Legendary comedian Jackie Mason says of the scramble that ensues as his audience leave on the conclusion of his act, that “Nobody wants to be the second one out of the building”.
So it seems the same can be said of the Centre-Left of Israeli politics, except instead of leaving the building, they are trying to enter one – the Knesset. We have seen key figures place their egos ahead of all else and choose to form their own parties, rather than unite as one – while other individuals simply bed hopped until they settled on the highest bidder. I had always thought democracy was meant to be ‘one person, one vote‘, not ‘one person, one party‘.
In contrast, the merger in the nationalist camp of Yisrael Beytenu and Likud onto one list, shows a real desire for unity and progress – not backstage coalition deals, but transparently and openly ahead of the election.
And so we, the Israeli electorate, are faced with a real historic opportunity. We have the chance, possibly for the first time in our history, to vote for ‘big party’ politics. Those of us from English speaking countries will be familiar with this concept, whereby larger, stable parties are able to govern, and smaller, single issue parties are able to lobby for their concerns. The result is that it is ideology, political beliefs and concern for the electorate that form the basis of policy rather than internal coalition pressures which only allow smaller parties to disproportionately hold the government to ransom with single minded demands.
The most obvious issue that comes to mind in Israel is that of the Ultra-Orthodox or Haredi parties and their near strangle hold over some of Israel’s past coalition governments. A vote in the wrong direction and these smaller parties were able to withdraw from the coalition and bring the government down with them. As such, issues like employment in the Haredi sector and that all important aspect of contribution through military or national service, were voted against by even the National Religious parties, out of concern for internal coalition politics.
Indeed, within the wider nationalist camp, I understand those who want, come January, to cast their vote for Habayit Hayehudi in particular. I, along with many others involved in the Yisrael Beytenu and Likud camps are ‘Da’ati Leumi’ or Religious Zionist. I send my children to National Religious schools and met my wife at Bnei Akiva, the flagship of National Religious institutions.
However, my vote, and indeed my efforts over the coming months will be in the name of the Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list. And here is why…
First, as a member of the ‘Da’ati Leumi’ camp, I know that my concerns are well represented by the Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list. Indeed, according to current polling, there will be more religious Members of Knesset on this list than the entire Habayit Hayehudi faction. Yet rather than being politicians who have chosen to lobby from the outside, they are leaders in the community who have succeed in carrying the flag for religious Israelis in the largest of parties – parties who are so often painted by the media as secular.
Just take a brief look at legislation promoted by Yisrael Beytenu during the last four years alone. Their approach is that Judaism and the Jewish establishment should be guiding, not controlling.
The “Tzohar Law” proposed by MK Faina Kirshenbaum and military conversion law proposed by MK David Rotem are both key examples of how Yisrael Beytenu is fighting for the return of national-religious rabbis to the national-religious establishment, and are impressive examples of party activity in this area. Indeed there were bizarrely votes against these measures by HaBayit HaYehudi in the last Knesset, in what is surely a stain on their reputation as representing the vision of the Modern Orthodox.
Indeed, from a National Religious perspective, Judaism is a key value of the State. As such, I am confident in Yisrael Beytenu’s intention to ensure Judaism remains the anchor of the State of Israel – as is made clear on their website.
Yisrael Beytenu opposes the separation of religion and state. Such a separation would cause great societal tension. In Judaism, religion and nationality are inexorably connected. Of course conflict arises when religion plays a role in the political process. But Yisrael Beytenu firmly believes that through compromise and sensitivity to others, we can find solutions. We see no conflict between Israel’s being a Jewish state and a democratic state.
There is another reason that I believe National Religious voters should be voting for the Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list, and that is my original point of big party politics. Again, while I have maximum respect for Naftali Bennett and many candidates on his list – I believe that my concerns are best served from within a major party, not from the sidelines, or worse still, unable to be enacted upon because of coalition deals and internal pressures. With one strong party as a significant majority within the government, more can be achieved and progress can be made on the key issues of education, religious communal cohesion, social equality and of course the political process with the Palestinians.