Habayit Hayehudi (“Jewish Home”), a coalition of nationalist religious parties formed by a merger of the National Religious Party, Moledet and Tekuma in November 2008, elected Naftali Benet as the party head on November 6.
Bennett, a retired major in the Israeli army who sold an anti-fraud software company for $145 million in 2005, won 67% of the votes. His rival, MK Zevulun Orlev, who was Minister of Welfare & Social Services between March 2003 and November 2004, received 32%.
Following the internal elections, Orlev announced his retirement from political life. He called Bennett and wished him luck as party leader.
The National Religious Party (NRP) was one of the oldest Zionist political parties representing the religious Zionist movement. The party was formed in 1956, although its roots date back to 1902l. The party was part of every Israeli government coalition until 1992.
Traditionally NRP was a practical centrist party, but since 1974 it drifted to the right and becoming associated with Israeli settlers’ politics. The 2006 elections saw the party slump to just three seats, the worst electoral performance in its history. In November 2008 party members voted to disband the party in order to join the new Habayit Heyehudi.
The election of Naftali Bennet as the party chief is part of a strategic move to merge the party with the extreme right wing National Union party toward Israeli’s January 2013 elections.
“Now it’s time to move on to the real task, which we began a few weeks ago, to unite the power within religious Zionism and bring those wearing the knitted kippot back to the center of the political stage,” said a statement by the party.
The National Union is a new, extreme right wing nationalist party, which was formed by a merger of smaller extreme right wing forces, including former members of Kach, an organization outlawed in Israel and considered a terrorist group by the United States.
The National Union, which never managed to consolidate itself, remains in turmoil. The party is uncertain which MKs remain in the party, who is out and who will lead it, after faction chairman Ya’acov Katz demoted himself to an unrealistic spot on the list for the next Knesset.
The National Union is a faction made up of four parties: Tekuma, and Moledet, which split from the Habayit Hayehudi, Hatikva, headed by MK Arieh Eldad, and Eretz Yisrael Shelanu headed by former Kach member MK Michael Ben- Ari.
Ben-Ari joined with activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir, also former members of Kach, to form a new party with the intention of running separately in the upcoming elections.
Bennett believes a unified list of Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union has potential to gain 12 seats or more in the next Knesset.
“We see Zionism and Judaism as tied together. Shas sees only the holiness of Torah, Likud and Yisrael Beitenu see only the importance of the state, but most of the nation wants both,” Bennett said in an interview to Arutz Sheva, a right-wing website.
He also explained the party “will lead with a Jewish social platform” and said he is working with economists to create a platform that is both caring and practical.
In several days, members of the Jewish Home party will return to the ballot box to vote for candidates on the party list. Bennett shared the candidates whom he would most like to see make the top five slots.