Ben Gvir to Run Alone, Blames Smotrich for Split

By Yisrael Price

MK Itamar Ben Gvir at a press conference to announce his independent run for Knesset at the head of his Otzma Yehudit party, Monday night. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

YERUSHALAYIM – It was more a relief from weeks of confusion and uncertainty than a dramatic denouement, but on Monday night, far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir made the break of his Otzma Yehudit party with the Betzalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party.

Putting the onus for the split on the other side, Ben Gvir declared:

“In the past month and a half, I did everything in order to run together with my friends in the Religious Zionist Party. At first, Bezalel Smotrich refused categorically to hold negotiations, afterward, he agreed but it seems that he did so only for the sake of appearance,” said Ben-Gvir, who claimed that Smotrich was demanding six out of the eight available places on the list for members of his own party.

“In every poll, in every check, in every study, in every tour where we met public opinion in the field and on the street, we’re multiple times larger than him and he demands three quarters of this party for himself,” said Ben Gvir, who had conceded the top spot to Smotrich.

“I have tried in every way to achieve unity between us, but since [Religious Zionism leader] Bezalel [Smotrich] has refused every concession of mine, I declare tonight with a full heart that Otzma Yehudit will run by itself in the elections.”

The announcement seemed to put an end to a long series of rumors of agreements, denials, negotiations, and more rumors.

Smotrich did not immediately accept the decision.

“In the middle of a family vacation in the North, I was informed sadly by the media about the intentions of my friend, Itamar, to declare his separation from Religious Zionist [Party] tonight and an independent run [in the elections],” said Smotrich.

“Itamar, my friend, this is a serious error. The national camp cannot permit itself splits and rifts and there is a great danger of votes being thrown in the trash as has happened not just once or twice,” warned Smotrich. “You know, we ran together in the last elections and we brought great success. We combined our powers as a single, united list in Religious Zionist last year and we conducted an extraordinary fight to take down this dangerous and bad government that relied on terrorism supporters from the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Ben Gvir did leave the door open a crack for a reconciliation. He said he still has hope that Smotrich will agree to his demands, but that he “respects [Smotrich’s] desire to turn to the audience that votes for Ayelet Shaked,” referring to the moderate right-wing.

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