In a decision that could determine the outcome of the March elections and more, Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir announced on Monday night that his party will stay in the campaign, resisting intensive efforts by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and others on the right to persuade him to withdraw.
“Tonight I am honored to inform you in the name of the secretariat of Otzma Yehudit that we are running till the end, for our values, for the truth, for the state and for the Jewish people, and for the children of us all,” Ben Gvir said at a press conference in Yerushalayim.
Ben Gvir confirmed that he had received various offers from members of the Likud-led right-wing bloc if he would leave the campaign, thus freeing tens of thousands of potential votes that would otherwise be wasted. In September, Otzma got 84,000 votes, worth approximately two Knesset seats, but less than the 3.25% of the vote required to pass the electoral threshold and enter the Knesset.
He said that he had been offered ministerial portfolios, or official roles in the KKL-JNF or World Zionist Organization, and an ambassadorial post.
Earlier on Monday there was a report that Likud officials close to Netanyahu promised to back a lowering of the electoral threshold, making it easier for the party to win Knesset seats, in exchange for Otzma’s withdrawal.
But, said Ben-Gvir, he turned them all down.
“No one offered me to end the protection money to Hamas, to end the arrangement [with Hamas] in Gaza, to ban the Joint List [of Arab parties], no one offered to annex all of the Land of Israel and to stop evacuating [unauthorized] settlement outposts,” said Ben-Gvir.
“They talk about the right-wing bloc, but no one wants us. They want to use us and then discard us, they want the votes but we are second class to them,” he said.
Commenting on the disclosures, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz said:
“Last week, he was prepared to trade in the state’s security,” Gantz says, apparently referring to reports that Netanyahu threatened to fire Defense Minister Naftali Bennett if he didn’t agree to accept Otzma Yehudit in a merger of right-wing parties.
“Now, he is ready to hand [Israel’s] foreign relations to the Kahanists,” referring to Otzma’s extremist background. “Netanyahu has no boundaries in his desperate attempt to achieve immunity [from criminal prosecution].
“We have to move on,” Gantz exhorted.
Likud MK Miki Zohar condemned Ben-Gvir’s decision, but from the right-wing:
“Ben Gvir’s decision to run hurts the right’s chance to win the election. The media will embrace him and the left will applaud him because with his own hands he is giving them the government. Tens of thousands of votes will go down the drain. What a waste. He had the opportunity to step down from the campaign with dignity, but he chose an irresponsible path while risking the integrity of the country. Sad.”