Michal Peretz, the wife of Union of Right-Wing Parties chairman Rafi Peretz, was in recent weeks working alongside the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, to prevent New Right leader Ayelet Shaked from taking the top spot on a joint electoral ticket, a key demand the party had.
Peretz on Sunday said he acceded to New Right’s insistence that the secular Shaked lead a joint slate representing the national religious community in the September 17 elections.
The merger between the national religious parties was supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, in a bid to secure his fourth consecutive term as premier, has been working to prevent the smaller right-wing factions from falling below the electoral threshold.
But according to reports, he did not back Shaked as leader of the slate, due to opposition from his wife, who is long thought to have had it in for the woman who once served as an aide to Netanyahu.
Last week, Hebrew-language media reported the Netanyahus were actively intervening in the merger negotiations between Shaked’s New Right and Peretz’s URWP. The reports said that Sara Netanyahu urged Michal Peretz to convince her husband to not let Shaked lead the slate, and the couple threatened to fire Peretz as education minister if he acceded to Shaked’s demand.
The reports were denied by Netanyahu and Peretz, but on Sunday, Channel 12 aired recordings of phone calls between the URWP leader’s wife and party officials that confirmed the prime minister and his wife were actively trying to prevent Shaked from leading the joint slate.
“Netanyahu promised that if he doesn’t give in to Ayelet, [Peretz] will remain education minister [after the elections], and that if not, he won’t,” Michal Peretz says. “The reason is that Sara says it is Ayelet who is framing [Netanyahu]” in the corruption cases against him.
In another conversation, she says that dropping Shaked will guarantee the party has a place in Netanyahu’s next government.
“Netanyahu wants to include the Jewish Home in his next government. But he won’t take Ayelet Shaked with him,” she can be heard telling an unidentified URWP official. “This is exactly what he wants and I’m saying this emphatically because he’s told us this in many different ways.”
Shaked has been pushing for the URWP to merge with her party to avoid the factions splitting the right-wing bloc and risking one of them not clearing the electoral threshold. In April’s election, New Right was about a thousand votes short of entering the Knesset, while URWP won only five seats.
Earlier on Sunday, New Right’s deputy leader, Naftali Bennett, assured voters the URWP alliance would be a “technical bloc” solely for the purposes of the upcoming elections and the parties would part ways after entering the Knesset.
Bennett said in a Facebook livestream that he wanted the loose coalition to also include Moshe Feiglin’s quasi-libertarian Zehut party and the extremist Otzma Yehudit, which ran as a part of URWP in April’s elections.
Later on Sunday, Oztma Yehudit announced its own merger with Noam, a similarly ultra-nationalist and extremist political faction that has focused on anti-LGBT messaging.
Three polls published on Thursday evening gave New Right nine to 11 Knesset seats, compared with four for URWP.