(February 17, 2020 / Israel Hayom) As Israel’s March 2 elections near, the parties’ race to poach voters from each other has not skipped the ultra-Orthodox factions, which are now setting their sights on the national-religious voter base.
Recent polls predict that both Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and its Sephardi counterpart Shas are both slated to maintain their power with seven or eight seats each.
A UTJ insider told Israel Hayom that the party, which has set up a special election headquarters dedicated to swaying undecided voters, seeks to take advantage of the so-called “voter fatigue” in the national-religious camp.
The sector’s voter base predominantly votes for Yamina, a faction comprising the New Right, National Union and Jewish Home parties, but the loosely tethered alliance, which won seven seats in the September 2019 elections, lost many of its constituents’ confidence following its members’ poor showing of commitment to the faction.
Yamina has also gone back and forth on whether to include far-right Otzma Yehudit Party in its slate.
Ahead of the September elections as well as prior to the parties finalizing their participation in the March 2 vote, talks between New Right leader Naftali Bennett, Jewish Home chair Rafi Peretz, National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich and Otzma Yehudit chief Itamar Ben-Gvir broke down in the 11th hour.
While many in the national-religious camp welcomed the move, saying the sector should not be affiliated with a party of self-described disciples of the late extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, others protested the fact that, radical or not, not joining forces with him will cost Yamina in the polls.
Otzma Yehudit has run independently in all election races over the past decade, never crossing the four-Knesset-seat electoral threshold of 3.25 percent.
A UTJ source said the confusion and frustration of national-religious voters could sway their votes, adding that the haredi party’s campaign appeals to those who “don’t want to see any compromises on matters of religion and state.”
“There are quite a few streams in religious Zionism that feel they have no one to vote for. Some won’t vote at all because they are angry at Smotrich for joining Bennett in what essentially is a secular party. Others are too rational to vote for Ben-Gvir but don’t want to vote for them [Yamina] because they’re angry at Bennett, Smotrich and Peretz for excluding Ben-Gvir from their slate—those are the votes we’re aiming to get,” said the source.
Meanwhile, Yamina is gearing up to fight for every vote and has launched a massive campaign to encourage member registration.
The national-religious party has also pledged to run a clean campaign and avoid the mud-slinging already evident in the daily campaigning efforts by Blue and White, Labor-Gesher-Meretz, Yisrael Beiteinu and some Likud MKs.
The national-religious alliance also seeks to broaden its appeal to young and first-time voters.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.
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