Otzma Yehudit to make Knesset run, Israeli right fears thousands of votes will be lost

Party leader Ben-Gvir says he was offered many important positions if he would not run but turned them all down.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Otzma Yehudit (or “Jewish Strength”) party will run in the next Knesset elections, party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir announced on Monday evening. The move risks a right-wing victory in the March 2 elections.

The far-right party was unceremoniously dumped by its erstwhile partner, Jewish Home, after initially inking a deal to run as a united list. Otzma was too radical for other right-wing parties which wanted to unite with Jewish Home.

Even though no poll gives his far right, religious party a chance of making it over the electoral threshold, the party’s central committee gave him the go-ahead to make another run at entering the Knesset in the March elections.

In last September’s elections, Otzma failed to pass the threshold, costing the right-wing camp thousands of votes. Ben-Gvir has repeatedly referred to 85,000 supporters. But the number is still not enough to pass the threshold. In Israel’s electoral system, all votes are discounted if the threshold isn’t reached.

In his announcement, the charismatic lawyer who lives in Hebron enumerated some of the choice jobs he was offered by politicians in the coalition if he would step aside, as they feared a likely repeat of September’s election.

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“What didn’t they offer?” he said. “To be a minister in the Israeli government on behalf of one of the ultra-Orthodox parties, positions in the Jewish National Fund, in the World Zionist Organization, honorary positions in the [Israeli Bar Association], being in charge of making the Cave of the Patriarchs accessible [to the disabled]. They even offered me an ambassadorship.”

All these jobs were worthless in his eyes, he said, because of one thing they didn’t have.

“There is no path, no ideology! No concern for the country! One’s word isn’t a word, a promise isn’t a promise.” This was seemingly a reference to Jewish Home party chairman Rafi Peretz, who had signed the agreement to run together only to renege.

Ben-Gvir touted his party’s firm ideological line, which he said no party on the right could match, including annexing all of the Land of Israel.

He accused the other right-wing leaders of being “the elitists of religious Zionism.” He said his supporters were not “second-rate” citizens.

Likud MK Miki Zohar said that “Ben-Gvir’s decision to run is hampering the Right’s ability to win the election. The media will embrace him and the Left will applaud him because he gives them power with his own hands.”

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“Tens of thousands of votes will go down the drain,” he said. “What a waste. He had the opportunity to step down from running with dignity, but he chose an irresponsible path while endangering the wholeness of the land. It’s sad.”