Religious Zionist political unity requires compromise

If they get together, even technically, the 100,000-200,000 Religious Zionist votes that have been tragically wasted in each of the previous elections will finally serve the public that it represents, rather than entering the trash bin of history.

David Rubin

OpEds Rafi Peretz
Rafi Peretz
David Rubin

Unity is not easy to achieve in Israel, especially within the confines of the political parties of the Religious Zionist movement, which consists of at least three entities – Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home), Ichud Leumi (National Union), and Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), with the mixed New Right party of Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked having decided on running alone at this point and appealing to the secular public, as well as the more liberal parts of the religious public. 

Religious Zionism recognizes G-d’s guiding hand in the revival of the Jewish nation in our times and believes in our ability to achieve greatness through self-sacrifice, in fulfillment of the prophetic vision described in Ezekiel 36 and other prophetic sources.  The commitment to the People of Israel and the Land of Israel, according to the Torah of Israel is what defines this movement. This particularly idealistic segment of the Israeli population, aside from its ongoing and growing commitment to Torah learning, is disproportionately represented in pioneering settlement through the country, in combat units and in officer training in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), in volunteer service throughout the country and, sadly, among our nation’s too many terror victims. 

Nonetheless, and perhaps due to the diversity of this remarkably patriotic community, political unity has been elusive, with the splits that notoriously plague almost every synagogue and religious group, extending to politics and causing unnecessary division into several small parties. This has led to wasted votes due to the failure of each to attain the minimum votes to cross the threshold for entry into the Knesset. 

After weeks of debate over the question of how best to achieve unity, Bayit Yehudi leader and Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz secretly negotiated an agreement with the leader of the more right-wing Otzma Yehudit, attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir, on a framework for a joint list in the upcoming March 2 national election. 

While every step towards unity should be praised, it must be pointed out that this Peretz-Ben Gvir agreement does not yet include the National Union, and even was signed behind the back of leading Bayit Yehudi MK Moti Yogev, who had been tasked with reaching an agreement between Bayit Yehudi and the National Union.


Lapid understands that calling Ben-Gvir a “racist” might scare off a few of the more liberal types in Bayit Yehudi, just as some of the more liberal Republicans get cold feet when President Trump is called similar names.
The secret hammering out of this agreement has, understandably, created an uproar within the party and demands for the agreement to be annulled. The NU leader, Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich, had been pushing for open primaries, while relative political novice Rabbi Peretz had expressed fierce opposition, perhaps feeling threatened by Smotrich’s growing popularity, leading him to fear that he might lose his current top position on the list.

By making a bold offer to Ben-Gvir, who also had been supporting the idea of primaries, Peretz thought he had succeeded in putting an end to the primaries initiative, but due to the subsequent protests, nothing is certain. Meanwhile, he has not yet succeeded in creating true unity and an end to the wasting of votes on the Right.

At this point in time, there are only two possible paths to achieve political unity:

Organize open primaries as originally demanded, with the party leadership and unified list formulated from the results. Let the people decide!

If for some reason that is not approved, then we move to option #2:

Rabbi Peretz and Itamar Ben-Gvir should make a generous offer to Smotrich, perhaps offering him the party’s first ministerial post in any right-wing coalition that might be formed. In exchange, Peretz could remain #1 on the list, with Smotrich as #2 and Ben-Gvir as #3.

It is essential that the politicians put their egos and hurt feelings on the side and move quickly to implement one of the two options listed above. In addition to the differences on the question of primaries, there are some political, as well as stylistic differences among the three leaders, but everyone believes that political unity is critical. 

As the steps towards Religious Zionist unity continue, those differences are already being seized upon by opportunistic leftists like Blue and White’s Yair Lapid, to intensify division on the Right through name-calling. As absurd as it may be, Lapid understands that calling Ben-Gvir a “racist” might scare off a few of the more liberal types in Bayit Yehudi, just as some of the more liberal Republicans get cold feet when President Trump is called similar names. It’s a shame that such tactics work, but in this case, such efforts are more likely to cause them to vote for Bennett and Shaked’s slightly more liberal New Right, certainly not for Blue and White. 

Compromise by the various streams of Religious Zionism is essential to achieve true unity. Not everyone has to agree on every issue, but determined action is needed to create unity on the Right. Call it a merger or call it a technical bloc of the three parties, but only a spirit of tolerance and compromise will succeed in turning Religious Zionism’s current crisis into a great victory. 

If that actually happens, the 100,000-200,000 Religious Zionist votes that have been tragically wasted in each of the previous elections will finally serve the public that it represents, rather than entering the trash bin of history. Most importantly, the unity on the Right will increase the chance of victory for a Likud-led right-wing coalition on March 2, as opposed to the Gantz-Lapid left-wing Arab bloc. And that is Lapid’s greatest fear.




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