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InterviewShaked pans comments, says she 'preserved right-wing values'

‘Shaked not right-wing, not trustworthy,’ charges Religious Zionism MK Rothman

Battle for the right heats up, with nationalist party positioning itself to scoop up voters ‘who regret voting for Yamina and New Hope’

Religious Zionism party MK Simcha Rothman in his Knesset office, July 5, 2022. (Jeremy Sharon)
Religious Zionism party MK Simcha Rothman in his Knesset office, July 5, 2022. (Jeremy Sharon)

MK Simcha Rothman of the far-right Religious Zionism party accused Yamina party leader Ayelet Shaked of being “untrustworthy” and “not right-wing,” in the latest effort by Shaked’s former allies to poach Yamina’s voters.

Rothman told The Times of Israel that his nationalist party would never consider running alongside Yamina due to what he said was Shaked’s key role in building and maintaining the outgoing government, and insisted that Religious Zionism was a more reliable home for right-wing voters.

Shaked’s office in response cited numerous right-wing policies implemented by the Yamina leader, and accused Rothman of having harmed Israeli security by voting against the government’s Citizenship Law which severely restricts Palestinian spouses of Israelis from obtaining citizenship or residency in Israel.

Earlier this week, New Hope leader Gidon Sa’ar sniped at Shaked from the opposite direction, alleging that the Yamina leader would abandon her current diverse coalition partners and restore Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-religious bloc to power after the coming elections.

The attacks by Rothman and Sa’ar demonstrate the fierce battle that has already commenced for Yamina’s voters and the difficult position Shaked’s party now finds itself in.

Speaking in his Knesset office on Tuesday, Rothman said his party is currently preparing for primaries, set to take place on August 23, and that he hoped the slate that is formed will “appeal to people who regret their vote for Yamina and New Hope.”

He also ruled out a joint electoral run by Religious Zionism and Yamina, as the two parties, in different incarnations, had done several times in the past.

“You can call her whatever you like but she’s not right-wing and she’s not trustworthy,” said Rothman of Shaked, whom he called “one of the architects” of the outgoing government.

Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett, right, and Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked seen in the plenum hall of the Israeli parliament during the voting in the presidential elections, in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

He said Yamina voters had “lost their home,” and added, “I don’t understand how anyone in his right mind can trust someone who already betrayed his trust.”

Shaked has taken over as leader of Yamina in the wake of former prime minister Naftali Bennett’s announcement that he will not be running in the coming election.

Responding to Rothman’s comments, Shaked’s office said Wednesday morning, “While Rothman was shouting and slandering for an entire year, Shaked preserved right-wing values, doubled the salary of national-service girls, got the budget for the state religious education system into the basic state budget, substantially increased budgets for regional councils in Judea and Samaria [West Bank settlements], ensured there would not be a US consulate in Jerusalem [for Palestinians], convened the Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Council to build in Judea and Samaria despite the difficulties, and for the first time after a long time established 14 new towns in the Negev and Golan.”

Courting the Ultra-Orthodox?

Another potential source of votes for Religious Zionism is the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, community, where it has received support in recent elections from some elements.

Asked if Religious Zionism would be campaigning for ultra-Orthodox votes, Rothman was cautious in his response, likely anxious not to upset his party’s Haredi allies, United Torah Judaism and Shas.

But he noted that some ultra-Orthodox rabbis, such as Rabbi Meir Mazuz, had told their followers they could vote for Religious Zionism, and asserted that the party “is a good option for people like this.”

Regarding Religious Zionism’s Kahanist political partner Otzma Yehudit, Rothman said he “really hopes” the two parties run on a joint list once again, as they did in the 2021 election, and that he “really respects” Otzma leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir attends a march by right-wing activists through Jerusalem’s Old City, April 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rothman said he did not believe Otzma and Ben Gvir were extremists or racists, noting that the Supreme Court had rejected claims that Ben Gvir was racist and permitted him to run for Knesset.

He described Ben Gvir and his views as “almost mainstream,” and, asked if Otzma Yehudit’s ideology was different from Religious Zionism’s, answered, “I don’t see a big difference between the ideology of Ben Gvir and that of Likud, Shas, UTJ, or Yamina.”

Otzma Yehudit is the political successor of the extremist Kach party, founded and headed by the ultra-nationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was assassinated in 1990.

The party platform includes a clause stating that the party seeks to “remove the enemies of Israel from our country” and create a “national authority for encouraging emigration” of Arab citizens of Israel.

Ben Gvir himself has said that Arab citizens who are “not loyal” to the State of Israel should be expelled, but has remained vague as to what constitutes loyalty.

Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich and the National Union party, a predecessor of Religious Zionism, have in the past adopted as part of their platform policies to encourage Palestinians to emigrate from the West Bank.

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