Colonel and Rabbi Jonathan Baranski, the former deputy commander of the Gaza Division, will challenge Habayit Hayehudi Chairman MK Naftalli Bennett to lead the National-Religious party in next month’s elections, Srugim reported on Friday.
Bennett’s surprise call for party primaries was presumably intended to allow the two-term leader to take advantage of the relatively quiet political season to run unopposed and recapture the chairmanship with ease. But Baranski, who has been campaigning for the job since October 2016, was well prepared. In fact, according to Srugim, the current low membership – 28,000 compared with 70,000 in the previous primaries – Baranski could prove to be a winning dark horse.
The recent losses of the settlement of Amona and nine homes in neighboring Ofra have resulted in a backlash within party ranks, as Habayit Hayehudi proved unable to act within the coalition to prevent the evictions and demolition. This anti-establishment trend has already led to the surprising election of Shlomo Ne’eman to head the Gush Etzion Council, beating the establishment candidate.
Baranski made headlines last November, when he objected to the inclusion of women in IDF armored combat units. He told Army Radio that, regardless of one’s religious beliefs, “if you want to win, don’t mix men and women,” and commented that when the women from the Caracal mixed combat battalion, “the canteens run out of contraception products.”
Regarding his rival’s account of the dysfunctional security cabinet during the 2014 Gaza war, Baranski supports Bennett’s version of the events. Baranski told Galay Israel Radion that he had been in the war room and witnessed “a discussion where the prime minister told the army leaders, after they had shown him a military plan for Gaza, that he wanted to see a more meaningful and aggressive plan – and the chief of staff, instead of obeying, started telling him why it’s not a good idea. […] Sometimes Netanyahu would insist, but the Army simply refused to carry it out. […] I was in the room when it happened.”