Bayit Yehudi Primaries: Appreciating Elbow Grease
Bayit Yehudi Primaries: Appreciating Elbow Grease

MK Uri Orbach is a personal friend of mine. He even came up with the name “Almagor”for the organization in which I work. The man is an artist of the written word. And precisely for that reason, I have to react to troubling comments recently released in his name:

“Under the noses of the political commentators, a new breed of politicians is arising: Shelly Yachimovich, Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett.”

Then an insult to the opposition within the party: “Many people are fed up with politicians who will just ‘take care of things’for them. They now prefer politicians who inspire confidence, who show they care.”

And a final swipe at MK Zevulun Orlev: “The old politicians wave around their ‘experience’which often is bad experience—and toss around meaningless numbers as proof of their success. That’s old politics.”

My purpose here is to present a defense. Not a personal defense of Orlev or of Nissan Slomiansky, but a defense of my profession and that of many of my friends. What we have here is a battle about the worth of elbow grease, of the people who are willing to do the sacred behind-the-scenes work of serving the public without arrogating themselves the status of “leaders.”

The Knesset members who “take care of things”for us deserve to be praised, not insulted: people like Uri Ariel and Zevulun Orlev, whose offices are filled day and night with the representatives of organizations and institutions, religious and secular. And they “take care”of these people. It’s true that Ariel and Orlev received popularity ratings of only three percent in a recent poll of the national-religious community, but this isn’t their problem—it’s the respondents’problem. Orlev and Ariel are too busy for self-promotion.

The “new”politicians have a certain style. The public missions that they accept upon themselves somehow seem always to be short-term. Somehow there always is aspiration to the next job. Or maybe impatience. Or boredom. This raises questions about their future. Assuming that we vote for them, how long will they have the strength and interest for the drudgery entailed in serving the public from day to day?

Hint: Orbach already “took care of”the answer for us as far as he is concerned.

And already now there is a line of young people who are studying the model of the “new”politicians and readying themselves to imitate it, young people who have never served the public and never “taken care of things”for it, yet are already setting their sights on the Knesset.

So who will serve the public? Who will do the day-to-day grunt work that the public needs its servants to do?

I asked that question of a young activist of the “new”model, the sort who obsessively keeps tabs on his position in the polls. He answered: “the suckers.”

Primaries: The Root of All Evil

At some point in the past, I signed up for an Internet campaign run by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked in behalf of the Yesha Council. And somehow over the past few weeks, my computer and phone have been bombarded with e-mail and text messages calling on me to vote for them. There is the question of how they are using data that they gathered in one job to promote themselves toward another one, but that is a separate issue …

There is no arguing that Orlev is a man of action, but he is liable to find himself up against an Internet-borne wave of new party members seventeen years old and up: the clientele to whom his opponents appeal, offering them a twenty-shekel opportunity to capture the party and “take control,”in the words of the banners that have been put on public display wherever there is a large national-religious population. A movement that was founded over a hundred years ago by luminaries such as Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines is now liable to change beyond all recognition.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook used to sign his letters with the words “servant to a holy nation.” But now there are to be no more public servants. The new fashion is that of “leaders,”primary candidates, public relations professionals, and strategic advisers …and we’ve already heard from quite a few of them, courtesy of the propaganda campaign being waged by the new candidates.

The strategic advisers are a plague in the national-religious community, and what they are doing makes one long for the old political appointments committee. They and the spins, tricks, and artificial Internet feedback that they have brought with them from their work in business and in the self-aggrandizing world of secular politics have created a distasteful atmosphere the likes of which have never before been seen in the elections of the religious Zionists.

These are the people who go to any length to ruin the incumbents’reputation, demeaningly calling them “mashgichei kashrut”(kashrut supervisors) with crass reference to our army memories of insulting those who served as such. But what a difference there is!

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And in this whole mess, where are the rabbis? This is all happening in a party that was founded by sixty-six European rabbis. It would be appropriate for a group of rabbis and educators to get up, publicly clarify our real priorities, and stop this slide to populism—even if it does stand to increase the number of seats we have in the Knesset. How? Let there be a religious ruling that the Knesset is a place for those on a mission, not for self-promoters. It should be made clear that those on this mission are expected to prove themselves over time on the testing grounds of religious Zionist public life before they are considered as political candidates.

Bring on the elbow grease people. Ever since the National-Religious Party started bringing in media stars, it has only deteriorated. We have a rich history of role models to emulate, such as Michael Chazani, a power behind the settlement enterprise and a minister of social affairs, and legendary Holocaust-survivor-turned-MK Avramale Melamed. Neither was media savvy, nor were they Gush Emunim activists, but their fingerprints are readily visible on the institutions and communities of the national-religious world, including in Judea and Samaria.

If you want a really “Jewish Home”instead of just another populistic political party, then go vote for the public servants.

Originally published in Makor Rishon (Hebrew newspaper), translated by David B. Greenberg

Ed. note: The views in this article are those of the writer; it is not meant to be a personal attack on any candidate.