Last week, Professor Alon Tal of the Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party wrote an article in the Times of Israel attacking both the Jewish Home party and more importantly, the hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens who have chosen to support the party in the coming election.
In an effort to explain away the Jewish Home’s popularity, Tal has resorted to a political ploy as ancient as it is repugnant. Secular supporters will vote for Naftali Bennett’s party, so goes his argument, because they’re ignorant fools, blind to the party’s true nature. If they were only aware of the terribly “religious” views held by certain party members they would certainly vote for Tzipi Livni. He then went on to list all the political “dirt” he could find on particular members of the party, in a desperate attempt to obscure blatantly obvious facts on the ground. This strategy is insulting and mean-headed, but it also shows how he totally misses the point as well as the real reason for the Jewish Home’s historic rise in the polls.
Here is what’s really going on:
In the recent primary for the Jewish Home leadership, Naftali Bennett ran a platform of openness, inclusiveness and representation for all sectors of Israeli society, as opposed to narrow lobbying for religious and settler interests. The religious-Zionist community awarded Naftali Bennett a landslide victory with 70 percent of the vote. In other words, the electorate gave its leadership a clear message that it wanted a more modern, open direction for the party. Naftali Bennett then took this message and merged his party with the National Union, combining all the differing parts of religious-Zionist politics into this new focused mission under his leadership. Aware of this drastic change, the Israeli public, both secular and religious, rushed to support this new direction. More striking than the new secular voters are the masses of religious voters who now support Jewish Home despite voting for Likud in several past elections. The moderate religious world is just as supportive of this new turn of events as everyone else is.
Alon Tal, of course, would prefer that all religious people thought exactly like him. He is shocked by the fact that yes, some Orthodox rabbis are not outspoken supporters of gay rights nor are they radical feminists, despite the fact that these are minority views largely taken out of context and definitely not the party line.
Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan was calling to combine the Knesset committee for the status of women with the committee for the status of children, and give them expanded authority, a logical and rational idea. In addition, he is known by all as a fierce defender of woman’s rights and has saved countless women from the terrible injustice of being refused a Get by their ex-husbands, by annulling their status as Agunot. Motti Yogev is openly for mixed-gender events in Bnei Akiva, he has simply allowed those neighborhoods that prefer separation to do so. Considering the fact that nearly all religious-Zionist high schools are separate institutions for boys and for girls this is hardly a surprising phenomenon.
Tal also completely ignores the moderate credentials that are much more apparent in Naftali Bennett’s list. He tries weakly to discredit Ayelet Shaked, a secular woman from Tel Aviv, and makes no mention of the fact that nobody batted an eyelash when she became his number five. He doesn’t notice the fact that both Bennett and his number fourteen Jeremy Gimpel are the products of the largely liberal, Modern Orthodox movement of American Jewry and have major influences on the party’s ideology. Most crucially, he fails to note the fact that Jewish Home is much more liberal than any other religious party in Israel and as a senior coalition partner, would pave the way toward moderating government-run religious institutions, something that the extremist Shas or UTJ would never do.
I’m very sure members of Tzipi Livni’s party prefer not having to deal with religious people at all. Back in the real world, Israel has been suffering under the stranglehold of ultra-orthodox parties who hold complete political power over religious affairs in Israel. The Chief Rabbinate, as well as decisions about conversion, marriage, and prayer at the Western Wall, are all determined by Israel’s most extreme and dogmatic religious sectors. These parties do not allow any women in their ranks and categorically oppose military service for Haredim. Fifteen seats for Jewish Home equals the first possible breath of fresh air from Haredi hegemony, yet Alon Tal is against this. In actuality, a vote for any other party will definitely help the Haredim stay in power.
Of course, there are still debates to be had within the religious community, but the direction that the Jewish Home represents is clearly a positive and refreshing one.
If you feel the need to surrender Israeli land to a hostile Palestinian entity, then by no means should you vote for the Jewish Home. If you are comfortably enjoying the fruits of the corrupt unions and powerful monopolies, then Naftali Bennett is not the man to vote for. However, to claim that a vote for the Jewish Home is anything but a vote for religious modernity in Israel is both ridiculous and absurd.
To be honest, though, crazier things have been claimed by The Tzipi Livni Party – so maybe my surprise is overly generous.