Far-right Yamina Alliance to Split, Stay in the Opposition, Party Sources Say

Chairperson Shaked pushes for unity, despite failure to galvanize voters

Ayelet Shaked during election night at Yamina headquarters, September 17, 2019
David Bachar

Yamina will head for the opposition, whether or not its alliance of parties remains intact, party sources told Haaretz on Wednesday. (Live election results - click here)

A Yamina official said that even if current chairperson Ayelet Shaked and her former cabinet colleague Naftali Bennett broke off to once again operate as Hayamin Hehadash, they would have no compelling interest to join a government headed by Kahol Lavan’s Benny Gantz.

Yamina, which means 'to the right' in Hebrew, and was formed ahead of the September election, is an alliance of three religious Zionist parties - Hayamin Hehadash, Habayit Hayehudi (which Shaked and Bennett split from prior to the April contest) and National Union.

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According to the Yamina official, Hayamin Hehadash could not allow itself to join a narrow Gantz-led government alongside Labor and Democratic Union. On the other hand, a Likud-Kahol Lavan unity government would not need Hayamin Hehadash; the party would then be at a disadvantage in negotiations, and would at best end up with a minor ministerial portfolio. Joining the opposition, the official said, might position Bennett and Shaked as an alternative to Likud.

Bennett submitted a request to the Knesset House Committee to separate Hayamin Hehadash from the rest of the alliance on Wednesday. The letter was also signed by Habayit Hayehudi leader and education minister Rafi Peretz, as well as his counterpart from National Union, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

The request was apparently filed without Shaked's knowledge, according to Yamina officials, although they added she "didn’t hear about it in the media.”

“[Yamina] was from the start a technical alliance aimed at cooperating in coalition negotiations,” party sources said, adding that Bennett and Shaked had differences of opinion from the start.

The Knesset House Committee is expected to approve the departure of Hayamin Hehadash from the alliance.

In a statement released about half an hour after the exit polls came out on Tuesday, Bennett carefully noted that he had already talked to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as chairman of Hayamin Hehadash. The use of this title is not coincidental. When Shaked took the leadership of Yamina, she also agreed for her former ally to remain chairman of her faction.

From left: Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett, Bezalel Smotrich and Rafi Peretz, July 28, 2019
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A disappointing magnet

Shaked supports maintaining the unity of Yamina, she said on Tuesday, hoping for the three factions to “continue to work together in coalition negotiations and in the Knesset.” However, there is a real ideological gap between the extreme-right wing of Yamina, represented by Smotrich, and the lighter version that Bennett personifies. There are also rivalries on a personal level. Bennett already objected to Smotrich when he was a coalition back-bencher. Since then, Smotrich has risen to become a party leader and a minister.

For Yamina insiders, a party with seven or eight seats is unlikely to have room for four leaders. But the split is expected to reduce the strength of its individual components. Hayamin Hehadash will have three Knesset members: Shaked, Bennet and Matan Kahane, who is seventh on the Yamina Knesset roster. Meanwhile, Habayit Hayehudi's Rafi Peretz will head a four-members faction, with Moti Yogev, Smotrich and National Union's Director General Ofir Sofer.

In the days before September 17, Shaked claimed that Netanyahu wanted to bring the religious-Zionist camp down to seven seats from the 10-12 seats it was consistently slated to receive in the polls. According to the latest figures, she was right and Netanyahu was successful. His call at the last minute that Likud was in danger of losing the election apparently moved a few seats from Yamina to Likud.

In April, the aggregated result between the Union of Right-Wing Parties and Hayemin Hehadash amounted to eight seats. Shaked, who has in the past been touted as a possible successor to Netanyahu, was unable to even repeat this result.

Yamina tried to picture their result as an achievement considering Netanyahu’s aggressive campaign against them. But the sense in the party is that Shaked did not prove herself to be the magnet for voters she was expected to be at the beginning of the campaign.