Life After Bennett: Controversial Lawmaker Elected Chair of National Union Party

Bezalel Smotrich, considered the Knesset's right-wing bellwether, is expected to lead Habayit Hayehudi after Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked broke off to found their own party

Uri Ariel and Bezalel Smotrich at the National Union headquarters, January 14, 2019.
Hillel Meir

Deputy Knesset Speaker Bezalel Smotrich was elected Monday to chair the National Union party, weeks after the two main Habayit Hayehudi leaders left the party in late December and three months ahead of Israel's upcoming election.

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel lost the election and is expected to retire from political life.

Smotrich, considered the Knesset's right-wing bellwether, called on Habayit Hayehudi to run for the April 9 election on a unified platform: "Let's connect again, this is a time for unity," he said. "I hope you can quickly stabilize this rocky ship. Get your slates in order and let's reunite," he called. He added that there are voices out there that claim that religious Zionism has finished its political path and its influence and that in order to lead and be effective it needs to be abandoned. "We say tonight loud and clear: Religious Zionism is the most influential movement in Israel. It continued and will continue in full force," he said.

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The National Union is the more right-wing faction in the Habayit Heyhudi party, which was originally an alliance of three religious parties. When Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked left the party to form Hayamin Hehadash, the parties remained united and they are expected to run together again. Until now, the Habayit Hayehudi leaders led the alliance but it is unclear what will happen in the upcoming election, and whether the National Union will demand the first spot on the slate.

Habayit Heyhudi is expected to meet Wednesday to determine how to elect the party chair who will replace Bennett.