A groundbreaking alliance

The Bennet-Lapid axis could help bring different segments of Israeli society closer

Dynamic Duo (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER)
Dynamic Duo
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER)
The surprising alliance between Yair Lapid’s secular Yesh Atid party and Naftali Bennett’s mainly Orthodox Bayit Yehudi dominated the negotiations leading to the formation of the government. After using every trick in the book to dismantle the alliance or circumvent it by wooing Labor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to bite the bullet and accept Israel’s dynamic duo as his main coalition partners.
Realists might argue that the Lapid-Bennett alliance was no more than a marriage of political convenience. Fearing that Netanyahu would freeze them out, the two united, denying the prime minister a Knesset majority without them, as long as their alliance held firm and Labor party leader Shelly Yacimovich preferred to lead a fighting opposition. In the realist view, this mutual survival pact will probably prove unstable, given the obvious differences between the two parties over territorial issues with the Palestinians and religious issues on the domestic front.
However, one should also consider the idealist explanation behind the pact – a mutual desire to transcend traditional barriers and bring different segments of Israeli society closer. This was amply displayed in late February at the moving funeral of Tekoa’s Rabbi Menachem Froman – a leader who devoted his life to reconciling ideological differences. The main components of the coalition were well represented at the obsequies. Among the eulogizers were the new Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who grew up in the Labor movement and originally backed the Oslo process, but, mugged by reality, moved to Likud; and Dr. Ruth Calderon, of Yesh Atid, whose maiden Knesset speech cum Talmud lesson went viral on the web.
Bayit Yehudi Knesset Member Shuli Moalem-Refaeli also attended the funeral. Before her election to the Knesset, Moalem-Refaeli, whose first (secular) husband was killed in a helicopter crash en route to active service in Lebanon, headed the IDF widows’ organization.
The trio all shared Froman’s determination to break down old boundaries and create new syntheses between religious and secular.
If the Lapid-Bennett entente endures, it could significantly boost this positive trend.
This scares the ultra-Orthodox who prefer rigid boundaries and regard the renewed interest in Judaism among the secular as the second coming of Reform Judaism. Equally restless are the diehard political left who fear such fraternization with religious Zionism might reinforce legitimation for the settlement movement.
The ultra-Orthodox parties who have been, at least temporarily, relegated to the opposition, have vowed payback by colluding with the left against Jewish settlements. Such an unholy alliance has plausibility. Former President Ezer Weizmann once joked that even secularist firebrand Shulamit Aloni would be prepared to don a shtreimel – a furry Hassidic hat – to secure ultra-Orthodox support for uprooting Jewish communities. Some settler leaders take the threat seriously. Former Judea and Samaria Council Chair Danny Dayan criticized Bennett’s adventurism in “abandoning” the more natural ultra-Orthodox allies and banding with Lapid.
Bennett, however, reflects an approach that, while unquestioningly supportive of settlement and partial annexation of the West Bank, wants religious Zionists to lead on other burning issues as well.
Before leaving the post of Judea and Samaria Council director, Bennett aroused Dayan’s ire by visiting the Tel Aviv protest encampment in summer 2011. What did Bennett hope to gain, Dayan and other settler critics argued, by playing the useful idiot in a protest orchestrated by the political left against a nationalist government? Bennett, however, was convinced that the protesters were raising legitimate demands and one could not simply remain aloof. Similarly, religious Zionism cannot ignore the injustice of a blanket exemption from military service for the ultra-Orthodox – that also consigns them to economic dependency.
Religious Zionism will not attempt to use its political empowerment to settle scores with the ultra-Orthodox. That is not part of its DNA.
Bayit Yehudi, however, will use its control of the Religious Affairs Ministry to make religious services more user-friendly for the nonobservant public and seek to staff rabbinical positions from the chief rabbinate downwards with candidates who can empathize with the needs of secular Israelis.
That alone would constitute a handsome return on the Bennett- Lapid alliance.
Contributor Amiel Ungar is also a columnist for the Hebrew weekly Besheva.