The new Achi Party has set itself a goal of revitalizing the religious-Zionist political camp, and is holding a national registration drive to this end.
Though the party is headed by veteran Knesset Members Effie Eitam and Yitzchak Levy, the two say they will support any leader chosen by the public in a primaries election.
Achi, a Hebrew word meaning "my brother" and an acronym for Land-Society-Judaism, is actually just the new name of a party that was formed in 2006. Eitam and Levy, members at the time of the National Religious Party (NRP), quit it because of policy differences regarding the proper way to oppose the Disengagement/expulsion from Gush Katif and Northern Shomron. They then started a new party they called the Religious Zionist Party. This past autumn, they changed its name to Achi and announced the new registration drive.
The objective of the party's current registration drive is to "restore honor and unity to the nationalist camp," by holding an unprejudiced and open registration drive for the entire sector.
Confusion in the Camp
The announcement of the drive has caused some confusion in the religious-Zionist camp, however, leaving many potential voters uncertain as to the precise relationship between the various religious-Zionist parties.
At present, there is one religious-Zionist party in the Knesset- the National Union-National Religious Party (NU-NRP) - which comprises four different factions: The NRP and the three parties that make up the National Union. The party's four members are thus the following:
- The NRP, the most senior member. Essentially the successor to the original Mizrachi party, it once boasted as many as 12 MKs on its own (in the 9th Knesset, from 1977 to 1981). It held a registration drive three years ago, which garnered 70,000 members. It is headed by MK Zevulun Orlev; its other MKs are Eli Gabbai and Nissan Slomiansky.
- Tekumah, founded in 1998 by former MK Chanan Porat, and a long-time member of the National Union. Its policy is largely determined by a board of three leading religious-Zionist rabbis. Its MKs today are Uri Ariel and Tzvi Hendel. Porat resigned from politics and devotes his time to education.
- Moledet, founded by the late Rehavam Ze'evi in time for the 1992 elections, when it won 3 Knesset seats - its best showing. Comprising both religious and not religious members, its MKs are party leader Rabbi Benny Elon and Aryeh Eldad.
- Achi, whose MKs are Eitam and Levy.
A Call to the Others
MKs Eitam and Levy have called upon the other factions in the NU-NRP to join the open primaries in an effort to rejuvenate and unify the ranks of the nationalist camp. "We believe that only registration [emphasis in the original] will guarantee the direct election of the leadership by the public," the new party states, "and will restore the voters' trust. Only registration will bring about unity of all our strengths as the next election draws near. And only registration will lead to the inclusion of new population sectors in the struggle for the integrity of the Land of Israel and for the Jewish character of our society. Only a large registration for Achi will transmit the message to all the parties to join this initiative and to run together - for we are all brothers."
The Others' Response
In response, the chairmen of the other factions - Orlev, Elon, and Hendel - publicized a letter explaining that in fact, other parties of the NU-NRP are not involved in the drive. "The internal registration drive of Achi is in its name only and has no connection to 'unity,' and we are not partners to it," the letter states. It emphasizes that each of the three parties also choose their leaderships in a direct and democratic fashion. The three signatories add, "Our party [including Achi - ed.] works together in harmony and friendship, following the difficulties of joining together into one united faction prior to the last election."
The nationalist political picture is further muddled by the presence of two other nationalist movements on the scene. The first is the Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) faction of the Likud, which boasts roughly 10,000 members, a strong presence in the Likud Central Committee, and an expectation of 1-2 Knesset Members in the next Knesset.
In addition, the HaTikvah movement has recently been started for what one of the founders, Dr. Ron Breiman, calls the "secular orange camp." Among its supporters are MK Aryeh Eldad.
Meanwhile, the Achi party is also actively recruiting Anglos into its ranks, following the joining last month of US-born Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Yisrael Aumann of Jerusalem. The drive is being led by Shalom Lerner, the Deputy Mayor of Beit Shemesh and Mordechai I. Twersky of Pardes Chana. "We’re building a broad new coalition spanning religious, traditional and secular Israelis,” Twersky said. “We plan to effect change.”
By law, every citizen may only belong to one political party, thus that members of other parties cannot sign up for Achi. Avi Lerner, one of the directors of the new Achi campaign, told Arutz-7, "This is a problem only for Likud members; the other religious-Zionist parties do not have official membership. Likud members who wish to join up with Achi merely have to fax the Likud a form, that we can provide, saying they wish to cancel their membership."