Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked came under swift attack from all sides Saturday evening after announcing they would leave Jewish Home and form the HaYamin HeHadash (The New Right) party, with the right accusing the two of dividing its voting public, and the more centrist and leftist parties deriding the move as no more than superficial rebranding by the rightist leaders.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud warned the expected split in right-wing votes could lead the right to fall from power.
“Some have not learned the lesson of the 1992 elections, when the right smashed itself into shards of parties and thus brought about the rise of a left-wing government and the disaster of Oslo,” it said, in reference to the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians. “The only way to ensure the rule of the right is to vote only for Likud under Netanyahu.”
Likud’s Culture Minister Miri Regev also attacked the two, saying they’d “abandoned their home and taken religious Zionism for a ride.” She called on religious Zionists to “come to the real right-wing party, vote for Likud… beware of imitations.” Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis (also Likud) called the move “childish and dangerous” for the right.
Ofir Sofer, Secretary General of the National Union, one of the component factions of Jewish Home, attacked Bennett and Shaked, saying the decision was based on “personal motives” and expressing hope that the public will “choose values and ideology and not a dangerous adventure.”
The coalition’s Kulanu party said the new competition was “another sectarian party that seeks to further diminish national inclusiveness. During the last term Bennett and Shaked… searched for that which divides and polarizes the public. Israelis need a party that… fights for every Israeli.”
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) rejected the party as “A new name for the architects of annexation [of the West Bank], of attacks against the rule of law and democracy.”
The Yesh Atid party said the breakup of Jewish Home showed Netanyahu’s political coalition was coming apart. “Now it is clear that Netanyahu can be beaten… Yesh Atid is the only alternative,” it said.
MK Yoel Hasson, chairman of the Zionist Union, dismissed the new party as “nothing new” and rejected Bennett and Shaked’s apparent attempt to distance themselves from Jewish Home legislators seen as extreme, such as Bezalel Smotrich.
“Bennett is Smotrich, and Shaked is Bezalel. There’s nothing new under the sun,” Hasson said. “It’s the same extreme leadership that harmed Israeli democracy and supported attempts to turn Israel into a [repressive] state.”
Meretz head Tamar Zandberg said “HaYamin HeHadash is a dangerous, racist and inciting right, a party that represents true partnership between those who wish to destroy democracy and those who wish to destroy secularism.”
Smotrich, meanwhile, wished the two “luck” and expressed hope that “this step will strengthen the right.” But he called on the religious Zionist public to “close ranks” and continue to support Jewish Home “in order to increase our influence in the Knesset in the coming years.”
There have long been reports of clashes within Jewish Home between Bennett and Shaked and members of the Tkuma party which forms a part of Jewish Home — led by Ariel and Smotrich. There is speculation that with Bennett and Shaked gone, Smotrich will now seek to lead the Jewish Home.
Smotrich added he believed the move was the beginning of a bid by the two to succeed Netanyahu at the very top of the Israeli government. The pair do not believe they can ever win the leadership of Israel so long as they are associated with a religious party, said Smotrich, and the split was therefore “inevitable.”
Jewish Home’s Ariel said he believed the pair were making a “mistake” but added that it was an “opportunity to form a strong religious Zionist party” by those remaining in Jewish Home.
Bennett and Shaked’s decision to break off from the national-religious Jewish Home comes in the wake of the Knesset’s decision earlier this week to dissolve and schedule early elections for April, a move that has been followed by the establishment of several new parties and calls for political alliances.
Explaining the decision at a Tel Aviv press conference on Saturday night, the ministers said that while Jewish Home had become a “significant force” in government over the past six years, their power had waned, with Bennett saying Netanyahu felt religious Zionists were “in his pocket.”
The two said they sought to build a party which would achieve what Jewish Home couldn’t — “true partnership between secular and religious [Israelis].”
HaYamin HeHadash, Shaked said, would be a “full and equal partnership” between the secular and the Orthodox.
“We’ll regain Knesset seats that have slipped from the Likud to the left — to parties that claim to be right wing but are in fact left,” she said. “The party will strengthen the right.”
“I want to be very very clear,” Bennett said. “The New Right party is right-wing, no buts and no sort-ofs. In favor of the Land of Israel without compromise, against a Palestinian state, period.”