National Union Head Betzalel Smotrich Joins Naftali Bennett’s New Right

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FILE - Jewish Home parliament member Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a conference of the National Union Political party in Jerusalem on March 6, 2018. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

JERUSALEM (VINnews) — In a surprise move Tuesday morning, National Union leader Betzalel Smotrich decided to team up with Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right party for the coming Israeli elections. Smotrich, who represents the more conservative national religious camp, had been expected to join Rafi Peretz’s Jewish Home party which is closer to his ideological beliefs but after marathon night-long talks with the New Right, Smotrich decided to join them instead.

The New Right formed by Bennett in the elections which took place a year ago represents the more liberal sector of the national religious camp as well as secular voters who are ideologically close to that camp. Many of these secular voters were themselves once religious, since there is a very high attrition rate within the national religious sector, with more than one in three adopting a secular lifestyle. Bennett’s party appeals to many of these voters, but in the first election he missed the threshold by less than 2000 votes. In the present election he is expected to pass the threshold since Moshe Feiglin, who addressed the same sector of the public, is not running for election.

With the addition of Smotrich it is unclear whether Bennett has increased his electoral base, since on the one hand some conservative voters will vote New Right but on the other hand Smotrich, who is known for his controversial statements in the past regarding homosexuals and female service in the IDF, is not popular in liberal religious circles and may push voters, especially the secular ones, towards other parties such as Blue And White or the Likud.

Moreover Smotrich’s defection from the Jewish Home party has left Rabbi Peretz in a perilous position with the final date for presenting lists to the Knesset only two days away. Peretz joined up with Jewish Force leader Itamar Ben-Gvir who garnered some 84,000 votes in the previous election but the alliance may not be enough to pass the electoral threshold which stands at about 140,000 votes.

Peretz, who originally sidelined Smotrich by joining Ben-Gvir, is thus left with the unsavory options of running alone or joining the New Right alliance under Bennett but at the same time abandoning his partnership with Ben-Gvir. Bennett has stated in the past that he will not sit with Ben-Gvir, who supports the idea of transfer for Israeli Arabs and other extreme positions. However leaving Ben-Gvir alone would once again waste over 80,000 votes and lead to the same impasse which has plagued Israel for the past year.

Thus the ideological right in Israel resembles a blanket which is too narrow to cover all of its prospective partners. If Bennett will unite with Peretz and Ben-Gvir he will lose his secular and liberal voters. If he will join with Peretz, Ben-Gvir’s voters will be wasted. If he leaves the two of them to their fate, even more votes may be wasted.

There are still two days left for a solution to be found for this conundrum. Possibly Eli Yishai could join with Peretz, giving him some support from the Chareidi sector. Ben-Gvir and Peretz are both Sefardi and the addition of Yishai could bring the more right-wing Sefardim who voted for parties like Likud and Orly Levy’s Gesher party to move towards the Jewish Home alliance. However at present the fractured right-wing is continuing to shoot itself in the leg and damage the slim chance of obtaining a majority of 61 MKs in what has become a travesty of ineffective democracy.

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