Naftali Bennett and Eli Ohana
Naftali Bennett and Eli Ohana Jewish Home party

Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett expressed regret Thursday at the decision of former soccer start Eli Ohana to drop out of the party's Knesset list, and to eschew politics altogether. Despite the sharp criticism leveled at Bennett for the move – recruiting a secular figure who made his career and fortune by working on Shabbat, and who, to boot, had no political experience at all – the Jewish Home chairman said the decision to recruit and promote Ohana was “the right one that I am proud of. Possibly it took place a little too early.”

In a statement Thursday, Ohana, who had been chosen earlier in the week by Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett to round out the party's Knesset list, said that he had told Bennett Wednesday night that he would not be running after all.

In a statement, Ohana said that he had discussed the matter with Bennett late Wednesday, “and I asked him to take me off the list. I did not expect the public outcry against by being placed eighth on the Jewish Home list. I do not feel as if I am cut out for politics at this point in my life,” Ohana said.

The move was greeted by sharp criticism from within the party and without, as Jewish Home voters and supporters were up in arms over the decision to include secular soccer player Ohana on a prominent place in the party list. His placement on the eighth slot of the list pushed other veteran members of the party, such as MK Zevulun Kalfa – who decided to resign from the party – further down the list. Following Ohana's decision to withdraw, Kalfa announced he would be returning to the Jewish Home's 18th slot.

Despite the criticism, Bennett said in a Facebook post Thursday that polls this week “showed that we had gained strength. I knew that I would face opposition for this move, because that's what happens when you institute change. We have instituted a number of changes, and this was to have been another one of them. Unfortunately, the outcry – both from the media and public – was too great to bear, even for a brave fighter like Eli.”

Despite his having supported the disengagement when it took place a decade ago – support, Ohana said, that he now regrets – Bennett said that the soccer star “is a wonderful Israeli whose life story shows discipline and national pride. The more he was attacked, the more I appreciated him.” The party, he said, “has done amazing things in the two years that we have been in the current format, and we will continue to do so.”

Despite the outcry against including a secular figure like Ohana in the party which represents Religious Zionist values and interests, Bennett said that “Jewish Home is a home for all Israelis, and has been for many years now. The question of our being a 'sectorial' party is now resolved. We have a secular woman [Ayelet Shaked - ed.] in the top spot on the list, followed by Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, and other secular individuals such as Yinon Magal and Ronen Shoval. We have Jews of European and Middle-Eastern origin, men and women, young and old. It is a true vision of unity,” he said.

“I learned a lot this week,” Bennett added, “especially, from Eli, a lesson in love of Israel, and the modesty of a great man.”

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