Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will help ensure the far-right Union of Right-Wing Parties gets enough ministerial posts so that the extremist activist Itamar Ben Gvir, number 7 on the party’s Knesset slate, gets into parliament, a party leader said in a recording publicized Tuesday.
In audio of a closed meeting of URWP activists leaked to Channel 12, party no. 2 MK Betzalel Smotrich is heard promising that the list will do whatever it takes to ensure that Ben Gvir gets into parliament, and that Netanyahu will help because of the far-right faction’s agreement with the Likud leader.
URWP is an alliance of three far-right parties. Two of them, Jewish Home and National Union, represent the Hardal, or nationalist ultra-Orthodox, community. The third and most controversial component, Otzma Yehudit, or “Jewish Power,” is made up of former disciples of the extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.
Ben Gvir, the most senior remaining Otzma Yehudit member on the URWP list — the High Court of Justice disqualified Otzma leader Michael Ben Ari’s candidacy over incitement to racism — is a well-known attorney who defends and advocates for Jewish terror suspects. A photograph of Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who shot dead 29 Muslim worshipers at prayer in Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994, hangs on his living room wall.
Jewish Home and National Union agreed to join forces with Otzma Yehudit after facing intense pressure from Netanyahu, who feared that if any of the three parties ran separately, they wouldn’t clear the 3.25 percent electoral threshold and their votes would be lost to the right-wing bloc Netanyahu needs to power him to the premiership for a fourth consecutive term.
In return for forming the union, Netanyahu gave Jewish Home’s Eli Ben-Dahan a guaranteed slot on Likud Knesset slate, and promised the URWP two cabinet posts in the next government.
In the recording aired Tuesday, Smotrich can be heard referring to that agreement. URWP was committed to the so-called “Norwegian law,” Smotrich said, which allows an MK from any party who is appointed to a cabinet post to resign temporarily from the Knesset, allowing the next-in-line person on their party’s list to enter parliament. When the cabinet minister subsequently leaves their position, they regain their Knesset seat and the new MK is forced to resign.
URWP obtained “in our agreement with Netanyahu [assurances] that there will be a double Norwegian law,” Smotrich says. “Even if, in the worst case, [URWP] only gets five seats, Itamar [Ben Gvir] will still get in. With God’s help we’ll be in the coalition, two MKs on our list will resign to take on positions [in the cabinet] and he’ll get in.”
In the recording, Smotrich does not clarify how far Netanyahu would go to help URWP ensure Ben Gvir enters the Knesset. If the party only gets four seats, for example, it was unclear whether the prime minister would acquiesce to three cabinet posts.
Smotrich suggests in the recording that the “double Norwegian law,” which would allow a resignation and subsequent return to the Knesset for two lawmakers, will be backed by Netanyahu.
When the URWP union was announced last month, its leader, Rafi Peretz — a former chief rabbi of the IDF who is seen as more moderate than Smotrich — said the deal was only “technical,” and that the URWP would dissolve after the election, with Otzma Yehudit’s newly elected candidate splintering to form a separate Knesset faction.