"NRP asks Rabbi Motti Elon to lead Knesset list" must be one of the most hackneyed headlines in Israeli political journalism. I can't remember an election over the last decade when it didn't appear. Elon's announcement Thursday that he has declined the offer was only to be expected, but the fact that the headline was taken seriously from the beginning is a sign of how desperate the National Religious Party's situation really is. In the polls, the party is barely teetering above the electoral threshold that spells political extinction.
Party leader Zevulun Orlev now has the unenviable task of deciding whether the NRP will remain faithful to its historical origins and brave the electoral waters alone, or join the National Union as a junior partner. Orlev planned to pull a political gimmick out of his hat, in the knowledge that Elon's star status would give him a significant boost in the negotiations with the National Union.
Elon is one of the most influential educators nowadays, not only in the religious community, but in Israeli society as a whole. Anyone who is familiar with his record should have realized that there was no chance that he would ever agree to enter politics, a step that could only diminish his influence and popularity. One of his family members said that he "seriously considered the proposal," but that was probably just a more diplomatic method than turning them away outright.
The irony in Orlev's proposal is that for the last few years he has been fighting a brave battle of independence against rabbis Avraham Shapira and Mordechai Eliahu, who believed that the NRP should follow their orders. Orlev insisted that the rabbis' role is as spiritual counselors and took a huge amount of flak over that stand. Now, worried for his political survival, he's willing to have a rabbi at the head of the list. Perhaps he thought that if other parties brought celebrities like Shelly Yacimovich and Uriel Reichman on board, also NRP needs its own star. And who better than Israel's No. 1 TV rabbi?
Knesset rabbis have a rather checkered history: Everyone still remembers the antics of buffoonish Yosef Ba-Gad during the 1992-6 Knesset term. Over the decades, the NRP had a number of them, but as parliamentary standards steadily declined and rabbis became more isolated within religious communities, the connection became more incongruous. In 1999, Rabbi Haim Druckman was put on the NRP list, for much the same reasons as Elon is being sought out now, to boost the flagging vote, and for the next three years he seemed to be wandering clueless around the Knesset.
The NRP would do well to learn from the haredi parties. They see Knesset membership as an onerous duty and they wouldn't dream of lowering their rabbis into such a cesspit. All the United Torah Judaism and Shas MKs are professional politicians.
Ironically, one of the principal partners in the NRPNational Union-Rabbi Elon merger was supposed to be elder brother National Union MK Benny Elon.
Elon senior realized the inappropriateness of a rabbi in the Knesset, so despite being a former yeshiva head, upon being elected in 1996 he announced that he was no longer a rabbi.