Naftali Bennett 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Naftali Bennett’s misspoken comment regarding disobedience in the army has
buttressed the emerging media line on his political party: That the surge of
Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) in the polls reflects the rightward shift of the
I say the pundits have got the story all wrong. The rise
of Bayit Yehudi is not really about nationalist politics. The emergence of
Bennett is better described as a social-communal awakening, a reemergence of the
Religious Zionist public.
The main benefit of Bennett is not a clear
statement against Palestinian statehood – although such clarity is refreshing –
but the vehicle he has recreated for giving Religious Zionists a renewed and
unified voice in national affairs.
For the past 20 years, the Religious
Zionist (or Modern Orthodox) community in Israel, and its political
representative, the National Religious Party, has been crushed by Oslo-era
diplomatic policies and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) political gains. The Left-haredi
juggernaut brought about confusion, loss of spirit, division and despair within
the Modern Orthodox world. The grey group of functionaries and rabbis that led
religious-Zionist factions in Knesset was not up to the challenge. Religious-
Zionist voters gravitated unexcitedly to other parties, including the
AS A result, the drive, commitment, contribution and voice of this
very broad swath of Israeli society was lost.
Community pride was eroded.
Community institutions began to starve.
Schools and yeshivot associated
with Religious Zionism and Modern Orthodoxy, in particular, were hard hit, as
massive government funding was shifted to haredi institutions.
so-very-impressive youth of the community chafed at the downtrodden status and
poor self-image of the community.
Why should they – young men and women
who are devoted to military service and academic excellence, to traditional
values and modern culture, to both the spiritual and economic advancement of the
country – be considered the “friers” (suckers) of Israeli society? Why should
they – the “real Zionists” – be the “dfookim” (disenfranchised) of the Israeli
political game? Naftali Bennett stepped into this vacuum, and boldly led a
revolution within the community by forcing the National Religious Party’s first
ever open primaries. Fifty-five thousand people registered as members of the
rejuvenated “New NRP-Jewish Home” party, and they elected a very impressive
slate of young educators and former IDF officers to lead the party, with Bennett
at its head. The old guard was swept away.
Bennett has managed to strike
a chord across a wide spectrum of religious- Zionist voters, from the
semi-haredi ultra-nationalists and hard-core settler types to bourgeois middle
class liberal Orthodox businessmen and hi-tech workers in Petah Tikva and
Ra’anana to Sephardic traditionalists in Netivot and Beersheba.
main draw: A pose that is proud and unbowed, self-confident and assertive, both
modern and traditional.
A sense of belonging and self-worth. A new
opportunity to speak as one unified community, and reap the gains that
rightfully accrue to this community in government funding and
A gust of renewal and youthful enthusiasm swept has
across the community.
NEVERTHELESS, MANY analysts persist in describing
the Jewish Home party as “the young Israeli hard-liners’ party, the refuge for
those who mistrust both Palestinian professions of seeking peace and Netanyahu’s
commitment to settlement.”
(This is how the usually keen David Horovitz
described Bayit Yehudi in widely-read column last week).
This misses the
mark. The party is more a societal phenomena (an important one) than a
It’s not necessarily an ideological choice but an
identification with the tribe, which is now speaking with a younger a more
Bennett’s incautious remark making it sound like he
condones disobeying military orders (he doesn’t) is juicy stuff for Likud’s
campaign against Bayit Yehudi.
But the religious-Zionist public isn’t
going to be dissuaded from supporting Bennett. His voice is theirs, discovered
The writer is director of public affairs at the Begin-Sadat Center
for Strategic Studies.He blogs at www.davidmweinberg.com