular of the national religious slate leaders. The Jewish Home-Otzma Yehudit agreement left open spots on the united list for National Union candidates if they agree to join. Smotrich will be given the No. 2 spot, while the less popular and less experienced Peretz will remain at the helm.

As part of the new union, Otzma Yehudit will be given the third, sixth and ninth spots, all but solidifying Ben Gvir’s entry into the Knesset after he fell short in the year’s two previous tries. The move also marks the further normalization of the once beyond the pale party brought into the fold by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April. Then, he agreed to reserve a spot on the Likud list for a Jewish Home MK and promised the national religious party a pair of senior government posts if they agreed to merge with Otzma Yehudit.

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