The Jewish Home party (Habayit Hayehudi), is predicted to have won 12 seats, less than was originally expected, in the Israeli general election held on Tuesday. Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to stay on as prime minister of a right-wing coalition.
The Jewish home party is led by Naftali Bennett who previously said that Israel should stop recognising same-sex marriages and that he joked about a gay solider in his army unit “in good fun”.
Same-sex marriages are recognised in Israel, but must be conducted overseas as only the religious authorities: Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Druze can perform marriages, and none offer gay couples the chance to marry. Like mixed faith straight couples, gay couples must marry in another country such as Canada, but once they do, they are recognised as a married couple in the Jewish state.
Mr Bennett’s party is described as a right-of-centre, religious party. Until yesterday’s elections it had just three members of the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) .
When Mr Bennett was asked a question on equal marriage by students late last year, he said: “These are two clashing values. I am for ‘live and let live,’ but this clashes with the values of Israel as a Jewish state. It has a set of family values. The state cannot absorb or contain official recognition of same-sex marriage.”
Mr Bennett, who is a major in the Israel Defense Forces reserves, added: “I had a soldier in the reserves who came out. We joked about him, but it was in good fun. It was fine.”
The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reports that Mr Bennett has in the past used homosexuality to criticise Hamas, pointing out that since Israel left Gaza, gay people and women have less rights.
During his election campaign as leader of the Jewish Home party, he refused to meet with a group of Orthodox Jewish men, a spokesperson saying: “We will not agree to meet with said group as a group. And in general, there are more important issues for the people of Israel at this time.”
In May, the Israeli Parliament voted against introducing civil marriage for gay and straight couples. Despite this, Israel grants almost identical rights to same-sex or opposite couples in domestic partnerships as married couples and it is the only country in the Middle East to recognise same-sex marriages conducted overseas.