Right-wing URWP apparently cracking, with Otzma Yehudit set to run separately

Amid conflicting reports on breakup of alliance, would-be MK Itamar Ben Gvir says his extremist party is forging new partnerships

Otzma Yehudit party members Michael Ben Ari, center, Itamar Ben Gvir, right, and Baruch Marzel, left, at a press conference in response to the Supreme Court decision to disqualify Ben Ari from running in the April 2019 elections over his record of racist incitement, in Jerusalem on March 17, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit party members Michael Ben Ari, center, Itamar Ben Gvir, right, and Baruch Marzel, left, at a press conference in response to the Supreme Court decision to disqualify Ben Ari from running in the April 2019 elections over his record of racist incitement, in Jerusalem on March 17, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The future of the Union of Right-Wing Parties remained unclear Friday amid conflicting reports over the far-right Otzma Yehudit’s continued membership in the alliance.

The Ynet news site reported that Jewish Home, led by Rafi Peretz, and National Union under Bezalel Smotrich — the two other parties in the URWP — have agreed to run together in the September election without Otzma Yehudit, seeming to confirm previous reports on the matter.

But Ynet also reported that National Union denied such a decision had been made, and said it still wanted Otzma Yehudit as part of the union, based on the agreements reached in the previous election.

Meanwhile, Otzma Yehudit appeared to lend credence to reports it was out, with leading would-be MK Itamar Ben Gvir telling Ynet: “I wish them luck. I hope they make the right alliances to pass the electoral threshold. We are working on alternative alliances and will present an attractive slate.”

According to the site, Jewish Home head Peretz objects to running alongside Otzma Yehudit’s Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein, and told Otzma Yehudit it would need to eject them in order for the parties to run together — a demand Otzma Yehudit rejected.

Education Minister Rafi Peretz at his swearing-in ceremony at the Education Ministry in Jerusalem on June 26, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Otzma Yehudit, the spiritual successor of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach party, has never managed to garner enough votes to enter the Knesset. Marzel was a former secretary to Kahane when the rabbi’s Kach party entered the Knesset in 1984 prior to being outlawed under anti-terror laws. Gopstein heads Lehava, an anti-miscegenation group that some lawmakers have called to be declared illegal.

Jewish Home and National Union ran together under the Jewish Home moniker in the 2013 and 2015 elections.

But ahead of this year’s April election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — seeking to prevent the loss of right-wing votes and strengthen a prospective Likud-led coalition — brokered a deal between the two parties and Otzma Yehudit under which the three would run together. In return, Netanyahu promised to give two ministerial posts to the union, as well as give the 28th spot on the Likud list — reserved for a candidate of Netanyahu’s choosing — to an MK from the alliance.

In the end, the URWP won five seats, actually leaving Otzma Yehudit out of the Knesset as its top candidate Ben Gvir was placed at number seven. And it was Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right that surprisingly fell short of the 3.75 percent of the vote needed to enter the legislature.

Transportation Minister and Head of the National Union party Betzalel Smotrich speaks during a conference Ariel University in the West Bank on June 20, 2019. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Netanyahu ended up failing to form a coalition due to political arm-wrestling with Yisrael Beytenu and disbanded the Knesset, sending the country on the path to a new national vote on September 17.

Cracks had been forming in the URWP in recent weeks, with Otzma Yehudit accusing Peretz of not honoring the terms of their preelection merger agreement.

According to officials in Otzma Yehudit, the URWP agreement stipulated that if any of the party leaders were appointed ministers, they would resign from the Knesset by applying the so-called “Norwegian Law,” allowing Ben Gvir to become a lawmaker.

In June Netanyahu appointed Peretz and Smotrich as ministers in his interim cabinet, putting the former in charge of the Education Ministry and giving the latter the transportation portfolio.

But since then, Peretz has not been taking calls from Otzma Yehudit and showing no intention he plans to resign, Otzma officials charged.

On Thursday night Otzma Yehudit launched its campaign with leader Michael Ben Ari calling to “resettle our enemies in their countries” and other top members hitting out at Jewish Home’s Peretz.

Most Popular
read more: