A day after ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked announced that they were leaving Habayit Hayehudi to found a party of their own, Likud Knesset members and ministers issued a volley of criticism against them.
On Sunday, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a response by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who is particularly close to the prime minister.
“Given their outrageous attack on Netanyahu, it’s clear to everyone that Bennett’s and Shaked’s only aim is to oust the prime minister and Likud from power,” said Levin.
“Just as they used Habayit Hayehudi and then abandoned it, they will take the votes they get in the election and hand them from the right to the left, giving them to [Yesh Atid leader] Yair Lapid, with whom they’ve always had a brotherly bond. There’s a reason Lapid celebrated [the new party] and rushed to congratulate them,” said Levin.
Culture Minister Miri Regev also laid into Bennett and Shaked, saying, “They took religious Zionism for a ride. They are abandoning their home. They’ll drop in the polls. No Likud voter would consider voting for them.”
Coalition chairman MK David Amsalem said in a radio interview: “I can’t understand Bennett and Shaked’s intentions. This is a hypocritical move. If the issues they cited really bother them, they should have left long ago. In my opinion, Bennett wants a senior job appointment; there is nothing ideological here. He wants to move up the ranks to the position of defense minister.”
Bennett and Shaked, whose fledgling party has been named the New Right, responded by saying they refused to “be dragged into Likud attacks.”
“The voters are smart, and they know who implements right-wing policy and who doesn’t. We suggest that Likud focus on expanding the [right-wing] bloc, not wiping it out,” they said.
Several names were floated on Sunday as potential members of the New Right Knesset list, including former Gaza Division commander Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, educator and Israel Prize laureate Miriam Peretz, military secretary to the defense minister Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter, author and journalist Irit Linur, and journalist and former Habayit Hayehudi MK Yinon Magal, who resigned from the Knesset in November 2015 following sexual harassment allegations.
However, some of the people mentioned as possible New Right candidates, such as Miriam Peretz, have said that they have no interest in entering politics.
Meanwhile, Habayit Hayehudi officials are discussing the appointment of a new party leader to replace Bennett. Possible candidates include Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan or MK Moti Yogev.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said Sunday that a range of new parties were cropping up that “offer nothing other than lists of illustrious names.”
Speaking at the Second Jabotinsky Conference of the World Betar Movement at the Zionist Organization of America in Tel Aviv, Edelstein called the new parties founded in the past two months “celebrity parties that will eventually discover that they are shooting stars.”
“But we, the people of Likud, have a different path. Or, more accurately, you could say that we, the successors of [Ze’ev] Jabotinsky, are the only ones that actually have a path,” the Knesset speaker told the audience.
Also on Sunday, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel submitted his candidacy for the leadership of the National Union alliance of right-wing parties ahead of the primaries that are slated to take place in two weeks. The National Union was originally formed in 1999 when three right-wing parties, Moledet, Tkuma and Herut, joined forces. By 2013, Tkuma was the only one of the National Union parties that remained, and it joined Habayit Hayehudi.
Ariel opted to run for chairman, not as a potential Knesset member, which could indicate that he intends to resign from politics entirely if he is not elected chairman of the National Union.
In a message to party activists, Ariel wrote: “I have submitted my candidacy to continue serving as chairman. We have been given a one-time opportunity to lead the religious Zionist camp as a single bloc. It is important to reiterate—you are the ones who decide.”
Ariel will be vying for head of the National Union party against MK Bezalel Smotrich.
He wrote that he was “happy about the positive direction towards leadership by the young generation, the ones who were raised on National Union values and took in the values we share. Indeed, I supported and support a team that will start the process of handing the baton over to the younger generation during the next term.”
Also Sunday, the Knesset House Committee officially approved the request by Bennett, Shaked and MK Shuli Moalem-Rafaeli to break off from Habayit Hayehudi and establish their New Right party using the existing framework of the defunct Tzalash Party.
Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon told the committee that the Knesset’s legal department had reviewed all the documents submitted by Bennett and Shaked and determined that the request to form a new party met all the legal requirements, as did the Tzalash Party, which has been a recognized political party for years, although it has not run in any recent Knesset election.
“In August 2018, the [Tzalash] party was transferred from the name of former MK Joseph Paritzky to attorney Amichai Weinberger, who currently serves as chairman of the Tzalash party, and can hand it over to whomever he wants,” said Yinon.
During the meeting, Knesset Accountant Chaim Avidar informed the House Committee that Habayit Hayehudi owed the Knesset NIS 1,728,000 ($458,931) for a loan it received earlier this month.
Avidar said that Habayit Hayehudi also had an outstanding debt for a fine it was given by the State Comptroller’s Office during the previous election campaign for NIS 272,920 ($72,483). This means that Habayit Hayehudi has outstanding debts of more than $531,000.