Right-wing Party Ditches Kahanists to Join Broad Union as Israeli Parties Submit Final Rosters

Move comes after PM's efforts to convince parties to Likud's right to unite ■ Kahol Lavan party member defects to Likud ■ Prominent left-wing lawmaker Shaffir announces won't run

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Rafi Peretz and Naftali Bennett at a government meeting in November 2019.
Rafi Peretz and Naftali Bennett at a government meeting in November 2019. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

In a last-minute deal, an Israeli right-wing leader dismantled a short-lived alliance with a Kahanist party to join a broad right-wing slate, as parties finalize their rosters ahead of the March 2 election.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been pressuring Naftali Bennett, who heads the right-wing union, to bring Rafi Peretz's Habayit Hayehudi into his slate. But Bennett objected to allying with members of far-right Otzma Yehudit, a party comprised of supporters of extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, which had joined forces with Habayit Hayehudi.  

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Haaretz Weekly Ep. 56Credit: Haaretz

Earlier Wednesday, Bennett vehemently rejected Netanyahu's efforts to convince him to bring the Kahanists on board. 

Hours before the deadline to register final rosters, Bennett said would not accept uniting with the Habayit Hayehudi slate, which included the Kahanists at that point, despite Netanyahu's warnings that without such a merger the right would not be able to form a majority government. 

>> Read more: With mergers from left and right, this should be the most fateful Israeli election | Analysis

In an attempt to ensure that none of the parties to the right of his Likud fall under the electoral threshold in the upcoming ballot, the premier had exerted pressure on them to unite under one slate.

Itamar Ben-Gvir speaks to the press after a meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu and Rafi Peretz on January 15, 2020.
Itamar Ben-Gvir speaks to the press after a meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu and Rafi Peretz on January 15, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Bennett vetoed a union with the far right after announcing on Tuesday a joint slate comprised of his Hayamin Hehadash party and the National Union party.

Bennett and Peretz met in Tel Aviv on Wednesday evening, shortly before Bennett's Facebook post stating he would not join forces with the far-right party and telling Likud that "if you want him so much, reserve a spot for him with you."

Bennett wrote on Facebook that he could not run with "someone who hangs a picture in his living room of a person who killed 29 innocent people. This is so obvious that I'm amazed I have to even explain it. Imagine an American congressman who hangs a picture in his home of someone who murdered dozens of Jews as they prayed. Does this sound reasonable? It won't happen. This is my final decision. We did not return from exile to the Land of Israel to live like wild militias who take justice into their own hands. That's not right-wing. That's anarchy.

"In my opinion, there is no difference between 'price tag' criminals who attack soldiers and the anarchist left-wing's criminals who throw stones at Israel Defense Forces soldiers at the fence," Bennett wrote. "Likud's urging me to include [Otzma Yehudit Chairman Itamar] Ben-Gvir on a slate led by me is innapropriate."

Ben-Gvir rejected Bennett’s claims, calling on the minister to “show responsibility and save the right-wing rule” by accepting him into his right-wing slate.

Earlier on Wednesday, Netanyahu made several calls to Peretz, an Orthodox rabbi who has sparked controversy by making several public remarks that targeted Israel's LGBTQ community and were perceived as homophobic.

At one point, Netanyahu pitched to Peretz the idea of placing Rabbi Haim Drukman – a senior religious Zionist rabbi – at the top of the right-wing slate. "People like symbols," Netanyahu said in the calls. The idea was later nixed due to Drukman's poor health, but the Likud is still trying to find ways to push Habayit Hayehudi past the electoral threshold.

Naftali Bennett at a conference in December 2019.
Naftali Bennett at a conference in December 2019.Credit: Emil Salman

Shaffir 'proud to pay the price'

Meanwhile, prominent left-wing lawmaker, Stav Saffir, who has been left out of Monday's merger between Labor-Gesher and Meretz, announced on Wednesday she won't run in the coming election.

"The left uniting is the right thing. I'm proud to pay the price [for it]," she said. Shaffir along with members of the Green Movement, which she leads, are committed to "build the future," she stressed. "Today's battle is to remove the mafia don serving as prime minister, and clean the corruption prevailing within Israeli politics."

Shaffir was considered a rising star in Labor, but defected before the September vote to co-lead the Democratic Union.

Shaffir also said that she has pushed for a union in the left-wing bloc for over a year, adding she is "proud that this merger eventually happened. It's far more important than I am."

Arab representation

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz promised Labor-Gesher and Meretz before they announced their merger on Monday that he would promote legislation to alleviate concerns that the united slate’s top Arab lawmaker Esawi Freige, bumped down to the 11th spot, would not make it into the Knesset.

The proposed legislation would allow up to four ministers from the same party to resign from parliament without losing their ministerial post, while allowing others to join the Knesset. The current law allows the resignation of only a single minister from each party.

Gantz also ousted Knesset member Gadi Yevarkan on Wednesday from his party, over reports the latter was planning to defect to Netanyahu's Likud party. Later on Wednesday, Likud announced it had secured Yevarkan a slot on its ticket.   

Meanwhile, the wife of Yigal Amir, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassin, filed papers with the Central Election Committee on Tuesday to have her Mishpat Tzedek party (meaning fair trial in Hebrew) appear on the ballot in the election.

Larisa Trembovler's party is calling for the release of her husband, who is serving a life sentence for killing the former prime minister, as well as a platform of "reform of the legal system."

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