Gedalyah Reback

Why I Didn’t Vote Jewish Home

I am a registered member of Jewish Home, but I did not vote for them on election day.

I like Naftali Bennett. I see in his politics a mix of Religious Zionist priorities and forethought that prioritizes education and development for all Israelis. Regardless of that combination, I felt Jewish Home had dropped the ball on anything that did not have to do with Judea & Samaria. With that in mind, I felt compelled to vote for a party that was campaigning on something more than opposition to the Two State Solution. But most importantly, we celebrated Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister on day 1 of the Jewish Home campaign and forgot that we were polling 18 seats ourselves. We conceded the election on the first day and became a tool for the Likud.

All eyes on him: Naftali Bennett at a foreign policy debate co-organized by The Israel Project and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, January 08, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
A big vision needs a broader campaign, not one focused on making another party’s leader the Prime Minister (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

I did not want to vote for someone else. Bennett has brought the Religious Zionist party from the fringes to the mainstream, but a mix of bad managerial decisions, inability to lead the party and a one-issue campaign made me think he could not compete on issues that were important to me.

Israel needs better checks & balances between the Supreme Court on the one hand and the Knesset on the other. The country needs to develop its economic relationships to the east as political pressure from the US and Europe start to resemble extortion. The country’s policies on religion & state cannot reflect narrow-minded Haredi priorities that more often subverts the Halachah more than it protects it.

But I barely heard a whimper of these issues during the campaign. It was all about blocking a Palestinian state. It was all about preserving the sovereignty of Israel in Judea & Samaria. It was all about preserving and expanding Jewish settlements there. Those positions are priorities, but they are not everything, especially when it is inevitable that Mahmoud Abbas would spoil any attempt at a negotiated Two State Solution anyway.

I am still a member of Jewish Home because it is the only party that comes close to prioritizing the Temple Mount, Jerusalem and importantly for me a fair religious conversion process. But Jerusalem as a priority has fallen below construction of settlements in Judea or preserving outposts in Samaria. The right to prayer – if not more – on the Temple Mount should be at the front of the agenda and not on the backburner. We in Jewish Home have been fearful of delineating which of these issues is more important than the others. We have lumped them together when they are absolutely not equal. They are not a single issue.

The Two State Solution will not happen under Mahmoud Abbas’ watch, yet we have seemed to forgotten that our cynicism of his seriousness can be used to Israel’s advantage. I say let the party play the game. Support a negotiating process. But have a say on it. Force the Palestinian Authority to admit they have no interest in peace. Put the Temple Mount back on the table. Show the world that while we simply want access to and utilization of Judaism’s holiest site, it is the Palestinian leadership that is too arrogant and stubborn to allow that. They will kill the Two State Solution on their own. There is no need for us to do it ourselves while backing the true priorities of the Jewish people in the corner.

This is my personal position, but the fact we have not used this option or something close to it demonstrates the party cannot break out of a specific mode of thinking. There is no strategy right now. There are simply a collection of ‘No’s.’

We have forgotten how much we have in common with the political center and mischaracterized our priorities as completely right-wing. We have taken the side of the Haredi factions for no reason other than the illusion they might work with us to compromise on a common Orthodox approach to social issues pressing Jewish Israeli society: the debate on conversion, ease of marriage and non-suffering in divorce.

We have picked the wrong horse. We deferred our views on Haredi service in the IDF to UTJ and Shas. We de-prioritized the Religious Affairs Ministry and gave Netanyahu room to surrender it. We pushed for a single issue during the campaign and let Netanyahu steal it for the 24 hours he needed to trick voters. We made our party a one-issue party and left ourselves vulnerable to Netanyahu’s deceptions on the last day of the campaign.

Endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu at the beginning of the campaign was a disastrous, absurd idea. It told the world that Jewish Home has no aspirations for the Prime Minister’s seat. It told the country that Naftali Bennett is not qualified for the seat, otherwise he would be in it to win it. Jewish Home ran for 2nd place, and that wasn’t something that motivated me. We made the campaign about Netanyahu, when it should have been about Bennett.

Of course if we lost the election we would join with Likud. That went without saying. Yet, we wasted breath on it. We shifted the spotlight to Netanyahu, a fundamental mistake in marketing and public relations. We subsidized our politics to another party and watched as bad decisions (not communicating with the party about Eli Ohana beforehand) and bad luck (formation of Yachad) took gut shots at the party’s positioning. On the last day, Netanyahu shut the door on the party’s relevance, making people jump ship for a broader-based Likud while Yachad siphoned off votes with the ridiculous argument the party was not hawkish enough on Judea & Samaria.

Perhaps it was other factions of the list that alienated me, not Bennett. but I did not see any vision for the future in this campaign, and it pushed me away. I still see this as a party that can lead Israel if it gets its act together, but with having pushed a weak argument for its own leadership, I was left unconvinced on election day and I am still unconvinced now. The party needs to compete on everything. It cannot see itself as having narrow interests if it envisions itself with the Prime Minister’s chair one day.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.
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