The sharp rise in the polls of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party is one of the surprising developments in the present election campaign.  How is it that this religious party has doubled its numbers relative to present Knesset representation? The answer: It appears that almost half the new possible voters are non-religious, secular Israelis who buy into the image of this new, politician, with a Raanana, high-tech sophistication who drinks beers in pubs and offers a universalist anti-establishment message. “This is a tolerant party for all Jews,” he claims. Unfortunately, it’s a message that is based on disinformation.

For those of us who are not Orthodox Jews, it is well to look beyond the appealing visage that Bennett presents to the other Jewish Home candidates and to the his prominent supporters. Seeing who they are, hearing what they say and reading what they write gives the most accurate portrait of this new party and why supporting it is so dangerous for Israel’s future. When prior to the campaign the Jewish Home party merged with the National Unity party,Israel’s most right-wing faction in the Knesset, little was made of the implications. But the biographies of the Knesset list are reason for concern:

Uri Ariel, number two on the party list, has openly opposed drafting homosexuals into the military.

Number four on the list, Rabbi Elli Dahan has called for the cancellation of the Knesset committee for the status of women.

As head of the B’nei Akiva youth movement, number nine on the list, Moti Yogev, notoriously pushed an agenda of gender separation and marginalizing females in what was traditionally a liberal Orthodox movement.  Most B’nei Akiva chapters today won’t let girls sing in public performances, and the organization has increasingly taken discriminatory stands about Arabs and chauvinist stands about women.

Orit Staruk, number 10 on the list from the radical Jewish community in Hebron, is famous for her racist statements and her son’s one-and-a-half year prison sentence for violently abusing a Palestinian boy.

Beyond the candidates, it’s instructive to look at the public figures supporting the party. These include rabbis who are among the most extremist religious figures in the country. They have called on the Jewish residents of Safed not to rent apartments to Arabs. Many call on Orthodox soldiers to refuse orders to evacuate illegal settlements. Indeed, the same rabbis who sat as advisers to the National Union party last week sent lawless youths to the illegal Oz Zion outpost and encouraged their violent resistance to IDF soldiers. With the tacit blessing of these rabbis, the youths injured five border policemen and this was just one in a long line of instances involving violent resistance and harassing the IDF.

It is baffling that secular men and women would want to strengthen these kinds of extremists and support this kind of racist political agenda. But the Jewish Home campaign is being very careful to hide the people it is trying to send to the Knesset behind one secular woman: the attractive right-wing activist Ayelet Shaked. Although she appears in tank tops in their advertisements, surely the rabbis that run her party would not even shake Shaked’s hand.

It is time to call the Jewish Home to task – at the very least on issues of Jewish pluralism. If they claim to be a home for all Jews, perhaps they would agree to the following 5-point plan that is now promoted by Tzipi Livni’s Hanua party:

  • Official recognition and funding of all streams in Judaism to enable Jewish life to thrive in the State of Israel
  • Reform of the present discriminatory practices at the Western Wall to ensure that non-Orthodox religious observance be allowed and encouraged and that women can pray equally according to their conscience at Judaism’s holiest suite
  • While encouraging traditional Jewish weddings among Jewish citizens, recognition of alternative marriage frameworks that allow couples to pick a ceremony that is meaningful to them
  • Creation of an official government agency overseeing “Kosher” certification with strict price controls.  Prohibition of the control of rabbinical organizations would be prohibited
  • Empowerment of local communities to determine their rabbis and religious services based on the sociological and cultural orientation of residents.

These are just some of the main points in the platform prepared by myself and Elazar Stern, an Orthodox IDF major-general, and the number four candidate on Hatnua’s list. It shows that there is an alternative party where all Jews can feel comfortable and welcome, that there is a party where Zionism and tolerance are spoken; where democracy and Judaism need not be mutually exclusive.

If the Jewish Home were to embrace the above positions, I’d be the first to retract this blog and apologize for misrepresentation. Until then, let those who are even thinking about voting for them consider just what kind of Jewish home they really want to live in: one that only has room for Orthodox, right-wing intolerance, or one which embraces the entire Jewish people and the hope of a sustainable future in our homeland.

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