Likud: No chance far-right Otzma Yehudit will enter Knesset

Party official warns right-wing voters that support for Kahanist faction risks losing seats for the right-wing bloc

Itamar Ben Gvir, chairman of the Otzma Yehudit party, speaks at the Central Election Committee in the Knesset, Jerusalem, on August 14, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Itamar Ben Gvir, chairman of the Otzma Yehudit party, speaks at the Central Election Committee in the Knesset, Jerusalem, on August 14, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Likud party on Wednesday warned that voting for the far-right Otzma Yehudit in the September 17 election was a waste of ballots, as the slate had no chance of entering the Knesset.

“After an extensive examination by Likud of dozens of polls in the past two weeks, it is clear to us beyond any doubt that Otzma Yehudit will not pass the electoral threshold,” a senior Likud official said in a statement.

“In fact, it is very far from the threshold. Otzma Yehudit will waste 2.5 Knesset seats’ worth of right-wing votes,” the official said. “In such fateful elections, where the right-wing bloc is in danger and Likud is trailing [the Blue and White party], votes must not be wasted.”

He added that right-wing voters “must vote only for Likud to stop a leftist-Arab government.”

Recent public polls have shown Otzma Yehudit polling just below the 3.25% mark to enter parliament, though Likud’s internal polling may indicate differently.

Likud and Blue and White have been mostly polling neck and neck, and when one of the parties leads it is usually Likud. But in the run-up to the election the ruling party is employing its tried-and-true strategy of siphoning the vote from smaller right-wing parties. Depicting Blue and White as being ahead is seen as part of that approach.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 14, 2019. (Ronen Zvulun/POOL/AFP)

Likud has also returned to controversial scare tactics targeting the Arab public, often warning that its rivals plan to form a government with the Arab parties (Blue and White has ruled out any coalition with non-Zionist parties).

In recent days Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly sought to persuade Otzma Yehudit to withdraw from the election race by promising its leaders that the next Knesset will lower the electoral threshold to improve its future political prospects.

Netanyahu’s aides have met with Otzma Yehudit representatives several times over the past two weeks, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported on Tuesday.  They were promising to lower the threshold — raised in 2014 — to make it easier for small parties, such as Otzma Yehudit, to enter the Knesset.

According to the report, Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir has also demanded that Likud’s West Bank branch work more closely with his party, that Yamina stop its attacks on Otzma Yehudit, and that Netanyahu’s campaign in the run-up to the vote not focus on the party’s supporters.

Sources close to Netanyahu assessed that Ben Gvir would reject the overtures and run anyway, according to the report.

Bentzi Gopstein (R) and Baruch Marzel seen during a press conference held by the Otzma Yehudit party in Jerusalem, August 26, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The newspaper report quoted Ben Gvir as acknowledging a “very good meeting” with Netanyahu’s negotiator Natan Eshel.

But speaking to Galey Yisrael radio on Tuesday, Ben Gvir denied any deal that would see Otzma Yehudit quit the election race was in the offing.

Yamina leader Ayelet Shaked on Tuesday urged Otzma Yehudit to withdraw from the race.

“Otzma Yehudit won’t clear the electoral threshold and its two seats will move over to the left,” the former justice minister told Israel Radio. “Ben Gvir must show responsibility and withdraw his candidacy.”

Netanyahu was widely criticized ahead of the April elections for brokering a deal between the Union of Right Wing Parties (now a part of Yamina) and Otzma Yehudit to run on a joint ticket. Despite the agreement, the prime minister failed to cobble together a coalition in May after several small right-wing parties — the New Right and Zehut — fell under the electoral threshold and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman refused to join over a disagreement on the ultra-Orthodox enlistment law.

The prime minister again tried to bring Otzma Yehudit into the fold of Shaked’s Yamina party during the current election campaign, but was rebuffed by Ben Gvir, who insisted on running alone.

The far-right party accused of anti-Arab racism has also been hit by court decisions against three of its four top leaders. Michael Ben-Ari, Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein have been disqualified from standing in the election over their longstanding advocacy for racist policies and support for political violence.

Otzma Yehudit leaders have described themselves as proud disciples of the late rabbi Meir Kahane. The party supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel, and expelling Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and to accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state whose sovereignty extends throughout the West Bank.

Otzma Yehudit’s former No. 1, Ben Ari, was barred from running in the April elections by the Supreme Court under anti-racism laws, and was replaced at the party’s helm by Ben Gvir.

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