500 million shekels to right a terrible wrong and secure Israel

The terrible, avoidable tragic mistake for Israel’s religious Zionist camp is that 256,629 votes were lost to the community in April.  Six Percent. More than six seats.  And that happened on the eve of the ever-looming Trump “Deal of the Century.

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer

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Yes, 475-500 million shekels is an enormous amount of money, a terrible amount to waste on an election re-do.

On the other hand, the Bennett-Shaked New Right’s 138,598 lost votes (3.22 percent of the April vote) were a terrible amount to waste.  Moshe Feiglin’s 118,031 lost votes (2.74 percent) were a terrible amount to waste.  Add that up: 6 percent of the votes cast — 256,629 votes — went down the biyuv (drain). That was enough for more than six Knesset seats. 

Even in the Knesset’s 120-seat zero-sum electoral process, whereby more seats won by one party cause another party (sometimes of similar ideology, sometimes diametrically different) to lose seats, those missed thresholds cost the religious-Zionist community approximately six Knesset seats.

Those seats were lost from the religious-Zionist camp for many reasons.  Yes, an important factor was and is ego. But ego, very unfortunately, is part of the game of democratic parlimentary elections. Very few people in any such country’s elections who lack over-ripened egos will change the course of history or even get to head a party list.  Look at America’s over-indulged egomaniacs:  Obama, Kerry, Hillary, the Lug she married, Trump, the clown car of 23 candidates now seeking the Democrats’ nomination for 2020.

With a monarchy, a lucky society gets a humble king who also is righteous.  Or we get Yeravam ben N’vat (Jeroboam), Achaz, Ahab and Jezebel.

In democratic parliamentary elections, most great leaders have enormous egos. Name your favorites: Menachem Begin?  Ariel Sharon (before he “lost it”)?  Or name those on the other side: Rabin?  Shulamit Aloni?  Dayan?  Ben-Gurion? (B-G’s ego was so off the charts that he would not even agree to invite the burial of Jabotinsky’s remains in Israel. That had to wait for Levi Eshkol’s era.) There were exceptions like Itzhak Shamir, and they did not last long.

Yes, many in the Torah community are different.  The great rabbis of the religious Zionist community and of the more classically “Old World” Agudah and Shas communities include more reserved and humble leaders who rose by virtue of their Torah and personal qualities.  Rav Rafi Peretz, who filled the gap in Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) after Bennett suddenly shocked the party and left, is such an example.  We all can name many, many more.  Rav Hanan Porat.  HaRav Moshe Neriya and may he have long life HaRav Drukman served in the Knesset. Many others.

And yet, even in religious circles, the reader fools himself or herself if he or she thinks that anyone can remain a serious political leader for long without having some of that aspect.  Too many others constantly are pouncing, seeking crumbs of power and glory.  That is the price of democracy. Every Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) has to deal with a Korach and 250 men of renown who think they should be in charge. (Bamidbar/Numbers 16).

But if the religious-Zionist right wing  gets its act together for the September do-over — these new elections can and will prove to be the best blessing and best 500 million shekels Israel has spent in decades.

If Avigdor Liberman had shown a modicum of mentschlikhkeit (mature decency), he would have added his party’s five Knesset seats to the 60-seat coalition...Ultimately, however, that would have been worse than a bad marriage. 
I have a friend who told me two decades ago, after his divorce, that the best money he spends every month is when he sits down to write his alimony check.  It was costing him a bunch of money, but he explained to me why he had to get out of his marriage, no matter the cost.  The divorce opened his life, freed his imprisoned soul.  He soon met a most wonderful life partner, and he never looked back.  That man — and in other cases, women who have had such experiences — are not the only ones.  Sometimes, because of an avoidable tragic mistake that unfortunately was not avoided the first time around, one has to pay heavily for the mistake, but the reward awaiting still is greater despite the heavy monetary cost.

The terrible, avoidable tragic mistake for Israel’s religious Zionist camp is that 256,629 votes were lost to the community in April.  Six Percent. More than six seats.  And that happened on the eve of the ever-looming Trump “Deal of the Century,” even as the nearly 800,000 Jews of East Jerusalem and the rest of liberated Judea and Samaria await Israel’s long-overdue extension of law (and by implication sovereignty) over the historic Jewish patrimony, the heartland of the Jewish people. Although 320,000 East Jerusalem Jews now enjoy that sovereignty, there remain 450,000 in the rest of Judea and Samaria who have been left out — wrongly, almost criminally, and far too long. The time has come to reunite the land.

If Avigdor Liberman had shown a modicum of mentschlikhkeit (mature decency), he would have added his Yisrael Beyteinu party’s five Knesset seats to the 60-seat coalition of Likud, United Right Wing Parties (URWP — Bayit Yehudi, Ichud Leumi/National Union, and Otzma Yehudit/Jewish Power), UTJ (United Torah Judaism), and Shas.  There would have been a 65-seat government coalition.

Ultimately, however, that would have been worse than a bad marriage.  Each party wanted and expected — and probably would have gotten — a hundred or a million ministries because each party had the unilateral power to bring the whole thing down. Every day, like a terrible marriage where the husband and wife bicker behind closed doors constantly, the religious and the Liberman acolytes would be at each other. If the 256,629 votes and approximately six seats had not been lost, this could have been avoided.

Every new tidbit would have become a national Government crisis: Shabbat, kashrut, conversions, chametz (leaven) on Passover, marriages. Even Hamas and Hezbollah would have started complaining that they can’t figure out what’s going on in The Zionist Entity. 

For goodness sakes, the Government might have been brought down if “Srugim” (a wonderful television show centered around some young adult religious Zionists in Jerusalem) announced a new season or if the actors’ union ended its threats to prevent a third season of “Shtisel” (another such wonderful show). Liberman might have demanded equal time for a television show about two non-Jewish 1970s Russian immigrants who declare themselves “Jewish” to get out of the Brezhnev-Kosygin Soviet Union and then arrive in Israel to open a Bialy-and-Ham store on Passover.

The whole thing made no sense.  There was no way a Government would be able to function where each and every member of the coalition had the power to bring it down.  A Government must be able to function without the 24/7 threat that each and every coalition partner is out of control.  And add to that the “Elephant in the Room”: the possible — and absolutely wrongful, certainly in the eyes of Americans where the accusations levelled at Netanyahu seem ridiculous — prosecutions hanging over the Prime Minister’s head. So not only would Liberman be driving the religious Jews crazy, but he also would have Prime Minister Netanyahu tied up in knots. Imagine the New York Times cartoons!

And all the while . . . six seats that the voters had handed to the national-religious camp down the drain.

That is why, if the players can subjugate their egos just enough to keep their eyes on the prize, this can be like that horribly expensive alimony check that my friend learned to love writing every month, as he sat alongside his new wife — the love of his life — while writing it.

The next time around, many Bennett voters may leave the New Right if Ayelet Shaked does not run with him.  Others may come over to him if Caroline Glick gets a higher spot.  Some may leave him because they feel they gave him his one shot. Others may come over because, if he enters into a technical bloc to beat the 3.25 percent threshold, they will be sure their votes will not be lost again. Perhaps a technical bloc with URWP — if they can harness their resentment and let him in. Or, in the alternative, a technical bloc of just Feiglin and him — if he and Feiglin can harness their egos just enough to realize that neither will be elected Prime Minister this time around.

Yes, Feiglin will lose votes from last time if he aligns in a right-wing technical bloc, losing the votes from left-wing pot-heads who just wanted their marijuana. Like the Rabbi Nachman Party voters who throw out their votes every chance they can Na-Nach-Nachma-Nachman get, so do some of the marijuana voters vote “Weed or Bust.”  So Feiglin will lose those votes if enters a right-wing technical bloc.  He also will lose votes of some secular libertarians if he aligns with a religious bloc, possibly less so if he aligns only with Bennett in their own smaller, less overtly religious technical bloc.  On the other hand, Feiglin will get back some right-wing votes he lost as he got too cocky last time and started telling newsmedia that he would not commit to align in a right-wing coalition and that maybe he would insist on being Prime Minister himself.  The 2.74 percent vote a month ago may have brought him back to Planet Earth. And every day’s passage of time helps a few of his former voters forget about that whiskey-and-feet online interview.

So Bennett will gain some seats and lose some in the next election, and same with Feiglin.  But the votes that they lose will remain, for the overwhelming part, within the broader religious-nationalist camp.  The Shaked people may move to Likud.  As for Shaked herself, her smart move would be to leave Bennett and enter Likud, but only if they assure her a high position and promise her something akin to the Justice Ministry.  That, after all, was the original Feiglin plan of several years ago: work within the Likud because that is where the ultimate power lies.  She may be enough a superstar to pull it off, and early polls show she would add seats for Likud.  But Bibi does not want her in, it seems mostly for personal reasons.  Whatever.  However it shakes out, those votes will be recaptured.

A new election also allows URWP to straighten out with Otzma the chaos that the Supreme Court caused when it disqualified Michael Ben-Ari from the election list. 

On the other hand, Avigdor Liberman also may gain from a new election among hard-line anti-religious secularists, which seems to have been his plan, possibly drawing paradoxically from religion haters on the Left, whether from Meretz, Labour, or the Lapid wing of Blue and White.  It is that crazy.

We already are seeing early polling showing that a new election can result in a right-wing coalition of 68-71 seats. Israeli polling is notorious for errors — usually by underestimating the right and the religious.  Even if Liberman gains a seat or two, the overall impact may be a great blessing for religion in Israel, and Liberman may find that he brought about his own loss of power. The Law of Unintended Consequences.

Time will tell.  But a Government of 68-71 religious-nationalist seats will be far better situated to contend with a “Deal of the Century,” to extend sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, and to deal with the international fall-out that will follow.  It is a crying shame that the 3.25 percent threshold caused approximately six religious-Zionist seats to be lost, but now there is a rare second chance to get them back. Ask any previously divorced person who proceeded to marry the love of his or her life whether the alimony was worth it.