The split on the right end of the Israel’s election spectrum is getting worse, but there are signs that the candidates recognize the impending disaster they’ve created and are taking a step back from the brink.
The background begins with Religious Zionist party leader Bezalel Smotrich trying to democratize his party to increase membership rolls, voting and participation. To do that, Smotrich decided to hold open primaries. He succeeded in attracting over 24,000 members. At the same time, Smotrich was (or wasn’t, depending on who’s telling the story) negotiating with Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir who has also been rising in the polls, to unite again in the upcoming elections. The two ran together in the last election and at least publicly seemed to work well together.
For Smotrich, the first problem is that a technical bloc with Ben-Gvir reduces the number of seats available from the primaries, and it undermines Smotrich’s attempts to open up and democratize his party. Another issue is that Smotrich is looking to broaden his voter base. He is known for being on the hard-right religiously, and he is hoping to bring in a candidate to party who has a more moderate image religiously to make the party more appealing for former Yamina voters who are now politically homeless.
According to Kan 11 news, that candidate is Amichai Chikli, the popular rebel from Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party who stood his ideological ground and refused to join the Yamina party’s coalition with the radical left and the Islamic Ra’am party. Chikli, who is more moderate religiously but just as devoted to the Land of Israel as is Smotrich, is also being courted by the Likud.
Meanwhile, Ben-Gvir who is well-known for his effective political street theater took the failing negotiations to the press. Smotrich has also repeatedly declared that he won’t negotiate in the media. And certainly, if this was Ben-Gvir’s attempt was to pressure Smotrich, it appears to have backfired. Even though a public offer was made by Smotrich to Ben-Gvir in response, they still got stuck on the details – rumor and reports saying they disagreed regarding Chikli and/or another candidate.
This led to Ben-Gvir announcing to the press he is running alone, a move that might cause one or both of their parties to not pass the electoral threshold and a definite loss for the right. That led to Smotrich publicly saying something disparaging about Ben-Gvir, for which he subsequently apologized. It also began involving Likud leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has run his own internal polls that show one of both parties won’t get in if they run separately, which means for him, no return to the premiership.
According to the Kan 11 report, Ben-Gvir plans to announce part of his list next week, and also asked Smotrich for a media ceasefire, even though it was Ben-Gvir that publicly launched the opening shots in the media.
As of now, Smotrich is holding his primaries this week. He is also reportedly negotiating with Chikli and Noam’s Avi Maoz. Once those open points are resolved and he know what his party will look like in terms of candidates, he will presumably be more open to negotiating with Ben-Gvir.
Which leads us to Ayelet Shaked’s Zionist Spirit party. There currently isn’t a single poll that shows her party passing the electoral threshold. Her party has also declared they only plan to sit in a unity government with the right and left, and without Ben-Gvir, which has also limited its attractiveness for some voters. While there is a lot of personal bad blood between her and Smotrich and a lot of distrust in her personally, joining Smotrich’s bloc might be her only chance to be in the upcoming Knesset, and that could bring in some more wayward rightwing votes that will otherwise be lost. But this is the least likely unification on the right that might happen.
And finally, we’re left with the potential split in the Haredi parties. Some of them have also hinted at their willingness to sit under either of the two left wing parties led by Benny Gantz (National Unity) or PM Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) if it means not sitting in the opposition anymore.
The bottom line is that even though Israeli voters are consistently leaning more and more right, the right wing bloc is more divided than ever, and as a result, there is a serious possibility that Israel will elect a leftwing government for the first time in a very long time.
איתמר בן גביר צפוי להציג רשימה חלקית של מפלגתו בשבוע הבא – וביקש מבצלאל סמוטריץ' "הפסקת אש" תקשורתית. יו"ר הציונות הדתית מצדו מנהל מגעים לצירוף עמיחי שיקלי ויו"ר נעם אבי מעוז#השבוע @yaara_shapira pic.twitter.com/pac8777p2n
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) August 19, 2022