The census of the Religious Zionist party that Tuesday night yielded an astonishing 24,113 members from all over Israel. The data show that a third of those who joined the relatively new party (established February 3, 2021) are younger than age 25, and 46% are between 25 and 50 years old.
The oldest member is Meir Hayman, 98, from the moshav Nahalim, who lost three of his brothers and an uncle in the 1948 War of Independence.
The number 24,113 represents a huge success for the party’s leader (its official name is Religious Zionism led by Bezalel Smotrich). To compare, the Likud’s 2019 census stood at 118,000 members.
One sour note accompanied the census: in addition to the conclusion of the census, Tuesday at midnight marked the end of registration for candidates wishing to run for the leadership of the party and on the party’s list ahead of the August 23 primaries. On the leadership part, it appears that Smotrich will be running unopposed, since his only opponent, Dov Halbertal, never submitted his nomination forms. Halbertal, a Haredi attorney, protested having to submit 500 signatures of party members supporting his nomination, while Smotrich was exempted. Another candidate, Eli Yosef, left the party altogether citing the same reason.
Smotrich, who back in 2019 defeated Minister Uri Ariel to lead the Tekuma faction of Habayit Hayehudi, thanked all the members of his newly hatched party for their trust, saying, “Thank you. Thank you to the tens of thousands. Thank you to young and old, women and men, to the people of the periphery and the center. Thanks to the people of the valley and the people of the mountain, the people of the city and the people of the village.”
That probably covered everybody.
Smotrich added: “With God’s help and with you we will build a winning team, bring great unity to the right-wing camp, and restore the national camp to the leadership of the state.”
Speaking of which, the Religious Zionism deal with Otzma Yehudit, led by Itamar Ben Gvir is still tenuous, since it appears that some of Smotrich’s supporters in cities and villages, periphery and center, valleys and mountains are upset that he gave away the store to his vociferous partner.
After accelerated negotiations last week, the unification of the Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit slate is expected to feature in first place Smotrich, and in second place Ben Gvir. The next two slots go to RZ, the fifth to Otzma’s Director-General Yitzhak Waserlauf. The sixth spot goes to RZ, the seventh to an Otzma candidate approved by Smotrich. The eighth spot goes to RZ and the ninth and tenth to Otzma.
And this is why the RZ rank and file members are upset. For one thing, the deal means that at least 20 candidates in the primaries will be competing for only four spots in the top ten slate, the realistic one – that’s what the polls have been predicting. Ben Gvir gets four of those, another four are taken by current RZ MKs, and everyone else will be fighting over two realistic spots. Forget about new blood being injected into the party, you know, from the cities and the periphery, mountains and valleys. They might as well not show up.
In addition, Ben-Gvir and Smotrich agreed on a joint leadership of their faction, so that any decision made during the campaign and in the Knesset will have to be made by both leaders.
Yes, this is what giving away the store looks like. Not to mention that the fact that Ben Gvir and his people are on the list will keep away former Yamina (Zionist Spirit) voters who find even Smotrich too extreme – you want they should vote for Ben Gvir?
Remember, the NRP rule of Israeli politics says that the national religious vote does not exceed 12. It’s the most the old NRP got, it’s the most HaBayit Hayehudi collected, under Bennett. If Ayelet Shaked and Yoaz Hendel go past the 3.25% threshold vote to collect four seats in the 25th Knesset, their votes will be siphoned from RZ (and Likud and Israel Beitenu). So there’s no way Shaked/Hendel make it and Smotrich/Ben Gvir get more than 10.
In the end, Netanyahu, assuming he gets the first crack at forming a government, is most likely to go with the Haredim and Yesh Atid (they’ll make peace with Lapid, of course, they will), and keep Religious Zionism on the opposition benches. Mark my words.