Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz announced Monday night that he was stepping down as chairman of the Bayit Hayehudi party, and would not seek to lead the party in the coming elections. Instead, he said, he was throwing his support to MK Zvulun Orlev. At a press conference, Hershkowitz said that his main objective was to ensure unity within the Religious Zionist movement, and that he saw his alliance with Orlev not as a matter of one person leading, but as a joint leadership effort.
Speaking at the event, Orlev said that he and Hershkowitz “were in perfect agreement on the need to keep the party on its current path. In order to this we must have the courage to overcome our own ambitions and share leadership", Orlev said.
Sources, however, told Arutz Sheva that there was much more to the story than an effort to unify different factions in the Religious Zionist movement: Orlev and Hershkowitz, according to the sources, were scheming together with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to prevent Naftali Bennet from taking leadership of the party. According to internal polls, Bennet is seen as making a strong showing in the upcoming party primaries, to the extent that he may end up leading it. If both Hershkowitz and Orlev run, they would split the votes of those who would vote for either one of them, and Bennet could win the primary.
In a recent interview with Arutz Sheva, Hershkowitz vehemently denied a report that he was planning to resign from leadership of the party, after having made a deal with Orlev that he (Hershkowitz) could be appointed a minister in a future government, even if he was not the party's leader. Netanyahu, the sources said, had agreed to appoint Hershkowitz to a ministerial position. Hershkowitz has denied the report.
Speaking to Arutz Sheva, a source who wished to remain anonymous said that the plot had been hatched by Natan Eshel, former editor of the defunct religious Zionist newspaper Hatsofe and close friend of Netanyahu, who is hoping to prevent Bennet from leading the Bayit Yehudi list. The source said that Eshel and Netanyahu fear that a list headed by Bennet – which would lean more to the right than one led by the more conservative Orlev – would wrest thousands of votes away from the Likud.
Speaking to Arutz Sheva, a spokesperson for Bennet said that “the public is looking for new leadership, and not just a reshuffle for political patronage. Something new is happening in the religious Zionist community, and political tricks will not stop this new force,” said the spokesperson. There was no comment from Hershkowitz, Orlev, or Eshel.