National Union Chairman MK Yaakov Katz (Ketzaleh), during a House speech on Wednesday in which he presented his bill to apply Israeli sovereignty over settlements in Judea and Samaria, said: “Next week, at a press conference shared by the Jewish Home and National Union factions, we will announce, officially and together, that we’ll be running jointly in the next election.”
The Jewish Home faction (Chairman Uri Orbach) with its three MKs represents the old National Religious Party (NRP), which was formed as a merger between Mizrachi and HaPoel HaMizraci, the two religious Zionist movements. NRP, or Mafdal (its acronym in Hebrew) participated in every Israeli coalition government until 1992.
The National Union with its four MKs was formed in 1999 by former members of the right-wing, pro-settlement Moledet, Tkuma and Herut parties. But Chairman Katz’s roots are in the historic NRP.
In a broad brush, today’s National Union represents the more right-wing segment of the traditional Religious Zionist camp, while Jewish Home is further to the left within the same camp.
Wedged between the two Haredi parties, United Torah Judaism (5 MKs) and Shas (11 MKs) and the largely secular, Zionist factions to their left, National Union and Jewish Home hope to attract a larger cut of the vote than they would have running separately.
One group of voters they may be able to draw on are Likud activist Moshe Feiglin’s Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish leadership) followers, who have seen their leader’s persistent attempts to influence their party crashing against a powerful pro-Netanyahu apparatus. In the 2008 primaries, Feiglin collected enough votes to qualify for the 20th spot on the Likud slate, high enough to enter
the Knesset—only to be outmaneuvered by the party leadership and ending up at the 36th spot and outside the legislature.
“There is no dispute today that the national religious public is leading in the fields of education, defense and settlement,” MK Katz said from the Knesset podium Wednesday. “This huge public cries out for a liaison between its representatives of all different shades and colors in the Knesset, who are aspiring to the same goals and in whose hearts is burning a love for the people of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the land of Israel.”
“In the next Knesset,” the National Union Chairman vowed, “we will bring this robust tradition as a double-digit faction into the coalition government.”
The reunion couldn’t come at a more difficult moment for both factions and their particular slice of the voting public. The settlement movement in Judea and Samaria is under an ongoing attack by the left, by elements inside the Likud government, and by the international community. And while decrees against individual outposts are being blocked, the seemingly pro-settlement majority in the Knesset and the government has been unable or unwilling to introduce a radically pro-settlement policy.
The weakness of the religious Zionist camp is reflected in two polls that came out this week, one published by Israel Today and the other by Yedioth Aharonoth, in which the two factions either fared worse than they had done in the last election or just held on to their current numbers. In other words, running together they could only do better than running separately.
In that vein, it was announced Wednesday that Jewish Home Chaiman Uri Orbach is assembling a transitional team, together with the National Union, in preparation for a united list in the September 4 election.
According to Orbach, “It shouldn’t be that the internal machinations within each faction detract from the main goal – increasing the united force of Religious Zionism in the Knesset.”
But it is unclear whether, despite their aspirations and best intentions, both faction will manage to put together an accepted list of candidates, much less agree on a campaign strategy and campaign staff in time for what promises to be a politically charged summer. Benjamin Netanyahu may have had bigger foes in mind—Avigdor Libeman, Shelly Yachimovich, Shaul Mofaz, and Yair Lapid—when he decided to go for an early election at the peak of his popularity, but, inadvertently, he has also managed to make life very difficult for these two smaller foes as well.
The Jewish Home faction is facing a procedural hurdle on the way to the longed-for reunification, in the form of the NRP membership census which was scheduled for this summer. The Jewish Home Knesset faction still represents the historic Mafdal, whose own apparatus is in charge of the party census and primaries. Getting their own bureaucracy to speed up the works so that the primaries can be conducted in time for the early election is turning out to be quite a task for Orbach and his two Knesset partners.
Yesterday, Arutz 7 reported on a particularly terse note from Jewish Home MK Zvulun Orlev to the chairman of the census and primaries committee, Rabbi Danny Tropper, urging him to hurry the proceedings and reminding him of Orlev’s countless warnings earlier this year, that there’s going to be an early election and the party must work fast to meet the challenge.