Minister of Jerusalem and Heritage Affairs Rafi Peretz announced on Tuesday he will not run for Knesset in the upcoming March 2021 elections and that he is quitting political life.
Peretz, 64, also announced he is stepping down as the party leader and will not run in its upcoming primaries.
Israel goes to the polls in March for the fourth time in two years after the coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz failed to pass a state budget, leading to the dissolution of the Knesset under Israeli law.
"Electing a new leader for the Jewish Home and renewing the face of the party are a necessity at this hour," Peretz wrote on Facebook on Tuesday.
“I came to a party in crisis, a party seeking leadership after its previous leadership left it without prior notice. Along the way I was required to make difficult decisions… I did this to save religious Zionism and not let the right be harmed by the loss of [Knesset] seats,” he said.
“This decision was not an easy one. I believe that religious Zionism must take part in the leadership of the state, especially during the coronavirus crisis."
Peretz’s resignation comes in the wake of a possible union with Yamina, the relatively new party led by former Jewish Home chief Naftali Bennett.
Bennett had demanded Peretz' resignation as a prerequisite for any alliance that would see the two parties running together in the upcoming elections.
Jewish Home ran in the March 2020 elections as part of an alliance with Yamina, but ended the partnership in order to join the government formed in May 2020. Under Bennett, Yamina entered the opposition.
"We are negotiating with Yamina to run together and restore unity to religious Zionism,” said the Jewish Home in a statement on Monday.
“The talks with Bennett are held in a good atmosphere, with the intention of uniting the ranks and working for the people of Israel, the State of Israel and the Torah of Israel as in the past.”
Peretz entered politics in 2019, three years after he retired as IDF chief rabbi with the rank of brigadier general.
He served as education minister under Netanyahu from 2019 to 2020, during which time he sparked anger over his support for gay conversion therapy. He later retracted the claims.
In 2014, during his tenure as IDF chief rabbi, he caused outrage by saying that "90% of Arabs have no idea what is written in the Quran" and that "we know better than many of them, trust me." He subsequently apologized for his comments.