Rabbis urge NRP, National Union merger

Five religious Zionist rabbis visited representatives from the National Religious Party and the National Union in the Knesset on Sunday to encourage unity, but offered little practical advice on how to achieve it. "It was a very pleasant meeting, but we are still in the same deadlock," NRP chairman Zevulun Orlev said. The NRP and the National Union have been trying for two weeks to form a united list that would run in the upcoming election. However, the two sides have failed to reach an agreement. Rabbis Shlomo Aviner, Zalman Melamed, Haim Druckman, Ben-Zion Kupfeld and Eitan Eiseman also met with National Union chairman MK Benny Elon and his colleague, MK Yitzhak Levy. Eiseman said the rabbis did not get involved in the details of the negotiations. "We stayed clear of politics," he said. "It is not our job to tell them what to do. Our goal was to convey a message of support for unity. The people need it." Unlike haredi parties Shas, Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael, the NRP and the National Union are not governed by spiritual leaders. This is part of a deeply held belief among many religious Zionists that rabbis' influence on politics should be limited. No attempt was made by the rabbis to overcome differences or resolve conflicts, Eiseman said, adding that they did not meet at the same time with the NRP's Orlev and the National Union's Elon and Levy. Eiseman said the differences between the sides were "personal, not ideological." "The political opinions of the two sides are basically the same," he said. "They are arguing about who will be the leader and how many candidates from each party will be placed in realistic slots." The stubborn, heartfelt bickering of the two sides contrasts with the irrelevance of a united religious Zionist party in what is currently the most likely future political coalition. The latest polls predict that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Kadima party and Labor, both openly advocating territorial compromise blatantly inconsistent with both the National Union's and NRP's platforms, will form the next coalition. "We've already internalized the need to unite our ranks," Orlev said, acknowledging that a joint list would likely contribute to the two parties' electoral strength. "So the rabbis were telling us something we already know." A few weeks ago, 12 rabbis, representing the gamut of political opinions - from Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein on the Left to Rabbi Dov Lior on the Right - signed a letter calling for unity.