Smotrich rules out Shaked leading right-wing alliance, blames her for upheaval

As small right-wing parties look to merge, URWP MK says he would consider placing justice minister on slate, but not as leader; PM said to dismiss reserving Likud slot for Shaked

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Ayelet Shaked and Bezalel Smotrich (L) attend a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting in the Israeli parliament on July 9, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ayelet Shaked and Bezalel Smotrich (L) attend a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting in the Israeli parliament on July 9, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Betzalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties on Sunday attacked his former ally Ayelet Shaked, accusing the justice minister of sowing political turmoil even as he called for all parties “to the right of Likud” to run under a single political umbrella in the September 17 election.

Shaked and former Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett left the Jewish Home party ahead of the April 9 election to form the New Right, which failed to clear the electoral threshold in that vote. Jewish Home, including Smotrich’s National Union faction, then merged with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party to create the URWP, which won five of the 120 Knesset seats.

Speaking to Army Radio, Smotrich called for a merger of the right-wing parties, but ruled out a report earlier on the station that suggested Shaked could be tapped to head such an alliance.

Shaked “abandoned, divided, crushed and made a mistake that sent the whole country into a whirlwind. You want to come back? We can certainly consider, but I don’t think there’s a reason in the world why you should be number 1,” he said.

After Avigdor Liberman — whose right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party declined to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, a move that led to new elections — the New Right is the second to blame for the political upheaval gripping the country, added Smotrich, accusing the party of taking a “dangerous gamble” in running on a separate ticket in the April elections and “losing a lot of votes for the right.”

At the same time, added Smotrich: “I really, really hope that to the right of Likud there will be only one party” — his own — and that no others will run separately in September, apparently excluding Yisrael Beytenu.

While blaming the New Right for the current crisis, Smotrich did not explicitly rule out having Bennett lead a united party.

The interview came as Netanyahu told his party members he would not reserve a spot for Shaked on the Likud list, according to the Ynet news site, quashing rumors the once popular justice minister was on her way to the prime minister’s party.

A Friday report said that Bennett was planning a political comeback and was working to persuade several small right-wing parties, including the far-right Otzma Yehudit, to run on a joint ticket in the September 17 elections.

Far-right politician and head of the quasi-libertarian, pro-cannabis Zehut party Moshe Feiglin confirmed Saturday that he had met with Bennett to discuss cooperating in the upcoming election campaign.

Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin is seen in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, during a campaign stop on April 4, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

For a time, Feiglin’s Zehut was seen as the Cinderella story of the campaign season, after years of the politician wandering in the political wilderness. Early polls ignored the party, but, as its cannabis position took center stage, Zehut gradually grew in popularity, with most polls predicting it would win four to seven seats. However, it ultimately failed to pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold, gaining 2.73% of the April 9 vote with 117,587 ballots.

“The meeting was long and positive, and it certainly seems that there is a basis for further examination of the possibility of cooperation in the upcoming elections,” Feiglin wrote on his Facebook page.

“After the loss in the elections and in light of the lessons we have learned, it is important for us to emphasize that the Zehut party is indeed open to political connections. But these connections will be made only with parties that share our same values,” he wrote.

He said his recent campaign had created a new political movement in Israel, which he dubbed the “freedom camp,” and called for further cooperation between like-minded political players.

He went on to call for open primaries, available to all members of the Israeli public, to determine who would head the “freedom camp” in the September 17 elections. He called for Bennett and Shaked to participate in the primaries.

Naftali Bennett, left, and Ayelet Shaked, right. (Flash90)

On Saturday, Channel 13 news reported that Netanyahu was mulling firing Bennett and Shaked from his interim cabinet and replacing them with members of his own party as he gears up for the upcoming vote. Since tanking in the last election, the two are no longer members of the Knesset, but remain part of the cabinet for the time being. Bennett serves as education minister and Shaked as justice minister.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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