The 54,000 members of the Habayit Hayehudi party (The Jewish Home) will decide on Tuesday whether party strongman Zvulun Orlev or rising star Naftali Bennett becomes the party's next chairman and leads it into the January elections.
The number of voting party members is staggeringly large considering that the party received a total of only 96,000 votes in the last elections. The number of party members reflects the rejuvenation of the National Religious Party, the predecessor of Habayit Hayehudi, its hopes to return to its former glory, and its determination to win religiously traditional voters back from the Likud.
The two candidates - a third, Yehuda Cohen, stands no realistic chance - reflect the changes in religious Zionist society in recent years. Orlev represents the old generation of National Religious Party officials, while Bennett is a man of the new generation. Orlev knows his place, and will be content with a seat at the cabinet table, while Bennett believes religious Zionism should lead the country, privately talking about eventually getting elected prime minister. Orlev is grayish and old, Bennett, charismatic and articulate. Orlev enjoys the support of the party apparatus, including the Natan Eshel-type behind-the-scenes operators, while Bennett brought into the party a new generation that had previously been revolted by the NRP.
Bennett is firm in his belief that he can attract new voters, not only from religious Zionist circles, and for that reason added his secular political partner, Ayelet Shaked, to the party, although he is hiding her for the time being due to mixed responses from the party faithful. While Bennett's slogan is that religious Zionism must lead, Orlev believes it's more important that the party safeguard its religious identity, otherwise it will be similar to the Likud's religious wing.
The old leadership has failed to lure back from the Likud an estimated four Knesset seats' worth of voters. Bennett claims he is the right man to do it. His moves have caused endless rumors about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attempts to influence inner party decisions, especially considering the enmity between the two, which goes back to 2008 when Bennett left his post as Netanyahu's chief of staff. Pundits believe Bennett, can, in fact, swing back two Knesset seats from the Likud to Habayit Hayehudi.
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