Religious-Zionist parties look to unite

Grassroots effort led by Avraham Brun seeks to unite parties in order to advance issue of education.

melchior 224.88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
melchior 224.88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Could dovish Meimad MK Rabbi Michael Melchior run on the same list for the next Knesset as far-Right activist Baruch Marzel? Yes, according to a new grassroots effort to unify all the religious-Zionist parties led by Avraham Brun, who for 25 years served as general-director of Yeshivot Hesder Association. Brun has created a Hebrew Web site called Reshima Achat (One List) that has sought the endorsement of rabbis, politicians and the public at large for the idea. So far, Brun has posted endorsements from people on the Left, currently and formerly connected to Meimad, such as party founder Rabbi Yehuda Amital and former MK Rabbi Yehuda Gilad. He also has the support of Marzel and right-wing rabbis like Dov Lior of Hebron and Zalman Melamed of Beit El. Brun said the first stage of his effort was to attract as much public support as possible, and only then would he get into such thorny issues as who would head the list, how to select its candidates and what institutions the list would require. "The national religious public is responsible enough and it has endured enough pain to realize we have to go on together," Brun said. "We have hard work ahead of us to reach all the religious-Zionist families in the country and create public pressure for there to be one list. Then the public can decide how to go on further," he said. Efforts to unify religious Zionists will focus on an issue they all hold dear: education. Brun noted that in the last election, only 8 percent of Israelis voted for a religious Zionist party, even though 22% of them send their children to national religious schools. "We are in a period of national emergency on educational issues," Brun said. "We don't have a replacement for our youth and we are letting them get tarnished. All this can be changed with enough political force. For that we need as many votes as possible from one edge of the political map to the other." Brun also endorsed the effort of MK Arye Eldad (National Union) and others to advance Hatikva, a new secular party to the right of the Likud. He said that if Hatikva and one religious-Zionist list ran to the right of the Likud, opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu would be able to present the Likud as more of a centrist party. But politicians from the religious-Zionist parties that Brun wants to unite expressed skepticism of the move on Tuesday. "The other parties split off from the NRP and we would love to see them come back," a senior National Religious Party official said. "It's easy to get everyone to say they want people to unite, but the message is empty if they don't tell us how to do it. What will be the party's platform? What will it say about IDF soldiers refusing orders?" National Union MK Effi Eitam, who has formed a new party called Ahi, said that every initiative was welcome if it opened doors to new voters and let the public select the candidates list. MK Benny Elon, who heads the National Union and its Moledet Party, said he was happy that four parties ran together in the last election and he would welcome any effort to persuade more parties to run together in the next election. The National Union is made up of Moledet, Tkuma and the Renewed Religious National Zionist Party, and it ran together with the NRP in the last election. Marzel said he and the other leaders of his Jewish National Front Party endorsed Brun's effort. But he scoffed at the notion that he could run on the same list as Melchior, who he said was "not part of the religious Zionist camp or the religious camp at all." "Theoretically, we are in favor of favor of unity, but that doesn't mean we would be willing to give up our principles," Marzel said. "We are ready to talk about this if it would be serious, but we haven't gotten into details yet." Melchior, who was looking into the initiative Tuesday, chose not to give immediate comment. Brun downplayed the skepticism from the politicians. "No one believed that Meimad and Marzel could come together, but it has happened," Brun said. "Now it is time for everyone to come together."