New elections would be great

My hope is based on a simple strategy that requires only sanity among the religious-nationalist community of Israel. I know that is asking a whole bunch. But here goes.

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer

OpEds Liberman

I am becoming a big Avigdor Liberman fan. Every day I hold out hope that he will not budge.  Stick to your position, adoni sar ha-bitachon she-avar (my lord, past Defense Minister). Don’t let the religious push you around.  Force new elections. Please.

Here is the thing.  My hope is based on a simple strategy that requires only sanity among the religious-Zionist nationalist community of Israel. I know that is asking a whole bunch. But here goes:

We lost as many as six religious Zionist Knesset seats in the April election, seats for which the voters actually cast ballots that had to be flushed down the drain. Each contending slate needed to obtain at least 3.25 percent of the total vote to enter the Knesset.  Three wise religious Zionist parties – HaBayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home), Ichud Leumi (National Union), and Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) — forged a deal to run together on one united slate, which they called United Right Wing Parties (URWP).  That way, although each of those parties individually might have attracted fewer than 3,25 percent of the votes, together they easily passed the threshold.  They all got in.

Separately, Naftali Bennett created a new party, The New Right, hoping to expand his base beyond the purely religious voter by forging a new path advocating nationalist values without linking them directly to a religious platform. For his effort he was joined by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. His list also included the wonderful Caroline Glick, though she was placed down at the sixth slot.  Because Bennett’s slate ran independently, he needed to attract 3.25 percent of the vote.  Alas, he attracted only 3.22 percent.  Ouch! By only a whisker, his New Right party missed out.  Had he passed the threshold with just a few more votes, he actually had won enough votes to enter with four seats.

Separately, Moshe Feiglin ran as the Zehut (Identity) party. He did considerably worse, but he actually garnered enough votes to win Knesset seats if he had broken the threshold.  Most of his votes came from young religious nationalists along the more extreme fringe, although he also won votes from marijuana-legalization advocates and from other sorts of secular libertarians and “davka-niks” (contrarians). There is no doubt that his platform drew primarily from young religious Zionists.

Bennett always has been a patriot, ready to serve the Jewish people.  If there will be new “snap” elections, a wonderful opportunity would arise to recapture the phantom four Knesset seats that Bennett’s base represents.  On the one hand, it seems pretty clear that neither Jewish Home nor National Union can risk inviting Bennett back into their respective party ranks. When Bennett broke off from them, suddenly and without any warning on the virtual eve of the most recent election campaign, he lost their trust.  Understood.  However, if he and they could put bad feelings aside, it would be great to have him back in the fold, under his own New Right party, as part of an expanded URWP with Bayit Yehudi, Ichud Leumi, and Otzma Yehudit.  The understanding would parallel the deal with Otzma: we all run together to overcome the 3.25 threshold, and then we each go our separate ways.

In such a deal, maybe Bennett will lose a bit of his voting base, but those votes probably would slide to Likud or back to Bayit Yehudi, especially because Ayelet Shaked, Bennett’s former political ally, probably would end up in Likud, invited there with open arms.  Shaked would come back, promised a meaningfully high seat on the Likud list, possibly drawing some of the New Right votes with her.  Or maybe she would stick with Bennett, since their ultimate end game would be to exist as that separate New Right party on which they ran. Either way, we almost-certainly would retrieve the four seats that are waiting to be recaptured.

Feiglin-Zehut is trickier.  For many who thought we understood Feiglin a few years ago, when he executed a strategy of working within Likud because that is where the power base lies, we have been confounded by his subsequent behavior in the public arena.  His strong advocacy of marijuana legalization is deeply concerning, although an interesting angle if pursued for political reasons to attract enough extra votes from the left to pass the threshold.  Much more deeply concerning was an absolutely unforgettable online video interview towards the end of the campaign that we keep trying unsuccessfully to forget. Whiskey. Feet.  Enough said about that.

It is not clear whether Feiglin has the gravitas and has evolved the humility to work within another rubric, aware that he cannot get into the Knesset on his own at this time. As with Bennett, he likely was misled by opinion polls durign the prior election campaign that mistakenly showed him doing far better with the voters than actually proved to be true.  If so, imagine if a URWP further would expand itself to bring in a Feiglin Zehut list within its rubric. Maybe if Otzma Yehudit can be included in a URWP, a Moshe Feiglin can, too, although it is highly doubtful he would agree.

The URWP already encountered its detractors from within during the last election, Israel’s version of America’s Republican “Never Trumpers” whose need to virtue-signal their purity led them to withdraw from Bayit Yehudi when it agreed — wisely and rightly — to include Otzma within its umbrella.  Therefore, the URWP knows the outer borders of its “Never Trumpers.” Thus, it will not be hurt by including Bennett and Feiglin, too.  And Bennett, who understandably believed he had a great idea for expanding the nationalist base, now has learned that his excellent risk, although worth trying in April, has been proven too shaky to try again in the immediate political climate.  He would have great reason to enter an expanded URWP.  He would return to the Knesset, regain his platform, possibly end up with enough seats to negotiate a ministry to reenter the cabinet. As to whether Feiglin would also play footsie with this idea, only Feiglin knows.

Under any calculus, if Prime Minister Netanyahu’s current talks to form a coalition fail by the end of Wednesday — which I increasingly am hoping they will — odds are very good that a new “snap” election will result in the religious-nationalist parties emerging with 68 or 69 seats, up from the present 65.  Inasmuch as the Knesset is a 120-seat zero-sum game, a gain of four Bennet seats, and another two Feiglin seats if he can be included, will cost seats elsewhere.  That is, other parties will lose one here, one there.  Likud might lose a seat, perhaps URWP, likewise UTJ or Shas (the parties associated with classic “Old World” Orthodoxy).  On the other hand, Labor or Blue and White would lose a seat, too, and possibly Meretz or an Arab party.  But the bottom line result of regaining enough votes for six Knesset seats probably would see an increase of at least three seats on the religious-nationalist side.

With a new religious-nationalist bloc of 68 or 69 seats, a great coalition government would be formed.  Avigdor Liberman, with five or so seats, and possibly less, would find that he no longer can hold the entire process hostage to his demands, so he either would retreat to opposition or would find motive to compromise because, as Tzipi Livni can tell him, influence is greater inside than out in the cold.  Such a bloc would leave the Left even weaker by two or so seats, demonstrating that Jewish voters in Israel now opt by a landslide 2-to-1 margin for religious nationalism to be Israel’s path instead of the tired old secular socialism that gave Israel Oslo, the Palestine Authority, Hamas in Gaza, and Hezbollah in South Lebanon.

This new bloc would be strong enough to extend sovereignty over all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.  And the time for that is now, during a unique moment in Jewish history when the United States is led by the best pro-Israel Administration it ever has known. Israel has had to endure the years of Carter anti-Semitism, Clinton support of Arafat and unbridled opposition to building Jewish homes even in Jerusalem, the anti-Semitism of Secretary of State James Baker under the first George Bush, and the pressure for  “Two States” under the next Bush.  Worse than all combined, Israel just had to endure the Wasted Obama Decade when the den of Obama, Kerry, Hillary, and Biden all ganged up on Israel, even selling out at the United Nations.

By contrast, this is a golden moment in time. This Administration already has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the Amerian embassy there from Tel Aviv, and now has recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The Jews of East Jerusalem and the rest of Judea and Samaria are next. As long as Bennett and the URWP can work for the good of the Jewish people, allowing egos to remain at bay, new elections would be a great thing. 

Chazak v’Ematz — be strong and of great courage — Mr. Liberman. Don’t back down. Force new elections. Please.