Members of the Jewish Home and National Union nationalist-religious parties will meet next Monday to discuss a possible merger and the “recovery of the religious-Zionist vote.”
Leaders of both parties made separate announcements to this effect on Tuesday afternoon. Speaking at the Convention of Heads of Religious-Zionist Institutions, Rabbi Prof. Daniel Herskovitz called outright for unity between the parties: “There has not been once in the history of the nationalist camp in Israel that division or running separately helped us meet the challenges that face us. Division has caused only harm.”
Herskovitz, the Minister of Science, heads the Jewish Home party, which is a successor to the decades-old National Religious Party.
MK Yaakov Katz (Ketzaleh), who heads the National Union party, said, “Ever since I entered the Knesset several months ago, I have been working to unite the two parties – and there has been real progress. We will meet next week, and I believe that this will be the beginning of the restoration of our camp’s political strength. We have to strive to be Prime Ministers, as well as Foreign, Defense and Finance Ministers… In the next election, I believe we will have 10-15 Knesset mandates, and that will be just the beginning.”
The Jewish Home currently has only three Knesset seats, and is the smallest party in the Netanyahu government. The more hawkish National Union, with four seats, is not a member of the government coalition – due to Netanyahu’s desire to form a more “centrist” government.
Katz said that by doing so, “Netanyahu took 7-10 Knesset seats from the knitted-kippah [national religious] public, and is using our electoral strength to wage his policies. His desire to cut back in national service for religious girls, for instance, is just another indication that he is trying to weaken our sector. The solution lies in 'unity in our camp,' and then we will be able to solve the other problems.”
Goal: Ignore Complications, Start the Process
A National Union party source told Israel National News, “There are of course complications regarding this merger – foremost among them being whether the party will be a part of the coalition or not, or possibly some sort of half-half arrangement. But the point is that these are details that can be worked out later; the goal now is to start the process, by working together in the Knesset and formulating an agreement to run together in the next elections. I believe such an agreement will be written within a few months.”
“It has to be understood,” the source continued. “There is simply no other choice. G-d wrought us a miracle in the last election by having both of our parties scrape past the minimum vote threshold; had the Jewish Home received a few thousand fewer votes, it would not have entered the Knesset at all. We cannot expect such a miracle again, and therefore there is no choice but to unite.”
“We estimate that only some 20% of the national-religious public voted for our two parties," he said, "and that some 90% of the remainder voted for the Likud. A joint ticket of our two parties can recover most of those votes.”
The convention, taking place in Ramat Gan, is sponsored by the weekly B’Sheva newspaper. The central panel dealt with the role of the heads of religious-Zionist educational institutions. Katz said that they are “the leaders and backbone of the revolution being waged by the religious-Zionist public. We are the only sector that is involved in every challenge faced by the country – whether it be military, settlement, industry, education, technology, and more - and the educators have central responsibility for this.”