Ted BelmanThe author is a retired attorney and the editor of Israpundit. In 2009 he made aliya and is now living in Jerusalem.
In his recent article on Bayit Hayehudi, Zionist activist and publicist Isi Leibler begins by writing:
- As a lifelong religious Zionist, I was saddened observing the ongoing collapse of the movement which had made a unique and valuable contribution to the welfare of the nation, upholding enlightened Jewish values, striving for unity and promoting tolerance.
So when the national religious Habait Hayehudi was resurrected and polls predicted it may become the third-largest party in the Knesset, should I not enthusiastically greet such a phenomenon?
The answer is yes, but…
First, he extols its virtues:
- It is an incredible tribute to the leadership qualities of charismatic 40-year-old Naftali Bennett that he assumed control of a moribund Habait Hayehudi and infused it overnight with a new lease of life. Bennett graduated from the elite IDF Sayeret Matkal commando unit and in his early thirties sold his start-up company for $145 million. He subsequently became bureau chief of staff to Prime Minister Netanyahu, resigning two years later after falling out with him (ed. note: Bennett denies the falling out, media is the source, ed.) and then assuming leadership of the settler’s council (Yesha) until he was elected head of Habait Hayehudi.
With a slate including many young newcomers, he launched an extraordinary campaign which, according to a recent poll, skyrocketed the party to possibly gaining 15 seats – an incredible achievement. The bulk of his supporters are under forty and many are nonobservant.
In a recent television interview, Bennett remarked that as a soldier he would not obey orders to evacuate settlers from their homes. Netanyahu pounced on this and he qualified his initial statement. But the extraordinary exposure he achieved only strengthened his support.
Even non-observant Israelis would welcome a strong Zionist religious party which would pressure the government to appoint Zionist rabbis to state religious instrumentalities and review conversion, marriage and divorce and other areas which have been under the excessively stringent and inflexible control of the hareidim.
The party will also demand that hareidi schools introduce a secular core curriculum to provide skills to their students enabling them to join the workforce and cease subsidizing those who refuse to earn a livelihood. Habait Hayehudi will also receive enthusiastic support for endorsing efforts to oblige hareidim to ultimately undergo military or national service.
On the positive side, it will also seek to promote Jewish values in a non-coercive manner, demand greater Jewish content in the secular school system and ease tensions between religious and secular Israelis.
So what are the negatives?
- Religious Zionists do not necessarily adhere to the hard right wing of the Israeli political mainstream. Whilst sharing a passionate love for Eretz Yisrael, they were traditionally renowned for being moderate and centrist. However, in 1967 many adopted a “messianic” approach to retaining the Land of Israel, leading to criticism that their excessive concentration on the “land”, resulted in neglecting the “soul” of the people – Jewish education and Jewish identity.
Admittedly, today, many religious Zionists reside in 'settlements' and comprise a substantial proportion of what would be described as the political far right.
Yet, the increasing number of MKs wearing knitted kipot present throughout most of the political mainstream, especially within the moderate national camp, demonstrate that many religious Zionists do not support the far right.
Is this really so?
- In recent years, as Israelis became increasingly aware of the intransigence and duplicity of the Palestinians which made a mockery of attempts at peace negotiations, the nation has dramatically moved politically towards the national camp.
So what is the “national camp” if not the camp that believes that we have the best right to the land and who want more than security in any deal.
- Yet, numerous Israelis supporting the center-right position were concerned that the Likud primaries resulted in the election of more candidates from the extreme right, whilst those considered more liberal were rejected. These concerns were exacerbated when Likud consummated an electoral unity ticket with Yisrael Beyteinu which will undoubtedly further strengthen the right wing.
I wonder what is the centre rights position on settlements or borders? Are they prepared to divide Jerusalem or uproot over 100,000 Jews for a dubious peace or even a real one.This JCPA poll suggests otherwise.
- Habait Hayehudi policies will intensify this trend. One of Bennett’s main criticisms of Netanyahu is that he is too “soft”. He will demand that the government act tougher towards the Palestinians. It is true that there were occasions when Netanyahu could have responded more harshly to provocations. However, by calling on the government to repudiate the two state policy and immediately annex Area C, Habait Hayehudi represents the other extreme.
Really? In light of realities, why is this extreme. Does Liebler want us to wait till hell freezes over before we abandon the two state solution? Does he want us to stop building 'settlements' that anger the US and Europe - which, by the way, are all the 'settlements'.
- Such views are of course legitimate and Bennett has the gift of expressing himself far more eloquently than any other hard rightwing spokesman. But politics is the art of the possible. Today, virtually all Israelis recognize that with the current Palestinian leadership which would never provide the minimum security safeguards we require and with Hamas breathing down our necks, it would be insane to endorse a Palestinian state.
At least he is against endorsing a Palestinian state…. at least until pigs can fly.
- But Israelis are also opposed to absorbing and ruling over millions of Palestinians.
With this I agree. But he goes on to argue that we can therefore not abandon the two state solution. Not for a moment does he entertain the notion of autonomy only or Dr. Martin Sherman’s plan in support of financially induced emigration. Nor does he consider full annexation with the prospect of giving Arabs citizenship considering that they would only constitute 1/3 of the total population.
- Thus a formal repudiation of a two state policy or the annexation of territories would be opposed by most Israelis. It would also cause us incalculable global damage and more importantly, probably terminate our relationship with the United States.
Thus he argues that we have no choice but to do what the US wants. I hate to think that it boils down to this. The US only got an agreement for autonomy from Begin in the Camp David Accords with Sadat. Also Res 242 allows us to keep some of the territories. If we were to keep only 10% of Judea and Samaria, it would represent only 1% of the territories. What’s the big deal. Why does he discount the possibility that the US would grudgingly go along? Why does he think this would result in the severing of their relationship with us? On this I think he is wrong.
- Some right wing radicals refer contemptuously to our alliance with the U.S., with whom we share common values and democratic traditions. There is irresponsible chatter about displaying “strength” and “going it alone”. Would Naftali Bennett tell the U.S., “This is our business. Please butt out”?
Notwithstanding our extraordinary capabilities, it is primitive naiveté to dismiss, the crucial importance of the support of a superpower to ensure our technological military superiority in a speedily-changing environment. For example, we lacked the financial resources to have independently manufactured an Iron Dome.
This raises the all important question, can we go it alone? Leibler thinks not. I tend to agree with him. But I don’t think abandoning the two state solution will come to that. I am not worried so much about our need for technological superiority as I am with our need for resupply. Assad has fought for over a year because he had Russia and Iran resupplying him. He would have been finished in a month without it as Israel would be without resupply. This is a serious problem.
- In the absence of US diplomatic support, the Islamic Conference nations and their rogue state allies could impose sanctions and effectively choke us, with most European countries spectating – at best.
Notice he only goes so far as to suggest that sanctions would be applied by “the Islamic Conference nations and their rogue state allies”. He apparently thinks that the US and potentially Europe would not participate… at best. First of all I can’t see the US imposing sanctions, but maybe some European countries would. I think we can manage with the sanctions. We are self sufficient in food and energy. There will always be people or countries that want to deal with us. The worst that can happen is that we are forced to do what they want us to do which is what Liebler wants us to do now.
In his next paragraph, he redeems himself a little.
- And beyond the US, to whom do critics suggest we turn? To Russia? To China?
It is therefore imperative to retain the support of the American people and Congress. But that does not oblige us to become a vassal of the United States. There will undoubtedly be matters of national importance that will require us to resist pressure and stand firm. The current issue concerning housing construction to create territorial contiguity between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim is an example. But we should act with greater practical vigor and employ more subtle tactics, avoiding needlessly provocative proclamations.
So notwithstanding his earlier remarks he thinks there are some things worth fighting for such as building in E1. What else does he think worth fighting for? Probably for an undivided Jerusalem? How many Israelis is he prepared to uproot before he would prefer to stand firm?
Perhaps he is only against rejecting the two state formula but is for keeping the settlements? He doesn’t say. Maybe he wants to maintain the status quo which includes lip service to the two state solution?
- We must develop long-term strategies and minimize tensions with Western countries on issues that are not crucial to our security. Our ability to achieve this balance may heavily influence the outcome of the Iranian nuclear peril – Israel’s greatest existential threat since its creation.
My hope is that after the elections Netanyahu will create a broad national government in which Habait Hayehudi will become be an important and responsible partner.
Apparently he believes, like Netanyahu, that security is our only red line. I have always disagreed with Netanyahu on this and do so with Liebler. The land is ours and we are entitled to all or part of it as we so decide. I reject the land for peace formula that he is supporting.
- However if Habait Hayehudi makes inordinate political demands or behaves in a demagogic manner in order to attract extremist voters, it will be sidelined as yet another ineffective extreme right wing opposition group.
This is insulting.
- In the course of time, like other transitory parties, its support will evaporate.
I think the trend is in the other direction. Likud will fracture and Bayit Hayehudi will replace it as the dominant right wing party.
- It would also lose an historic opportunity to displace Shas and the haredi parties as the custodians of religion and ensure that the government strengthens religious Zionist institutions, guaranteeing the retention of Jewish values. In lieu of being regarded as an extreme right wing party, it should concentrate on becoming an influential national religious force, having a major impact on the future of the nation and the Jewish people.
I think that that is exactly what it is doing and will do. That’s why it is growing so quickly.