Bennett Disavows Kahanists Who Merged With His Former Party: I Don't Accept Their Positions

Union of Right-Wing Parties members strike back, saying Bennett had encouraged the merge and 'suffers badly from credibility problems'

Naftali Bennet in Jerusalem, Israel, February 12, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Hayamin Hehadash chairman Naftali Bennett addressed criticism of his former party's merge with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party on Friday.

"There is a wide gap between my positions and those of Otzma Yehudit, and I don't accept their positions," he said in an interview with Kan Bet public radio. This contradicts his statement two weeks ago that it is "essential" for his former party to unite with Otzma Yehudit, in order to create "a strong religious-Zionist party." 

Bennett was asked if it would be appropriate for someone who idolizes the late rabbi Meir Kahane to hold a senior position in the Knesset. He responded: "No, but people who are undermining the State of Israel shouldn't, either. Whoever undermines the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is not fit to be in the Knesset. "

>> Read more: Most right-wing parties: We won't join Gantz-led coalition ■ Kahane returns to the Knesset | Editorial ■ The Kahanists and the homophobes: The two parties no one wants but Netanyahu needs 

Otzma Yehudit chairman Michael Ben Ari, who is fifth on the Union of Right-Wing Parties slate, later reminded Kan Bet that Bennett had called on Betzalel Smotrich to unite with Hayamin Hehadash about two weeks ago. "Otzma Yehudit is suddenly illegitimate," he said.

He also attacked Bennett directly: "I'm not like you. I didn't release terrorists three times in a row without return," referring to prisoner releases that took place while Bennett sat in the coalition. "This is the tongue-lashing of someone who betrayed his people and the land of Israel. A poor impersonation of Benjamin Netanyahu."

Smotrich, the National Union chairman, took to Twitter to respond to Bennett. He posted Bennett's quote, juxtaposed with a headline from early February in which Bennett announced: "It is essential that Smotrich unite with Otzma Yehudit." Smotrich wrote, "There are those who lead with responsibility. There are those who suffer badly from credibility problems." 

In an interview with Army Radio, Smotrich, who is number two on the Union of Right-Wing Parties slate, added that Otzma Yehudit is not racist. "Kahane isn't in the Knesset, the people who are going to enter the Knesset represent Otzma Yehudit. It's likely that I don't agree with them on everything, but they really, really, really aren't racist people."

"The one who really wants to carry out a 'transfer,'" he continued, referring to the far-right call to move the Palestinian population elsewhere, "is [Meretz MK] Esawi Freige, who wants to transfer me and another 400 thousand of my friends from Judea and Samaria. They have scrawled on their flags to expel me, my family, and my friends."