Naftali Bennett quits Jewish Home with an eye on the Netanyahu succession

The Jewish Home leader leaves to form a new party that will challenge the prime minister's party, but not yet the man himself


Whenever it seems that no more splits are possible in Israeli politics, another one comes around.

On Saturday night, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked shocked their own colleagues when they announced they were breaking with Jewish Home, the party where Mr Bennett won the leadership six years ago, to form a new “religious-secular” faction.

The new outfit, The New Right, is an attempt by the two ministers to challenge their old boss Benjamin Netanyahu and prepare for the day he leaves the stage.

At the press conference announcing the move in Tel Aviv, Mr Bennett said that the prime minister “realised that the national-religious community is in his pocket, and no matter how much he abused them, at the end they will always go with him.”

Mr Netanyahu has often been accused accused of taking his religious supporters — whether they vote Likud or for any other party in his coalition parties — for granted. At this stage, the new party is seen as a challenge to Likud, not to the premiership directly.

The polls currently have The New Right receiving between six and 14 seats in the next Knesset, meaning it will at most become a junior member of the next coalition — if Mr Netanyahu’s Likud indeed forms the next government after April 9.

“Naftali is positioning himself for the day after Bibi goes. His first step is re-branding himself as the leader of a new party,” one confidante of Mr Bennett said this week. “The next step will be to challenge Likud after Netanyahu, or perhaps even to merge his new party into Likud.

“Ultimately, he thinks this is the vehicle which could take him all the way to the prime minister’s office. He knows that with a religious party like Jewish Home, he can’t get there.”

Along with the two ministers, Shuli Mualem MK has joined the new party, leaving five Knesset members behind in the rump of Jewish Home.

It presents a dilemma for the religious-right party, which may now struggle to cross the electoral threshold. One option could be to join forces with far-right splinter factions, perhaps including Kahanist elements.

But these could taint the once-venerable National Religious Party and — if Jewish Home falls to cross that threshold — cost a Netanyahu coalition valuable votes.

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