Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly once again urging the right-wing parties Jewish Home and National Union to join forces with an extremist party, Otzma Yehudit, in order to increase its ballot-box showing in the September 17 elections.
Netanyahu made the appeal in a conversation with Jewish Home leader and current head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, Rafi Peretz, on Tuesday, according to a Channel 12 news report.
Jewish Home and National Union agreed to join forces with Otzma Yehudit ahead of the April elections to form the URWP, amid intense pressure from Netanyahu. The prime minister feared that if any of the three parties ran separately, they wouldn’t clear the 3.25 percent electoral threshold and their votes would be lost to the right-wing bloc he needed to bring him to the premiership for a fourth consecutive term.
Netanyahu was criticized both in Israel and abroad for arranging the alliance, which ultimately won five seats in the 120-member Knesset.
Leaders of Otzma Yehudit or “Jewish Power” have described themselves as proud disciples of the late rabbi Meir Kahane, who supported violently expelling Arabs from Israel and the West Bank and once proposed legislation outlawing inter-ethnic sexual relations. Kahane’s Kach organization is classified as a terror group by the US and his political party is forbidden from running in Israeli elections.
Otzma Yehudit now says it supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel, and expelling Palestinians and Arab Israelis who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state, whose sovereignty extends throughout the West Bank.
According to reports, Peretz is wary of teaming up with Otzma Yehudit and would rather join forces with Ayelet Shaked’s New Right party. Talks were underway between the two parties to bring about such a merger, Channel 12 reported.
Shaked, whose party did not pass the electoral threshold in the April elections, has said that she plans to run again and is seeking to merge with other parties. A popular former justice minister, Shaked has strong backing to lead the URWP.
But Peretz has refused to give up his position as leader during the negotiations with Shaked. A key sticking point is Peretz’s objection to the secular Shaked leading the URWP, which draws its votes from national religious Israelis.
Shaked in recent days has also reportedly held several meetings with senior Otzma Yehudit member Itamar Ben Gvir, although both have remained tight-lipped about the content of their conversations.
Last week, Peretz and National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich renewed their agreement for their parties to run as the URWP in September. They also called on other right-wing parties to join them, saying in a joint statement that unity among national religious parties is needed to “in order to maximize our electoral potential and prevent the wasting of votes.”
Otzma Yehudit said that it had been excluded from the alliance this election cycle, but that it would consider joining if its candidates were given a significant placement on the slate. A URWP party source said last week that Otzma Yehudit was demanding the 3rd and 6th spots on a joint ticket.
Knesset slates must be finalized by the end of July.