Last-Minute Unity Deal on the Right

YERUSHALAYIM -
Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit party, holding a press conference in the March, 2020 elections. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Bezalel Smotrich’s National Religious Party and Itamar Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit signed an agreement on Thursday to run together in the March elections.

The merger was reportedly pushed by Prime Minister Netanyahu. According to Channels 12 and 13 on Tuesday, the prime minister promised Smotrich that he’ll place a candidate of Smotrich’s choice on Likud’s slate and offer him at least one ministerial portfolio if he merges with Otzma Yehudit.

Otzma Yehudit has been a contentious presence in previous elections due to its record of following in the extremist views of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. It supports expelling Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel, and several of its candidates have been disqualified from public office over allegations of incitement to racism and violence.

The signing was accompanied by a call for the Jewish Home party to join them.

“We stand a day before the deadline for submitting the lists and call on our members in the Jewish Home to come to their senses and join us in full unification in the Religious Zionist Party out of mutual respect and appreciation and a true partnership along this path.

“We cannot allow a right-wing party to go down the drain and risk the formation of a left-wing government,” they said.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid commented: “Whoever wants Ben Gvir to become a minister in the government should vote for Netanyahu. Whoever wants a sane government, Yesh Atid.”