Deri and Smotrich
Deri and SmotrichChaim Tuitto

(JNS) In a recent op-ed, Limor Samimian-Darash accused the Religious Zionist Party of putting the good of the sector ahead of the good of the state, and called on its members to fall in line behind bloc leader Benjamin Netanyahu. She even went as far as to attack the party for holding up coalition negotiations.

She seems to have forgotten that during his time as education minister, Naftali Bennett promoted the study of mathematics for all. When he was later approached by the officials of the very sector he represented, who asked for assistance in financing expensive post-secondary religious education, he rebuffed them, because he was education minister for all.

And when Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich was transportation minister, even his political opponents acknowledged his achievements: He promoted road development and transportation solutions throughout Israel. The two ministers led policies that fitted their ideology, as is expected of any elected official.

Let’s not beat around the bush. The reluctance with regard to the Religious Zionist Party does not stem from a fear that they will focus on their own sector, but from fear that they will implement the policies for which they were elected. You see, it’s this little thing called election promises that politicians make to be elected, and when they are, they, at least the Religious Zionist ones, are expected to keep them.

Over half a million Israelis voted for the Religious Zionist Party hoping that the promises of governance, security and settlement development would be realized. The demand to fold now and completely obey Netanyahu is an unfair, and above all, undemocratic, demand. Fourteen seats speak for themselves.

As for the coalition negotiations, in 2020, just before the third round of elections, Netanyahu said during a public appearance that the Religious Zionist sector “has a great heart and faith, but doesn’t always understand politics.” What he was really saying is that you can encourage and mobilize them, but at the moment of truth, you can treat them as if they have no political intelligence.

Before the latest election campaign, Netanyahu repeated two statements. The first, that he wants to establish a fully right-wing government, and that he will include all the bloc parties that were with him during his year and a half in opposition. The second, that he has always wanted to establish right-wing governments, only that in 2013 the Lapid-Bennett alliance prevented him from doing so.

The problem is that the facts say otherwise: In 2013, when Netanyahu had a right-wing majority, he first turned to Tzipi Livni and then to Shelly Yachimovich, and had no intention of turning to Naftali Bennett. He was forced to do this only because Bennett made an alliance with Yair Lapid.

True, since then Bennett has shifted ideologically, but at the time, he was an authentic representative of the Religious Zionist public. Netanyahu intended to leave Bennett to his own devices, which is what he seems to be doing to Smotrich now. He has chosen the haredi Shas party as his main partner, even though it is not a large faction. Netanyahu is supposedly willing to give the Finance Ministry to Shas leader Aryeh Deri, even though his economic views are the polar opposite of his, leaving the Religious Zionist Party last. The prime minister-elect seems to think that the “great heart” of the sector will forgive and forget.

The time has come for the Religious Zionist Party to prove to Netanyahu that it understands a thing or two about politics and that it knows its Knesset seats are necessary for the existence of a stable right-wing government, even if later it will include parties from the left.

Samimian-Darash aptly said that old patterns must be broken in order to establish a sustainable government. Well, it is precisely Netanyahu who needs to break such a pattern. It’s time for him to learn from his relationship with Bennett. He must respect his partners and give them their rightful place instead of fearing their success. Otherwise, he might become the leader of a large and respected party, but all alone.

Ofra Lax is an Israeli journalist and a columnist at the Hebrew weekly Besheva. This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.