Latest update: September 3rd, 2012
As the prospects for a merger between the two National Religious parties – the Jewish Home and the National Union – fall apart, the American-born candidate team, Ari Abramowitz and Jeremy Gimpel have said they would be willing to sacrifice their own potential spot on the Knesset list for the sake of unifying the national-religious camp.
“Our primary goal has never been to make it into the Knesset” but instead uniting the national-religious camp, the two said in a statement released to the press today.
Therefore they will not “endorse a leadership candidate that refuses to support unity between the factions within the religious Zionist camp”
In an e-mail statement they went further, cryptically stating that their support for unity may cost them a spot in the Knesset, but stating that it is “a price we are willing to pay.”
What’s the Hold up to Unity?
The unmentioned hold up to the potential merger referenced by Abramowitz and Gimpel is likely newcomer Naftali Bennett, who, according Lahav Harkov of the Jerusalem Post, said in a private meeting last week that if he were elected to the leadership of the Jewish Home, he would not allow three of the four Knesset Members of the National Union to run with the Jewish Home.
This would make it extremely unlikely that the National Union would agree to join with the Jewish home during the general elections. It would essentially mean agreeing to disappear to make way for the Jewish Home, even though they currently have four Knesset seats to the Jewish Home’s three.
Unsurprisingly, the National Union’s Knesset Members did not react well to the alleged statements.
Bennett’s campaign told The Jewish Press over the phone today that no such statements were ever made.
Bennett, who is competing for party leadership against current party chairman Minister of Science Rabbi Daniel Hershkowitz and MK Z’vulon Orlev, posted a statement on his facebook page today stating that “To remove all doubt, I support and urge the unity of the camp and to unite with the National Union party. I will work towards it with all my might. I won’t bar a single person. Period.”
The origin of the prospects for merger of the Jewish Home and National Union began earlier this year. When shortly after Pesach it seemed that early elections were imminent, the parties signed an agreement to run as a united list.
Since early elections didn’t occur, the agreement no longer applies. Nevertheless, there are many who want the joint list, including National Union Chairman MK Yaacov Katz.
Katz is one of the three MKs whom Bennett reportedly said he would not allow to run with the Jewish Home. The others were MKs Aryeh Eldad and Michal Ben-Ari. Bennett would reportedly be alright with MK Uri Ariel, the remaining National Union member.
The three on Bennett’s blacklist are considered to have bombastic political temperaments, unwilling to censor themselves, and Ben Ari and Katz in particular make a point of sticking it their opponents.
Ben Ari, for example, brought illegal African immigrants to swimming pools in posh areas of Tel Aviv. During the debate over his proposed “Arrangement Law” Katz said that anyone voting against the bill had “a heart of stone.”
But according to a political strategist who wished to remain anonymous, Bennett is not concerned with the party’s image, but making room on the list for his own political allies.
“Bennett has made many colossal errors,” the strategist said, “the biggest of which is that he has too many people that endorsed him – too many people he owes favors to.”
For Israeli politicians, who are chosen not in general elections, but by internal party mechanisms – often, but not always, primary elections, the real contest is securing a realistic, if not high spot on their party’s list.
If for example, a party gets 12 seats in the Knesset (10 percent of the vote), unlucky candidate number 13, will not get into the Knesset, no matter how popular he may be among the general public. The higher the candidate is on the list, the more likely he is to get into the Knesset and the more likely he is to be named a minister in the government if his party joins the coalition.
In order to secure a good spot, candidates band together, cross endorsing each other to ensure mutual victory.
According to the strategist, the Jewish Home will have two rounds of voting. The first on November 6th for the party chairman, who will be number one on the list, and the second on November 13th for the rest of the list.
In the second round, members of the Jewish Home will be able to choose five candidates and rank their level of preference.
That means that if Bennett becomes the party chairman he will be able to endorse up to five others, no more. If he loses the race for chairman and has to compete in the second round, he will only be able to endorse four others aside from himself.
Currently the Jewish Home has three Knesset seats, while the National Union has four. Many polls and strategists predict that if they ran together they would receive a few more than they could running separately.
If they do run together, the arrangement will likely be that the parties would get alternate spots the list – odds for one, evens for the other.
But even together, there aren’t many positions available. Being number five on the Jewish Home list, for example, likely means being excluded from the Knesset. This makes the competition within the party – even among allies – all the more fierce.
Bennett is over extended, the strategist claims. He has to endorse MK Uri Orbach, the only Jewish Home MK who is not running for chairman and who has backed Bennett in the leadership race. Another is Ayelet Shaked who worked with Bennett when Bennett was Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister. The strategist named at least five more politicians Bennett will have to appease.
Therefore the strategist claims that Bennett needs to clear the way in order to make room for additional candidates so he can garner as much support as possible and fulfill all his commitments. Removing three of the National Union MKs would enable him to do that.
No Admission of Defeat
While the repeated and vague references in Abramowitz and Gimpel’s statement and e-mail message to not getting into the Knesset seem to indicate that the candidates may have lost confidence in their changes of success, their campaign manager, Jeremy Saltan, said the opposite was the case.
“We are very confident that at least one of them will get a secure spot,” Saltan said over the telephone. Saltan, who is also of American origin, says the campaign has built a base of thousands of new members who will vote for Abramowitz and Gimpel in the November 13 primary.
But “for them it’s about ideology and unity,” Saltan said. Therefore he says they are “genuinely and sincerely willing to sacrifice a place in the Knesset, if it comes to it, in order to unite the national religious camp.”
Practically, this would mean endorsing a candidate for the leadership of the party, even if that candidate could not necessarily provide Abramowitz and Gimpel the requisite support to ensure they receive at least one good spot on the list.
According to Abramowitz and Gimpel, a secure spot on a small list at a time when the national-religious camp is divided is just not worth it.
“The difference between one unified block and small independent parties is the difference between relevance and irrelevance during a time when the Nation needs to hear our voice more than ever before,” they said in the statement.
Disclaimer: The author is involved with the Likud party, but all information contained in the article was provided by independent sources from the Jewish Home and/or National Union.
About the Author: Daniel Tauber is a frequent contributor to various prominent publications, including the Jewish Press, Arutz Sheva, Americanthinker.com, the Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz. Daniel is also an attorney admitted to practice law in Israel and New York and received his J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. You can follow him on facebook and twitter.
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