Francis Nataf

Between Bennett and Marzel, a call for integrity

Rafi Peretz is a man of integrity and the true role model for the community that I do not see in Naftali Bennett or Baruch Marzel
New head of the Jewish Home party Rabbi Rafi Peretz arrives to the party's preliminary elections in Ramat Gan on February 4, 2019. (Flash90)
New head of the Jewish Home party Rabbi Rafi Peretz arrives to the party's preliminary elections in Ramat Gan on February 4, 2019. (Flash90)

Though I live much of my life in the Religious Zionist camp and consistently vote for the Jewish Home party in local elections, I have yet to vote for it once in a national election.

For many years, it was a question of being too far to my right on the territories and the peace process. This was partly due to my tutelage under Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, z”l, who was well-known for his dovish views, and who had accordingly aligned himself with the Meimad splinter party for a number of years. Yet much more so than for me, he saw the Jewish Home (and its predecessor, the NRP) as a true and compelling home. And one doesn’t leave home for long. So it did not take much time for him to return to that home, even in spite of his reservations.

In 2013, however, Rav Lichtenstein went one step further. Citing the moribund state of the peace process, he told his followers that the time had come for all of us to come back home as well. He said what many on the center and left had also been saying at the time, that there was no one to talk to on the other side. With this no longer a relevant issue, he recommended that we come back to the party that was most likely to advocate a vision of Judaism that would gently guide and most positively impact on the State of Israel.

But R. Lichtenstein also taught us to think independently. And I personally could not get myself to vote for a party led by Naftali Bennett. I felt that he was an outsider who had come to remake the party in his own image. In other words, to dilute the very values that made the party attractive to me to begin with, and to turn it into a generic party of the right instead. (And in view of his next political move with his New Right party, I think I called that one pretty well.)

Bennett’s decision to jump ship, however, now permits me to heed the words of my teacher. As opposed to Bennett, the Jewish Home’s new leader, Rafi Peretz, is a man of integrity and a true role model for the community – a Torah scholar, a soldier and someone who leads by example. That does not mean I agree with him on everything. What it does mean is that he is someone with whom I share a rooted commitment to Torah and to the State of Israel. And while the fabric is stretched thinner when we include the National Union slate that will almost certainly run together with Jewish Home, we are still talking about people who share the most important parts of my worldview (moreover, if the peace process had unfortunately become a non-issue in 2013, it is only all the more so in 2019).

But the fabric can only be stretched so thin. For if the Jewish Home and the National Union should come to include Baruch Marzel’s Otzmah Yehudit as a third partner, it will have to do so without me. Otzmah is a party that identifies itself with the views of Meir Kahane. While I have publicly written about Kahane’s positive side (and taken the expected flak for it), his views on how to deal with the Arabs were simply untenable. There is room for mainstream religious Jews to discuss why, but it is not — as Otzmah’s supporters would have it — because we are prepared to “sell out” our commitments.

Assuming the leadership of the Jewish Home and National Union agrees (and if they don’t, we are really in trouble), the only reason they would cooperate with Otzmah would be for political advantage. To me, that would be the true sell out. In that regard, NU leader Bezalel Smotrich’s quip about Netanyahu’s suggestion that they join nevertheless – that perhaps Likud should consider a partnership with Otzmah instead – is right on the money.

I understand that I speak for a relatively small group and that Otzmah represents a far larger number of votes. But that is precisely the point. I am hoping for more from the new leadership. I am hoping for the integrity that befits a religious party worthy of the name.

About the Author
Rabbi Francis Nataf is a Jerusalem-based educator and thinker. He is the author of the Redeeming Relevance series on the Torah and of many articles.
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