Eli Yishai Pulls His Party Out of Knesset Race, Rallies Behind United Torah Judaism

Yishai isn’t expected to get any kind of role in UTJ, but the move is perceived as recognition of the centrist ultra-Orthodox stream

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
Eli Yishai at a press conference, Jerusalem, March 27, 2019.
Eli Yishai at a press conference, Jerusalem, March 27, 2019.Credit: Nir Keidar
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

Yahad party chairman Eli Yishai announced that his party was dropping out of the Knesset race, and threw his support behind United Torah Judaism. Recent polls have shown that Yahad was not going to cross the electoral threshold.

A source in Yahad confirmed that an agreement had been signed between the parties, but a source in Agudat Yisrael, which along with Degel Hatorah makes up UTJ, said the agreement was in the process of being finalized.

According to the Agudat Yisrael source, Yishai isn’t expected to get any kind of role in UTJ, but the move is perceived as recognition of the centrist ultra-Orthodox stream. Talks between the two parties began at the beginning of the week and were held by Yishai and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and UTJ MKs Meir Porush and Yisrael Eichler.

Last month a senior member of Yahad said that its patron, Rabbi Meir Mazuz, had foiled a merger between Yahad and the Union of Right-wing Parties because the latter has women on its slate.

The union demanded that Yahad abide by party discipline and become an inseparable part of the Knesset slate. “If it had meant running as a technical bloc, [Mazuz] would have agreed, but because they were demanding that we be part of the party, the rabbi said that he can’t have women [in the party],” the senior source said. “That’s what scuttled the agreement.”

The source added that the parties had agreed to Yishai’s demand that if Benjamin Netanyahu forms the next government, the merged party would not join it unless Yishai is appointed minister. Yishai, a former head of Shas, held various ministerial posts in previous governments.

Another source familiar with the talks between Yishai and Habayit Hayehudi chairman Rafi Peretz and National Union chairman Betzalel Smotrich (who are part of Union of Right-wing Parties) said they were interested in giving Yishai a place on the joint ticket in return for Mazuz’s support, which they believed was worth at least 20,000 votes. Since Mazuz would not sign a letter of support for the unified slate, the agreement didn’t go through.

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