Far-right cabinet minister and Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Rafi Peretz announced Tuesday he has no plans to run in the March 23 election and will be exiting politics.
Peretz wrote on his Facebook page: “I shall not head the Habayit Hayehudi party nor contend for the party leadership in a coming primary race.”
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He added that the party needs to choose a new leader and that “renewing the face of the party is what is called for at this time.” He said he would stay on as Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister until a new government is formed.
Peretz split from the Yamina party in May, with which he ran in the last election. He had signed a deal before that election to merge with Otzma Yedudit, headed by Itamar Ben-Gvir, but he later abrogated that deal “out of a sense of responsibility for the future of Torah, religious Zionism and the right-wing camp, I made a decision with a heavy heart and it was one of the most difficult decisions of my life, to save the entire camp.”
In Tuesday’s statement, Peretz indicated that this decision, while difficult, is not his first, recalling his abrogation of the Otzma Yehudit deal: “I have had to make difficult decisions. In various steps I’ve taken I’ve led us into mergers and a not easy decision to give up an agreement with Otzma Yehudit to link up with the broader Zionist religious party. In my eyes that was the right decision.” According to Peretz, the decision to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest coalition was not an easy one.
Yamina lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich said in response: “Rabbi Rafi is worthy of high regard for showing up for the flag two years ago and for his great contributions throughout the years to the state of Israel. I wish him every success.”
Smotrich urged Habayit Hayehudi members to fulfill the merger deals they signed before the last election and “bring about a great union.”
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Peretz was appointed head of Habayit Hayehudi two years ago after his predecessor Naftali Bennett left to establish Yamina with Ayelet Shaked.
In 2009, Peretz was named chief military rabbi, which sparked off controversy owing to his involvement in a 1992 training exercise accident in which two air force rescue troops died when the cable tethering them to one another tore. Peretz, who had commanded the helicopter from which the servicemen fell to their deaths, was reprimanded following a court martial and external investigation of the incident. The High Court of Justice ultimately rejected a petition from the bereaved families to step in and overrule Peretz’s appointment.