Now that the split in Habayit Hayehudi is final, it’s important to take a critical look at things and find the silver lining. This week, the evil spirit of 1992 is seeing a resurgence; there is fear of a political split like that one, which led to a loss of tens of thousands of votes and put the government that passed the Oslo Accords into power. The move by former Habayit Hayehudi leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked this week was a dangerous gamble. Will they take voters away from former Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff Benny Gantz or Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, or will they just move votes around inside the right-wing camp, thus hurting the Likud and losing votes to no avail? The trial is still in its early days, and the fog of battle might clear up soon.
The decline of the National Religious Party over the past few decades is the result of, among other things, religious Zionism becoming more socially and politically integrated into society as a whole. Many of its supporters wanted to step back from defining themselves according to sector and found a home in the ruling Likud Party, which has strengthened its traditional identity in the past few decades. This allowed the more religiously liberal ranks to come under its wings and provided a transfusion of fresh blood into its somewhat hardened arteries. When Bennett and Shaked burst into the country’s political consciousness about six years ago, they brought some religious-Zionist voters back to the National Religious Party under its new name, Habayit Hayehudi (“Jewish Home”). By leaving, the duo created a temporary leadership vacuum in the religious-Zionist party that could damage the conservative-right camp as a whole. It needs to make a fast recovery to avoid losing fringe party votes.
This is the time to assemble an expansive national-religious party that includes more Orthodox religious streams that have common ground in their support for the Jews’ return to Zion (which is Zionism in practice, even if this isn’t exactly how it’s defined in the tenets of religious-Zionist faith); encouragement of settlements throughout the land; and opposition to a Palestinian state. On the matter of education, the party could widen its embrace and include the various branches of ultra-Orthodox education. When it comes to the legal system, there is agreement that the courts should revert to their “normal” status as one of three branches of government, in contrast to the current situation in which the judicial branch in effect carries out both legislative and executive functions.
This is an opportunity for religious Zionism to fix a historic wrong and invite former Shas leader Eli Yishai to join its Knesset list in a realistic place. He could bring a new category of voters along with him. The National Religious Party is a faction but religious Zionism is a movement, and as such can include several parties or streams. Let the pedants shake their heads and say Eli Yishai “isn’t a Zionist.” That pedantry lies at the root of National Religious Party’s years of losses.
Religious Zionism isn’t just the name of the historic movement that started at the beginning of the 20th century, when the Mizrachi movement was established by Rabbi Yitzhak Yaakov Reines. It can be understood by simply parsing its name: Zionism that stems from a religious worldview—in other words, a religious view of the return to Zion and the establishment of a national homeland for the Jewish people in the land of Israel. Yishai and people like him would fit a vision like that, even if they’ve never read the Orot (“Lights”) series of books by religious-Zionist thinker Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook.
And not only Yishai—some of the radical right are worthy of being brought into a movement-oriented framework rather than wasting tens of thousands of votes. Thus far, mainstream religious Zionism has refrained from openly including this sector. Walking the same path does not mean fully agreeing on everything. Unlike a political party that supposedly represents uniform opinions, a movement can include a lot of different parties and sectors. I know, they’re extremist. But that’s just it; this is where we need to switch our thinking.
Since the Second Aliyah (1904-1914), religious Zionism has acted like a minor offshoot of socialist Zionism and later of Labor and the Zionist left. When the National Religious Party joined the first Likud-led government in 1977, it did not change the mental hierarchy, the same absurdity in which the ideological opponent dictated the party’s borders. On many occasions, I’ve described the relationship between the Zionist left and religious Zionism in terms taken from master-slave dynamic defined by Friedrich Hegel (and which Marx later used in a socio-historic context). The master needs a slave to keep being called the master, whereas the slave raises his eyes to the master to earn a glance that approves of his work, thereby asking for legitimacy of his existence.
The murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin deepened the paralysis of thought because, in its aftermath, religious Zionism has been trying to prove even more that it isn’t extremist. In the current political climate, in which the left is masquerading as the Center, the fear of being labeled “extremist“ has increased exponentially. Most of the media picked up on that vulnerability long ago and has outdone itself in employing names that belong to the same semantic field as “extremist.” This is how the religious-Zionist camp lost tens of thousands of votes that could have helped the entire conservative right.
So I’m asking, why can thousands of Jews vote for an Arab nationalist party like Balad, and many more Jews vote for the joint Arab-Jewish communist Hadash, and still pretend to be moderate? Anyone who wants to make Israel into a “state of all its citizens” and revoke its Jewish nature, including the Law of Return, the national anthem, the national flag, and more, is in effect working to cancel out Israel as it exists today. In her parting speech to the Knesset, MK Hanin Zoabi (Joint Arab List) openly expressed what all MKs from her party, as well as some from Meretz and even, disgracefully, Labor, hold to be true. Zoabi said she wouldn’t be satisfied with civil equality and demanded national equality. That means destroying the State of Israel, which is why the nation-state law is so important.
Any configuration of a left-wing bloc would need to include MKs from the Joint Arab List to form an effective opposition alliance. Why is a coalition like that, which depends on voices that call for Israel’s destruction, acceptable, whereas voices from the radical right are completely unacceptable? And who determines these so-called moral criteria? The political and ideological opponent, who has a vested interested in shrinking the right-wing camp and no problem welcoming sworn anti-Israeli elements.
In my opinion, far-right activist Itamar Ben-Gvir is infinitely preferable to Hagai El-Ad, director of B’Tselem, who travels the globe spreading lies about Israel and pushing the nations of the world to “fix things” among the Jews. “Jewish terrorism”? God forbid! I don’t know anyone in the leadership of the radical right who supports killing innocent people, even talking out of the sides of their mouths. On the other hand, the lies of El-Ad’s B’Tselem and other organizations like his, such as Breaking the Silence, indirectly and unintentionally help justify terrorism against Israel. That bunch, which is working to thwart the return of the Jewish people to Zion, isn’t very moral. So Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken and his writers will call the religious-Zionist party “fascist,” and wave phrases like “apartheid” and “seeing what is happening” that recall Germany in the 1930s, and even worse. Since when has anyone here lived their lives according to what they say, much less their lies? This also has to do with the slave mindset, which causes the slave to get upset over an article against him in Haaretz! Moreover, these loathsome terms are even being used against the Likud!
Religious Zionism doesn’t have to create a consensus among each and every one of its members, and it can maintain differences of opinion even if they all run for the Knesset together, to avoid losing precious votes. Therefore, it can include elements that until now have remained outside the camp. That is part of the maturation process in religious Zionism. It’s time to change the equation.
Dror Eydar has been appointed Israel’s next ambassador to Italy.