Will the religious-Zionist Knesset camp continue to decline? Revolutionary ideas are being floated to ensure this does not happen.
In the 2003 elections, the National Religious Party (NRP) received six Knesset seats, and the National Union - comprised largely of former NRP members - received seven, for a total of 13. In 2006, the two parties merged into one list - and received a total of only nine Knesset mandates.
Widespread concern has been expressed throughout the religious-Zionist camp that the downward trend will continue, particularly in light of reports of lack of unity among some members of the Knesset faction.
Yeshiva high school seniors recently met with the entire NRP/NU faction, demanding unity as well as a new method of choosing the MKs that will give the public more say. In addition, the religious-Zionist press has been saturated of late with proposals to unify and revamp the political representation of the national-religious camp.
MK Hendel: Serious Talks Underway
MK Tzvi Hendel, of the National Union's Tekumah faction, told Tuli Pikarsh of the weekly HaTzofeh this week, "I can give you this scoop: We [MKs of the faction - ed.] are holding very serious talks to raise up the issue of unity several rungs. Not just minor rungs, but much more than that."
Hendel said that success is not certain: "Even when dealing with something very big, in the end there are people - this one is angry at the other one, etc., and in the end you have to come to compromises among all of them. Therefore we can't yet say what is happening... With G-d's help, we are making a great effort, and I pray that we will succeed."
Need for New Knesset Faces
Unity among the MKs, however, will solve only one problem. Another issue is the perception that Israel's national-religious camp - thousands of members of which support and vote for other parties - would like to see new faces in its Knesset representation before voting for it.
To this end, Dr. Asher Cohen of Bar Ilan University has proposed that an open primaries be held, inviting all those in the country who identify with the goals of the religious-nationalist camp to participate and choose the religious-Zionist party's future MKs.
Cohen's fields of expertise are listed on the Bar Ilan website as "Culture, Regime and Israeli Politics; the Struggle of Collective Identity; Religion, Society and Politics; Communications and Politics; Religious Zionist Movement in Israel."
Hendel: I believe that whoever does not have Torah in his soul, does not have enough inner strength to deal with the difficult struggles we face with the general Zionist ideology.
Hendel Opposes Open Primaries
His idea for open primaries has not been outspokenly opposed by the MKs, but neither is it expected to actually happen. MK Hendel explained, "I am very much in favor of opening the ranks, and I have worked for it. I went in the past with [Avigdor] Lieberman, with Michael Kleiner and Benny Begin [leaders of secular nationalist parties with which Hendel's Tekumah faction has joined up in the past - ed]. I learned some things from this - mainly, that we need not be embarrassed by our kippot [skullcaps]. The religious public leads in many ways - settlement, science, army. I don't want to open the ranks and give honor to those without a kippah simply because they are not religious; I do want to gather all those who define themselves as traditional..."
"I believe that whoever does not have Torah in his soul, does not have enough inner strength to deal with the difficult struggles we face with the general Zionist ideology, and will very quickly find excuses to accept whatever Olmert or Netanyahu tells him on political or educational matters... If everyone can vote in open primaries, then the non-religious Kibbutzim, for example, can get together to vote in our primaries and choose our party leader..."
Rabbi Proposes "Jewish State" Party
Rabbi Yisrael Rosenne of Gush Etzion has another idea. He heads the Zomet Institute for Torah and Science and is a regular columnist in the weekly Shabbat B'Shabato synagogue pamphlet, one of the main mouthpieces of religious-Zionism.
Rabbi Rosenne says it is impossible to find any proposal, whether it be "open primaries, half-primaries, registration drives, etc.," that will be able to democratically unite all the opinions and forces in the camp.
"Furthermore, primaries are suspect because of the role played by vote-contractors and the like, and because serious people won't want to degrade themselves by running after votes... In addition, the question of the platform will never be able to be solved," given the plethora of opinions within the religious-Zionist camp.
Rather, Rabbi Rosenne supports the "compiling of a united 'emergency list' under the name 'Jewish State.' "These two words are the entire platform, and its content will be determined in the future in accordance with the circumstances that develop. The 'Jewish State' list will make decisions in accordance with those two words, and will turn to the public at large, including those who do not consider themselves religious..."
The list of candidates will be determined, Rabbi Rosenne suggests, by a board of seven "icons" - highly-respected men and women, names of whom Rabbi Rosenne says he can propose if asked. At most, the public at large will be able to determine the order of the first ten candidates to be proposed, as well as that of the second ten. The chosen candidates will have to guarantee in some manner that they will not desert to another Knesset party. The board-of-seven will continue to guide and advise the elected representatives throughout their terms in office.
Orlev: Change Priorities
Yet another approach comes from MK Zevulun Orlev, head of the NRP, who does not favor a major change in the way the candidates are chosen. He says that the religious-Zionist political agenda should no longer concentrate on political arena: "We must have a new agenda with education at its helm, together with a struggle for the country's Jewish agenda and social values. I believe strongly that such an agenda, together with a united list of candidates who are able to carry it out, will determine the future of the State, including our hold on the Land of Israel."
New elections are currently not scheduled before 2010, but they could happen much earlier, if the Olmert government is toppled in any of various scenarios. Will the religious-Zionist camp be ready?