Even Before Election Disappointment, Rafi Peretz's Woes Began at Home

A visit to the Habayit Hayehudi leader's moshav shows that the religious Zionist party's linkup with Shaked and Bennett led voters to jump ship

Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Rafi Peretz speaks after exit poll results are announced at the end of Israel's election, September 17, 2019.
David Bachar

Irony demands that one should go to Moshav Naveh, the home of Habayit Hayehudi leader Rafi Peretz, in order to investigate the flight of votes away from his party, which occurred between the two last elections.

The moshav is home to many of the hardcore religious Zionists, disciples of Rabbi Zvi Tau from the Har Hamor yeshiva. In April’s election they voted for their neighbor, but could not stomach his linkup with Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, who to them represent a milder form of religious observance, to form the Yamina alliance.

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In the late morning hours, this religious moshav, built in the Eshkol regional council after the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, looks like other communities in the area. It’s empty, with abandoned public spaces, but cars are parked beside the houses. Knocking on doors reveals that most houses are empty, with the others occupied by women. Other than one, they all refused to be interviewed. A few other residents agreed to exchange a few sentences, but no more. The moshav’s security officer and another person in some public capacity asked us to stop gathering information and leave.

Naveh is a small community, certainly from an electoral perspective. Nevertheless, one can identify in it one of the reasons for the collapse of the Peretz-Smotrich-Shaked electoral initiative: Their union could not garner the same number of votes that they had brought in separately. In this election, there were 315 eligible voters in Naveh, with 271 actually voting. In April there were 278. The moshav contains the people who set up the orthodox right-wing Noam party, which withdrew just before the election.

In April, 89 percent of those who voted chose Peretz, who had joined Smotrich’s Tkuma party and Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party. This time, his party received only 36.4 percent of the vote. The other votes went to United Torah Judaism, the ultra-Orthodox party. In the last election it received 6.2 percent of the vote, spiking to 47 percent this time. Otzma Yehudit, which ran on a separate ticket, received 13.1 percent of the vote.

A home in Moshav Naveh in southern Israel, September 19, 2019.
\ Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Moriah Glantz, who lives in Naveh, had intended to vote with her husband for Noam, but they were left hanging. “We didn’t really have anyone to vote for,” she said, sitting at a table in her home. They ended up splitting their votes, with she voting for Peretz and her husband for UTJ. She doesn’t hide the fact that this family compromise was a result of Bennett and Shaked joining the list.

“We left Peretz with regret, but his alliance was not to our liking,” she said. When asked why most residents opted for UTJ rather than Otzma Yehudit, she said that the latter party does not represent them. “They are less responsible, more contrarian and excitable. People here have a more state-oriented approach, they go with the state and support it. These aren’t people who are against the country, which is what Otzma Yehudit is like, I believe.”

Naveh residents did not always abstain from voting for Bennett and Shaked. In the partnership’s first election, in which they got 12 Knesset seats, their campaign grabbed Naveh residents too. Eighty percent voted for them, but by the next election, support for the duo had dropped to 20 percent. Eli Yishai, who presented more hawkish positions, took 77.2 percent of the vote. “The first time, we didn’t really know them. After one term, we’d had enough,” noted Glantz.

This flight of hardcore right-wingers can be seen elsewhere, too. In the adjacent community of Bnei Netzarim, 90 percent voted for Peretz, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir in April, but after Bennett and Shaked came into the picture, and with Ben-Gvir running independently, the party got only 56.2 percent of the vote. UTJ soared from 2.3 percent to 21 percent, while Ben-Gvir received 15.7 percent of the votes there. In the settlement of Beit El, the party dropped from 71.1 to 67.5 percent of the vote. In Yitzhar, it dropped from 86.3 to 30 percent. In Amichai, the party dropped from 76.5 to 26.4 percent.