1. Getting right back to where we started from: After shouting from practically every mountaintop that he would be running independently in March, Naftali Bennett merged his New Right with Rafi Peretz’s Jewish Home and Bezalel Smotrich’s National Union and put the Yamina gang from the previous September election back together. But not before a few bridges were burned in the process.
- Haaretz and the Srugim national religious news site document just how down to the wire the merge was. Bennett and Peretz each woke up Wednesday morning certain that they would not eat their respective words — Bennett on not running on a joint list with the Kahanists of Otzma Yehudit, and Peretz on not reneging on his merger deal with the latter far-right party.
- Peretz began the day meeting with Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir and fellow anti-miscegenationist Benzi Gopstein. Haaretz quotes the Jewish Home leader as having told his far-right buddies, “I will never walk back on our agreement.”
- Peretz then continued to the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv for a meeting with Bennett, where there too he told the New Right chairman he would not budge, Srugim reports. During one of the breaks in the meeting, Bennett released a lengthy diatribe on Facebook vowing not to join forces with Otzma Yehudit, highlighting the fact that Ben Gvir has a picture of Hebron massacre perpetrator Baruch Goldstein hanging in his living room.
- Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer argues that Bennett’s argument was a pretty cynical one. “What if Ben Gvir had chosen a different picture for his wall? Would Bennett then have been fine with the senior representative of the Jewish supremacist movement?”
- “To be fair, it’s not just Bennett who prefers to focus on a picture on the wall. The Israeli media, which over the past year has taken to regularly hosting Ben Gvir in its studios for lengthy interviews, also loves to challenge him with Goldstein’s picture instead of his own toxic ideology,” Pfeffer writes.
2. It’s not about the picture. It’s about sending a message: Because politics weren’t cynical enough to begin with, Ben Gvir said he was willing to take the picture of Goldstein down “for the sake of unity and right-wing victory.”
- Problem solved! Peretz’s spokesman then released a statement saying the parties can now move forward with a broad alliance including Otzma Yehudit thanks to behind-the-scenes pressure from the Jewish Home chairman in convincing Ben Gvir to remove the photo. Well, not really. Channel 12 reports that Bennett responded by telling confidants that it wasn’t the picture that was the real issue (even though he didn’t really mention much else), but rather the essence of Otzma Yehudit’s ideology.
- But the network comedy series “Eretz Nehederet” jokes that the differences are merely in style. In a show that aired in the final hour before the party filing deadline, “Smotrich” says that as opposed to Ben Gvir, who wants to evict all Palestinians from Israel and the West Bank on buses, he prefers to place them on a Ukrainian Airlines plane over Iran.
- Moreover, Channel 12’s Daphna Liel points out that Bennett ahead of the previous election had signed on to an agreement that would have seen Ben Gvir receive the eighth spot on the Yamina list, had the Otzma Yehudit candidate not backed out over demands for a better placement.
- Picture or no picture, as of early Wednesday evening, the sides were no closer to an agreement than they were at the start of the day. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recognized this and invited Bennett and Peretz to his office for a lecture along with several prominent national religious rabbis he hoped would help him convince the two stubborn national religious party chairman that they were placing his continued rule at risk.
3. A rabbi and a pollster: Channe1 12’s Amit Segal points out that Netanyahu recognized that pressuring Bennett wouldn’t work and that he would have to set his sights on breaking Peretz if he wanted a merger agreement by the filing deadline.
- The Times of Israel reports that Netanyahu even patched into the meeting Peretz’s spiritual leader Yehoshua Zuckerman as well as the premier’s favorite American pollster John McLaughlin in an effort to convince the Jewish Home leader that he stood no chance of passing the electoral threshold if he ran on his own with Otzma Yehudit.
- When the good-cop routine didn’t work, Srugim reports, Netanyahu switched tack and began threatening Peretz. “If you guys run separately, I’ll campaign against you both,” the premier is quoted as having warned, referencing the tactic Likud has used in previous elections, which in April left New Right below the electoral threshold.
- “On Sunday, we’ll conduct a survey and whoever is found predicted to not cross the electoral threshold, he’ll unleash an aggressive campaign against them,” Srugim quotes Likud MK Yariv Levin as having chimed in.
4. You have my word *wink*: Peretz left the meeting daunted, but still unconvinced that he needed to part ways with Ben Gvir. But the same could not be said about the national religious rabbis in the meeting.
- Chaim Druckman tells the national religious Kipa news site that he drew Peretz a halachic parable, in which one man is allowed to die of thirst (Ben Gvir) if there are two people who need water but only enough to save one of them (Peretz).
- The recognition that he no longer had the rabbinic backing to stand by his word is likely what led Peretz to tweet and then delete five minutes later a short declaration that “my word is my word.” The gaffe was quickly picked up by reporters, who recognized that the Jewish Home chairman was about to break his pact with Otzma Yehudit.
- But what really pushed Peretz over the edge, Srugim’s Atara German reports, was a last-minute decision by fellow faction member Idit Silman to bolt to New Right. The former MK had been in secret talks with Ayelet Shaked over the past several weeks as she began to feel that she no longer had a place in the sinking ship that has been the Jewish Home.
- But Silman leaves a great deal of bad blood behind, as demonstrated by footage of her knocking on Peretz’s Knesset office door to officially notify the Jewish Home leader of her departure and not being allowed in.
עידית סילמן מסורבת כניסה ללשכת הרב רפי. הם יהיו באותה רשימה, אבל הכעס לא יעבור מהר.
ייתכן מאד והצעד הזה הוא שהתחיל את כדור השלג לאיחוד pic.twitter.com/9YApRDKEx4
— Atara German (@ataragerman1) January 15, 2020
- Instead, Peretz’s staff allows a fuming Ben Gvir inside, where Haaretz’s Breiner reports that the latter shouted at Peretz, “Are you really betraying me?!” before he had to be dragged out by Jewish Home staffers.
5. If they don’t want me, I don’t want them! And just like that the deal was done. Bennett, Peretz and Smotrich filed as a joint slate, which Shaked points out has the best percentage of female representatives of any party (50% in the top ten).
- But not everyone is as happy. In fact, most people are not. Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev, who was pushed all the way back to the unrealistic No. 11 spot despite having come in first place in the party’s last primary, announced that he is quitting politics. “Peretz’s word is not his word… [he] is not fit to be a public representative… Jewish Home under Rafi Peretz has lost its way,” he seethed.
- But the award for most angry response among those undermined by the Yamina re-merger definitely went to Ben Gvir. “The so-called education minister stabbed me in the back,” he shouted to reporters outside the central election committee filing hall.
- Peretz sought to patch things up, releasing a statement apologizing to Ben Gvir. “True, this is how politics is played, but I need to be true first and foremost to myself and so request the forgiveness of my friend Itamar Ben Gvir that I was forced to painfully cancel my pact with him.”
- To no avail. Ben Gvir continued to assail Peretz Thursday morning on every media platform that would have him on. His fellow Otzma colleague Michael Ben Ari tells Army Radio that “Peretz will be remembered in the annals of Israeli political history as one of the most despicable people ever.”
- Netanyahu praises the deal in a statement, saying Peretz showed leadership, but Channel 13 reports that behind closed doors, the premier is fuming over what will likely be at least two seats of lost votes if Otzma Yehudit decides to run on its own and fails to cross the threshold as is currently predicted.
- The agreement is depicted in a cartoon from Yossi Shachar in which Bennett is quoted as saying “we will not sit with a terrorist” all while he Peretz and Smotrich are seen with blood on their hands after stabbing Ben Gvir in the back.
והאמת והשלום אהבו pic.twitter.com/6LosvpdqI9
— רועי שרון Roy Sharon (@roysharon11) January 16, 2020
- One Jewish Home official referred to yesterday’s unfoldings as “the night of the kosher knives.”
- “For over a month, religious Zionist leaders relentlessly ignored their public which has demanded unity and they instead waited until the last minute to listen. This has happened one election after another. This could have been achieved in a much more pleasant manner,” points out Channel 20’s Ayelet Kahane.
6. Overshadowed desertions and retirements: There was other drama, in the non-national religious political world, but it got largely lost amid all the Ben Gvir-Bennett-Peretz hubbub.
- Hours before the party filing deadline, Likud gained a surprising new addition to its own electoral list: Blue and White MK Gadi Yevarkan.
- Yevarkan was quickly trashed in the press for his latest “party shopping.” The Ethiopian-Israeli started his political career with the Labor party before two failed runs in the Likud primaries in 2008 and 2012. In 2019, he joined Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party which folded into Blue and White shortly thereafter. During his short stint in the Knesset, he regularly trashed the Likud government for neglecting Ethiopian immigrants.
- But Channel 12 reports that the journeyman politician was frustrated with his placement at 33 on the Blue and White list and sought to negotiate a better position, telling Gantz that he had met with Netanyahu and the premier had offered him the 20 spot in addition to a promise that he’d be named minister. Furious over Yevarkan’s attempt at blackmailing him, Gantz threw the MK off his list, allowing him to return to Netanyahu’s waiting arms.
- The move did not impress fellow Ethiopian-Israeli Blue and White lawmaker Pnina Tamano-Shata, who told Army Radio that their constituents would see through the game of musical chairs that Yevarkan has been playing.
- On the left, Green Party chairman Stav Shaffir announced that she would not run in the upcoming election after being left off the Labor-Gesher-Meretz merger (which needs to get a better name). “I won’t run in this election, but I will stay in the race for our country. Today we’re taking the Green Movement out [of the Knesset] and instead to the streets, to the cities, to the neighborhoods, in order to build our tomorrow and come back stronger,” she says.
- “Stav Shaffir, [former Meretz head] Zehava Galon, [former Hatnua head] Tzipi Livni, [former Labor head] Shelly Yachimovich – in the last few years the Israeli left has booted all of its most senior female Israeli politicians. Each case deserves to be judged independently, but on the other hand, one has to be blind not to see the trend,” tweets former Army Radio reporter Ido Benbaji.