Soccer Star Eli Ohana Quits Habayit Hayehudi, Amid Criticism

Ohana's placement in the tenth spot saw party chairman Bennett scramble to stave off harsh criticism from inside.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Bennett and Ohana, photo courtesy of Habayit Hayehudi
Bennett and Ohana, photo courtesy of Habayit Hayehudi
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Former soccer star Eli Ohana announced he is pulling out of Habayit Hayehudi, and will not be running for a Knesset seat as part of the party's roster – only three days after it was publicized that he was picked for a reserved slot on the party's election list.

Ohana's placement in the tenth spot on Habayit Hayehudi's roster saw party chairman Naftali Bennett scramble to stave off harsh criticism from inside his party.

MKs were furious over the fact that an outsider would be pushing out a party member from the opening 10 on the party list, as well as to the choice itself, which was widely slammed as not in keeping with the party's religious leanings. MKs were also angry that they were not notified in advance of the move. On Tuesday night Bennett convened several party MKs for a meeting, and was confronted with wall-to-wall opposition from within his party, for the first time since he was chosen as party chairman.

"Yesterday night I asked the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi Naftali Bennett to not join the party's Knesset list," said Ohana. "I did not expect the public storm that arose due to my choice to join politics, and I do not feel that in this stage in my life I am built for it. I was very happy when Bennett turned to me, and joined the party out of a wish to help society's weak, but I saw since then, day after day, attacks on him, and on me, attacks that hurt me and my family, despite my good intentions."

"Last night I rethought this decision, after being asked to do so by minister Bennett, but now it is final, and I thank him from all my heart for the confidence he has placed in me. I will continue to contribute both to society and to the sports world from wherever I will be. I love my work as a coach and as a commentator, and will return there gladly."

Opposition to Ohana's pick also came from rabbis that support the party. Rabbi Chaim Drukman, the most senior among them, issued no statement on the matter, but his associates signaled his displeasure. Rabbi Eli Sadan, the head of the "Bnei David" army preparatory program in the West Bank settlement of Ali, said on Tuesday that he would urge against voting for Bennett's party. Bennett responded by visiting the rabbi's residence that same night to try and change his mind, but Sadan remained unconvinced.

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