Israel’s religious right faces leadership power struggle

Two are vying for the top spot of the United Right, an alliance of religious-Zionist parties.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

This week may determine who will head the party that wants to shore up the Likud from the right of the political spectrum in the upcoming elections, Israel Hayom reported on Sunday.

Rabbi Rafi Peretz, current head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, or United Right, is being challenged to give up his spot to former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who once held the No. 2 spot in the Jewish Home party, the senior partner in the United Right’s coalition.

Polls have shown that Shaked is more popular than Peretz among right-wing voters. Peretz is a neophyte politician, having been invited to lead Jewish Home right before the April elections, after it was left in shambles by the sudden departure of its former leader, Naftali Bennett, whom Shaked followed out the door to form the New Right party.

The New Right missed making it into the Knesset by only some 1,400 votes, which led to the loss of four Knesset seats that would have allowed the Likud to form a government. The United Right, which joined with two smaller parties, National Union and Jewish Strength, won five seats.

Neither Peretz nor Shaked show a willingness to budge. Peretz insists that Shaked can be second on the party list but not first.

Shaked’s supporters say the issue boils down to numbers. They say surveys show that if she is only number two, the United Right will get perhaps six seats. However, if she is the leader, the party could reach double digits.

“These are not struggles over ego,” Shaked’s camp says, “but insistence based on political analysis, in order to ensure the establishment of a right-wing government. Any other move could end with [us] sitting in the Opposition.”

However, a source involved in talks between the two summed up the feelings of those who were embittered by Shaked’s defection earlier this year.

“Rabbi Rafi stood at the head of the list and brought the needed number of mandates, while Shaked left, dismantled and endangered [us]. And now she wants to return and even get a prize for it.”

“It’s true that she’s popular, but is it so sure that she will bring so many mandates? If that’s really true, how is it that the New Right didn’t pass the electoral threshold in the last elections,” the source said.

The source admitted that “blood” spilled in the fight could “damage” the party.

Shaked’s confidantes countered doubts, saying that the focus should be on the hundreds of thousands of votes the New Right did get.

“To say they’re worth nothing is simply wrong,” they said.