Jewish Home gathering erupts into shouting match over merger with New Right

Veteran activists accuse Rafi Peretz of capitulating to Shaked and Bennett in United Right alliance, with one crying out that ‘he sold his soul to the devil’

A Jewish Home party activist shouts criticism of the merger with New Right during a gathering in Jerusalem, July 29, 2019 (screenshot)
A Jewish Home party activist shouts criticism of the merger with New Right during a gathering in Jerusalem, July 29, 2019 (screenshot)

A Jewish Home party gathering Monday evening devolved into a shouting match, as two veteran members of the party heckled chairman Rafi Peretz for long minutes over the decision to merge the faction with two other right-wing slates under the leadership of Ayelet Shaked.

At the event in Jerusalem, video footage showed a man sitting meters away from Peretz repeatedly shouting at him that he had “buried religious Zionism” and “sold his soul to the devil” by joining with Shaked and Naftali Bennett under the banner of the United Right.

The man was identified by the Srugim website for national religious news as Yehuda Lewinger, a party activist who opposed Bennett when the latter led Jewish Home in past years. Lewinger blasted Peretz as “wicked” and cried out, “Shame and disgrace.”

When Peretz later rose to speak, Lewinger and another activist, Meir Indor, shouted him down, accusing him of signing a “surrender agreement” with Shaked and Bennett’s New Right party. A growing number of activists repeatedly tried and failed to placate the two men, first discreetly and politely and later with increasing forcefulness and some pushing and shoving as the shouting continued, with Peretz at the podium barely able to get a word out.

Peretz eventually continued his speech. It was unclear whether the hecklers were escorted out or agreed to quiet down.

Peretz later said: “I took this step out of national responsibility…I don’t run away from the challenge to meet [with activists].” He added that “a difference of opinion is legitimate” and that he believed “the evening ended differently, with a good atmosphere.”

Jewish Home’s agreement with the National Union and New Right to come together under Shaked in the United Right is generally seen as being strongly supported by most members of the party, with the former justice minister seen as having the potential to bring in the most votes for the bloc.

However there certainly remains ill will toward Bennett and Shaked, who bolted the party last December to set up the New Right, which championed “secular-religious partnership” but failed to cross the electoral threshold in the April elections.

Jewish Home and National Union, meanwhile, set up the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URWP) alongside the extremist Otzma Yehudit — with the latter currently outside the new United Right — and went on to win five seats.

Shaked will be followed on the united list by Peretz, with National Union head Bezalel Smotrich placed third. Bennett received the fourth spot. In all, the New Right candidates will be given four of the list’s first ten spots.

In a joint statement announcing the merger, the parties said they would recommend to the president that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu form the next coalition after the elections.

Shaked said she would continue to work to include other right-wing parties, namely the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Moshe Feiglin’s quasi-libertarian Zehut, on the joint list ahead of a Thursday party registration deadline.

Otzma Yehudit, which ran with URWP in the last election at Netanyahu’s behest, walked away from the alliance last month, claiming that the terms of their merger had been violated by the alliance’s leader Peretz.

The joint announcement said that United Right will demand Likud reserve spots on its list for Otzma Yehudit. In the previous election, Netanyahu’s party agreed to place one URWP MK on its slate, after the right-wing party absorbed the self-described disciples of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.

New Right chairwoman Ayelet Shaked (L) and party No 2. Naftali Bennett speak to reporters in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Ellison/Flash90)

But Likud released its own statement less than an hour later, clarifying that it would not be making room for anyone else on its list, having merged with Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party last month.

A spokesman for the Likud party released a statement blasting the merger as “a fake union” due to its failure to bring all right-wing parties under one umbrella.

“If this is the end of the merging process on the right while all the Arab parties have united, the right-wing bloc will be at risk. Bennett, Shaked, and Smotrich intentionally left out 5-6 mandates on the right — and they are knowingly jeopardizing the continuation of a right-wing government. It’s not too late to fix this dangerous mistake,” the Likud statement read, suggesting that Otzma Yehudit, the Zehut party and the anti-LGBT Noam party are together worth roughly four to five percent of the vote (180,000-216,000 votes).

Similarly frustrated by the New Right-URWP merger was Otzma Yehudit, which issued its own statement, claiming that negotiations between the two parties had stalled for weeks over issues of “ego” rather than substance.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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