Former Shas Leader Yishai Teams Up With Extreme Rightists

Ex-minister Benny Begin recalled to Likud slate; soccer star Ohana and settler leader Dayan quit Habayit Hayehudi.

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Former Shas leader Eli Yishai and MK Yoni Chetboun, January 6, 2015.
Former Shas leader Eli Yishai and MK Yoni Chetboun, January 6, 2015.Credit: Moti Milrod

Former Shas chairman Eli Yishai’s new party announced Thursday that it will run on a joint ticket with the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit party in the upcoming election. Otzma, headed by Baruch Marzel and Michael Ben-Ari, failed to make it into the last Knesset.

Earlier Thursday, MK Yoni Chetboun, who helped found Yishai’s Ha’am Itanu party, had demanded that the merger be canceled. But he later recanted, and will be number two on the joint ticket.

Nevertheless, the merger led some leading members of the population Chetboun represents – the ultra-Orthodox wing of religious Zionism – to withdraw their support for the party, including the influential Rabbi Zvi Tau and Rabbi Moshe Hager, who was originally supposed to be high on the party’s slate.

The main argument was over visits to the Temple Mount, which Otzma supports but the Tau faction opposes. Chetboun agreed to stay after Otzma promised not to speak publicly about the Temple Mount during the campaign.

This dispute is also why Marzel, who has never personally visited the mount, was given the fourth slot on the ticket instead of Ben-Ari, who has.

Begin returns to Likud

In a surprise move just hours before the parties’ slates had to be submitted to the Central Elections Committee, Likud chairman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that former minister Benny Begin would be given the 11th slot on Likud’s list. Dr. Anat Berko, who was formerly in that slot, will therefore be bumped down to 23rd, and Dr. Limor Samimian-Darash, whom Netanyahu had personally put in the 23rd slot just one day earlier, won’t be on the ticket at all.

The effort to get Begin onto the slate was led by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, with Netanyahu’s backing. Begin, the son of Likud’s founder, had quit politics after failing in the 2012 party primary to make it into the last Knesset. Ya’alon and Begin held their first discussion on Monday, and according to sources involved in the issue, it didn’t go well. But on Wednesday they spoke again, and Thursday morning, Begin agreed to join the ticket.

The entry of Begin, 72, is meant to revive Likud’s liberal wing, which collapsed after he, Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan all fared poorly in the 2012 primary. The liberals’ last representative, Reuven Rivlin, quit the Knesset in June after being elected president.

Begin’s presence is expected to strengthen Likud’s appeal to moderate-right voters who might otherwise switch to Kulanu or Yesh Atid. Inter alia, he is an ardent defender of the Supreme Court, which many other Likud MKs harshly criticize.

Ohana, Dayan quit Habayit Hayehudi

Habayit Hayehudi also underwent last-minute changes Thursday, after former soccer star Eli Ohana, who had been personally placed on the ticket by party chairman Naftali Bennett just three days earlier, bowed out of the race. Ohana’s candidacy had generated fierce opposition among party activists.

“I didn’t expect the public storm that erupted after I entered political life, and I feel that at this stage of my life, I’m not built for this,” Ohana said Thursday, explaining his decision to withdraw.

Dani Dayan, a former chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements, also quit the ticket Thursday. He had done poorly in the primary, but rejected Bennett’s offer to move him up to the 17th slot, saying he considered it inappropriate to tamper with the primary’s results.

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