Jewish Home rejects Netanyahu invite to discuss merger with far-right parties

Faction heads say they don’t take orders from PM, call on him to ‘set a personal example’ and team up with extremist Otzma Yehudit

Betzalel Smotrich and Rafi Peretz are seen after agreeing to form a joint Jewish Home-National Union Knesset slate, February 14, 2019. (Courtesy)
Betzalel Smotrich and Rafi Peretz are seen after agreeing to form a joint Jewish Home-National Union Knesset slate, February 14, 2019. (Courtesy)

The national-religious Jewish Home party declined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s invitation to meet Monday for discussions on merging with a pair of far-right factions ahead of Knesset elections on April 9.

Netanyahu has been pushing for Jewish Home to team up with the Otzma Yehudit and Yachad parties, neither of which is expected to clear the electoral threshold alone, arguing that a failure on their part to enter the Knesset could deprive his Likud of enough potential partners to form a ruling coalition.

“We are running an independent party that makes its own decisions and is not managed by the prime minister or anyone else,” party leaders Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich said in a statement.

Peretz and Smotrich, who heads the National Union faction, last week agreed to again run on a single slate for this year’s elections.

“We call on the prime minister not to let up in his efforts, set a personal example and bring about as many mergers on the right in the few remaining days before [party] lists are submitted,” they added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a gathering in Jerusalem of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on February 18, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Small right-wing factions have faced growing calls from Likud to team up for the elections after Ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked split from the Jewish Home and formed the New Right party, leaving their former colleagues hovering around the minimal level of support needed to enter the Knesset.

Speaking with Army Radio, Smotrich said Otzma Yehudit had turned down his offer of an alliance, and called on Netanyahu to merge with the extremist party as well as with Zehut, the slate headed former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin.

“There are a lot of people who are going to waste votes. I call on the prime minister to join up with Feiglin — it is irresponsible to ignore him. Otzma Yehudit can also have a place in Likud,” Smotrich said.

Otzma Yehudit leaders (from L-R) Michael Ben Ari, Itamar Ben-Gvir, Baruch Marzel and Benzi Gopstein in a crowdfunding campaign video on November 5, 2018. (Screen capture/Otzma Yehudit)

Hitting back at Smotrich, Otzma Yehudit member Itamar Ben-Gvir told the radio station that Jewish Home “wants our votes but (doesn’t) want to give us a spot in the Knesset.”

In a further addition to the crowded field on the right, scandal-prone Likud MK Oren Hazan announced Monday he would run for the Knesset as the head of Tzomet, a small right-wing party founded in the 1980s by former military chief Rafael Eitan.

The move comes after Hazan, who frequently courted controversy with disparaging remarks about female and disabled lawmakers, failed to secure a realistic spot in Likud’s primaries earlier this month.

Separately, the New Right announced Monday that journalist Elyashiv Reichner and Rabbi Uri Schechter would be placed on the party’s electoral list.

Reichner worked at the pro-settlement Makor Rishon newspaper, while Schechter is the chairman of Tzohar, a liberal Orthodox rabbinical group.

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