Israel's Minister of Education Naftali Bennett (R) and Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (L) announce the formation of new political party during a press conference in Tel Aviv last week. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli Politicos Split From Own Party To Take On Netanyahu In April Election

Breakaway by Education and Justice Ministers from party they lead bets electorate favors political over religious affiliation

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked have announced they are forming a new political party called HaYamin HeHadash (“The New Right”) which stakes its success on the belief that voters are quicker to follow a party anchored on the political right rather than within a religious demographic. The move comes after the prime minister’s call for early elections and the dissolution of parliament eleven months before the statuary term expires. The general election is set for April 9.

In what many see as somewhat amoeba-like is that Bennett and Shaked have created a breakaway party from the right-wing party of which they were already the core of party leadership: Bennett serving at the helm of HaBayit HaYehudi (the Jewish Home) since 2012. The duo said they will serve as co-leaders in the new conservative partnership which seeks to attract those who lean rightward in both the Jewish and secular camps.

During a news conference on Saturday night, Bennett further explained that while the Jewish Home became a “significant force” in the government over the past several years its impact had regrettably declined.

“The influence of HaBayit HaYehudi has been lost and will not return. The prime minister [Netanyahu] thinks religious Zionists are in his pocket and no matter how much he harms them they will continue to go along with him,” Bennett said.

“I want to be very clear. The new party is right-wing, no buts and no sort-ofs. It is in favor of the Land of Israel without compromise and against a Palestinian state, period,” he added.

The education minister also attacked Netanyahu for calling early elections after the latter said a few weeks ago that forming a new government would be irresponsible in light of Israel’s sensitive security situation.

Polls show that Netanyahu and his Likud party would easily win the majority of seats in the next parliament. The head of the party that wins the greatest number of the 120 parliamentary seats up for grabs is given the first opportunity to form a coalition government if the president believes he/she has the best chance of doing so.

Also confusing to some voters is Bennett and Shaked’s announcement that after the April election their new party will partner with the remnants of their former political home, the Jewish Home, in order to bolster the far-right bloc in the next Israeli parliament at the expense of the party they left.

Gideon Rahat, Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Senior Fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, told The Media Line that Bennett and Shaked “want to be prepared for the day after ‘Bibi’ [a common nickname for Netanyahu], hoping they can take over after him.”

These ambitions were not met with the current Jewish Home party, causing the duo to alter their tactics, Rahat explained.

“They want to create a list of candidates that they will single-handedly compose, and they have this idea that there are many secular and traditional Jewish voters out there who are just waiting for them.

“But the political field is very crowded,” Rahat continued. “Bennett and Shaked are just another force trying capture voters who will already have so many parties to choose from. I don’t see what their specific charm is [despite their popularity as expressed in election surveys].”

Other pundits noted that it will take such out-of-the-box risk taking and thinking to have a chance to make inroads against the strong prime minister and his powerful Likud party.

Noam Brenner, a political analyst, opined to The Media Line that “after losing in their last poker game with Netanyahu, the right-wing power-couple are taking an even greater risk.

“Their hope to win votes from a more liberal population and gain more independence in future political negotiations may cost them everything. The two might find out that group loyalty is a fundamental feature of voters and of conservatives especially. But in times where ‘new’ equals ‘good,’ the move might pay off,” Brenner said.

Prof. Yossi Shain, head of the School of Political Science, Government and International Affairs at Tel Aviv University, explained to The Media Line that Bennett and Shaked “could not reach the top” with the Jewish Home Party because it is only a coalition partner and not a main party, which they hope The New Right will become.

“Will this work? It is not certain because it is exactly the party that Netanyahu has – one that combines religious Zionists with secular voters,” Shain added.

Itamar Fleischmann, a former spokesman for Bennett, told The Media Line that Bennett and Shaked “want to bring new ideas into politics and break away from a religious party that not everyone saw in the best light.”

The new political formation might stand a chance of succeeding, but much depends on the situation in the Gaza Strip and the decision on whether to indict Netanyahu, Fleishman concluded, referring to the ongoing corruption probes into the prime minister’s private dealings.

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