Naftali Bennett
Naftali BennettIsrael news photo: Flash 90

In recent weeks the two religious-Zionist parties in Knesset, Ichud Leumi (National Union) and the Jewish Home (renewed Mafdal), have held frequent talks with the goal of running together in the next national elections. On Sunday a new element was thrown into the mix, as former Netanyahu bureau chief Naftali Bennett announced the formation of a new Knesset faction.

“In the next few days we will establish a young nationalist-Zionist movement for both the religious and the secular. Its goal is simple: to put Zionism back in the center,” he declared.

The movement aims “to unify religious Zionism with the secular national camp and create a new dialogue [and] to be a significant counterbalance to Netanyahu after the elections,” Bennett wrote on his Facebook page.

Bennett served in the elite Sayeret Matkal and Maglan units and continues to serve in the reserves, holding the rank of major. In 1999, he co-founded a hi-tech anti-fraud company, Cyota, and served as its CEO. The company was sold in 2005 to RSA Security for $145,000,000.

The new party’s full list of candidates is expected to be published in the upcoming days. Some names have already been released, among them former IDF chief rabbi Rabbi Avichai Ronsky and Ayelet Shaked, head of the Yisrael Sheli (My Israel) Zionist movement.

“Our community knows how to lead everywhere: in the IDF command, in the education system, in communities across the country, in volunteerism,” Bennett said. “There is just one place where we are not counted: in the Israeli Knesset… The time has come for us to take command of the country.”

Ichud Leumi head MK Yaakov “Ketzaleh” Katz was not pleased with Bennett’s announcement. “The last thing the religious Zionist community needs right now is more division,” he declared. “It’s a shame to see thousands of votes being thrown away.”

The Jewish Home and Ichud Leumi’s joint list will have the power to influence the next Knesset, he added.