One of the pressing questions concerning the upcoming national elections in Israel is whether the political parties representing the religious-right will succeed in uniting.
The key may lie in the efforts of Eli Yishai, head of the Yachad Party. A former Shas leader and a cabinet minister in several past governments, Yishai has the political experience and savvy to pull off what many people consider an impossible task.
Currently, he is working to make a political “shidduch” between his Yachad party, the Jewish Home party (HaBayit HaYehudi), and the National Union party (Tekuma). In an exclusive interview with The Jewish Press, he said, “I am open to unite with all the religious-rightest parties, including Otzma Yehudit and Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party. I believe the path to strength and success is through unity. I will do whatever I can to bring such a union about. Our ideological beliefs are not so far apart that they can’t be bridged for the benefit of Am Yisrael.”
Yishai is an avid defender of the rights of religious soldiers in the IDF and supports the massive bombing of Gaza when Hamas rockets rain down on Israel. As Minister of Internal Affairs in 2009, he refused to allow the Vatican to gain authority over holy Christian sites in Israel.
When Aryeh Deri resumed control of Shas in 2013 after serving a term in prison for embezzlement, Yishai formed the charedi Yachad party. In the last elections, Yachad ran with Otzma Yehudit Party, receiving 125,000 votes, which was 5,000 shy of the threshold.
The Jewish Press: What are the chances of uniting all the parties with a rightest-religious agenda before the April election?
Yishai: If the leadership of the parties display responsibility and muster a spirit of national leadership, our chances are very good. I believe a union between Yachad, HaBayit HaYehudi, and Tekuma, can have the greatest benefit for the nation. First and foremost, we will be Netanyahu’s watchdog from the right concerning national-religious issues – meaning, more national Torah observance and more money to yeshivot and Torah education.
In addition, we will demand a more aggressive military posture, increased settlement expansion, less judicial involvement in government rulings, and a concrete solution to the problem of Sudanese immigrants, something I started as Minister of Interior, but which the past Netanyahu government ignored.
Unions of this sort have failed in the past because of seemingly childlike squabbling over party leadership and who will get the top slots on any joint list.
Since we are dealing with issues vital to the state of Israel, its adherence to Torah, its security, its Jewish character, and its message to the world, these inter-party disagreements over who gets what aren’t mere ego battles, but kosher ideological struggles of serious individuals who are motivated by their love for the nation.
Of course, politicians are human like everyone else. That’s why I stress the need for national responsibility. Only through mature deliberation and willingness to compromise will we be able to serve the nation in the most productive manner.
Why don’t you include charedi parties like Shas, Agudat Yisrael, and Degal HaTorah in this rightest-religious union?
Halevai, halevai, halevai. Maybe in the days of Mashiach. We have discussed such a possibility with them, but, for a variety of reasons, it doesn’t seem possible. For one thing, we are looking to have an impact on a very broad panorama of national issues while they tend to emphasize the concerns of their specific communities.
You include HaBayit HaYehudi Party in the proposed union. What if it has a female candidate as it usually does? Is that something you can live with?
We have posed the question to HaRav Meir Mazuz, shlita, and he will make the decision. For me it isn’t a problem given the political realities of our time, but I will follow the rabbi’s instructions. Right now, the three parties are trying to work out the technical side of a union, and only afterward will decisions be made about who will make up the list.
Why don’t you just join the Likud? Certainly, with your experience as a cabinet member, you would receive a cabinet post, and you could thereby strengthen the Likud from the right?
I am open to different possibilities, but a strong national religious block would have a greater impact in determining the direction of any future government coalition.
The Jewish Press subsequently spoke to Baruch Marzel of Otzma Yehudit, which champions the hawkish principles of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. He says that a political marriage is possible with the Jewish Home party now that its “fake right” and “fake religious” leaders – i.e., Naftali Bennett and Ayalet Shaked – have broken away and formed a new party.
Marzel told The Jewish Press he would gladly run on a joint ticket with Eli Yishai as he did in the last election. On the question of uniting with the Jewish Home party or National Union, Marzel replied that he is a strong advocate of unity and welcomes negotiations with them, but ultimately, he said, the question boils down to their willingness to guarantee Otzma Yehudit top spots on any joint list and full recognition of its platform.