Israel Election: Kahanist Lawmaker Ben-Gvir Threatens Independent Run

Ben-Gvir breaks with ally Bezalel Smotrich, but leaves door open to the possibility of running together in Israel's coming election

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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Itamar Ben-Gvir gives a press conference on Monday.
Itamar Ben-Gvir gives a press conference on Monday.Credit: Moti Milrod
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

Kahanist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir threatened to break away from the Religious Zionism party over power-sharing disagreements and run independently in the upcoming election.

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In a press conference, Ben-Gvir said he would run on his own but was not ruling out joining a different election slate.

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The Kahanist lawmaker is the chairman of Otzma Yehudit, which previously ran on the same election ticket as the Religious Zionism party, with far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich at its helm.

Smotrich meanwhile warned that a solo run would be a mistake and called on Ben-Gvir to return to the negotiating table.

During his press conference, Ben-Gvir said Smotrich was insisting on pushing his own election candidates at his party's expense, claiming that by all measures of public opinion "we are bigger than him several times over — and he is demanding three-quarters of the roster. I gave up on the number one spot, that wasn't enough for him. I gave up on equal representation, that wasn't enough for him."

He also asserted that Smotrich was refusing to expand reprentation in their shared election slate. "Unfortunately, despite all my concessions, Smotrich chose for us not to run together because he mostly wanted classic religious Zionists."

He left the door open to the possibility that the rift could nevertheless be mended. "We worked together excellently over the past year, and I stil have hope that he will come to his sense and choose to continue on together, but I respect his desire to turn to Ayelet Shaked's voter base."

Ahead of his previous election ally's press conference, Smotrich issued an appeal to Ben-Gvir to return to negotiations and "maximize the votes of the national camp" and emphasizing their prior success together.

"In the past year we have waged an extraordinary battle to topple this terrible, dangerous government, which relied on the the Muslim Brotherhood's terrorism supporters."

Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich in Jerusalem, last year.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Recent weeks have seen spats between Ben-Gvir and Smotrich as they negotiate over potentially putting their parties on the same ticket again. According to an associate of Ben-Gvir, they had agreed that Otzma Yehudit would have four candidates among the first 10 on the election slate — specifically, the second, fifth, seventh and 10th.

However, the source said, Smotrich changed his mind and asked that the number seven spot be reserved for one of his candidates. According to this source, Ben-Gvir was opposed to this, but was willing to give up the 10th spot.

According to a Channel 12 election poll released Sunday, a joint slate with representatives of both Ben-Gvir's and Smotrich's parties would receive 10 seats in the next Knesset. The poll showed that if they ran separately, Ben-Gvir's slate would get eight seats and Smotrich's would get five. In that scenario, Likud would receive three seats fewer than in the former one.

Meanwhile, sources say it appears the chances that former Yamina lawmaker Amichai Chikli will also mount a solo run are low, and that he is more likely to be placed on Likud's roster. Another, less likely possibility is that he will run with Religious Zionism if Smotrich and Ben-Gvir indeed decide not to run together.

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