The Bennett government has been in place for a few weeks and the country is still standing. People are still davening morning, afternoon and evening and the sky is not falling; perhaps, better said, the sky has yet to fall. See? The power of positive thinking.
Nevertheless, the anger in many right wing precincts is as real as is the reluctance to draw any conclusions from the failure to form a right-wing government after four successive elections and Likud victories as the largest party. The lack of desire for a reckoning – it is clear that Binyamin Netanyahu would not have been able to form a stable government had there been another four elections – is self-defeating and counterproductive. But no more so than the particularly pernicious platform that the Likud has adopted. Indeed, the Likud has only one objective, one arrow in its quiver: to topple the government and quickly. And even the nation’s needs must be sacrificed to attain that single goal; that is worse than unfortunate. It is unimaginable.
Take, for example, the extension of the Citizenship Law, which has been passed on an annual basis for some twenty years. It prevents, among other things, Israeli Arabs from marrying Arabs from Judea and Samaria and bringing them to reside in Israel proper as citizens. This helps preserve the demographic advantage that Israel has. The renewal of this statute has been fairly routine under right wing governments, with even centrist support, for some time.
Now, under the Bennett government, the Likud is balking, endangering the law’s extension (and the security of the State) simply because this odd coalition that relies on the votes of Ra’am for its existence cannot pass it on its own. From a purely political perspective, the argument makes sense. The opposition always wants to make the government’s life miserable. From a moral perspective, though, the approach is absurd, even grotesque.
Added to this are voices emanating from the Likud asserting that the right wing may not support the government’s efforts to combat Hamas or to challenge Iran’s determination to build a nuclear capability. This is, for lack of a better term, insane. And something else as well.
This time of year – the Three Weeks in which we mourn the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, the exile of the Jewish people and the numerous catastrophes that have befallen us – we often hear bandied about the cardinal sin of the Second Temple era that presaged the Destruction: sin’at chinam, baseless hatred. The term is used frequently but is rarely defined. In fact, it is almost always misconstrued.
Sin’at chinam cannot mean any type of hatred as there are hatreds that are not baseless at all. Indeed, it is eminently logical that most hatred is grounded in something tangible – an event, a word, a deed or a personality – which someone finds offensive. I have never heard of an individual harboring the simplistic sin’at chinam for another individual.
“I hate that fellow!”
“No particular reason.”
Sin’at chinam is hatred that is self-destructive, a hatred in which the hater is so passionate and irrational in his hatred that he does not care if he himself is destroyed by that hatred. That was the hatred of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza in the Gemara’s woeful tale, in which Bar Kamtza preferred to inform on his own people – and bring out his and his nation’s ruin – rather than endure a petty personal humiliation.
Sin’at chinam is the suicidal hatred of the Zealots who burned the storehouses of supplies – enough to feed the people through a siege of twenty years – in order to provoke a war against Rome that they could not win and the people did not want to fight.
Sin’at chinam is the hatred of politicians so distressed to be out of power – even momentarily – that they will sacrifice all moral notions, all strategic goals and the national interest itself in order to regain that power. That is insane.
There is nothing wrong with an opposition trying to topple the government – but do it over issues on which you disagree, not issues on which you agree but choose to play games. There is nothing wrong with introducing a new bill to perpetuate the Citizenship Law rather than go through the charade of renewing it every year. But that is something the Likud could have done any time in the last decade, as it could have passed legislation limiting the jurisdictional reach of the Supreme Court that leads to the dismantling of settlements built in the land of Israel. Don’t be a tzadik on someone else’s dime, or shekel.
Perhaps there will come a time when this government has to be strenuously opposed. One would hope there are enough sane right-wingers in the government to know when that time comes and to be courageous enough to admit it, leave, and collapse the coalition. But it should not happen at the expense of national priorities and certainly not on issues that are bread and butter to all right-wingers.
The current approach is an eerie and equally ludicrous duplicate of the Biden administration that reflexively opposes anything that Donald Trump did simply because he did it, regardless of its merits. It has induced the Biden team to renew subsidies to the hapless Palestinian Authority, thereby subsidizing its oligarchs, encouraging its mischief and hampering the prospects for expanding the Abraham Accords (a term Biden and company churlishly eschew because it evokes a Trump success).
We are better and wiser than that. Issues will arise that naturally cause rifts in the coalition and that run counter to the interests of a strong, proud, Jewish Israel, and those can be exploited. But issues that promote Israel’s interests should be supported even if – perhaps, especially if – the coalition supports it. The alternative is the self-destructive sin’at chinam that has caused only grief and tragedy in Jewish history.
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky was the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey until his recent aliya to Israel. He serves as Israel's representative and Vice President and Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values.