Smotrich (left) and Ariel (center) at National Union conference, March 2018
Smotrich (left) and Ariel (center) at National Union conference, March 2018Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

MK Bezalel Smotrich announced Friday that he will challenge Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel for leadership of the National Union party ahead of next year’s Knesset election.

Earlier this week, Ariel said that he would seek an additional term as faction leader.

The National Union internal elections will be held on January 14th.

In a letter to faction members announcing his plans to challenge Ariel, Smotrich said he envisioned the National Union’s Tekuma faction becoming the political home of the national-religious community in Israel, taking the place of the larger Jewish Home party.

The Jewish Home, Smotrich argued, has lost its unique appeal to the national-religious community in its attempt to appeal to a wider audience and ultimately challenge the Likud.

“Tekuma needs to step up ahead of [the next election] and situate itself as the political home of religious Zionism, and everyone who identifies with its ideas and values.”

“The challenge of representing the religious Zionist public… is not part” of the Jewish Home’s larger aspirations, Smotrich continued. “That is our job.”

The National Union is an alliance of right-wing and religious parties including Tekuma, which split off from the National Religious Party (the Jewish Home’s predecessor), and Moledet.

Running on a joint ticket with Yisrael Beytenu in 2003, the party teamed up with the NRP in 2006, only to run independently in 2009, winning four seats.

In 2013, the party ran on a joint list with the Jewish Home, winning four seats out of 12 total for the Jewish Home-National Union list.

Two years later, the two factions again ran on a joint list, with the National Union faction winning just two seats out of eight.