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From policies to values: Rebuilding religious Zionism

I believe the entire Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people and also support democracy and equality for all citizens
Kippah, illustrative
Kippah, illustrative

Forty-six parties are running in the 2019 Israel election.

Approximately 10% of the Jewish population of Israel can be classed as Religious Zionist.

The one ‘Religious Zionist’ party just merged with the Kahanists.

To quote (part of) Mark Twain, “Truth is stranger than fiction”.

And so I, a moderate Religious Zionist, am left without any party that represents my values, despite the fact that Religious Zionism is a large movement, full of idealistic people for whom contributing meaningfully to the future of the country is part of our DNA.

I’ll leave it to others to lament the merger between Bayit Yehudi and Otzma Yehudit and write about its causes or consequences. Instead, let me share with you what’s been happening in the UK over the last week.

Amidst the ongoing Brexit crisis and the inability of the Labour Party to take antisemitism seriously, 11 Labour and Conservative MPs left their parties to form ‘The Independent Group’. This is an unprecedented moment in British politics, as Labour and Conservative have very different ideological agendas on almost every issue.

So when two of the Independent Group MPs – one formerly Labour and one formerly Conservative – were interviewed on the BBC, they were asked the obvious question: Aside from being anti-Brexit and championing efforts to uproot antisemitism, what are your policies? Do you believe in nationalisation or privatisation? Do you believe that recession necessitates austerity or a greater investment in public expenditure? Low tax or high tax?

The response was simple: “In terms of what binds us together, the platform we’ve come together on at the moment is our values”. Yes, they said, we do come from different political traditions, but we’re going to try and come up with policies based on evidence, not merely based on ideological preconceptions. The new brand of politics, they called it.

Call me naïve, but the optimist in me says that they have the potential to indeed chart a new path for politics. And the key point is this: there is a difference between values and policies. Values are something that everyone can and should hold – however policies are made by those in power. The costs and benefits of a given policy can often only be understood by those who have researched the context in which they are to be implemented.

Election manifestos are full of policy promises, but what if they were full of value promises? What if politicians did not promise to implement specific policies, but rather would promise to consider their values and the available evidence when making policy decisions?

Now let’s return to Religious Zionism. Over the last few decades, the issue of the Land of Israel has been the most critical issue for Religious Zionist politics. The National Religious Party of old, which aimed to influence Israel on many issues, turned into the Bayit Yehudi, a right-wing party that happens to be made up of Religious Zionists. And now that party has sacrificed its mainstream by merging with the modern day Kahanist followers of Otzma Yehudit in order to pass the electoral threshold.

Whilst it is true that the Bayit Yehudi has long been deserted by a significant number of Religious Zionists, I believe that it’s time for mainstream, moderate Religious Zionists to come together, and rally round a platform of values. Values that define what we aspire towards, and what we are looking for in leaders. And although I don’t plan on setting up a new political party, and Israel does not need more single-issue parties, we do need value platforms. So that when current or potential leaders look for what voters want, they can start their research here, rather than following the polls.

So here’s my platform for what a Religious Zionist party should stand for in 2019:

  1. The prime duty of government is to stand for Jewish morals, preserve the unity of the Jewish people and to do whatever it takes to safeguard the State of Israel.
  2. Every citizen in Israel is equal under the law, whether Jew, Arab, man or woman. The barriers of inequality, caused through discrimination, poverty or location, should be removed so that everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their ambitions.
  3. Every school should have Jewish values at the heart of its curriculum, and all schools must teach basic Jewish concepts and knowledge. Religious coercion is wrong, and communities should be trusted to put in place the principles of Jewish ethics and morals.
  4. The belief that the Land of Israel in its entirety belongs to the Jewish people is immutable, however policies must be pragmatic, taking into account sensitivities on both sides of the conflict. Whilst a permanent solution to the Palestinian question in the near future is unrealistic, investment should be made in educating the next generation of Palestinians away from hate and towards coexistence, and there should be a greater focus on improving the quality of life for both Jews and Palestinians.
  5. The democratic system and institutions, along with the judiciary and media, should all be cherished and not undermined.
  6. Every citizen of the State of Israel, including Charedim and Arabs, will undergo national service, whether through the IDF or other means.
  7. The relationship between Israel and the Diaspora is of prime importance, and efforts should be made to deepen the working relationship with all Jewish communities around the world.
  8. Economic policy should rest on Jewish traditions of social democracy, such as having a strong welfare net, as well as free market enterprise, leading to a balanced and fair economy.
  9. All efforts should be made to preserve and protect the nature and environment of the Land of Israel in order to improve the quality of life and pass on our land to the next generation.
  10. A balance must be found between employing Jewish law to preserve the Jewish nature of the state, such as in regard to kashrut, Jewish status etc, without forcing religion on people’s private lives.

This list is not exhaustive – but if it sparks your interest, let this be another step forward in rebuilding Religious Zionism as a value platform for the whole country, rather than a minority right-wing single-issue party. And who says that can’t be achieved – truth can be stranger than fiction.

About the Author
Michael Rainsbury is an Associate Director at Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi, a modern Orthodox Anglo yeshiva in Jerusalem. Originally from London, he made Aliyah in 2013. Michael has held many roles in Bnei Akiva, serving as Educational Director and National Director in the UK and running the movement's gap year programmes in Israel. A teacher by profession, Michael has a Masters in Jewish Education and also runs Poland trips for JRoots, a leading provider of Jewish educational heritage tours. All articles are written in a personal capacity.