Kahanists in the Knesset? Talks Advance for Far-right Merger

Unified list would prevent 'the establishment of a leftist government, God forbid,' but other partners – still reluctant to join forces – have yet to agree

National Union MK Michael Ben Ari and right-wing Israeli lawyer Itamar Ben-Gvir in a protest in the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, Israel, August 9, 2018.
Eran Gilvarg

Far-right party Otzma Yehudit, led by a followers of racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, announced Wednesday they agreed to a merger with Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union, a day before the Thursday deadline to formally register party rosters for the April 9 election.

In a statement, Otzma Yehudit said the move would prevent "the establishment of a leftist government, God forbid."

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The announcement, which received the blessing of right-wing rabbis affiliated with the party's leadership, followed pressure by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on National Union chairman Bezalel Smotrich and his Habayit Hayehudi counterpart Rafi Peretz to unite with the far-right.

Both parties, whose leaders are due to meet later on Wednesday, still have to agree to finalize the union. Hawkish Smotrich had been thus far reluctant to join forces with Otzma Yehudit, fearing its far-right image would keep voters away. Habayit Hayehudi officials, led by MK Moti Yogev, are urging Peretz not to approve the agreement.

Otzma Yehudit officials agreed to a compromised discussed in recent days, placing its candidates on the 5th and 8th spots on the unified list. However, the party led by former National Union MK Michael Ben Ari and right-wing settler activists Baruch Marzel, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Benzi Gopstein, has yet to announce its candidates.

The party claimed that according to "all data and most recent polls," it would "secure at least four seats," but said it nonetheless chose to support a pro-settlement coalition and a right-wing government. In fact, most recent polls put Otzma Yehudit below the electoral threshold. Habayit Hayehudi is predicted around four out of 120 Knesset seats, leaving Otzma Yehudit with no guarantee that its representative would make it to the Knesset after the election.

National Union's Smotrich also said his party is still looking into a possible merger with former minister and Shas lawmaker Eli Yisahi's Yahad party. "I would very much like to see Eli Yishai enter into this bloc," he told public broadcaster Kan.

Left-wing Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg said it would appeal to the Central Elections Committee in a bid to disqualify "Kahanist, Jewish terrorist" Otzma Yehudit. Kahane's party was disqualified from running in Israel's 1988 election.

Meanwhile, Hayamin Hehadash, led by ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked who quit Habayit Hayehudi ahead of election, presented on Wednesday its Knesset ticket. After Bennett and Shaked in the top two slots, Hapoel Be'er Sheva soccer team owner Alona Barkat is in third place, followed by former IDF pilot and colonel Matan Kahana, sitting MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post's deputy managing editor.