The Jewish Home has forgotten what it means to be Jewish

The merger between the Jewish Home party and Otzma LeYisrael (“Strength for Israel” – a far-right political party) marks the end of an era. Since the founding of the State of Israel, the prominent Religious-Zionist parties have played a central role – yet they have now joined forces with the dangerous fringes on the extreme right.

As a result Religious-Zionism has split into two streams: one—Religious-Zionist and the other nationalistic ultra-Orthodox. The difference between the two streams is apparent in everyday life, as expressed in fundamentally different world-views and now – in the political arena. The political split is the final act in the division of the Religious-Zionist community into two: the nationalist ultra-Orthodox camp, represented by the Jewish Home (formed in 2008 through a merger of several religious-Zionist parties), and the more moderate Religious-Zionist, represented by religiously observant people belonging to parties that do not necessarily identify as such.

Admittedly, there were always both moderate and more extreme political viewpoints among members of religious-Zionist parties, but nevertheless most of the Religious-Zionist sector felt at home in the mainstream Religious-Zionist party (since 2008 Jewish Home).

Since the early 2000s, the Religious-Zionist community has gradually been splitting into two main ideological camps. The majority camp continues to be religiously moderate, whereas the minority group (Hardalim) has adopted a Nationalist Ultra-Orthodox outlook which rejects modernity, Western culture and its humanistic values. This is not merely an ideological split; it is also expressed in concrete ways, such as in separate youth movements, educational systems, religious institutions of higher learning and more.

This second camp was politically represented by the National-Union, whose leaders took every opportunity to publicly declare that they view their role as emissaries of the Rabbis and are beholden to their authority. They believe that politics is a means of making the Jewish State even more Jewish in character, turning it into a theocracy governed by Jewish law (halakha).

The Mafdal, and its successor the Jewish Home, continued to represent the centrist camp of Religious-Zionism, and was the political home of those who were educated in Religious-Zionist institutions and considered themselves to be fully religiously-observant, while also being part of the secular-Western-modern wider world and feeling at home with its values.

This has all changed in the past few weeks. Now, the final connection between Religious-Zionism and the Jewish Home party has been severed. Even before the party merged with the extremists of Otzma Leyisrael, the Jewish Home had essentially become the Hardal Home. The man selected to head the Jewish Home is the personification of the Hardal stream. The merger with Smotrich and other members of the National Union left the centrist stream feeling unwelcome and strangers in this home.

The merger between the Jewish Home and the Followers of the late Meir Kahana espoused representatives of Otzma Yehudit, a party that promotes a racial and violent ideology and that was declared a terrorist organization, signifies the end of the Jewish Home as the political party of Religious-Zionism. In the current elections, the Jewish Home is a pact of extremists who deny, sometimes overtly and at other times covertly, the character of the State of Israel as a democratic country and wish to turn it into a Jewish-Religious racist state. These people don’t have much in common with the traditional Religious-Zionist perspective, which aspired to bring together different worlds and be a bridge connecting people, rather than a party that blows up bridges. According to many religiously-observant people, these members of the Jewish Home are undermining fundamental Jewish values of acceptance of the ‘other’, regardless of whether or not they are Jewish. Even if they still call themselves the Jewish Home, those who choose this path have forgotten what it means to be Jewish.

About the Author
Dr. Shuki Friedman is director of the Center for Religion, Nation and State at the Israel Democracy Institute and a lecturer in law at the Peres Academic Center.
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