Ultra-right Party Goes Underground - to Convene in Old City Cave

Around 100 members attend convention of splinter party whose platform asserts that Jordan is the Palestinian state.

Roy (Chicky) Arad
Roy Arad
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Roy (Chicky) Arad
Roy Arad

Perhaps in reaction to the Likud and Labor conventions, with their stars and their deal-making, MK Aryeh Eldad's Hatikva party opted to hold its convention at an archaeological site on Thursday: Zedekiah's Cave, located under the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City. Describing his colleagues' reaction to the choice, Eldad admitted, "They were sure I was psychotic."

Don't feel ashamed if you've never heard of the Hatikva party. It's a split-off from National Union, which hasn't exactly fulfilled the promise of its name. The four-member National Union faction has now split into three: Hatikva, Michael Ben-Ari's party, and Yaakov Katz's Tekuma, which will apparently run together with Habayit Hayehudi.

"The right is no different from the left in its tendency to fracture," Eldad acknowledged. "It's no wonder that Jews split the atom: We always come down to a single atom."

Because of the split, only about 100 people attended the convention. "They call us the Meretz of the right," said David Band, who is running for a slot on the party's slate. And indeed, like Meretz, this party has many professors; no one tries to cut in line; and it combines personal integrity with bitter humor about itself. It also shares Meretz's demographic composition: elderly Ashkenazim convinced that someone still cares what they think.

As I was talking with Eldad, someone came up to praise his choice of venue. But not everyone agreed. "This is a nice tourist attraction, but not a suitable place for primaries," one complained. "My grandmother wouldn't be able to manage the stairs."

When someone pointed out that I was from Haaretz, Eldad, noting that even the right-wing paper B'Sheva hadn't sent a reporter, joked, "Apparently you guys are more right-wing."

"It's just a pity that we're so few," said Eli, a party member from Ashdod. "Next time, everyone needs to bring a bus [full of people] with him."

I asked him why he chose Hatikva. "If you ask people in the Likud Central Committee what their platform is, none of them know," he replied. "Here, everyone knows exactly what year the expulsion happened."

He was talking, of course, about the expulsion of the Gaza settlers in 2005. The trauma of the disengagement is tangible here, and delegates vote by raising a heart-shaped piece of orange paper - orange being the color the settlers adopted in their failed battle against the pullout. Several people praised me for the orange shirt I was wearing, and someone asked me if I was a candidate.

I asked Eldad about the paucity of young people, and he said he had tried to set up a youth wing, but failed. As for the party's demographic composition, he said he had never noticed it before.

One of the few young people present was David Band, the candidate. His fliers boast that he is "involved in social and cultural life in Tel Aviv." I asked him what that means, and he said he does public relations for a Tel Aviv nightclub.

"It's true I live in downtown Tel Aviv," he said. "But I know it's impossible to divide this land, that this isn't a territorial struggle but a clash of civilizations."

His sister came up and asked who she should vote for. He said he already texted her the list, but she said her cell phone isn't working, because they're underground. That's another advantage of the venue: Party leaders won't be able to text while someone is speaking.

Who says the right has no diplomatic solutions? Hatikva's solution is simple: Jordan is the Palestinian state. "Two states for two peoples on the two banks of the Jordan River," says the party's brochure.

"The world wants an end to the occupation and two states for two peoples," Eldad explained. "We'll satisfy that desire: We'll end the Muslim occupation of the Land of Israel and establish a Palestinian state in Jordan."

I pointed out to one candidate, Elad Cohen, that the Jordanians wouldn't be happy to hear this. "Then we have to make them be happy," he replied. "Jordan pretends that it isn't part of the solution. That's bullshit. There are Jordanians who, very quietly, will tell you that at the moment, by chance, they are ruled by a Bedouin [King Abdullah II], but they'll throw him out, with his head or without it."

Ironically, the one handing out sodas and bourekas at the gathering was Ahmed Abbasi of East Jerusalem. "I understood that they're an extreme right-wing party, but they're very nice," he said. "Someone asked me by mistake to vote for her in the primary. What do they want to do?"

I explained their diplomatic platform, and he smiled. "They want this place to be free of Arabs? My grandfather's grandfather's grandfathers, for 20 generations back, were born within Jerusalem's walls. The original Ahmed Abbasi came with Saladin from Egypt. What they're proposing is unreasonable. How is it possible? Who would agree to such a thing? Abdullah? America? These are fantasies."

The convention in Zedekiah’s Cave under the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City on Thursday. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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