Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled his visit to a hardline religious seminary whose leader launched a homophobic party that ran in September’s election campaign, an official at the seminary confirmed Thursday.
Two officials in the Prime Minister’s Office refused to comment on the planned visit to the Har Hamor yeshiva in Jerusalem, which came under heavy criticism from left-wing lawmakers who blasted the premier for choosing the far-right institution for his first campaign stop ahead of snap elections in March.
News of the visit, planned for Thursday, made its way into the headlines on Wednesday after a WhatsApp message from the administration to students on the matter was leaked to the press.
Earlier this year the head of Har Hamor, Rabbi Tzvi Tau, formed the Noam party, which campaigned ahead of the recent September election almost exclusively on combating LGBT acceptance.
The far-right slate dropped out days before the election after polling well under the threshold. Netanyahu’s Likud party had reportedly promised to shelve plans for a mixed-gender prayer area at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in exchange for Noam bowing out of the race.
The fringe party funded provocative billboards and video ads with the slogan “Israel chooses to be normal,” and claimed the LGBT community has “forced its agenda” on the rest of Israeli society. It also likened LGBT and Reform Jews to the Nazis.
Last month, Tau attended a Likud rally in support of Netanyahu amid the criminal indictments facing the prime minister in three corruption cases.
The planned visit to the yeshiva was seen by some as a bid by Netanyahu to appeal to Likud’s far-right flank ahead of the leadership contest.
Channel 13 reported that the prime minister is hoping that these more hardline elements will be folded into the Jewish Home party ahead of the March 2 vote, while he believes that Naftali Bennett’s New Right party will be popular enough to run independently and cross the threshold.
In September, the New Right and Jewish Home ran on a joint slate led by former minister Ayelet Shaked, while the far-right Otzma Yehudit party ran on its own, but failed to cross the electoral threshold.