Israel Election: Kahanist, Far-right Parties Likely to Join Forces Despite Differences

Kahanist lawmaker and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, and Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich are likely to put their differences aside and run together to avoid the chance of not crossing the electoral threshold

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Far-right Israeli lawmakers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich in Jerusalem, last year.
Far-right Israeli lawmakers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich in Jerusalem, last year.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Kahanist Otzma Yehudit is likely to run on a joint slate with the far-right Religious Zionism party despite hostile relations between its leader Itamar Ben-Gvir and Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich, party sources say.

Ben-Gvir has threatened that Otzma Yehudit would run independently of Religious Zionism. The former is one of three factions that make up the latter, a far-right party which has seven seats in the current Knesset but may get 10 in the next election according to polls.

The two leaders met on Tuesday to try to iron out the main dispute over the number of spots Otzma Yehudit will get on the joint list of candidates. Ben-Gvir, who is benefiting from a tailwind from recent polls and from great popularity among extremist right-wing voters, is demanding five slots in the top 10 candidates on the list. Smotrich is expected to lead the list with Ben-Gvir right behind him, but Religious Zionism wants to give him only two more spots, the sixth and tenth on the list. Ben-Gvir has demanded his faction get every other slot in the top 10.

Both parties believe an agreement will be reached, based on a compromise in which Ben-Gvir gets four spots in a joint list.

“We are partners, and this is a successful partnership which did well in the last election. It did well all year and the public loves this partnership. It will continue so that we can establish a right-wing government that is good for Israel,” said Smotrich on Tuesday.

The Religious Zionism party is in no rush to close a deal with Ben-Gvir and is busy forming its list of candidates, party sources say. The party will hold primaries at the end of August, in which Simcha Rothman, Ofir Sofer, Michal Woldiger and Orit Strock, members of the outgoing Knesset, are expected to contend. These four benefit from their current status as Knesset members known to party voters. Earlier this week, Arnon Segal, a prominent activist promoting visits by Jews to the Temple Mount and the brother of journalist Amit Segal, announced that he too would contend in the primary.

It is not yet known who Ben-Gvir will bring to the joint slate. The main difficulty – for him as well as for Smotrich – will be to bring in people from other factions who are not currently represented in his party, in order to attract new voters.

“We don’t want the party to look like the small community synagogue in Kiryat Moshe,” said a senior member of one of the two parties. In any case, a decision regarding running together will only be made close to the primary, or after it takes place.

The two parties won’t risk running on their own, with the chance of not crossing the electoral threshold. In the last election, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu pressured Smotrich into adding Ben-Gvir to his slate. There has been no intervention by Netanyahu this time, but Religious Zionism members anticipate that once the Likud primaries are over, Netanyahu will focus his efforts on the right-wing parties.

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