Leader – Naftali Bennett
MKs in current Knesset – 3
Latest Haaretz poll (along with the National Union) – 14
In a whirlwind online campaign, Naftali Bennett (40), former special forces officer, hi-tech millionaire and chief of staff for Benjamin Netanyahu before the two fell out, swept the party primaries and bought a new lease of life for the venerable National Religious Party. After the last attempt to rebrand the party, which went as far as changing its name, dismally failed in the 2009 elections when the party received only three seats, the path was open for newcomer Bennett to usher in an era of young, media-savvy and unabashedly right-wing activists.
Habayit Hayehudi's recent membership drive signed up 53,000 paying members, proving that its electoral potential, and its potential to take voters away from Likud, is considerable. Bennett is also targeting new constituencies: He aggressively campaigned for Ayelet Shaked, a secular right-wing activist and middle-class Tel Aviv resident, who is now No. 3 on the party's list of candidates and is set to become its first non-religious MK.
As part of his primaries campaign, Bennett signed an agreement with now deposed National Union leader Yaakov Katz for the two parties to run together. After his primaries victory and Habayit Hayehudi's surge in the polls, Bennett renegotiated the agreement giving his party more spots on the list.
For many years the National Religious Party, Habayit Hayehudi's forerunner, was Likud's least troublesome coalition partner. Under Bennett, however, the party is a major thorn in Netanyahu's side. Not only is Habayit Hayehudi, in all the polls, attracting voters away from Likud, but nearly every election-result scenario shows Netanyahu will need the party in his coalition - and Bennett will exact a heavy price for his loyalty.