Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Bayit Yehudi: Don’t Blow This Opportunity

January 7, 2013 8:41 pm 1 comment

Naftali Bennett. Photo: www.indynewsisrael.com.

Over 20 years ago, I published a booklet titled Religious Extremism: A Threat to the Future of the Jewish People, which was translated into many languages and widely distributed.

It dealt with extremist trends in the religious world, stressing that the greatest danger emanated from messianic nationalism inspired by rabbis claiming to know precisely what the Almighty desired and willing to suspend traditional societal behavior to promote their beliefs.

This was prior to the murder of Yitzhak Rabin by a crazed religious assassin but after the “underground,” when religious extremists were arrested for orchestrating the bombing of Arab activists. It carried a call to religious Zionists to expunge the extremists from their midst and concentrate on building bridges with other sectors of Israeli society and strengthening national Jewish identity without coercion.

Alas, since then, religious Zionism has been in continuous decline. The haredi political parties have hijacked the chief rabbinate and rabbinical courts, imposing the most stringent standards on the nation. Rank-and-file Israelis became enraged by the growing numbers of haredim evading the draft, as well as by those who became nonproductive beneficiaries of state welfare because their rabbis discouraged them from working.

Their excessively strict halachic interpretations also created crises in areas such as conversion, marriage, divorce and gender separation.

Now, Naftali Bennett, a charismatic young religious Zionist, has sensationally rejuvenated the national religious party Bayit Yehudi, which polls predict will become the third largest Knesset party and be well positioned to displace the haredi parties, reclaim the Religious Affairs Ministry and other ministries and and launch a national-religious renaissance.

But as I remarked in my previous column, this could fall apart if far-right trends within the party are not contained.

Many traditional Likud voters intending to vote for Bennett will do so on the assumption that they remain within the national camp and that as an independent right-wing religious party it will merely reinforce a nationalist government and enable Netanyahu to be in a better position to withstand American and other global pressures.

Yet if Bayit Yehudi pursues its stated annexation objectives, it may undermine a moderate nationalist government and lose an historic opportunity to restore religious Zionism as the dominant religious force in Israeli society.

These concerns are heightened by the fact that 40 percent of the Bayit Yehudi Knesset list was not elected but appointed by the central committee of Tkuma, a far-right settler party formerly a faction of Ihud Leumi.

The Tkuma constitution obligates its Knesset members to “accept rabbinical authority that shall guide the elected representatives according to Torat Israel and who shall determine the fundamental principles” and explicitly states that ” the Committee of Rabbis of the Party have the ultimate authority in determining the principal ideological direction of the Party and the order of its candidates to the Knesset.”

The Tkuma Knesset contingent will therefore be committed to implementing directives of their three Tkuma rabbis – Kiryat Arba’s Chief Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Zalman Melamed and Rabbi Chaim Steiner. This is a radical departure from the approach of traditional religious Zionists who adamantly refused to defer the determination of political policies to rabbis. It mirrors the manner in which Shas and United Torah Judaism operate.

The dominant rabbi is Rabbi Lior, whose extremist proclamations, such as asserting that the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein be considered “holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust” and that conceiving with non-Jewish sperm causes genealogical abnormalities, have shocked and alienated all but the most extreme of the religious right wing.

Following the Gaza disengagement, Rabbi Lior amended the wording of the prayer for the welfare of the state recited in synagogues under his control to eliminate a blessing for the government.

One can assume that Naftali Bennett does not endorse most of Rabbi Lior’s extremist views. Besides, Rabbi Lior declines to endorse him or Bayit Yehudi in order not to offend Michael Ben-Ari’s Otzma LeYisrael (Strong Israel), an even more extreme far-right party.

But that does not detract from the fact that a substantial number of his Knesset contingent are Tkuma members committed to implementing their rabbis’ directives.

In fairness, Likud-Beytenu also includes a number of candidates who would be considered far right or extremist, but there is no suggestion that they would seek to override democratic decisions.

In contrast, Rabbi Lior and his followers repudiate majority rule when it conflicts with what they determine to be the will of the Almighty.

After the elections, the new government will confront unprecedented pressures, from the United States, Europe and the broader global community.

Netanyahu is likely to find this phase even more daunting than his previous confrontations with President Barack Obama. He will need maximum maneuverability to maintain the diplomatic balancing act which hitherto enabled him to stand firm in relation to major issues while displaying flexibility in secondary areas. He must be able to govern without the threat of veto by extremists out of synch with the real world.

Despite the recent imprudent outburst by President Shimon Peres, the reality is that with “peace partners” like Hamas or the duplicitous PA leaders, few Israelis would today visualize their government endorsing a Palestinian state.

Nevertheless, a government coalition dependent on support from a party committed to the formal repudiation of a two-state solution, and to the annexation of the West Bank, would be in crisis.

No responsible government could conceivably implement such policies, which would lead to disastrous international repercussions including loss of the crucial support of Congress and the American people. It would also impact on the impending Iranian nuclear crisis.

Voters should appreciate that a coalition government based on a weakened Likud-Beytenu, subject to pressure from a party promoting such policies, could lead to an early collapse of a nationalist government.

This would be nightmare scenario for the national camp, which underwent a similar crisis in the past when the extreme Right disassembled a Center-Right government and paved the way for the Left to regain power. Under such circumstances, Bayit Yehudi would become as irrelevant as the failed former Mafdal.

THOSE OF us with traditional religious Zionist inclinations yearn for Bayit Yehudi to distance itself from demagogic populist policies and the messianic commitment to retaining land at any cost. While this alliance may attract support from extremists, Bennett himself must surely be aware that such policies would incur disastrous repercussions on Israel’s global status.

Bennett and Bayit Yehudi must convince us now that as constructive partners in a future government, they will promote realistic and mainstream national policies, suspend annexation objectives and vigorously oppose extremist views exemplified by Rabbi Lior, which have no place in an authentic religious Zionist movement.

Bayit Yehudi must not blow this unique opportunity to reform Israeli society, bring an end to the era of haredi domination, promote Jewish values and enable religious Zionism to reclaim the central religious role in the state.

This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom. The writer may be contacted at ileibler@leibler.com.

1 Comment

  • I have to say I don’t think it’s irrational for Bennett to take the idea, of giving land back, off the table. I think as he’s mentioned in interviews that there has been an unappealing (unhealthy for Israel) precedent sent when conceding land in an effort to appease the unappeasable.

    Also, if anyone’s noticed that seeing Bennett interviewed by some of these so called journalists from CNN and others is repugnantly breathtaking to watch with the sneering and the eye-rolling. I’m somewhat taken aback by what counts for journalism these days, when an opinion given doesn’t necessarily gibe with yours.

    The pa aside, I think that any party that can offer up a very no nonsense approach to security and foreign policy from an Israeli perspective yet locally provide an egalitarian approach should be the way to go. It would be nice to see more support of all recognized denominations of Jewry and a more pro-woman stance show up on the scene.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    Is diplomacy worthwhile, even if the end result isn’t what we hoped for? That is the question, among many others, posed by the new play Oslo, by J.T. Rogers. Making its New York debut at Lincoln Center, the play examines the secret diplomatic process that led to the historic 1993 peace accords. The character of Shimon Peres makes an appearance onstage — and he, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, tower over the proceedings. But they mainly do so in absentia. Instead, […]

    Read more →
  • Spirituality/Tradition Sports Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    JNS.org – Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax — who was recently ranked by ESPN as the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer said in an interview. Last month, the 20-year-old Kremer became […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    The famed lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, Brian May, encouraged Jewish singer-songwriter Adam Lambert to perform in Hebrew during their upcoming joint concert in Israel, an entertainment industry advocacy organization reported on Tuesday. During a recent interview with Israeli television personality Assi Azar, May was played a 2005 video of Lambert singing the popular song Shir L’Shalom, (Song for Peace). May was so impressed by Lambert’s singing of the Hebrew track that he told the American singer, “We have to do that. Let’s […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    JNS.org – Kenyan-born marathoner Lonah Chemtai is expected to compete for Israel at the Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next month after gaining a last minute approval. “I am very proud [to represent Israel] and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters. Chemtai, who grew up a rural village in western Kenya, first came to Israel in 2009 to care of the children of her country’s ambassador to Israel. The 27-year-old runner recently gained […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    To date or not to date? That is not the question for most Modern Orthodox singles in New York. The question is when will they find their future spouses, and when will their families stop nagging them about having babies? Inspired by the success of the Israeli show “Srugim,” Leah Gottfried, 25, decided she would create and star in her own show, “Soon By You.” “Dating is so serious already,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to take a lighter approach and laugh at the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Says Playing Muslim Character in ‘Tyrant’ Has Made Her More ‘Hopeful, Humble’

    Israeli Actress Says Playing Muslim Character in ‘Tyrant’ Has Made Her More ‘Hopeful, Humble’

    Israeli actress Moran Atias said that playing a Muslim woman in the hit FX series Tyrant has changed her outlook. “Educating myself about a different culture has made me more hopeful and humble, that we’re all the same,” the Jewish actress, 35, said during an interview with AOL Build. Atias plays Leila Al-Fayeed, the strong and politically minded wife of the president of Abbudin, a fictional Middle Eastern country run by a dictatorial family. The Israeli-born former model, who earned the title of Miss Globe International […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Jewish Fashionistas From Around the World to Tour ‘Chic Side of Israel’

    Jewish Fashionistas From Around the World to Tour ‘Chic Side of Israel’

    A delegation of 35 Jewish fashion industry mavens from around the world will travel to Israel later this month to “discover the chic side” of the country, 5 Town Jewish Times reported. The eight-day tour, organized by the Maryland-based Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) and the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, will include visits to key fashion sites and meetings with some of the country’s top fashion designers, merchandisers and marketers. Participants will also attend a JWRP Fashion Week event in Tel Aviv. JWRP said the trip is […]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Granddaughter of Holocaust Survivors Honored to Represent Israel at 2016 Olympic Games

    Granddaughter of Holocaust Survivors Honored to Represent Israel at 2016 Olympic Games

    Pro golfer Laetitia Beck said she is honored to have been selected to represent Israel at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil largely because of her grandparents, who survived the Holocaust. “Everywhere I go, I want people to know where I’m from, my background and where my family came from because of the struggle they had to go through,” she told the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). “Every week when I play and I see the Israeli flag, it brings me a lot […]

    Read more →