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Smotrich still courting erstwhile partner

Left out of Smotrich-Ben Gvir merger, extremist Noam party decides on solo run

Netanyahu reportedly promises Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir a cabinet post in merger talks he brokered on Friday, and to include both factions in any future government

MK Avi Maoz speaks during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset on December 15, 2021. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)
MK Avi Maoz speaks during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset on December 15, 2021. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

MK Avi Maoz announced on Sunday that his ultra-conservative, anti-LGBT Noam faction will run as a separate party in the upcoming November 1 election, after it was left out of the merger between its erstwhile far-right partners Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit.

Maoz allied with the parties led respectively by MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir in the 2021 vote, garnering him a Knesset seat for the first time. But he said Monday that following a meeting, Noam’s management decided to run independently — despite the high likelihood of it failing to pass the electoral threshold — citing “unequivocal calls from our many supporters.”

“Noam must be in the next Knesset,” Maoz said in a statement. “It’s inconceivable for the Jewish identity to be sent to the margins and to an unrealistic spot. Good luck to us all.”

Meanwhile, Channel 12 reported Sunday that opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu offered Ben Gvir a ministerial position during a meeting with the lawmaker at his Caesarea home on Friday, after the far-right lawmaker expressed fear he would be left out of a coalition in favor of centrist leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Channel 12 suggested that Smotrich and Ben Gvir were motivated to unite since, while Netanyahu had already promised to include both of their parties in a future government, joining forces would ensure he could not go back on his word and pick one over the other.

The opposition leader met separately with Smotrich and Ben Gvir on Friday to broker the deal, according to the report, with the two party leaders slated to meet this week to hammer out details.

(left) Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir, (center) opposition leader and Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, (right) Religious Zionism head MK Bezalel Smotrich. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Last year, Netanyahu proclaimed that while he would include Ben Gvir in a future coalition, the far-right lawmaker was “not fit” to be a cabinet minister.

Reminded of that, Ben Gvir said Sunday: “If you ask Netanyahu today, he won’t say the same thing.”

If his party does as well as opinion polls are currently predicting, he added, “I’m intending and hoping and preparing for an influential role, so that I can change things here.”

Netanyahu successfully brokered the alliance between Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit and Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism on Friday, following Ben Gvir’s shortlived decision to run separately due to a dispute with Smotrich over the makeup of their electoral slate.

Polls showed that Otzma Yehudit would have won more seats that Religious Zionism, with some surveys showing Smotrich’s faction falling below the 3.25% electoral threshold — an outcome Netanyahu believes could deprive him of amassing the required 61 Knesset votes to form a governing coalition.

Smotrich, meanwhile, appeared to still be courting the inclusion of the extremist Noam faction in the far-right union. Speaking to Radio Kol Ram after Maoz’s announcement, Smotrich said that the joint slate would still seek to join with Noam, declaring “there is no chance they will run alone.”

“We want them, they can’t run alone, it would be an irresponsible move,” he added, indicating that right-wing votes would be wasted on a party unlikely to enter the Knesset by themselves.

UTJ MK Uri Maklev (L) and Religious Zionism MK Avi Maoz attend a meeting of the Religious Services Committee at the Knesset on October 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Noam burst onto the political scene in 2019 with a series of provocative highway billboards and video ads with the slogan “Israel chooses to be normal.” The party claims that the LGBT community has “forced its agenda” on the rest of Israeli society, and believes in a “normal” (heteronormative) family structure.

It has also likened LGBT and Reform Jews to the Nazis: A 2019 campaign video compares Reform Jews, left-wing activists, and gay rights advocates to Nazis and Palestinian suicide bombers, saying all of them “want to destroy us.”

The party merged with Otzma Yehudit ahead of the September 2019 election, but failed to cross the threshold. It then ran independently ahead of the March 2020 election before dropping out days before the race.

Finally, it merged with Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism, under intense pressure from Netanyahu before the previous election, garnering enough votes for Maoz to become the first member of his party to enter the Knesset.

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