The recent elections in Israel have resulted, baruch Hashem, in an overwhelming victory for the political right. Between the Likud and the religious parties, there is a comfortable majority of 64 out of 120 seats likely to form the next government. Now 64 out of 120 might not seem like such a landslide win. But the victory for the Right is, in fact, far greater than that.
The parties headed by Avigdor Liberman, Gideon Saar, Ayelet Shaked, and even Yair Lapid also lean primarily to the political right. They no longer believe in the “Peace Process,” see no current prospect of a “Two State Solution,” and largely recognize that the Oslo accords were a disastrous pipe dream. They are, however, in opposition mainly due either to personal animosity to Bibi Netanyahu (much like anti-Trump Republicans) and/or to the Haredim. If you add them to the mix, there are really only 14 seats out of 120 that are either the Arab parties or the hard Left (the far-left Meretz party did not even meet the electoral threshold. It is as if, in America, AOC and her squad had been voted out of office). It is an overwhelming victory for the Right. And the greatest – and most controversial – star that has emerged in this election is Itamar Ben-Gvir, the chairman of the Otzma Yehudi party.
Vilified, slandered and mischaracterized as a fascist and racist and – heaven forfend – a “Kahanist,” Ben-Gvir has managed to appeal to a fundamental emotion and resolve of millions of Israelis regarding the basic rights of Jews in the Land of Israel. One of the campaign ads that one saw most often was a picture of Ben-Gvir with the question: Mi Po Baalei HaBayit? (Who are the owners here in Israel?)
It is a fundamental question. Are we Jews the owners and landlords in the State of Israel by right, or are we foreign interlopers who have no ancestral, moral, or legal right to a homeland in Eretz Yisrael? Ought we not be required to apologize for having displaced the “indigenous” Palestinian population and stolen their land. That is certainly how Ahmad Tibi, leader of the largest Arab party sees it. But that is not the way the great majority of Israelis see it, whether they say it out loud or not.
Unfortunately, that is how far too many Diaspora Jews worldwide see the matter. They are consumed with guilt over the suppression of “Palestinians” and the strong-arm tactics Israel has taken at times against its enemies. They are consequently horrified, frightened, and deeply troubled about the ascendancy of Ben-Gvir and his supporters and warn that the inclusion of Ben-Gvir in the government will endanger the status of Israel.
Sadly, too many misinformed Orthodox Jews have bought the liberal talking points and lies and slander and thus believe that Ben-Gvir and his supporters are violent, racist, and fascist provocateurs who despise Arabs and seek to expel them all in their hatred. While there are a small number of extremists who espouse such views (all sides of any political dispute have their extremist lunatics), they are not the views of Ben-Gvir nor of virtually all of his supporters – nor were they the views of the person that the Left has most attempted to associate Ben-Gvir with, Rav Meir Kahane, hy”d.
Ben-Gvir has stated, on every occasion, that he does not agree with all that Rav Kahane held and did. But a central teaching of Rav Kahane that Ben-Gvir does champion is that of Jewish pride. It is the notion that we need to stand up for our rights against our enemies and haters with no apologies or fear of “what will the goyim say?” We have a right and obligation to be secure and to protect ourselves, especially vulnerable fellow Jews. We cannot let ourselves be confused by those who worry about the supposed rights of those who seek our harm.
This is even more true in Eretz Yisrael. There is, and always has been, much uncertainty about the role of Zionism and the State of Israel from the perspective of halacha and Jewish tradition. While this is too large a topic to discuss in this essay properly, suffice it to say that due to the anti-religious attitudes and actions of many of the original leaders of secular Zionism, the State and its representatives has been viewed with caution by some, suspicion by others, and outright hostility from yet others in the Orthodox world. Because of that, one simple truth that virtually all of them innately know to be true (but tend to forget) is the incredible miracle of our return to Eretz Yisrael after 2,000 years.
As a licensed Israel tour guide, one of my favorite experiences is to help visitors from the Diaspora begin to realize that the modern State of Israel is a vibrant, powerful, prosperous country that has been built in an incredibly short time and is the envy of many nations the world over. The roads, technology, infrastructure, military complex, and so much more have enhanced Eretz Yisrael so greatly that it is simple astounding. This is in addition to the incredible resurgence of Torah learning and observance and the fact that there is a large and growing movement, even among many secular Israelis, to bring more tradition and Torah into their lives. Therefore, it is vital to realize that although we are still in galus and eagerly await the coming of the Mashiach and know that there are so many intractable problems that will only be solved upon his arrival, we have entered into a new – and totally different – phase of our national existence.
I have written about this at length and cannot repeat it here; I implore all my readers to review the series of articles I wrote at https://tinyurl.com/IsaacCovenant. I argued there, primarily based on the beautiful exposition of Rav Samson R Hirsch, zt”l, that we are now in a time of history in which we experience the Bris Yitzchok – the Isaac Covenant. It is a time in which our relationship with the nations of the world is not yet like that of Avraham, who we read about in this week’s parsha, Chayei Sarah. Here Avraham is given universal respect, is called, “A prince of G-d you are amongst us.” Yitzchak, we will see next week by contrast, is successful but hated, wealthy but envied, tolerated but treated with suspicion. He is not like Yaakov, who was persecuted, exiled and suffered most of his adult life. He was strong, able to defend himself, prosperous but not without enemies – much like us today.
Throughout the world, Jews are successful, prominent and influential way out of proportion to their numbers. Our existence is no longer that of our frightful past of pogroms, expulsions and holocaust. We experience (growing) antisemitism and are hated and envied by many – but the relationship is far different, and better, than what we experienced in the past. This is true much more so in Israel. We have our own country, one of the world’s strongest armies to defend us, huge political clout and influence, and all of the advances I mentioned above. We are still in galus. But it is galus of a different kind – it is that of the Isaac Covenant.
One of the most important aspects of our current level of galus is that we have a different relationship with Eretz Yisrael. We are no longer the dhimmis (second-class citizens) who lived under the Ottoman masters forced to be submissive and pay them the jizyah taxes while subject to their persecution. We are no longer subject to the White Papers of the British government who infamously prevented desperate Jews seeking to escape the accursed Nazis from coming home. We are here and have been given the fantastic privilege and opportunity to direct our destiny in Eretz Yisrael. We are now the baalei habayit and all proud Jews know it and believe it and are grateful for it, whether or not they say so out loud.
To be baalei habayit is not to deny the role of G-d in our destiny. One rabbi who is opposed to Ben-Gvir went to far as to publish an article, “We Are NOT the ‘Baalei HaBayit’!,” in which he claimed that such a claim is an inversion of the Torah. He based this argument primarily on the first Rashi in the Torah, in which Rashi quotes the Midrash stating that the whole book of Breishis is telling us that when, in the future, the nations of the world will accuse us of stealing the Land, we will know that in fact it is G-d’s Land, who gives it to those who He sees fit. He is the real baal habayit. While no religious person would contest the notion that G-d is the ultimate baalei habayit, the Midrash is in fact, teaching the opposite. In our day, He has made the State of Israel the baal habayit. Much as while G-d owns everything, yet all of us assert ownership and are the baalei habayit over the property He has entrusted to us, the Jewish people are now – and hopefully forever – the baalei habayit in Eretz Yisrael.
In keeping with that, we need to stand up proudly for our rights. It is a travesty that Jewish soldiers may not respond forcefully when attacked and spat upon, that murderous terrorists are coddled in our prisons and released back to hurt us again, that Jews are prevented solely for political reasons from praying on those parts of our holiest site – the Temple Mount – that are halachically permitted, that violent haters are given license to spew their hatred and incite, and so much more. Most Ben-Gvir voters, including me, do not hate Arabs; indeed I have several Arab friends, and several of the doctors and other professionals I frequent are fine Arabs – who are happy citizens of the State of Israel. People who recognize that it is a Jewish State, and recognize that they are privileged to live in it.
The lack of this recognition is at the heart of so many problems today. Too often in the yeshiva world, young minds are given a warped perspective in which the State of Israel is considered a traife poison, resulting in awful displays of boys calling Israeli police and soldiers Nazis and worse. They are not taught to respect and appreciate the efforts of those who gave so much to build Israel, which results in those Israelis offended by the Haredim who too often behave scandalously toward them. It is at the heart of the tragedy that the majority of young Jews in the Diaspora have ambivalent feelings toward Israel at best, and are often at the forefront of those arguing for “Palestinian rights” and championing BDS and other organizations that hate Israel. It is a lack of a proper sense of history and of Jewish Pride.
May we see the day soon that we properly appreciate the great gifts we have been given in our time, and embrace the Isaac Covenant, looking forward to the Abraham Covenant with the coming of the Mashiach, speedily in our days.