The Future of Religious-Zionist Politics

Baruch Gordon,

לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
Baruch Gordon
Baruch Gordon founded the Arutz Sheva - website in 1995 and served as manager and News Director for its English Media Department for 14 years. Today he serves as Director of Development and Public Relations for the Israel Defense Forces Preparatory Academy in Bet El and Bet El Institutions. He also directs which offers countrywide tours of Israel. Baruch founded in Bet El a Smicha Program for working men, and received his smicha in 2014 from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Baruch served in the IDF Search and Rescue Unit. Born and raised in Memphis, he was elected International President of United Synagogue Youth in high school and soon after became religious while studying at Tufts University. Baruch resides with his wife Anat, a native Israeli, in Bet El and has 7 Sabra children and even more grandchildren. ...

The Future of a Religious-Zionist Political Party

I identify with religious-Zionism and have consistently voted in all elections for parties which represent our sector, even though the leaders of the parties don’t always represent my particular strand.

We are now in the opposition, and it’s a good time to regroup. We are splintered and have some weak links, but in general our forecast is a good one.

There are 3 extremely talented political forces at the head of religious-Zionism today:
1)    Betzalel Smotrich, born and reared in the atmosphere of the Bet El Yeshiva where his father taught as a leading scholar of Talmud and Jewish thought. Betzalel grew up in the ranks of hardcore religious-Zionist yeshivas and institutions.
2)    Naftali Bennett, a graduate of Israel’s most elite IDF commando unit Matkal, lives in Raanana and represents religious Zionist values in their most liberal form, but, alas, still an important part of our camp.
3)    Ayelet Shaked – a declared non-religious woman whose father is from Iraq, she successfully led multiple grassroots initiatives and organizations before entering the political area. 

Smotrich just finished his year term as Minister of Transportation. The Executive Director of the ministry, Keren Turner, who was appointed before his arrival and whose political leanings are not with religious Zionism, said of Smotrich at his departing reception: “I don’t know what happened first: your falling in love with the Ministry of Transportation or the workers’ falling in love with you as their leader… The Israeli public came to know a different Smotrich (than presented in the media). Both from right and left, no one could remain indifferent to this bulldozer of a person who conquered the Transportation Ministry.” She went on to praise Smotrich for his personal example in the ministry, his pleasant character traits and his professional achievements. 

Smotrich proved himself as a valuable, talented leader quickly learning the issues and aptly resolving problems in the Transportation Ministry, some of which had been lingering for years. 

The main criticism against Bennett and Shaked is that their loyalty to a religious Zionist party is temporary, since they bolted the party in the second election of 2019 in an attempt to start a new right wing, mixed secular and religious party to vie with the Likud voters. That attempt failed in passing the minimum threshold for entering the Knesset by just a few votes. As a result, they wasted the equivalent of almost 4 Knesset seats. 

Many religious Zionist voters haven’t forgiven them and assume, not without reason, that the moment that Netanyahu steps down, the door will be open for them to enter the ruling Likud party in leadership positions, a door through which they will walk without hesitation.

On the other hand, Shaked performed amazing tasks in her career advancing both right wing and religious values. Rav Chaim Druckman, head of the hesder yeshivas, said at one point that she is the Member of Knesset who has done more for the hesder yeshivas than any other politician. She would meet with Rabbi Druckman once a month to hear the sector’s needs, and then go and push through those very demands. She made huge advances in her term as Justice Minister in balancing the judiciary to represent more conservative values, and fell short of making a total revolution, only due to Netanyahu’s hesitations and opposition to her initiatives. Today, Netanyahu would likely support those very same initiatives for judicial reform.

In an amazing political feat, Naftali Bennett successfully took back control of the national religious party in the third elections of 2019, and in negotiations with Netanyahu one year ago, was able to position himself as Israel’s Defense Minister since Netanyahu then needed him. 

Bennett proved himself as having sharp analysis and prudent judgement in matters of defense and war. This was evident in his:
1.    Identifying the Arab tunnels from Gaza as a supreme threat when the Chief of Staff and Prime Minister Netanyahu belittled them. He proved right.
2.    In weekly meetings between the heads of Tzahal andDefense Minister Bennett, daring operations beyond Israel’s borders are brought for his approval. Bennett quickly gained recognition as exercising great judgement in these operations, and pushing them forward. On Nov. 29, 2019 he ordered the IDF to all in its power to prevent Iran from basing itself in Syria. A series of daring missions indeed achieved that strategic goal. IDF generals credit Bennett’s leadership for this achievement. 
3.    While sometimes there are ideological frictions between the political level and the IDF, Bennett was able to push through his objectives in a professional way which led to great respect and cooperation between the political of operational arms of the Israel’s Defense establishment. His achievements during his year term as Defense Minister are roundly respected by all.

Smotrich, Bennett and Shaked are the three most talented leaders of religious Zionism today, and they work together in great harmony and with great mutual respect.

Smotrich is, however, the only one who really grew up on pure religious Zionist values. In my humble opinion, any form that the religious Zionist party takes in the future, Smotrich will emerge as the leader most loyal to the sector’s values.

Perhaps his most important task in the opposition will be regaining the trust of religious Zionist voters to fully support their own party in a future election, rather than, out of protest and disgust, voting for hareidi parties, the Likud party, or splinter religious Zionist parties that have zero chance of passing the minimum threshold. 

Go Betzalel.

Hear Keren Terner's speech at outgoing reception of Minister Smotrich