Zionist Spirit adds religious settler Amitai Porat to slate behind Shaked, Hendel

Former leader of religious kibbutz movement and son of settlement group founder will be only religious Zionist in realistic spot on list, as faction scrambles for right-wing votes

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Amitai Porat (L) shakes hands with Zionist Spirit leaders Ayelet Shaked and Yoaz Hendel, Kfar Maccabiah, August 21, 2022. (Bernie Ardov / Benovitch Communications)
Amitai Porat (L) shakes hands with Zionist Spirit leaders Ayelet Shaked and Yoaz Hendel, Kfar Maccabiah, August 21, 2022. (Bernie Ardov / Benovitch Communications)

Amitai Porat, a former leader of the small religious kibbutz movement and the son of a founder of the settlement movement, was tapped Sunday for the third spot on the Zionist Spirit slate, joining the new faction established by Ayelet Shaked and Yoaz Hendel.

A religious Zionist, Porat is the only religious figure in the top four spots on the faction’s secular-heavy slate, which is competing for votes as a moderate right-wing party by marketing itself as a keystone of a broad-based Zionist unity government.

Built out of the remnants of Shaked’s Yamina party and Hendel’s breakaway faction-of-two with lawmaker Zvi Hauser, Zionist Spirit is struggling to poll above the 3.25% electoral threshold needed to enter Knesset in November, and it is unclear whether the addition of Porat, a relative unknown, will significantly boost the party’s chances.

A senior Zionist Spirit source said that the party’s internal polling indicates that there are about 12 potential right-wing seats up for grabs.

The seats come from voters who identify with the moderate right, but prefer not to vote for conservative flagship Likud, including many who previously supported Shaked’s Yamina or New Hope, the party from which Hendel spun off.

The source said the party has not yet polled to figure out why potential supporters have yet to commit to Zionist Spirit in surveys showing the party barely scraping the Knesset threshold.

Amitai Porat, then-general secretary of the Religious Kibbutz Movement, at the West Bank’s Kfar Etzion settlement, July 10, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Porat is a resident of Kfar Etzion, a religious kibbutz in the West Bank, which his grandparents helped found. He is the son of the late Hanan Porat, a former lawmaker and founder of ultranationalist religious settlement movement, Gush Emunim. The senior Porat’s image “defines the Zionist spirit,” Shaked said.

Despite the pedigree, some have questioned whether Porat will garner enough support to justify his lofty placement on the party’s slate.

His addition appears targeted at positioning Zionist Spirit as an alterative home for right-wing religious Zionists who may identify with hardline pro-settlement policies espoused by the far-right Religious Zionism party, but prefer a less polarizing approach.

“If we look at the main challenge facing the people of Israel, it is the division between us. The ability to live together and not let politics separate,” Porat said at a press conference at Kfar Maccabiah, echoing messaging pushed by the party.

Hanan Porat is carried by supporters in Sebastia, in the West Bank, in 1975. (Moshe Milner, Government Press Office)

Hendel described his party as a “normal… sane” home for religious nationalist voters.

“Religious Zionism is intended to build bridges, not burn them,” he said.

With Israel heading into its fifth election since November 2019, Porat complained that “our national resilience has been damaged” by the political upheaval.

“The solution to the crisis is a return to the basic alliance between us. Unity as a national ideal, but also as a political practice,” he said. “This is a mission of the people and of religious Zionism, which seeks to be a bridge between the parts of the people.”

Yamina leader Ayelet Shaked speaks during a press conference with Derech Eretz’s Yoaz Hendel to announce their merger into the new Zionist Spirit party, in Ramat Gan, on July 27, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

About a third of Yamina’s 2021 voters were national religious, and the party searched for a representative of the national religious movement to fill out a top spot in its slate, made more urgent after former Yamina religious affairs minister Matan Kahana bolted last week to join the center-right National Unity Party.

Jewish Home party leader Yossi Brodny, who inherited the party once led by Shaked’s longtime political partner Naftali Bennett, was considered for the third spot, according to sources close to the matter.

However, negotiations broke down after Brodny demanded a list with more religious representation that would not look like a remake of the crumbled Yamina party.

Brodny announced on Sunday that Jewish Home would run independently, although it is not expected to cross the electoral threshold without allying with another faction.

Hendel’s political partner Hauser will take the fourth spot, which is the last realistic spot on Zionist Spirit’s list, presuming they successfully cross the electoral threshold.

Pushed further down this list are Yamina MKs Abir Kara and Yomtob Kalfon, who have to date stuck with Shaked.

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