Sunday, September 21, 2014

How Religious Zionists should view Naftali Bennet

Israel’s 2013 national elections seemed to empower Israel’s Religious Zionists. The Jewish Home Party won enough seats to become Israel’s leading Religious Zionist political Party. It won 12 seats in the Knesset.
The Jewish Home’s 12 seats also gave Naftali Bennet, its leader, a place in the nation’s ruling Coalition. He can honestly make the claim that he is now the political leader of Religious Zionism in Israel.
Some twenty-one months later, in September, 2014, polls suggest that Jewish Home could gain even more seats in a new election (if held today). Bennet’s star rises. He looks at the possibility of becoming Israel’s Prime Minister (“Bennett Ready to Abandon Values to be Prime Minister”, Arutz Sheva, September 12, 2014).
Conventional wisdom says he won’t be able to be our Prime Minister on a Religious Zionist platform; there simply aren’t enough Religious Zionists in Israel to push him into the Prime Minister’s office. Conventional wisdom says he must widen his appeal. He must attract those who are not religious and, possibly, not entirely committed to the call of Zionism (ibid).
Bennet seems to be listening to this conventional wisdom. He seems to want to attract seculars, Russian-speakers and Druze (ibid), some of whom are not religious Jews, some of whom may not be entirely Zionistic.
Some people worry about that. Some worry that if Bennet attempts to broaden his base in this manner, he could compromise his core values.  One reason for this concern is his apparent commitment to conventional wisdom (Arutz Sheva, ibid). He, too, seems to believe that he cannot become Israel’s leader with a Religious Zionist message.
Is that conventional wisdom correct? I don’t think so.
Israel is a special place. It doesn’t operate by Man’s conventional wisdom. Religious Zionists should be among the first to understand this.
A Religious Zionist could become Prime Minister without going outside the sector’s target market. There is more than one scenario to suggest such a possibility.
For example, look at what happened to PM Netanyahu’s approval ratings in the month of August, 2014. His approval ratings plummeted from 82 per cent to 32 per cent. That collapse didn’t occur because he had been weak in the recent 50-day war with Gaza. It didn’t happen because he had lost that war. It didn’t’ happen because too many Israelis had died in that war.
It happened because he hadn’t been aggressive enough. Can you imagine what would have happened to he had been weak or confused in war—or had been perceived to have lost that war?
Politicians would have jumped to precipitate new elections. They would have acted to collapse the coalition. Then, if Netanyahu couldn’t rebuild a coalition for himself, he’d be forced to call for new elections.
If Israel faces another war, such a scenario is possible, especially if Israelis believe that Netanyahu—or any other sitting PM—doesn’t defend Israel ‘properly’.
If anything, that was one of the main lessons of this most recent war. In war, Israelis want a strong pro-Israel leader, not a ‘compromiser’.
It’s a lesson Bennet doesn’t seem to have learned.
In war, Israelis turn Right. If the next war (and there will be a ‘next’ war) is truly serious, Israelis could not only turn Right, they could turn to look squarely at Religious Zionists in order to find a leader—because many believe that Religious Zionism produces the strongest defenders of Israel.
But Israel will do that only if there’s a strong Religious Zionist available. If the leading Religious Zionist candidate (Bennet) has compromised his core values for short-term gains, he will not get the call to lead Israel.
Bennet needs to prove he is a strong and dependable Religious Zionist.  Certainly, he cannot support Arab building in Jerusalem, which some suggest he has just done (“Jerusalem Passes Landmark Arab Building Project”, Arutz Sheva, September 18, 2014).
Religious Zionists need to present Bennet with a ‘Statement of Beliefs’. That Statement should lay out clearly what are the values of Religious Zionism.
The message to Bennet should be clear:  Religious Zionists will support any leader who is true to Religious Zionism’s basic values. Bennet should be expected to understand those values. He should be expected to talk every day about one or more of those values. He should be expected to vote according to those values—always.
If Bennet can follow that prescription, he should earn the support of the Religious Zionist movement. If he compromises those values, he should be abandoned.
This is the least Religious Zionists should do with every leader candidate. It is the only way Religious Zionists can protect their ‘brand’. Otherwise, false leaders will surely lead us astray—and then betray us.
The G-d of Israel has a Jewish Story He wants you to see.  Israel’s political arena is part of that story.
Stay tuned.

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