Peretz, Smotrich Seek to Quell Tensions Over Justice Ministry Loss

Heads of the United Right political party Rabbi Rafi Peretz (R.) and MK Betzalel Smotrich. (Flash90)

The United Right List will remain united and party chairpeople Rafi Peretz and Betzalel Smotrich will continue to work together, Peretz said in a statement Thursday. “In recent months Betzalel and I have worked hand in hand despite efforts to disrupt the unity of the Religious Zionist camp. I reject all the comments made Wednesday night.”

Those comments came in the wake of protests by Smotrich over the appointment of Likud MK Amir Ohana as justice minister – a job Smotrich had insisted was the United Right’s List price for joining Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition. Although a government has not been formed, Ohana, and all other ministers, will serve in their capacities as part of Netanyahu’s caretaker government.

Smotrich said that his problem was not with Ohana, whom he called “a friend” in a social media post, but with Netanyahu, who has historically “taken his Religious Zionist partners for granted. He would never dare treat his other partner in the same he treats us. It’s time to learn some lessons.” Maariv reported that if he could not get the justice position, he would challenge Peretz for the job of education minister, which the newspaper said Netanyahu would award Peretz in the coming days. “According to the coalition agreement between Jewish Home and the National Union, Smotrich gets the first chance at a ministerial position.”

In response, sources close to Peretz slammed Smotrich, saying that “Netanyahu decided to appoint Peretz Education minister because the prime minister sees him as the political leader of Religious Zionism. Netanyahu decided to leave the Education Ministry in the hands of the Religious Zionist movement. This was our mission and we have fulfilled it.” Supporters of Smotrich retorted that with the statement, Peretz was violating his deal with the MK.

Peretz on Thursday said that the comments made in his name were not accurate. While not relating to the Education Ministry issue, he wrote that he and Smotrich “will continue to work together as partners and will join the next government together, working together as we have throughout our political journey.” In response, Smotrich wrote in a social media post Thursday that “no one will succeed in breaking the unity of Religious Zionism. Unity is more important than anything else. Anyone trying to divide us must be ejected from our camp today – otherwise it will never stop.”