Michael Ben-Ari
Michael Ben-Ari Nissim Lev

A heated debate broke out at the 11th Arutz Sheva Jerusalem Conference on Tuesday between former MK Michael Ben-Ari and Deputy Education Minister Avi Wartzman (Jewish Home). Ben-Ari accused Jewish Home of selling out its values to be in the coalition, while Wartzman argued for his party's influence.

Ben-Ari accused Jewish Home of breaking apart the right-wing bloc and betraying the Hareidi-religious public, likely hinting to the party's alliance with Yesh Atid, which is trying to force through reforms compelling all hareidi yeshiva students to serve in the IDF. The alliance has sparked some opposition from within Jewish Home as well.

"You've lost all boundaries, bending your knees before the reform-Jews is the main thing to look successful," charged Ben-Ari. The accusations partially stem from Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett's partnership with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to reform the Chief Rabbinate from 2 chief rabbis to one, and separate the Rabbinic Court system from the Chief Rabbinate.

Ben-Ari continued his attacks, accusing Jewish Home of being "neo-reformists" and saying it has "destroyed Judaism and turned it into folklore." His criticism follows attacks on Jewish Home and Likud Beytenu for voting for or abstaining from the vote on a bill granting equal tax benefits to same-sex couples that was recently passed. Bennett voted for the bill while the rest of Jewish Home abstained.

A compromise was reached in the bill by which same-sex couples would receive equal tax breaks but not through official recognition in the legislation, sparing Jewish Home from being perceived as officially condoning same-sex marriage.

"You're all living in a fantasy of great success," argued Ben-Ari, responding to comments by MK Ayelet Shaked that Jewish Home hopes to become the ruling party. "Religious Zionism has merited thanks to the great enrapture with Naftali Bennett and his charisma...but what have you accomplished?"

Influence from within?

Wartzman quipped in response to Ben-Ari's criticism "you said that you are in the sector of the Jewish people (and not the 'religious Zionist'public), but there's one problem - the Jewish people didn't choose you. They left you out of the Knesset."

"We may be 'living in a fantasy land'," he retorted, quoting Ben-Ari "but we are within it - you're just watching it."

The deputy minister's response refers to the last elections, in which Ben-Ari's Otzma Leyisrael party was 15,000 votes short of passing the threshold into the Knesset.

The Jewish Home MK responded to Ben-Ari's accusations, saying "your method is to stand on a platform and shout, just shout without influencing."

Wartzman further claimed that Jewish Home's presence in the government has prevented it from "going to much worse places." In reference to Bennett's recent crisis with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in which Bennett opposed Netanyahu's proposal to have Jews live under the Palestinian Authority (PA), Wartzman argued Bennett "changed the government's position, and if we weren't there no one would have done it."

Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud Beytenu) revealed that an overwhelming majority of the Likud opposed Netanyahu's plans, and are organizing to "give the prime minister a clear message that these are things that will not be heard in Likud policy."

Jewish Home, along with Likud-Beytenu, recently drew criticism for not attending a vote on a bill that would have prevented withdrawals from Jerusalem without the approval of 80 MKs. Consequently, the bill was defeated.

Ben-Ari has criticized Jewish Home in the past, calling it a "partner to the government blood" when the party didn't leave the coalition over the repeated release of terrorist murderers.

"Whoever doesn't leave the government of blood that frees predators who burned and murdered babies, women and men in an intoxication of murder, will not leave the government, even when they expel and uproot Jews," argued Ben-Ari last December.