Take it or leave it. Last week, New Right leader Naftali Bennett laid his cards on the table. He told Rabbi Rafi Peretz, head of the Jewish Home Party, that he’ll join an alliance of all the major nationalist/religious parties to the right of Likud, but only if Peretz severs ties with Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit Party, with whom he had agreed to run in the March 2 elections as part of a technical bloc.
Ben-Gvir’s positions – inspired by those of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane – are simply too radical, Bennett said. He would never join an alliance with someone (Ben-Gvir) who has a picture of Dr. Baruch Goldstein in his living room. Ben-Gvir agreed to take down the picture, but Bennett was not mollified, and Peretz caved. He dropped Ben-Gvir.
The Jewish Press recently spoke with Ben-Gvir to get his reaction.
The Jewish Press: What happened?
Ben-Gvir: They stuck a knife in my back. A rabbi in Israel, the country’s Minister of Education – who is in charge of educating our youth – set an example for all Jewish children in Israel by teaching them the benefit of lying. Otzma Yehudi had an agreement which [Rabbi] Rafi Peretz promised to stand by, come hell and high water, and suddenly, I’m out of the picture and he poses with his buddies, Bennett, [Ayelet] Shaked, and [Bezalel] Smotrich, with a big grin on his face.
Three weeks previously, we shook hands over the agreement on television in the eyes of the nation, and for three weeks he led us on and then betrayed us in the wink of an eye. Has honesty and loyalty lost all their value? Is this the type of Jewish leadership we want? Is this the ideology of Religious Zionism that Rav Kook held up as a banner to the nation – that everything is justified in the exaltation of one’s ego and winning a chair in the Knesset?
The same way they betrayed us, this quartet of self-proclaimed do-gooders are capable of stabbing their constituents – and the future of Israel – in the back as well.
Bennett said he didn’t want to align with you because you had a photograph of Baruch Goldstein in your living room.
Nonsense. I agreed to take the picture down for the sake of uniting all the parties. The photograph isn’t a statement of ideology with me. Dr. Goldstein sacrificed his life to save Jews, just as he saved the lives of Arabs injured in road accidents.
But even when I took the picture down, Naftali Bennett still objected. Why? Because if the political right doesn’t win 61 votes in the next election, Bennett, Peretz, and their ego-driven cohorts are willing to form a government with Gantz, and they know I wouldn’t agree to it. That’s why they don’t want me on their list.
In hindsight, your decision to unite with the more tame Jewish Home Party backfired. Many people claimed that Rabbi Meir Kahane would never have agreed to such an alliance, proving that Otzma Yehudit doesn’t really adhere to the Kahane ideology.
Rav Kahane had understandings and agreements with the Mafdal Party when he felt it was best for the nation. I learned in Rav Kahane’s yeshiva. To me, he is a hero of the Jewish people. I was arrested in protest after protest that he organized. But, yes, I don’t follow everything he said. For example, he believed that ridding the country of all Arabs was the only solution to terror and to insure the continued Jewishness of the Jewish state. That isn’t my policy.
Regarding the agreement with the Jewish Home party: I felt that, in the present political situation and cultural decline of the country, a union with the mainstream of Religious Zionism was the best way of insuring that the laws of the Torah and the wholeness of Eretz Yisrael wouldn’t be even more compromised than they are today.
For the best interests of the country and the future of our children, I gave the union a chance, but unfortunately, those weren’t the main concerns of Rafi Peretz or the Yamina Party. Bennett and Shaked are anxious to make reforms in marriage and conversion laws, and let all kinds of treif pluralistic doctrines into the Israel school system which will poison the education of our children, and Peretz and Smotrich are so busy fighting one another over who will be the leader of the kippot srugot community that they are willing to trample on the basic foundations of Judaism such as honesty and loving your fellow Jew like yourself.
Rabbi Peretz says he feels genuinely sorry, but that he had no choice; he was afraid he wouldn’t make it into the Knesset running with Otzma Yehudit alone, and that would mean tens of thousands of wasted right-wing votes.
I don’t buy the excuse. There were surveys indicating we would have exceeded the needed number.
Prime Minister Netanyahu says that for the benefit of the right-wing camp, you should pull out of the race.
Netanyahu should follow his own advice. If he would’ve pulled himself out of the race and let someone else take over Likud, we would already have had a solid right-wing government. He isn’t someone to be giving mussar when the future of Benjamin Netanyahu is his foremost concern.
Time after time, you have been dealt a political kick behind your back. Why did you decide to go into politics in the first place?
For the future of my children. As a lawyer, I was doing important work defending people who were unjustly treated by the police, the Shabak, and the courts. I had other clients in other areas who paid me handsomely for my legal services. But on a national level, I saw that the settlement movement was put on freeze and that the integrity of the Jewish state and the Torah were being threatened by the spread of liberalism, especially in the Religious Zionist camp.
Look what has happened: Bennett and Shaked have become leaders of the dati-leumi community even though neither are noted for a steadfast devotion to Torah, to say the least.
Some people are cynical about the state of Israeli democracy after what you and your allies have been through. Is that cynicism justified?
Yes. Before the previous elections, the Supreme Court disqualified Otzma Yehudi candidates Dr. Michael Ben Ari, Baruch Marzel, and Benci Gupstein from running for the Knesset on the grounds that they were racists. That negated the rights of tens of thousands of citizens who wanted these people to represent them in the Knesset.
The court acted in the same anti-democratic fashion when it banned Rav Kahane from Israeli politics. This fascist-like behavior is all the more hypocritical when Arabs who openly support terrorism against Jews are allowed to serve in the Knesset.
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The Jewish Press also briefly spoke to Baruch Marzel, head of Otzma Yehudit before he was disqualified from running by the Supreme Court, and Rav Dov Lior, former head of the Kiryat Arba Nir Yeshiva and considered ideologically aligned with Otzma Yehudit’s positions.
Is Otzma Yehudit faithful to the teachings of Rabbi Kahane?
Marzel: There is only one Rabbi Kahane. Compared to him, we are dwarfs. My inspiration and beliefs are certainly drawn from his Torah worldview. I think the best answer to your question lies in what happened with the ousting of Itamar Ben-Gvir. Obviously, Naftali Bennett and his partners believe that Otzma is a continuation of Rav Kahane. The Supreme Court believes it as well.
What’s the main difference between Otzma Yehudit and other right-wing parties?
Marzel: Unlike the other parties, we won’t agree to compromises or a policy of appeasement regarding Eretz Yisrael, the fight against terror, missile attacks from Gaza, or maintaining the religious status quo and the Jewish character of the state. Nor will we sit in a unity government with opponents of the Torah.
The others parties and their leaders go where the political winds blow them just to maintain power. Bennett and Shaked are sympathetic to the demands of the Conservative and Reform movements, and Minister of Transportation Smotrich keeps his mouth closed when the Tel Aviv Municipality begins running a bus line on Shabbat.
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What’s your reaction to Bennett’s move against Ben-Gvir?
Rabbi Lior: One day they want Ben-Gvir in their union, the next day they drop him as if he carries a disease. Why revile people who favor Jewish settlement everywhere in the Land of Israel and insist on a no-nonsense eradication of terror? In Parshat Shemot, Moshe Rabbeinu discovers a Jew smiting a fellow Jew. The same thing happened here with the blow Ben-Gvir received from the parties on the right. May Hashem preserve us from this senseless hatred.
Bennett said he couldn’t run with someone who has a photograph of Baruch Goldstein on his living room wall.
Rabbi Lior: It seems to me that most people don’t know who Dr. Goldtein was, may Hashem avenge his blood. I was in Hevron at the time. A member of the Hevron-Kiryat Arba Council was told to prepare a large, emergency medical clinic to receive the wounded because Arabs were planning to carry out an imminent mass terror attack in Hevron. She informed Dr. Goldstein, who was in charge of emergency medical care in the area.
The army knew of the danger and didn’t do a thing. Dr. Goldstein did what he did to save Jewish lives. He didn’t do it to carry out a terror attack or because he wanted to kill Arabs. As a doctor, he had saved the lives of Arabs badly wounded in traffic accidents. He risked his own life to save Jews. It could be that I am alive today because of his action in Hevron. How can he be called a murder and terrorist? He carried out an act of defense when the IDF failed to act.
All of this villainization of Dr. Goldstein and Otzma Yehudit also took place in America against Rav Meir Kahane, may Hashem avenge his murder, because he demanded a strong hand against the enemies of Israel. There are Jews who want to continue the galut and to continue to bow down to the goyim. Rav Kahane said no – the days of the helpless Jew are over.