Derech Eretz: A ‘Kennedian’ Moment in Israeli Politics

The author and MK Yoaz Hendel, Communications Minister, on Election Day #3.

A few weeks ago, after a 508 day hiatus and three elections, the Israeli government finally found its footing. This unexpected turn of events had the political map completely rewritten, the rules of the game changed, and most of the center-left, center-right and Haredi parties united in fighting the coronavirus and healing the wounds of Israeli society. Our national narrative is comprised of many sub-stories. I would like to share “A Profile in Courage” in Israeli politics, as JFK named his famous political book – a story of political and moral bravery that brought about the lesser of all evils, and hopefully even a good and stable government.

Three months ago, I had the privilege of accompanying MK Yoaz Hendel, now Minister of Communications, around the country on election day part three, meeting with the hopeful and the worn out, the supporters and the opposers. Yoaz spoke openly and patiently with people of all backgrounds, and when the tones got bumpy at times, his composure remained. Yet what was most apparent was his promise about forming a government with partners that accept Israel as a Jewish and Democratic country. I witnessed person after person challenge him on that issue and he assured them that he would remain loyal to that overarching principle.

The concept of nuclear energy is based on the notion that the most powerful force comes from the smallest and most concentrated source. With our country in an endless spiral of social and political disarray, on the verge of economic and health crises, this act of nuclear integrity became the glue that would hold the country together. Hendel, along with fellow MK Zvi Hauser, held steadfast to their words. The courage of merely two MKs to hold onto their integrity, when all others were willing to trade theirs, brought about not only a government, but a broad and stable one. A government of unity, a government to address the health and economic disasters, a government to secure Israel against its enemies, and a government to apply the law of the land to Judea and Samaria. Instead of fourth elections or narrow governments on either side of the aisle, Israel received a mandate to move forward. Everyone had to lose, some politicians more than other. Yet we all ended up winning. The State of Israel and its citizens won.

Daniel Gordis called his book on Menachem Begin “The Battle for Israel’s Soul”. There is another battle for Israel’s soul being waged, and the integrity posed by Hendel and Hauser were the first shots fired. Their faction is named “Derech Eretz”, and although many of its policies lean to the right, its main policy – integrity, has no political affiliation. It is open to both left and right, if the Jewish and Democratic facets of Israel are adhered to and human life and integrity are respected. Just as Derech Eretz precedes Torah, this burst of integrity precedes policy and political interests. Israel’s body needs to function healthily, through a government that tends to defense, health and the economy. But the restoration of its soul and integrity are tantamount to its thrival.

The naive statements of “no more left or right” or “a different politics” are unrealistic and unhelpful. The DNA of politics will remain. Yet it takes a moment of integrity every now and then, a “Kennedian” moment, to restore the belief of the people in the system and its leaders. These moments matter, and they reverberate throughout society, through the halls of the Knesset to the way people on the street treat each other. When the late John McCain voted to keep Obamacare alive, it did not end partisan politics, but it reminded everyone that doing the right thing and acting with integrity is possible.

The insistence of Hendel and Hauser to vote by their promise and push for unity has turned the page for society. They are not without critics and their political vision of a right wing party with integrity is not appealing to everyone. Their nuclear integrity, however, pushed Israel forward, forced the hands of Bibi and Benny Gantz, and was a major blow for those who wish to damage Israel’s character and soul. As the routine politicking picks up again and the daily crux of governance returns, we can only hope that when Israel is once again in need of political bravery and integrity, we will look back to this Kennedian moment for inspiration.

In an effort to capture this moment, I am extending an invitation to all who resonate with the voice of integrity in Israeli politics to get involved. We have founded a Derech Eretz branch in Jerusalem, launching on June 25th and there is room for everyone. More importantly, whether this is your voice or not, the past year in Israel and the tensions unfolding in America present an unavoidable call to take action and share the mantle of responsibility, for both Israel and our brothers and sisters abroad.

About the Author
Eli Friedman recently finished his IDF service and is now pursuing Rabbinical and Academic studies in the Jerusalem area. Between studying for tests and running up the hilly streets of Jerusalem, he enjoys writing about the Halakhic and political issues facing the Jewish people today (and about philosophical and contemporary topics in general, too).
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