Compassion and Israel’s Current Coalition
The prime minister slowly ascended the stairs, the roar of the crowd reverberating in his ears. Decades of insults and jeers may not have deterred him, but the years of public abuse would leave scars that would never completely disappear. Staring out on the sea of supporters chanting his name, he knew that it was this significant political bond that brought him to power. Recent polls were showing an extremely tight race, and he was determined to prove that the last election was not an aberration.
They came in droves from across the country; every development town was represented, every city in attendance. Tens of thousands, many of them formerly from Arab lands, filled the vast square in the heart of Tel Aviv. They came to listen, but more so to show support to the man they considered their savior. He battled for them, he cried with them, and most importantly — he saw them. Immigrants in a new country, a new home, their transition was marred in challenge. While the founding leadership systemically dismissed them, his trademark “compassion” shined through.
His oratory genius slowly worked the crowd into a frenzy. The moment he stuck his hand in his pocket and withdrew a small piece of paper, they knew they were headed for the crescendo. Menachem Begin’s historic “Chach chach” speech invigorated his Likud base, turned the entire campaign, and sent him to a slim victory in the national elections.
While the Likud rise to power in 1977 was a political turning point, it was that legendary speech in 1981 that allowed Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the Right to cement its bond with the Jews of the periphery. The pairing of Israel’s political right with the Sephardim would become the most valuable electoral partnership in Israel’s modern history.
Deep ethnic divides have unfortunately not disappeared, despite the efforts of the great Menachem Begin. The Left’s inability to confront and contend with this challenge is one of the key reasons that the Right has remained in power for the vast majority of the last 43 years. Having previously lived under Muslim rule, these constituencies were generally more suspect of the Arabs living within Israel or across its borders. They saw strength and fortitude as a regional prerequisite, appeasement and weakness a disaster.
Yet it was not the issue of the Land of Israel that swayed their vote, rather it was Begin’s famous compassion. Identifying with their ethnic struggles and confronting inherent social and economic discrimination is what made Begin different. The strategic partnership between the Right and the periphery was born out of caring and concern. Begin answered the Biblical question of “Am I my brothers keeper?” with a resounding yes!
It was Menachem Begin that came to mind as the debate on the Right raged as a result of the idea of applying sovereignty in Judea and Samaria being suspended. The Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria is vital to Israel’s security, is a historical and Biblical right, and a declaration of sovereignty is long overdue. Yet the rising tones of in-house dispute climbed above the muffled cries of one million unemployed. The legitimate disagreement inside the Right detached those leaders from the thousands of families struggling to make ends meet.
The bond between the Right, the settlement movement, and the periphery is a solid one, yet not unbreakable. True to all politics, each individual constituency looks out for its own interests first and foremost. Winston Churchill famously said, “We have no lasting friends, no lasting enemies, just lasting interests.” When the threat of a Palestinian state hovered overhead or when terror emanating from Judea, Samaria, and Gaza raised its treacherous head, our common interests were completely aligned. Yet when those same communities face daunting financial hardships, greatly increased unemployment, and frightening economic uncertainty, interests change. Finding work and putting food on their table have become priorities one, two, and three. The unfortunate economic implications of corona are not limited to the periphery, but it is in the periphery that struggles are deeper.
The current reality is therefore both a challenge and an opportunity for the Right. Can the sovereignty issue be debated behind the scenes so that publicly our leadership can focus exclusively on encouraging our brothers in their moment of need and in support of their critical interests? Will Yesha stand with Dimona and Yerucham as they have stood with Yesha? The alternative signifies a political and ethical disconnect that could jeopardize this vital alliance in the next election, whenever that may be.
The opportunity to politically strengthen this partnership at this precarious moment of desperate need is pristine. Irrespective of any political benefits, this is also the right thing to do morally. Speaking from personal experience, standing with someone in their time of need creates an unbreakable and eternal bond of profound gratitude and appreciation.
Menachem Begin taught us years ago that Zionism and Jewish ethics can and should be one and the same. Settling the Land of Israel while showing compassion for the people of Israel are not two separate dictates, but are cut from the same cloth. It is not enough to be brothers in word alone, or only when it fits our interests. This time of challenge has given us an opportunity to be brothers in deed.
Ari Harow is an international political and business consultant, and former Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister of Israel.
A version of this article was originally published by The Jerusalem Post.