Three days before a public council is slated to determine the composition of Habayit Hayehudi's Knesset list, rabbis and right-wing activists are threatening to split from the new religious party.
A recent statement by the movement's new chairman, Rabbi Daniel Hershkowitz, that the party's Knesset members would be free to vote on political matters as they like, has sparked sharp criticism from the Right, including the movement's moderate members.
"On the issue of the Land of Israel, Habayit Hayehudi must put a red line prohibiting freedom of vote," some 50 rabbis and activists affiliated with the new party's right-wing section stated Saturday night.
At the end of an emergency meeting in which they discussed their political future, the attendees decided not to quit the movement, but formulated a position paper presenting their demands as a condition for continuing the partnership, including a uniform vote by all Knesset members "against any trend of withdrawal, uprooting and abandonment of security" and a resignation from any government advancing moves of "withdrawal and/or expulsion".
The meeting's organizers claimed that the public council forming the list of Knesset candidates is unbalanced and that its members prefer National Religious Party people, who they believe are not rightist enough, over National Union people.
The meeting participants expressed their harsh criticism over the party's way and even discussed the possibility of splitting from it and forming a new right-wing movement which would unite with other parties ahead of the elections. Following heavy pressure from the council members, they decided to give unity another chance.
"There are very difficult feelings here. People feel this isn't their home and the public council members are involved in a shady deal," one of the meeting's participants told Ynet.
"The people on the ground are slamming their heads against the wall and asking themselves, 'What are we doing here?' It could be said that we're preparing the ground for a possible departure, if no radical change is made or if we don't approve of the list of candidates on presented Wednesday."
In the position paper, titled "Saving the Jewish Home", the activists called for "unity between the National Union and NRP, and not between NRP and Meimad (left-wing religious party)".
According to the activists, "The new chairman's statements ('Freedom of vote on political issues,' 'We are neither a right nor a left-wing party') put Habayit Hayehudi to the left of the Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas.
"The public in general is more rightists today than it was on the eve of the previous elections… Habayit Hayehudi's electoral bank of votes is among people with a clear rightist orientation. Any attempt to divert the messages in order to appeal to the Center will only weaken the party and reduce its number of voters," they wrote, demanding a "red line" in terms of land withdrawal.
'Unity mission may be impossible'
Matrimonial reconciliation seems far when looking from the other direction as well. One of the public council members, Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, accused some of his colleagues of working to promote their own candidates, expressed his doubts over the possibility of uniting the ranks, and said he opposes freedom of vote on diplomatic issues.
Sherlo, considered one of the prominent moderate forces in Religious Zionism, addressed the issue following a letter sent by a right-wing activist to the council members, protesting Hershkowitz's moderate stances.
Sherlo wrote, "The mandate received by the council asked to compose the list was unequivocal: Education first!" The rabbi stressed that this did not mean giving up on the Land of Israel flag, but rather forming a list which will not present this issue as the only achievement needed.
Nonetheless, Sherlo slammed the chairman's stance on freedom of vote, claiming that this idea was politically wrong. "A party cannot run with a list with freedom of speech on significant matters, which are the root of our decision to go together."
He added that if the party wishes to take part in the State's leadership, "no sane prime minister will bring into the government a party with freedom of vote on the most crucial issues." In such a case, he said, coalitional discipline would likely entail supporting territorial compromises.
The rabbi went on to express his doubt over the possibility to combine between the different streams of Religious Zionism based on shared issues. "This mission may be impossible, as the disputes are extremely deep, but I believe there is a certain possibility for this to work."