Netanyahu Asked Kahanists to Drop Out of Election, Party Source Says

Otzma Yehudit Chairman Itamar Ben-Gvir says party delivered message to Netanyahu that without it, there is no chance for a right-wing government

Itamar Ben-Gvir at a press conference in Jerusalem, August 26, 2019.
Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pressuring the far-right, Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party not to run in next month's election, a source in the party told Haaretz on Monday.

Otzma Yehudit Chairman Itamar Ben-Gvir denied that Netnayahu was asking him to quit the race, however. "There is no such request," Ben-Gvir said. "They haven't used us not to run."

Ben-Gvir met with Netanyahu confidant and former chief of staff Natan Eshel earlier in the day. According to the Otzma Yehudit source, Eshel attempted to convince Ben-Gvir to pull out of the race for fear that it could cause the right-wing bloc to lose seats in the event that it fails to pass the electoral threshold. The source added that the party still intends to run, despite the prime minister's request.

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"My meeting with Natan Eshel is a direct continuation to what I said this morning at the press conference," Ben-Gvir said after the meeting, referring to a conference given in response to the Supreme Court's decision to bar two of its candidates from running in the election. "Otzma Yehudit delivered a clear message to Netanyahu that without Otzma Yehudit there is no right-wing government and that Netanyahu would not be able to form a government."

Ben-Gvir has argued that most Otzma Yehudit voters will not vote for another party if it drops out, and that there is therefore no point in doing so. Netanyahu was previously heavily involved in a failed attempt to prevent Otzma Yehudit from running separately from the new Yamina party headed by Ayelet Shaked.

In Monday's press conference, Ben-Gvir said that "the answer to the Supreme Court is at the ballot box" and that the party had been told by hundreds of people that they had intended to vote for Shas, Likud or Yamina but would now support Otzma Yehudit.

Ben-Gvir added: "I approached the Prime Minister's Office people this morning . . . I think there is a realization on the part of the Prime Minister's Office that we are the only chance for forming a right-wing government. I delivered a message that nothing will happen if there is one less seat for Likud or Yamina."

Also Monday, Moshe Feiglin, chairman of the far-right, quasi-libertarian Zehut party – which failed to reach the 3.25 percent election threshold in April after polling well above it – said he was under serious pressure to drop out. Feiglin denied, however, reports that he and Netanyahu had agreed that Zehut should quit the race. Nonetheless, Feiglin said that if he receives "a proposal that very significantly advances Zehut's platform," he would consult all the members of his party and act accordingly.