Michael Melchior 88.
(photo credit: )
Meimad head Michael Melchior insists his party can capitalize on the intellectual and spiritual fallout after disengagement.
Melchior, who is also deputy minister for Israeli society and the world Jewish community, said that part of the religious Zionist public was confused and disenchanted under their present right-wing leadership.
"Some religious Zionists are fed up with the one-dimensional message of Greater Israel at the exclusion of everything else," said Melchior last week just hours before his political party's first major election campaign meeting entitled, "What is the role of religious Zionism after disengagement?" About 230 attended.
Melchior said that "others are disenchanted with rabbis who promised that disengagement would not happen or those who assured their followers that disengagement could be stopped with insubordination. We've received a lot of calls recently from people interested in joining."
The venue of the meeting was the Jerusalem Gates Hotel, which houses a number of families evacuated from Gaza. At one point during the meeting a group of evacuated families forcibly interrupted the meeting to voice their opposition to Meimad's pro-disengagement stance.
"The choice of the hotel was entirely coincidental," said Jonathan Shiff, secretary of Meimad's executive body. "But I decided to give them a chance to address the participants in an attempt to encourage dialogue.
"Even though Meimad was in favor of disengagement, we strongly believe a solution should be found for those evacuated," he said.
Shiff agreed with Melchior that Meimad could gain members in the wake of disengagement. "The messianism and radicalism of many religious Zionist leaders has caused quite a few people to look for alternatives. Meimad offers this option. We are committed to values such as Judaism and Zionism and are also politically moderate."
MK Zevulun Orlev, chairman of the National Religious Party, said that according to polls conducted by his party, Meimad is a fringe party that would draw no more than a few thousands votes.
"Ninety-five percent of religious Zionists are right-wing," said Orlev, who recently declared the NRP would prefer joining a Labor-led government to a Likud-led one.
Orlev said his voiced preference for Labor was not an attempt to steer the NRP to the left.
"The NRP did not change its ideological position. But for practical reasons joining a Labor government will make it easier for us to push our agenda on issues such as education and social affairs. We have a common language with Labor on these issues.
"Even Greater Israel will be easier to protect in a Labor-led government. Historically, the Likud is the only political party that has uprooted Jewish settlements."
Orlev said that while Yitzhak Rabin's Labor-led government was responsible for the Oslo Accords, which put Palestinians in control of large expanses of Israeli controlled land, Labor never uprooted settlements.
Orlev said that under the Likud government the state of religious education and religious services has deteriorated horribly. "The Likud has destroyed everything holy to us," he added.
Melchior said Meimad has not decided yet whether it will run with Labor as it did in the previous elections or on a separate ticket.
Meimad was established in 1988 as a left-wing religious Zionist alternative to the NRP. But until it joined Ehud Barak's One Israel party in 1999, Meimad failed to receive the minimum number of votes needed to receive seats in the Knesset.
In the upcoming elections, with the minimum votes needed to enter the Knesset raised to three Knesset seats from two, Meimad would have to muster an unprecedented number of votes to successfully run alone.
To run with Labor, Meimad would have to convince Labor that Meimad offers an added value, not necessarily electorally but as an ideological balance to Labor's decidedly secular platform.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.