While millions of Americans flocked to the polls in order to decide the identity of the next President of the United States, in Israel, 54 thousand members of HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home) also voted for their new party leader. HaBayit HaYehudi is the national religious party, which used to also be known as Mafdal.
The race was between Naftali Bennet and Zevulun Orlev. Bennet, a young candidate, comes from the field of hi-tech, but has also held various political positions under Netanyahu and as chief executive of the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization of all the local councils of settlements in Judea and Samaria (link to Wikipedia for Naftali Bennet). Zevulun Orlev is a veteran politican who is considered to be an excellent parliamentarian. Orlev has served in the Knesset since 1999 (wikipedia link for Orlev). The previous party leader was Prof. Rabbi Daniel Hershkovitz, who was also a candidate but dropped out of the race in order to support Orlev.
Only a third of the ballots have been counted, as I write this post, but the outcome is certain. Bennet has won the race by a large margin. Orlev announced tonight that he would leave politics.
This is the first time that the party’s members have competed in a primary election. Until this year, the party list was formed by a committee of Rabbis and other leaders of the national religious community. Today’s vote was to decide the identity of the party leader. Next Tuesday, November 13th, the party’s 54,000 members will vote again, in order to decide the party list.
Bennet’s victory marks the beginning of a new era for the relatively conservative party. Bennet’s running companion, Ayelet Shaked (pronounced as two syllables- Sha-Ked) is a non-religious woman. The party has had female members in the past (the most recent member was Gila Finkelshtein in 2003-2006), but many rabbis have frowned upon the idea of Orthodox women in politics. If Shaked, a non-orthodox woman, succeeds in being elected by the party as an MK, it will be nothing short of revolutionary. Bennet has advocated for widening the party’s horizons to be more inclusive of other groups in the Israeli Right, instead of catering only to a small section of the population, namely the national-religious community. Bennet believes that the party, which received only 3 seats in the last Knesset, must evolve in order to speak to a larger population if it is to remain relevant.
Next week’s vote will show whether Bennet’s victory signifies a real change in the party, as well as in the National-Religious community. Are they ready to play in the national league?
Read my previous election updates:
You may also be interested in a basic description of the different parties in the Knesset:
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