The ruling Likud party, under Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and the Jewish Home, under Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, have agreed not to attack each other in the upcoming election campaign.
Instead, the parties will focus on Yisrael Beytenu and Moshe Kahlon's as-yet-unnamed party, for their apparent enthusiasm to trade land for a peace treaty.
The agreement between Netanyahu and Bennett reflects developments in their personal and political history. Before the 2013 elections, newspapers were rife with reports about the bad blood between Bennett and Netanyahu, going back to the time, some eight years ago, when Netanyahu was Opposition Chairman and Bennett served as his bureau chief. Particularly, Bennett is said to have clashed with Sara Netanyahu, who was portrayed in the reports as a dominant force in Netanyahu's surroundings.
This festering rivalry is seen as what caused Netanyahu to adopt a hostile attitude toward Bennett during the 2012-13 campaign and after the election. Netanyahu turned to Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni first, when the time came to sign coalition deals, and Bennett had the distinct impression that the prime minister intended to sideline him. In response, Bennett formed an alliance with Yair Lapid and the Yesh Atid party, and essentially forced Netanyahu to give him a respectable position in the government, including a seat in the Security Cabinet.
That was two years ago. Since then, the bad blood has been transfused with good blood, somehow. Faced with Livni's open and unbridled disrespect for his leadership, and a similar fractiousness on the part of Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid, Netanyahu has apparently come to realize that the words of Benjamin Franklin – “We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately” – apply to Likud and Jewish Home.
There is a much deeper aspect to the new bond between Likud and the Jewish Home, however. Deeper than personal animus; deeper even than the surface politics.
A Meretz-like campaign
It is a well known fact that Likud's disastrous election campaign in 2012-13 focused on tearing apart the Jewish Home. The content of the attack and the identity of its crafters is usually overlooked – but this is a mistake.
Likud poured its multi-million-shekel campaign budget – by far the largest of any party, due to Likud's considerable size in the 18th Knesset – into an advertising drive that centered on the slogan, “the Jewish Home versus the women,” echoing Barack Obama's “war on women” campaign of the same year.
In an attempt to convince the public that the Jewish Home's religious identity meant that it espoused a dark, misogynistic ideology, the campaign pointed at Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, number 4 on the religious Zionist party's list, and a quote from an interview he gave us on Arutz Sheva, in which he supported the idea of merging the Knesset's Committee for the Advancement of Women (founded by then-MK Naomi Chazan of Meretz in 1992) and Children's Rights Committee (founded by then-MK Tamar Gozhansky, from communist Hadash, in 1995) into a unified Committee for the Family that would also give men and fathers a voice, and would not tear apart and create strife within the family.
"Family values must receive a place of honor," Ben Dahan explained. "The most basic component of any nation is the family unit. I will do everything possible to assist in promoting this cause and I will strive to be its leader."
This commitment by Ben Dahan is what Likud's campaign – directed by Elections Staff Chairman, then-Minister Gideon Saar, along with Communications Director Minister Gilad Erdan – believed would be the undoing of Jewish Home. Ben Dahan – whose large white beard gives him a hareidi look, and who served as Director of the Rabbinical Courts for 20 years – could be portrayed as menacing symbol of religious-patriarchal tyranny, who wanted to rob Israel women's of their “advancement” and its children of their “rights,” the two believed.
This was not just an attack on the Jewish Home party. It was attack on the Jewish home, period.
The campaign was an unmitigated disaster, however. While it did succeed in denying the Jewish Home of a chunk of the support it had enjoyed, it looked and sounded so much like a leftist Meretz campaign that it cost Likud a no-less-sizable chunk of its own support. The campaign, which parroted the ideology of liberal-feminist opponents of the traditional Jewish family, demoralized the younger nationalist electorate, much of which wound up voting for Yair Lapid.
Netanyahu was understandably furious with Saar after the campaign catastrophe and sidelined him, keeping him out of the Security Cabinet and giving him the Interior portfolio which he did not want. Saar never recovered his former position as Netanyahu's right-hand minister and wound up leaving politics, for this and other reasons.
Saar's choice of the “war on women” campaign was no fluke. While espousing a tough nationalist line throughout his years as a Likud MK, Saar can be said to have led a political double life. Besides being a Likud hardliner on territorial and security matters, he was also an extremely close friend of Labor's Shelly Yechimovich ever since the two were young journalists, and wholeheartedly espoused her hardline feminist positions on gender and family related issues. Significantly, Saar's apprenticeship as a lawyer was spent under the tutelage of ultra-leftist judges Dorit Beinisch and Edna Arbel – Yechimovich's political twins. He was so trusted by the gender movement's establishment that he is the only man ever to have chaired its Knesset bastion, the same Committee for Advancement of Women that Rabbi Ben Dahan considered turning into a Committee for the Family.
Back to the Ten Commandments
Now elections appear near again. This time around, Likud will not repeat its mistake. This means that Netanyahu and Bennett have buried the hatchet, and that Likud and the Jewish Home are allies - but it also means something deeper than that. Not only has Likud made peace with the Jewish Home – Israel's leadership has hopefully made peace with its Jewish moral roots, which begin with the Ten Commandments and “honor your father and your mother.”
This time around, Jewish tradition is not in the line of fire, and hareidi-bashing will not be the order of the day, at least not in Likud's campaign. Instead, it appears that the campaigns of both Likud and the Jewish Home will be directed against other parties' plans to relinquish land for promises of peace. Hopefully, this change of direction will annul the effect of the 2013 elections, and keep young Israelis voting for Jewish Home and Likud, instead of searching for sleek alternatives. Arutz Sheva interviews will remain safely out of the line of fire.
Likud has always been a party of self-described traditionalist, if not religious, Jews. It has been the party of Sephardic families in which the mother lights Sabbath candles and the father says kiddush over the wine and bread. It seems safe to say that this election signals a return to Jewish roots, Jewish morals and Jewish strength – and given the threats Israel faces from without and within, this comes not a minute too soon.