The Zehut Party – Something New Under the Sun
Is there anyone in Israel who believes that things are as they should be? That our political system, our economic system, our education system, our security, our infrastructure, really any element of Israeli society is just the way it should be?
We all know that there’s a lot wrong here. But there was a lot wrong here before we were born, or before we moved here, and most of us figure that’s just the nature of things. Nu, ma laasot? “What can you do?” people say, with a sad little shrug. It’s almost more of an Israeli anthem than Hatikva. And every time we go to the polls and vote, we vote to nudge things a little more in the direction we want. We may vote for small parties that focus on one or two issues we find important, or we may vote for one of the bigger parties and hope for the best. But we never really expect radical change.
And we can use some radical change.
The term “radical” makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It brings to mind wild-eyed fanatics. But the dictionary defines radical as “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.”
What if I were to tell you that things don’t have to be the way they are? That we, as Israeli citizens, have the ability to take our country back? To take our power back. Bear in mind that the founders of the State of Israel mostly hailed from countries that had no history of citizens’ rights. The idea that the government must serve the people, rather than rule them, was not part of their culture. Not that they wanted to rule us in a bad way. It was just the only way they understood. It’s the only way most people understood. But it’s going on seventy years since the State of Israel came into existence, and a lot of things have been learned about the nature of government. In the 1940s, the socialist ideal was very popular, because it was believed that the best way to achieve equality for the people was having it dictated from above. Over the intervening decades, however, we have seen that despite fears that a free economy will harm the poor, the standard of living increases – particularly for the lowest economic levels of society – to the extent that the government and the economy become more free.
What if I were to tell you that Haredi and national religious and traditional and secular Jews don’t have to fight with one another? That we can actually live together without compromising our principles and without struggling constantly to advance our way of life at the expense of that of others?
What if I were to tell you that housing prices in Israel are only as ridiculously high as they are because the vast majority of our land is being held back for no real reason by the government, and that all we need to do is take it back in order for land prices and housing prices to return to sane levels?
What if I were to tell you that the abysmal state of Israeli education doesn’t have to be that way? That paying more every year for education than we do for security (!) and still ending up with dismal academic results is not “just the way things are”? That a relatively simple change can vastly improve the education we give our children?
What if I were to tell you that we can pay less in taxes and receive better services than we do now, in almost every area of our lives?
And what if I were to tell you that finally putting an end to over a century of bloody strife between us and our neighbors can be achieved without concessions that will place every one of us in dire peril?
It almost sounds like too much, I know. After all, if so many elements of our state and our society are that easy to fix, surely at least some of them would have been fixed by now. But here’s the truth. If you think of Israel as a boat, we have been so busy bailing that we haven’t taken the time to actually fix the holes. And so many of the problems are tied to other problems that solving them at the same time may be the only way to solve any of them. But no one has ever tried put together a plan, based on a set of basic principles that all of us can live with, that will fix most or all of these problems all at once.
Enter the Zehut Party.
Some of you know, or know of, Moshe Feiglin. But a lot of you don’t. Feiglin led the civil disobedience against the Oslo Accords back in the early ’90s. He spent over a decade leading the Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) faction in the Likud, until Netanyahu’s dirty tricks made it clear that nothing could really be accomplished there. He’s a religious guy who has believed for at least the past two decades (as long as I’ve been familiar with him) in getting rid of religious legislation. He may seems to some to be a mass of contradictions, but when you look into the things that he says, you realize that it’s all coming from a place of consistency and integrity.
Moshe was the guiding force behind the creation of the Zehut Party, and serves as its chairman. But there were well over 400 other people who put their money where their mouths are and helped found the party, and there are over two thousand paying members now. During the amazing convention Zehut held at the end of February at Hanger 11 in Tel Aviv, some 2,000 people attended in person, but over 30 thousand people watched the event on Zehut’s Facebook page, and over two hundred thousand more watched it streamed on other websites. The event was in Hebrew, so many readers of The Times of Israel may not have been able to be part of the evening.
One of the things that took place at the convention was a voice vote, ratifying the party platform. This platform, well over 300 pages in Hebrew, with translations in other languages including English in the pipeline as I write this, addresses everything I mentioned above, and more. It is more than just a platform of a political party. It is a manifesto. A vision for the future. A blueprint for making things better here for all of us. A book of solutions that are beneficial and practical.
Of course, there aren’t a lot of people who are going to read a 300 page platform document. You have to be incredibly committed to political change to make that kind of investment in time. And while an abstract of the platform, running only some 40 pages, is also on its way, I thought I would try, in this and following posts, to present some of the ideas from the platform so that you can find out for yourself what Zehut is all about.
Although I’m a founding member of the party, I have no position in it. I’m writing this as just one person who wants to share what I think are some amazing solutions for Israel. When I’m done, I’m confident that you’ll agree.