(January 2, 2019 / JNS) When we pull back the curtain on the maneuvering that preceded former Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett and MK Ayelet Shaked leaving the party, it turns out that we’re not talking about a New Right, but rather old-fashioned politics.
Bennett picked up a political party framework branded as Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) at a bargain basement price. The members of the party included veterans of the Mizrachi religious-Zionist movement founded by Rabbi Yitzchak Yaacov Reines in 1902; members of the historic National Religous Party; rabbis and educators; and young idealists who were working to redeem land in Israel. The point of acquiring an existing framework was to allow Bennett and Shaked an exit as he headed for the role of defense minister and then prime minister.
But the Israeli reality does not allow someone to reach the prime ministership via a party that represents a single sector. So the home was abandoned, leaving debts unpaid, and millions of shekels in party funding was used to underwrite the split. A defunct party (Tzalash) was purchased, and some media figures were roped into an attempt to persuade religious-Zionist leader Rabbi Haim Drukman that the move by Bennett and Shaked was justified.
It is inappropriate to abandon a party months before a general election, and particularly one that had rolled out a red carpet for the people who are now leaving it.
Anyone who thinks or tries to convince others that the New Right will help the right succeed in the upcoming election is mistaken. There is no chance that potential voters who would support the new parties recently established for former IDF chiefs Benny Gantz or Moshe Ya’alon or MK Orly Levy-Abekasis will move to the new party since Bennett has branded himself as more right-wing than the Likud. The people who support Gantz and his friends want something new, so much so that Gantz’s own opinions are, confoundingly, of no interest to them.
Many citizens for whom it is important that Israel remain whole remember similar trickery in the 1992 election. Back then, too, there was a secular-religious party (Tehiya) that, with various other right-wing parties in wreckage, helped bring down then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. The result was the rise of the left and the eventual signing of the Oslo Accords, which led to disaster. It’s a shame that the right’s self-destructive mechanism is once again operating. Bennett, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman, Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon and Aryeh Deri of Shas are now leading parties mostly comprising voters on the right, and some of their parties might not pass the minimum electoral threshold of 3.25 percent. We should also add Shas official Eli Yishai, and the far-right Zehut and Otzma Yehudit parties, both of which could cause the mainstream right to lose votes.
My feeling is that many of the polls coming out now are groundless and designed to hurt the right’s chances of winning the April election. Left-wing pollsters, using Internet surveys, have an interest in lulling right-wing voters into a false sense of security by presenting a victory by the right as a certainty, meaning that they’d have no reason not to vote for the marginal little parties. The pollsters also want to bolster the New Right and cause infighting among the right wing, prompting Bennett to go after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud. Experience has taught us that we cannot rule out the possibility that Bennett or Lieberman would lend their hand to the establishment of a center-left coalition in exchange for the job of defense minister.
Given everything that is happening, the leadership of the right must band together to minimize damage. They must build a single strong, united bloc against the left. If the right loses three seats in the game of thrones, it could anoint the left, and in that case, the right-wing voters would have no one to blame but themselves.
Dr. Haim Shine is a faculty member of Israel’s Academic Center of Law and Science, and a member of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors.