Smotrich says he backs reserving spot for controversial ex-senior cop Saada on far-right list

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Former deputy head of the Police Internal Investigations Department Moshe Saada speaks to Channel 12 on July 25, 2022. (Screenshot/Channel 12)
Former deputy head of the Police Internal Investigations Department Moshe Saada speaks to Channel 12 on July 25, 2022. (Screenshot/Channel 12)

In the background of heated negotiations between Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit to unify their parties, Religious Zionism chair Bezalel Smotrich wants to place Moshe Saada as a compromise candidate in the unified list’s seventh spot, according to Smotrich’s spokesman.

A reporter for the Walla news site says that Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir, who wants a Mizrahi candidate representing a peripheral town in that slot, is against Saada as the compromise candidate.

On Monday, negotiations between Smotrich and Ben Gvir appeared to reach a breakthrough, with Smotrich offering Ben Gvir five positions — including one compromise candidate — within a unified slate’s first ten Knesset candidates. Religious Zionism, which currently includes Ben Gvir’s party under its ultra-right, religious and pro-settlement tent, is currently polling between 10-13 seats — a bump attributed to firebrand MK Ben Gvir’s growing popularity.

Saada, the former deputy head of the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department, made headlines in the past two weeks for alleging that top judicial officials ignored misconduct by the then-police chief in order to preserve efforts to prosecute former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu leads the right-religious bloc that includes Religious Zionism and ultra-Orthodox parties. He previously orchestrated the marriage between Smotrich and Ben Gvir, and has reportedly urged a renewal of vows in anticipation of the November election.

Running together, Smotrich and Ben Gvir are expected to sail across the 3.25% election threshold. However, the two have butted heads in terms of approach and leadership of Religious Zionism, with Ben Gvir straining for more control of the party Smotrich currently helms.

Religious Zionism is slated to hold primaries on August 23, which if the proposed merger goes through, will only decide up to five spots in the party’s top ten.

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