Naftali Bennett's Jewish Home party held an emergency meeting on Tuesday night to discuss Bennett's decision to reserve a seat for former soccer player Eli Ohana. While Bennett said at the start of the meeting that the decision was final, that didn't stop a furious outburst from his close colleagues, possibly signifying serious impact on the party.
The anger at placing a secular soccer player with no political experience in a top spot – originally he was said to be in the tenth spot but other reports indicate the eighth spot – and in doing so pushing down senior religious Zionist figures, has notably led MK Zevulun Kalfa to resign from the party.
In the meeting, MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli said angrily to Bennett "for two years we've sat on the fence for you, and this is how you repay us?," reports Army Radio.
Deputy Minister of Education Avi Wortzman also slammed the decision, telling Bennett "reserve the 17th spot for Ohana." The party has been shown as getting between 15 and 17 seats, meaning Wortzman's call was to give the inexperienced soccer player a borderline spot instead of a key place on the list.
Then Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben-Dahan related to the meeting that he had spoken by telephone with Rabbi Eli Sadan, a senior religious Zionist rabbi, who threatened to cut his support for the party due to the decision.
"If this process is acted on I will go from yeshiva to yeshiva to tell students not to support Jewish Home," warned Rabbi Sadan, according to Ben-Dahan.
While the threat dealt with the religious voters, MK Ayelet Shaked, who is secular and a close associate of Bennett, then spoke up saying that the appointment of Ohana did not only anger religious members of the party.
"You're only speaking about the damage to religious voters, but also the secular headquarters are in an uproar from the decision, and the appointment harms our secular voters as well," Shaked said.
After the meeting concluded, Bennett and Shaked reportedly followed up on Ben-Dahan's warning regarding Rabbi Sadan, and went to visit the rabbi at roughly midnight to try and appease him.
Army Radio reported that the rabbi's opposition is very firm, and he considers the placement of Ohana as part of a process of turning Jewish Home into "Likud B," something which he refuses to support.
Kalfa, who as noted stepped down from the list in protest, said Wednesday morning that Bennett had crossed red lines, commenting "how do you say it in soccer? Sometimes you need to take out the red card."
"The question is whether the goal justifies all means, and whether for mandates we're ready to give up on much of the values," posed Kalfa. "If students see as a role model a man who desecrates Shabbat publicly or supported the expulsion from my home in Gush Katif – now I need to sit together with him?"