Bayit Yehudi had a bad week. Its poll numbers have been in free-fall since the debacle that took place over two weeks ago, when party leader Naftali Bennett appointed soccer legend Eli Ohana to the party’s list and Ohana dropped out three days later amid vocal disgruntlement from party MKs and members. They hit a nadir on Saturday night, when Channel 1’s poll gave them only 11 seats, a steep drop from a high of 18 – coincidentally from the same pollster, Teleseker – since the election was announced in December.
The 11-seat showing was somewhat of an outlier, as the party averaged 13 seats in last week’s polls, but it enough to drive everyone on the Bayit Yehudi campaign, from MKs to advisers to activists, crazy.
On Sunday, the party hit back by announcing that it would demand the Public Security portfolio for MK Ayelet Shaked, who came in first place in its primary, and backed up the call by listing her hard-right credentials: opposing prisoner releases and passing laws to limit them in the future, activism against illegal migration, calls for the police to reassert itself in the Negev and Galilee, which Bayit Yehudi voters will recognize as code for “Arab villages.”
Plus, homeland security issues are important to the party’s voters, and tapping Shaked for a high-ranking portfolio drives home the message that, if Bayit Yehudi doesn’t get more seats, the ministry will likely go to someone else, maybe someone from Likud.
The announcement was part of the latest phase in the Bayit Yehudi campaign, in which Bennett is taking a break from trying to prove to everyone that he is the coolest dude in politics, who can be your bro too, even if you’re not religious, even if you used to support the disengagement (like Ohana – who now regrets it), even if you go jogging around Tel Aviv in spandex (like two women in an early campaign video about Bennett’s economic policies).
This is a break, a pause in the “Bennett is everyone’s bro” mode, which we will surely see again before March 17, to pivot back to the base that felt forsaken and betrayed after Ohana was plucked from the world of sports to theoretically attract secular and Sephardic voters.
A look at the Bayit Yehudi campaign’s recent output – they are one of the more prolific YouTube video producers of this election season – shows that the party’s current efforts are two-pronged: Bayit Yehudi is highlighting its hard-right bona fides, while making sure not to forget its religious roots and supporters.
For the first part, Shaked plays a key role, since she was one of the most active MKs in the last Knesset and never wavered from the Right. As a secular woman, her job is also to try to make sure that longtime Bayit Yehudi supporters who are not Orthodox still feel at home.
Along those lines, the videos being highlighted by the campaign of late are all about being consistently Right-wing. One, called “A Country in Treatment,” shows a patient named “Chaim Shelanu” (our life) who has been in a coma for 20 years, while the doctors tried everything – “Oslo A, Oslo B, Wye Accords, the disengagement, Annapolis…” – and he did not wake up, until a doctor prescribed Bayit Yehudi.
Another video, rife with emoticons, mocked Zionist Union’s Tzipi Livni (represented by a princess emoticon) for flip-flopping on whether to negotiate conceding the Golan Heights or not.
A third features a running ticker of the number of Palestinian terrorists released by Israel, going up to 2,833, and shows reports from when Bennett threatened to leave the coalition if more are set free. “In the next term, we’ll stop their summer camp in prisons,” it concludes.
The second prong, the religious-Zionist base, is less convinced by YouTube videos, though there are a few of those. There are introductions to MK Orit Struck and Bezalel Smotrich candidates from Tekuma, an even more hard-line party running on the Bayit Yehudi list, after Bennett was accused of “hiding” them, plus speeches to a Hesder Yeshiva and a religious Mechina (pre-army academy).
Bayit Yehudi recognizes that religious Zionism has as many tribes as the Biblical Israelites and is sending each of its potential MKs in to the field to talk to the group that best relates to each of them.
Whether it’s Bennett talking to women who wear jeans but say “Baruch Hashem” and are debating between Bayit Yehudi and Likud in a video filmed in an apartment near Jerusalem’s Machaneh Yehuda shuk, to Beersheba-native Deputy Education Minister Avi Wortzman in the South, to MK Motti Yogev appealing to more conservative voters who could be considering Yachad, each candidate appeals to a different part of the public and each one is making sure to directly speak to them through campaign events, parlor meetings, and even whatsapp messages, among other channels.
Such appeals don’t necessarily make exciting YouTube videos, but they’re happening, quietly, in religious-Zionist strongholds across the country, from Gush Dan to Samaria, from Sderot to Maalot, and in places where Bayit Yehudi was a smash hit in the 2013 municipal elections.
Now, Bayit Yehudi’s its campaigners are praying for a better weekend, and hoping the party will be able to translate its appeal to the base into a boost in the polls and, ultimately, more votes.