Vote Threatens to Split Habayit Hayehudi

The land reform law passed yesterday by the Knesset may lead to a split within Habayit Hayehudi. A serious dispute broke out in the three-MK party between party chairman and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz and between the party's other two MKs, Uri Orbach and Zevulun Orlev. This dispute could lead to the resuscitation of the National Religious Party. Within Habayit Hayehudi yesterday there was talk of reconvening the NRP's governing bodies to depose Hershkowitz.

Orbach and Orlev said Hershkowitz violated the faction's agreement that the MKs would vote against the law because it allowed the sale of state land, and that Hershkowitz would absent himself from the Knesset plenum during the vote.

In private, the two said Hershkowitz acted in a humiliating fashion and made them look as if they were just interested in keeping their seats.

Hershkowitz had said he was willing to pay the price of missing the vote, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to fire any minister who did not vote in favor; but after the Prime Minister's Bureau pressured him and presented the "compromise" reached with the Labor Party over the law, Hershkowitz gave in and voted in favor.

"There was a majority for the law even without Habayit Hayehudi, and any other vote would have meant we would not be in the coalition and also not be able to stop the sale of land," he said.