Housing Minister Uri Ariel and several other Jewish Home MKs are on the cusp of signing a deal to join former Shas MK Eli Yishai’s new party, Ha’am Itanu, a source close to Yishai was quoted by the NRG news site as saying Wednesday, adding that the unified list would most likely not include any women.
Yishai reportedly agreed to place Ariel at the second spot on his list, followed by Jewish Home MKs Yoni Chetboun and Zvulun Kalfa, according NRG. All three aforementioned Jewish Home representatives are members of the hawkish Tekumah faction. So far, Chetboun is the only Jewish Home member to officially announce he would join Yishai’s party.
The exclusion of women from a unified list has been a point of contention in negotiations between Yishai and Ariel — specifically with regard to Jewish Home MK Orit Strock — with Yishai insisting that religious authorities, such as the influential Sephardi ultra-Orthodox rabbi Meir Mazoz, do not permit for woman to run for public office.
Following a nearly two-hour-long meeting on Tuesday, Yishai and Ariel discussed giving Strock an administrative roll in the Ha’am Itanu party instead of an electoral one, according to a source quoted by NRG.
Last week, Rabbi Dov Lior, an influential figure within the hardline religious-Zionist community, urged members of the Tekumah faction to split from the Jewish Home and join a more ultra-Orthodox, right-wing minded party. Ariel’s Tekumah faction currently holds four of the 12 Jewish Home Knesset seats. Earlier that week, the Tekumah MKs within the Jewish Home party called an emergency session and threatened to run as a separate party in the upcoming elections. The session was followed by a heated meeting where Tekumah members showed up late to a Jewish Home conference and accused party chairman Naftali Bennett of selling out the values of the party in order to broaden his political base.
Yishai registered with election authorities to run under a new party on Sunday, solidifying his split from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party he once led. Yishai chaired Shas for 14 years, but found himself sidelined by the 2011 return of Aryeh Deri, who had been jailed on graft charges.
Relations between Deri, who currently heads Shas, and Yishai soured considerably after last year’s death of rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the party’s spiritual leader. The two quarreled repeatedly over Yishai’s role in the party, with Deri accusing Yishai of undermining him in a bid to reclaim the chairmanship.
Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.