Bayit Yehudi and Tekuma: United on paper, not in spirit

The two parties may sit together in the Knesset, but their ideologies are not exactly aligned.

Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel
The members of the Tekuma Party’s central committee voted overnight to run together with Bayit Yehudi in the March 17 election in what has been proclaimed a declaration of unity in Israel’s religious-Zionist camp.
But the truth is the very fact that three different bodies in Tekuma, a party many did not know existed, had to debate whether to remain united shows how divided religious-Zionists really are.
Tekuma leader Uri Ariel spoke to the central committee in favor of running together with former Shas chairman Eli Yishai instead, and then the committee voted after 2 a.m. against his wishes.
Tekuma’s leading rabbis will leave the party and support Yishai’s or the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) party that is being formed by former MK Michael Ben-Ari, which may end up running together with Yishai.
Ahead of the vote, pundits tweeted how foolish it would be for Ariel and Tekuma to give up safe slots and a likely cabinet seat in Bayit Yehudi to run with a party that may not pass the electoral threshold.
Those pundits do not understand that unlike the split in Shas between leaders Arye Deri and Yishai that was not avoided, the potential break-up of Bayit Yehudi was actually also ideological and not just personal.
Tekuma rabbis accuse Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett of being no less than a fifth column in religious-Zionism.
They believe he is using religious- Zionism as a stepping stone to the Prime Minister’s Office and that on the way he will abandon the ideals of Orthodox Judaism on key issues and perhaps even move to the Center on the Palestinian front.
When describing Bennett in closed conversations, they use words like traitor and enemy of Judaism. They will never forgive him for bringing secular MKs into Bayit Yehudi, for his bond with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, for his support for drafting yeshiva students and for the compromises he made in the outgoing Knesset on matters of religion and state.
They mock the video Bennett released that showed him making fun of leftists apologizing all the time. They state that ironically Bennett’s first press release when the election campaign began was an apology to his voters for his deal with Lapid.
Many of the Tekuma central committee members who voted in favor of staying in Bayit Yehudi are just as angry at Bennett for the reasons above as those who voted to leave. Their vote was not ideological, but tactical.
There is a pamphlet about the Torah portion of the week that is distributed in religious-Zionist synagogues in Israel on Shabbat called Olam Katan (“Small World”).
While most Torah portion pamphlets hide their political messages inside their articles about Torah, Olam Katan blatantly publishes an “election supplement” that synagogue goers read during services when they pretend to be learning about the political intrigue at the end of the Book of Genesis.
This weekend, Olam Katan published an article headlined “Warning: Mandates to the garbage.” The article said that in 1992, three parties on the Right that did not cross the electoral threshold received enough votes for two-and-a-half mandates.
In that election, the Left won 61 seats, and the Right 59. Labor’s Yitzhak Rabin replaced Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir, and the Oslo diplomatic process began.
In last year’s election, it almost happened again. The Right won 61 seats and the Left 59 after two right-wing parties that failed to cross the threshold received more than 112,00 votes, which at the time was nearly enough for four mandates.
Now the electoral threshold is higher, and it will take at least 120,000 votes for a party to make the next Knesset.
Religious-Zionist voters who are still recovering from the trauma of 1992, Tekuma central committee members among them, do not want to repeat past mistakes.
So Bayit Yehudi and Tekuma will run together on paper and will sit in the Knesset as a united faction. But in spirit, divided they will remain.