I have no clue how many religious Jews are in the Israeli Knesset now after the election. But I have been told that if they would all combine, they would be the single largest party in Israel. That – in and of itself – is a pretty sad commentary on the state of Achdus. If there is anything that should unite religious Jews it is the fact that they are religious. Nothing should be more important to us that serving God through his Torah. And that is what all of us try to do. What unites us should therefore be far greater than what divides us.
But as can be plainly seen that is hardly the case. Especially in Israel. Just to cite one example of why it isn’t – is the way the observant Kipa wearing Naftali Bennett, head of ‘HaBayit HaYehudi’ was treated by differing rabbinic leaders.
Rav Ovadia Yosef the spiritual head of Sephardic Jewry in Israel condemned him telling people they dare not vote for him. (Actually Israelis do not vote for people but parties. But it is often the party leader that people are really voting for when they vote party.)
But Rav Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba and nearby Hevron – a strong supporter of right wing Religious Zionist settlers enthusiastically supported him.
Mr. Bennett’s party was expected to win big in these elections. His newly minted party is said to have taken over where the National Religious Party (Religious Zionists) left off. But Bennett is so right wing that he makes Netanyahu look like a liberal. Bennett’s political views are much closer to those of Rabbi Meir Kahane. He advocates abandoning the peace process and annexing certain portions of the West bank right now. This is a position that has a lot of sympathy among the right wing in Israel. A lot of Israelis see the peace process going nowhere and simply say, “Let’s do what we have to – and let the chips fall where they may”.
The fact is that even though Mr. Bennett’s party won big with 11 seats, it fell short of predictions. The big surprise is Yair Lapid’s centrist, “Yesh Atid” party. He unexpectedly won more seats than Bennett did. With his 19 seats he is second only to Netanyahu’s combined Likud / Yisrael Beitenu coalition with 31 seats.
How did this happen when all the predictions were for a right wing blowout election that – by including Bennett’s party in a governing coalition – would have ended up with the most right wing government in Israel’s history?
And what about the religious parties, like Shas (11 seats) and United Torah Judaism (7 seats)?
How is this all going to break down? What will a new government look like?
To me it looks like the new governing coalition will include Lapid’s centrists instead of Bennett’s right wingers. It will probably also still include the religious parties as it always has making the coalition consist of 68 seats. That is a very comfortable majority of the 120 member Knesset. Bennett may very well be out of the coalition.
Yair Lapid is the son of the anti religious (although he claimed he was not) Tommy Lapid who led the Shinui party and who won six Knesset seats in 1999.
But this Lapid is not his father. Although he favors drafting Haredim into the military, I don’t see him doing it as an anti religious move. Because if that is considered anti religious, so am I. I too think Haredim should be drafted. But that is not the issue here.
I believe that his views are pretty much the mainstream views of most Israelis. Which is why his party is referred to as centrist. His list (of members filling those 19 seats) includes Rabbi Dov Lipman, a velvet Kipa wearing Haredi Rav with Semicha from Ner Israel. People may remember him from his activism in the Sheinfield area of Bet Shemesh, where he lives.
He was in the forefront of the opposition to Haredi extremists from neighboring Ramat Bet Shemesh who terrorized 8-year-old Naamah Margolese as she walked to her Religious Zionist elementary school every day. Rabbi Lipman is a man of great integrity and courage. He would never join forces with a man who is anti-religious.
I don’t know how this will all shake down. But I for one am glad that the new government will not be take the right turns everyone expected it to. Much as I would like to reclaim all of the Eretz Yisrael – which is the policy of the right, I realize that this is currently an impossibility. Trying to do so can only lead to disaster. Netanyahu is smart enough to know that. Which is why I support him.
So even though I liked and even admired Bennett, I was not thrilled with the idea of a governing coalition that included him. My feelings about him are similar to those I had about Meir Kahane… a man who spoke the truth but whose ideas about how to deal with that truth were so dangerous that in my view they could have destroyed the State of Israel.
The one thing people like Naftali Bennett do not factor in enough is the importance of the relationship with the United States. The financial, military, and intelligence benefits of this relationship are immeasurable. It is extremely naïve to think that U.S. support for Israel is open ended. Even though there may be members of congress or political candidates that might even go so far as Bennett does (Newt Gingrich comes to mind.) support for Israel may erode if Israel thumbs its nose at a U.S. administration that hardly has the warmest of relations with it right now.
An Israeli Government that would move even further to the right with Bennett’s influence could seriously damage and further alienate an administration that already disapproves of Israel’s current settlements policies.
If building new settlements upsets the current administration now, wait till talk of unilaterally annexing parts of Judea and Samaria enters into the political discourse. Fortunately that doesn’t seem as likely now that the Israeli electorate has spoken.
Of course one never knows what will happen. There is no governing coalition yet. Negotiations haven’t started yet with the political parties who might be considered coalition worthy. It is still possible that Bennett’s party will be in and Lapid’s party out. It is possible that both Bennett and Lapid will join the new government, leaving out one of the religious factions – like United Torah Judaism (the Ashkenazi Haredi party).
One thing seems certain. Even though there will be an unprecedented number of religious Knesset members – Haredim are closer to being drafted than at any time in Israel’s history. Whether that will actually happen, how they will ultimately react if it does, and how this will affect the country as a whole – remains to be seen.
Aren’t Israeli politics fun?
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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