Jewish Home chairperson Naftali Bennett has come in for flak from leading religious Zionist rabbis over claims he made on Tuesday in the southern city of Dimona, where he claimed his party had "saved" the religious Zionist vision from "evaporating" in the Knesset.
Bennett said he had saved the "Mizrahi" movement "from evaporating politically," in a reference to the Hapoel Hamizrahi parent movement of the Mafdal religious Zionist party his Jewish Home is an inheritor of. He also claimed to have saved the vision of religious Zionist founder Rabbi Avraham Hakohen Kook z''tl, by advocating an integration of Torah and the state of Israel, from disappearing from the Knesset.
The head of Jewish Home said that in the last elections "the movement was about to disappear from the political sphere. In the previous Knesset we only had three mandates. …According to polls even that was to evaporate."
In response to Bennett's claims of "saving" the presence of religious Zionism in the Knesset, leading religious Zionist rabbis who recently shifted their support from Jewish Home to Eli Yishai's Yachad – Ha'am Itanu voiced their condemnation.
Rabbi Dov Lior, the chief rabbi of Hevron – Kiryat Arba who pulled his support from the Tekuma faction that joined with Jewish Home in favor of Ha'am Itanu and the Otzma Yehudit party which is running on a joint list with them, was critical of Bennett.
"The 'Mizrahi' (movement) at least always counseled with rabbis," he said in a jab at Bennett's independent moves. "Today it's hard to say that Jewish Home is a religious party, maybe it's a masorti (traditional) party."
Rabbi David Chai Hakohen, dean of the Bat Yam Yeshiva who also recently officially declared that his support had moved to Ha'am Itanu, said Yishai's party "was also founded on the tradition of Maran Rabbi Kook z''tl. But it is preparing to fulfill all goals of his vision."
Another senior rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, dean of the Ateret Kohanim Yeshiva in Jerusalem's Old City, likewise has shifted to supporting Ha'am Itanu.
"Our Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda (Kook) established a great general principle regarding joining parties – 'I am a friend to all those who fear You (G-d)' – that is to say fear of heaven and complete loyalty to the word of G-d," said Rabbi Aviner, who has forbidden his followers from voting for any party which promotes visiting the Temple Mount. While Jewish Home MKs such as Uri Ariel and others ascend Judaism's holiest site regularly, Ha'am Itanu's MKs have committed to not doing so in-line with their own rabbinic leaders.
"Because the Yachad party has raised the banner of being servants of G-d and Israel his nation, it will certainly enjoy blessing in doing the work of G-d, the people and the land," Rabbi Aviner added.
The calls of support from the rabbis come after a Panels Politics poll published on Monday revealed that 12% of Jewish Home supporters are considering transferring their support over to Ha'am Itanu following the recent scandal over the appointment – and resignation – of former soccer star Eli Ohana to the party.