Taking helm of Jewish Home, new leader says Bennett and Shaked ‘used’ party

Rafi Peretz rejects notion that nationalist party is crashing; Moti Yogev snags No. 2 spot on slate, though expected National Union merger will shake up list

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Jewish Home party chief Rafi Peretz at the party's primary headquarters in Ramat Gan on February 4, 2019. (Flash90)
Jewish Home party chief Rafi Peretz at the party's primary headquarters in Ramat Gan on February 4, 2019. (Flash90)

New Jewish Home leader Rafi Peretz took aim at the nationalist party’s former leaders Monday, lambasting them for using and then abandoning the faction.

Peretz, who was officiallyh confirmed as the party’s leader Monday, did not refer to Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked by name, but left little doubt as to the object of his ire.

“There are those who think that our house is old. Not shiny enough. Not adaptable enough. They walk through it, enter for a short period, enjoy it, use it and continue on their way,” he told party members in a speech at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan where hundreds had congregated to vote for the pro-settler party’s list for the April elections.

In December, Shaked and Bennett announced that they would be leaving the Jewish Home and establishing the New Right party. The ministers argued that they were shackled by national religious leadership, who Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu felt were “in his pocket.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (left) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked deliver a statement to reporters on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Moreover, Bennett and Shaked said they wanted to be able to work toward secular-religious partnership — a task they had been unsuccessful in trying to push from within the religious nationalist Jewish Home.

“In my home there is belief in the people of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the land of Israel,” said Peretz, a former IDF chief rabbi. “In our home, we are proud of this belief. In our home we walk with that belief with our heads held high and do not try to hide it.”

Party activists at the convention voted to make veteran MK Moti Yogev No. 2 on the ticket, while a race between deputy defense minister Eli Ben Dahan and Samaria Regional Council deputy chairman Davidi Ben Zion for the 4 and 5 slots was determined too close to call and required a recount, a party spokesman said.

The No. 3 spot is reserved for a female representative that will be chosen by an internal committee later this month.

MK Moti Yogev, right, of the Jewish Home party casts his vote during the party’s preliminary elections in Ramat Gan on February 4, 2019. (Flash90)

The party’s list is expected to be further shifted in the coming weeks when Jewish Home enters negotiations with the National Union party, which is now led by hardline MK Bezalel Smotrich.

The two parties are expected to run together, but Smotrich is said to be pushing to lead the joint list, or at the very least, have members of his faction placed higher on the lineup than they have been in the past.

Peretz said Monday that he was in favor of uniting with other factions, namely the National Union.

Polls have shown the merged party struggling to cross the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent of the national vote, though a Haaretz poll published Monday gave it six seats.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the new Jewish Home and National Union leaders to merge with the extremist Otzma Yehudit party in a bid to bolster the far-rights strenght, giving him more potential coalition partners.

Led by activists Michael Ben Ari, Itamar Ben Gvir, Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein, the faction is considered by opposition lawmakers as beyond the pale due to its members proud endorsement of the ideology of Meir Kahane. The far-right activist rabbi’s Kach party was banned in Israel under anti-terrorism laws in the 1980s.

Smotrich appeared to reject the recommendation Monday, saying Netanyahu’s Likud would be a better fit for the “the good guys of Otzma Yehudit.”

Head of the Jewish home party Rabbi Rafi Peretz speaks at the party’s primary in Ramat Gan on February 4, 2019. (Flash90)

Party activists are hoping Peretz, 63, can inject new life into Jewish Home, which saw its political fortunes rise under Bennett’s stewardship over the last decade.

The former helicopter pilot served as the army’s top rabbi from 2010 to 2016 and is a well known figure in the national religious camp, particularly among nationalist ultra-Orthodox Israelis, sometimes known by the Hardal moniker.

Speaking Monday, Peretz rejected predictions that the party would crash in elections on April 9.

“What I see is a plane that is ready and fueled, with its engines working and the cockpit open,” he said. “Only the pilot is gone.”

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