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.
כמה פעילים של הבית היהודי לא מקבלים את ההסכם עם בנט ושקד.
יהודה לוינגר מפוצץ כל כמה דקות את הכנס.
נגד הרב רפי: "חתמת על ההסכם לפני שעברת טיפולי המרה או אחריהם".
על שקד: "למה שנצביע למי שמרוחה על שער של עיתון"
"בושה וכלימה, ניר אורבך קברן" pic.twitter.com/WNhGRkxOvA
— Atara German (@ataragerman1) July 29, 2019
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.
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 “
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.