Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, Chairman of the Jewish Home, admitted that he had made a mistake in reserving a spot on the Jewish Home list for soccer legend Eli Ohana. The appointment caused a fierce backlash inside Bennett's party, which led Ohana to withdraw his candidacy a few days after it was announced.
"I went too fast with Eli Ohana,” Bennett told a conference of volunteers from the Israel Scout movement Sunday evening. “I learned an important lesson about the limits of my power.”
"On Wednesday night, the night he decided to cancel his entry into politics, I tried for hours to convince him to continue with us, but he had already reached a decision,” said Bennett.
By saying he had gone “too fast,” Bennett probably meant that the Jewish Home was not yet ready to accept a candidate like Ohana, who is not only secular but also lacking in political experience and who, as a soccer player in a league that holds most games on Shabbat, has been taking part in large scale desecration of the Sabbath for many years.
Bennett's decision to reserve a spot for Ohana led to a near mutiny in the Jewish Home. The hitherto immensely popular Bennett found himself under fierce attack from activists and supporters who felt he had betrayed them. These included candidates – and their supporters – who had worked very hard to gain their places on the party's list, only to be pushed down to less realistic spots by Ohana's appointment.
Haredi journalist Sivan Rahav Meir went so far as to say that the Ohana affair marked the first time she heard some of Bennett's supporters that "perhaps he was not the Messiah after all." She added that she was not writing this in jest.
At the height of the crisis, Arutz Sheva's Shimon Cohen wrote that the only person who could save Bennett from his own mistake without causing him to lose face was Ohana, by withdrawing his candidacy. In the end, Ohana did just that, explaining that he decided to withdraw from the list because he had not anticipated that he and his family would come under such angry attack from inside the Jewish Home.
Bennett had apparently hoped that Ohana's rags-to-riches success and Mizrahi background would complement the Jewish Home's somewhat elitist and Ashkenazi image, and draw working class supporters who usually vote for Likud. In the end, the backlash against Ohana may have strengthened that image somewhat.
Jewish Home's poll ratings dipped somewhat last week as a result of the affair.