Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir has refused Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s urging that he drop out of the campaign, after he was left out of a unity deal with other right-wing parties.
“The prime minister now expects Ben Gvir, with all the difficulty involved, to quit the race in order to ensure right-wing rule,” an associate of Netanyahu said, in a statement sent to reporters on condition of anonymity.
Citing left-wing sacrifices for their cause, the source said, “Just as Stav Shaffir compromised to ensure a left-wing victory and the uprooting of settlements, Ben Gvir must quit to ensure a right-wing victory and prevent uprooting of settlements.”
Swiftly responding, Ben-Gvir made clear that he would not go along:
“If the prime minister had quit, a government would have been formed. [Netanyahu] should not preach to Ben Gvir what he himself isn’t doing,” Otzma Yehudit said in a statement, referring to the fact that Blue and White was willing to form a unity government if Netanyahu would resign on corruption allegations.
The party also reiterated that if Netanyahu wants a right-wing government, he should not try to hurt Otzma Yehudit’s electoral chances.
National Union chief Bezalel Smotrich joined Netanyahu’s call for Ben-Gvir to bow out:
“This is your moment to prove you are not acting out of ego or a desire for revenge,” he says. “After all, you don’t believe there’s even a hint of a chance you’ll pass the electoral threshold.”
Otzma Yehudit was jettisoned by Jewish Home leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz on Wednesday night, after New Right leader Naftali Bennett said he would not consider merging with him as long as the far-right party was on the same slate. That paved the way for a last-minute alliance of Jewish Home, New Right and National Union, with Otzma running on its own.
Otzma received some 80,000 votes in the September voting, which would be a major loss to the right if it runs again and fails to pass the threshold, as the polls predict.
Later, on Thursday evening, Rabbi Peretz issued a statement of regret about his decision to renege on the prior agreement with Otzma Yehudit.
He called it “one of the toughest I’ve made in my life… I gave my word and I broke it, and I am sorry for it from the bottom of my heart.”
Explaining his painful decision, he said it “saved religious Zionism” and “prevented the formation of a left-wing government.”