Israel’s religious right takes critical step closer toward unity

Far right party Otzma Yehudit (or, “Jewish Strength”) accepted a proposal to join the Jewish Home-National Union list. 

By David Isaac, World Israel News 

The far right, religious Zionist Otzma Yehudit (or, “Jewish Strength”) party agreed on Wednesday to accept a compromise proposal from the Jewish Home-National Union parties to run together in the coming Knesset elections. Jewish Strength candidates would be placed in positions five and eight on the candidates joint list.

“For the sake of the Land of Israel and the many people in the public who have called for unity on the right so that, God forbid, a left-wing government will not be established, the Otzma Yehudit faction has decided to accept the joint list offer from the Jewish Home and National Union,” the party leadership said on Wednesday morning.

After weeks of a sometimes bitter back-and-forth, including hurling accusations at the Jewish Home and National Union parties for negotiating in bad faith, Jewish Strength leaders softened on Tuesday after an appeal by a number of high-ranking Israeli rabbis who belong to the party to accept the Jewish Home-National Union proposal.

The rabbis, Dov Lior, Shmuel Eliyahu, and Yehudah Kroizer urged Jewish Strength’s leaders to join a united list, “despite the fact that the proposal by the members of the Jewish Home and National Union was unfair, since the fate of the Land of Israel hangs in the balance it should be accepted.”

Afterwards, co-founder of the party, Michael Ben-Ari, responded to their appeal in a radio interview: “Our rabbis requested from us to accept the compromise proposal. We listen to our rabbis. We’ll get together this morning and make a decision.”

The merger still needs to be signed off on by 950 members of the Jewish Home party.

A number of important members in the Jewish Home party oppose a merger with Jewish Strength, which they consider too radical. They fear a union with the latter will have the opposite of its intended effect and drive away votes.

But Jewish Home and National Union leaders, who themselves only announced their own merger last Thursday, have been subject to intense, very public pressure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party. The Likud says a failure of the smaller right-wing parties to coalesce will cause, to translate literally, “tears for generations.”

On Feb. 12, Netanyahu met with religious Zionist leaders to urge them to unite in order not to waste valuable right-wing votes.

“At the end, it’s either [going to be] a left-wing government or a right-wing government. The splintering of the right will certainly lead to the elections being lost,” Netanyahu told them at the meeting.

In Israel’s electoral system, each party must receive at least 3.25 percent of the general vote in order to enter the Knesset. Polls show that a number of right-wing parties which the Likud would naturally seek to join its governing coalition are dangerously close to that threshold and may or may not make it in the next elections.

However, parties have the option of creating a technical unification, maintaining their independent party structures but running together in the elections to collect their votes into one pot.

Although the right-wing parties enjoy far more popularity than those on the left in Israel, with some two-thirds of the Jewish population preferring them, splintering has raised worries among Israel’s right, and hopes among Israel’s left, that the April elections could bring about a “revolution” and the end of Likud rule.

Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid (or, “There is a Future”), a center-left party, captured the feeling on Monday during a festive gathering in which he announced his own party’s list: “These elections everything is possible.”