A new version for what Israel needs

Unity does not mean that everyone has identical political ideologies, or no more Right or Left.

DERECH ERETZ Party MKs Yoaz Hendel (left) and Zvi Hauser confer in the Knesset Plenary Hall in April 2019.  (photo credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90)
DERECH ERETZ Party MKs Yoaz Hendel (left) and Zvi Hauser confer in the Knesset Plenary Hall in April 2019.
(photo credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90)
Israel is at a crossroads. The combination of the coronavirus pandemic, its accompanying economic damage, and a protracted political crisis require new leadership rooted in the ideals of the State of Israel’s founding fathers. The Derech Eretz Party, led by Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, embodies this model.
Jewish history is steeped in external threats, spanning from the ancient Greeks to modern-day Iran. Although many nations have sought our destruction, our biggest threat has frequently come from within. As the Talmud states, the Second Temple was destroyed because of internal, baseless hatred. This danger has been recognized by leaders of the modern State of Israel.
Jews are famous for disagreeing. Everyone knows that two Jews add up to three opinions. Yet there is a thin line between the rich tradition of debate embedded in Jewish sources and the culture of division that has recently swept Israel’s streets. After three undecided elections fueled by hateful rhetoric, Israel finds itself at a junction that worrisome to anyone familiar with Jewish history.
It is at the nexus of a battle with the coronavirus and a prolonged leadership crisis, highlighted by an indicted prime minister and thousands protesting against him. Right vs. Left, prayers vs. protesters, ultra-Orthodox vs. secular; a nation famous for coming together when externally threatened finds itself divided within.
Unity does not mean that everyone has identical political ideologies, or no more Right or Left. It means a consensus about common goals and the necessity of putting the good of the country over sectoral interests. There are many potential components in facilitating unity: education, reallocation of resources, or even an external threat. Yet there is no substitute for bold leadership that leads by example.
The notion that the business of unity is not politically profitable is unacceptable. Traumatized by civil division, a pandemic-stricken Israel is hungrier than ever for innovative leadership. Such leadership must emphasize Israeli society’s commonalities and understand that the erosion of our institutions will ultimately be our downfall.
Part of the poisonous discourse in Israel has revolved around the approach toward state institutions such as the police and the justice system. Until now, those defending these institutions have identified with the political Left or center, but they should not have a monopoly on this approach.
The past decade’s election results indicate that Israel has become pragmatically right-wing for security and economic reasons. Yet Israel needs a paradigm shift: mamlakhti right-wing leaders. Derech Eretz, the new party headed Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel and Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Zvi Hauser, is exactly that.
The term mamlakhtiut, colloquially translated as “statesmanship,” is unique to the Hebrew language and Israeli political culture, and does not have a satisfactory English translation. In the state’s early days, the different ideologies that comprised Israel threatened national unity.
To represent the necessity of respecting state institutions and prioritizing the country’s interests ahead of those of specific groups, Ben-Gurion coined the term mamlakhtiut.
AS IN THOSE formative years, Israel is once again facing the danger of a divided society. The majority of Israelis desire unity. The last three elections proved that. Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser were the only ones who consistently pushed for unity. A right-wing party that stands for mamlakhtiut and unity is vital to the nation’s security and prosperity, and is politically viable.
The ideas of mamlakhtiut and unity are not foreign to Israel’s political Right. Menachem Begin was a firm believer in the integrity of democratic institutions and an independent judiciary’s vitality. Begin famously declared, “There are judges in Jerusalem.” He insisted that governments under his leadership respect judicial rulings, even when they contradicted his opinions.
Since entering the government, Hendel and Hauser have been consistent in their defense of the judicial system and the police.
“Even if I disagree with them, these are our institutions,” Hendel frequently declares. Additionally, he has been outspoken in defending the right to a free press and denouncing attacks on journalists.
National unity has historically been a core value of the State of Israel. Looking back on tensions between the Hagana and the Irgun, Begin stated that preventing a civil war was his greatest accomplishment. In March, with the looming threat of coronavirus, Hendel and Hauser were adamant that national unity was absolutely necessary. Another election would devastate Israel’s economy, and the increasing severity of internal rifts exacerbated by hard-hitting political campaigns threatened the nation’s resilience.
They believe that unity is crucial in combating coronavirus and its challenges. Their leadership brought the unity government into fruition. The insistence on this path has persisted, despite the coalition’s internal troubles. In August, Blue and White and Likud failed to pass a 2021 budget, threatening to topple the government. Hauser shepherded through a bill granting the government an extension, giving Israel’s economy a lifeline, saving the coalition, and keeping Israel from falling to another election
Derech Eretz calls for safeguarding equal individual liberties and works to provide equal opportunities to minorities and the periphery. As communications minister, Hendel has been instrumental in implementing cutting-edge telecommunications infrastructures across the country, such as fiber optics and 5G. Intent on giving all citizens equal access to these important services, he has been working with local leaders in the periphery, with a special emphasis on Arab towns such as Kfar Kassem and Tel Sheva.
This will enable historically disadvantaged citizens to integrate into the hi-tech scene of the Start-Up Nation.
More than anything, Israel needs courageous leadership rooted in the values of mamlakhtiut and national cohesion. As a pragmatic, right-wing alternative which embodies this, the Hendel-Hauser tandem has the potential to go far. If Israelis follow their hearts, expect to see Derech Eretz make big waves and lead Israel in the right direction.
Elliot Friedman is a law student in Amirim Interdisciplinary Honors Program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Moshe Kwiat is an MA student at IDC Herzliya in the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy.