Working at a large interfaith not-for-profit in the US a little over 20 years ago, I coordinated a conference for clergy on the topic of Israel. We invited a priest, two ministers (an evangelical and a progressive), a Reform rabbi and an Orthodox rabbi as speakers. Each was to present their relationship to Israel as per theology and custom.
At the suggestion of friends in Bnei Akiva, I invited a prominent rabbi to present the “modern” Orthodox perspective. Prior to his acceptance of the offer, I discussed with him at length the proposed topic. He agreed to present the Rabbi Kook-based theology of Orthodox Zionism, the belief in the inalienable right of the Jewish people to the entire Land of Israel as given to them by God, the mitzva of settling therein, the belief in the establishment of the State of Israel as heralding the Messiah (athalát haGeulá), and the growing support for a Medinát Halachá (a state governed by Jewish Law).
The conference, attended by hundreds of clergy, was held in a high-ceilinged Gothic hall on the manicured grounds of the Princeton Theological Seminary in central New Jersey. The atmosphere was cordial, the interest in understanding each other genuine, and a sit-down lunch provided a chance for one-on-one discussion and networking. One after the other, each speaker presented his faith’s view of Israel.
Then the Orthodox rabbi ascended the podium. I eagerly awaited a clarification of Orthodox Zionist theology. Instead, he began talking about Jewish prayer, the centrality of Israel in Jewish customs, Zionist ideology, the Holocaust – basically repeating everything the Reform rabbi had said. Throughout his rambling presentation, he uttered not a word about Rabbi Kook, salvation, the Messiah, State of Halacha, or God-given rights to the Land of Israel.
I approached him afterwards and inquired as to why he didn’t speak about what we had agreed upon. He looked at me, glanced at the clergy around us, and replied with utter disdain, “What do you think? I’m going to say those things to all these goyim?” He had agreed to speak on a subject that he actually had no intention of speaking about; he’d come all the way from New York to make sure those goyim would never find out what he and his compatriots actually believe.
Today, we, the Israeli public, are those goyim. The pattern of obscuring a true agenda has become endemic to right-wing politics, and the public, too tired to get past the euphemisms or the dimples, doesn’t expend energy on checking party platforms or voting records. Naftali Bennet, impishly shrugging his shoulders, playing up his combat experience for all it’s worth, and winking to secular yuppies, follows closely in the footsteps of the aforementioned rabbi.
Behind all his high tech-ness, Bennet conceals adherence to an ideology that is parochial, often theocratic, and based on belief in a Messianic revival. Although marketing the Bayit Hayehudi, as “a Jewish home”, Conservative and Reform Jews can wait out on the porch, because Bennet’s Orthodoxy shows neither respect nor recognition of denominations other than his own.
As opposed to other parties, which propose large-scale solutions for the welfare and benefit of all, the Bayit Hayehudi is glaringly parochial, its platform reiterating in numerous iterations the need to strengthen and expand specifically and often solely, Orthodoxy. Whereas the old-time MaFDál prided itself on a social welfare program, the Bayit Hayehudi has one of the sorriest socioeconomic records in the Knesset, again and again having voted against measures aimed at helping the less fortunate, the working poor, assisting soldiers, or government transparency.
Proudly toeing a Bibi-style, neo-liberal line of privatization, HH spews anti-union venom, but then failing in vote after vote to support the rights of individual workers or small independent business owners. Its platform and voting record clearly favor massive investment in the settlements over developing the Negev and the Galilee.
Although constantly trying to play up the Bayit Hayehudi’s defense profile, (which is dwarfed by the brass in the Labor Party), calling upon the ultra-Orthodox to enlist is nowhere on its agenda. It’s platform states: “We view the study of Torah as fundamental and a vital interest of the State of Israel. We are also aware of the fact that tens of thousands of young (ultra-Orthodox) men are not studying Torah while benefiting from an army exemption.”
Reciting a litany of worn excuses, the HaBayit HaYehudi opposes the draft of Haredim. As far as they’re concerned, it’s only the ne’er-do-well shababs who should contribute to the defense of the state – the secular, the Orthodox, and the Druse will just continue to carry the burden. Bennet reassures the ultra-Orthodox that their exemption from IDF service will not be touched, as the study of the Torah is crucial to the defense of the State.
Colluding with Bennet in the web of deception is the mighty Likud, which even with a huge coalition, squirmed out of every opportunity to overturn or even enforce our draft laws, and will continue to do so. Likud Beiteinu has even gone so far as to not even bothering to publish their platform, their campaign pitch being “We need a strong Netanyahu”, although it is not clear why: The last four years have represented ineptitude and inaction on every front; lowering cell phone rates has been its prize boast.
We’re traumatized, and it’s no wonder: rockets, bombs, terror; screechy, disproportionate, and often unjustified international condemnation. Rather than lead, Netanyahu plays into our trauma, advising us to hunker down and close our eyes to reality, while assuring us that he and only he can protect us from the evil, outside world. Accountable to no one, the utterly ineffective Likud-Beiteinu has replaced policy with politicking, and has made remaining in power an end unto itself.
Bennet, unlike our muddled government, actually makes a proposal for dealing with the conflict and borders, a polished, packaged journey into a land of delusion. When holding on to every single Jewish settlement with the unswerving belief that “we can do whatever we want because God is behind us,” underpins policy, no serious plan for the handling of the conflict can be put forward. So Bennet put forward a delusional one: We’ll just do what we want; the Palestinians will say thank you, and the world will “get used to it.”
Meanwhile, Likud Beiteinu, controlled by the messianic Feiglin Tea Party, falls dutifully into line with Bennet’s extreme Messianic vision. Netanyahu’s nearly-forgotten Bar-Ilan speech that was a nod to the international community having long since been scuttled, the tycoon-friendly band of Netanyahu, Lieberman, Erdan, Shamir, Elkin, and their ilk demand the whole of the Land of Israel – betting on the disappearance of the Palestinians or the coming of the Messiah – or both.
No plan, no transparency, no vision other than a Messianic one. Bluster and cockiness. Slick marketing with Ayelet Shaked’s perky smile tells one story; reality tells a quite different one.
[edited by Miriam Erez]