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While Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was briefing the senior MKs of Kadima on the coalition agreement that had just been signed with Labor, another group of the party's MKs were busy at Kadima headquarters in Petah Tikva, laying foundations for what they hope is the future of the party's grassroots, specifically among the religious community.
Kadima's four religious MKs, David Tal, Otniel Schneller, Zeev Elkin and Menahem Ben-Sasson, have the unenviable task of bridging what is mainly a right-wing community, rooted in the settlements across the Green Line, to the party that was born in the aftermath of Ariel Sharon's disengagement process and has at the top of its agenda for the coming Knesset term a much larger evacuation of settlements in the West Bank.
They are also trying to change the image of what is seen as a mainly secular party to one that encompasses a wider range of Israeli society. The immensity of the task is evident from the difficulty of the speakers at the meeting, that included about 30 religious public activists, in presenting their party's platform in terms palatable to a religious audience.
One of them, Yaniv, who opened his address with a moving description of the last day in his old home, Elei Sinai in the northern Gaza Strip that was evacuated eight months ago, said, "We should talk with the public in their language. We mustn't say we're giving up parts of the Land of Israel, because the land was given to us by God and we're not giving any of it up. We should say we're drawing the borders of the State of Israel within the Land of Israel."
What united the participants at the meeting was a deep feeling of disconnection from the prevalent views in their community and especially from the current political position of the National Religious Party, which ran in the election in a joint list with the National Union. Veteran NRP member Yitzhak Meir spoke with pain of a community that gave up its aspirations to be an integral part of Israeli society and to "influence the decision-making and the country's future." " Don't use the words 'religious Zionism,'" Meir exhorted his colleagues. "We are religious Zionists but there is only one Zionism. It is our job in Kadima to take care that the interests of the government and the state will include Jewish culture and identity and a commitment to the past."
The meeting was opened by Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, who gave a short lesson on the religious meaning of next week's Independence Day. Bin-Nun met with Olmert before the election and announced his support of Kadima "in the hope that Olmert will lead a process of discussion within the country, that before the next pullback there will be proper alternatives for the settlers and that everything will be done out of a commitment to our rights in Eretz Yisrael."
The religious members of Kadima aren't expected to be appointed to senior posts in the new government and they are now trying to ensure their standing within the party by organizing a serious group of activists and signing up as many new party members as possible from their communities. "We want to be well represented within the party," said Ben-Sasson, "not only for political reasons but because we think that it's important for the religious community to be part of Kadima." He acknowledged the delegitimation that the "Orange bloc" has succeeded on conferring on the party among much of the religious community, but feels that now that the election is over more people are willing to listen. "Even the NRP MKs have started calling us because they want us to take care of their interests within the religious education system," he said.
"Our plan is not only to be a bridge to the religious community," said Schneller, "but to act as the glue that will stick together the whole society." He listed three fields in which the religious segment of Kadima hopes to be active: the diplomatic process, education and the Jewish identity of the state. "We want to promote Jewish legislation, not religious legislation," emphasized Schneller, who hopes that the new government will soon find a way to allow civil unions for couples who can't get married through the rabbinate, that will also be acceptable to the rabbinical establishment. On the settlement front, Schneller, who lives in Ma'aleh Michmash and served in the past on the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, believes that a better relationship between the government and the settlers will in itself help to minimize the number of settlements slated for evacuation. "It all depends on who deals with it," he said.
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