Photo Credit: Sraya Diamant / Flash 90
Religious Zionism Chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich in Beit El, July 12, 2022.

The Religious Zionism and Meretz parties both held their primary elections Tuesday (Agu. 23) to choose their Knesset candidates for the upcoming national elections in November.

The polls for Religious Zionism opened at 10 am and were expected to close at 8 pm. The voting for Meretz began at 2 pm and was to conclude at 10 pm.

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Religious Zionism
By 6 pm, about 70 percent of the 24,113 registered party members had cast their ballots in the primary held by the Religious Zionism party, whose leader Bezalel Smotrich is leading the list.

Party members were then asked to choose up to eight of the 16 candidates to comprise the list beginning with the second spot.

The final list of candidates elected in Tuesday’s Religious Zionism primary was:
1. Bezalel Smotrich
2. Ofir Sofer
3. Orit Strook
4. Simcha Rothman
5. Michal Woldiger
6.Tzvi Sukkot
7. Moshe Salamon
8. Chai Zaga
9. Arnon Segal

Smotrich also has reserved spots on the list if he chooses to avail himself of the option to include other candidates, such as Amichai Chikli — with whom he is currently negotiating — and Attorney Itamar Ben Gvir, with whom talks broke off.

Smotrich Hopes to Broaden the Base
Smotrich is hoping to broaden the party’s appeal to voters in November by recruiting more religiously liberal candidates from the disintegrating Yamina party.

But Smotrich is also continuing his efforts to draw the Otzma Yehudit party and its leader, attorney Itamar Ben Gvir, into a merger.

Opposition Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu also urged Ben Gvir in a video tweet posted Tuesday to run with Smotrich. “We cannot take a risk,” he said. “Only a joint run will ensure that both parties together with cross the electoral threshold.”

Smotrich responded in a tweet shortly after, saying he agreed and again was calling on Ben Gvir to meet for talks on a joint run.

In a separate response, Ben Gvir declined to return for talks with Smotrich, saying “there was no partner” in his prior meetings on the matter.

Meretz
In the far-left Meretz party, primary elections are aimed at choosing a new – and perhaps former – leader for the party.

At least half of the party’s 18,000-plus membership had voted by 5:30 pm, the party reported.

Zehava Galon, who led the party from 2013 to 2019, emerged from retirement after the incumbent leader, Nitzan Horowitz, declined to run again for party leader.

Galon is determined to keep Meretz “progressive,” she told KAN News earlier this week.

“Do they want a conservative Meretz that will blur its positions and move to the Center or a progressive party, which at its core want to take Israel forward [and deal with] issues such as climate, the environment, women’s rights, violence against women and LGBT rights,” she said, adding that she is willing to merge with Labor in a joint run against the Likud and its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Galon is facing off against retired IDF General Yair Golan, who currently serves as a Deputy Economy Minister in the government.

Golan told Walla! News in an interview that the party is, at present, “elitist, closed, exclusive and bitter.”

The retired general is advocating “practical Zionism” and says he is calling for a “separation of the Palestinians” as part of his platform, along with expanding the country’s social services, separating religious and state, and providing Israel’s Arab citizens with equal opportunities.

The final list for Meretz is:

  1. Zehava Galon
  2. Mosi Raz
  3. Michal Rozin
  4. Ali Salalha
  5. Yair Golan
  6. Gabi Lasky
  7. Nitzan Horovitz

The polls currently show only the first four getting in.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.