Israel Elections: Options for the moderate, right-wing religious voter - opinion

The merger between Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel does not offer a solution for moderate, right-wing religious voters.

 INTERIOR MINISTER Ayelet Shaked and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel wave to supporters at a gathering in Ramat Gan, last Wednesday, as they announce they will run together as a new party in the upcoming Knesset election (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
INTERIOR MINISTER Ayelet Shaked and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel wave to supporters at a gathering in Ramat Gan, last Wednesday, as they announce they will run together as a new party in the upcoming Knesset election
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

In the course of the last week, I spoke to several friends and acquaintances who I would categorize as relatively liberal national religious, who currently find themselves without a party for which to vote.

These are Orthodox Jews who do not identify with the ultra-Orthodox parties. They are right-wing but identify with neither Bezalel Smotrich’s nor Itamar Ben-Gvir’s extreme policies and/or conduct. 

They feel uncomfortable with what is going on in the Likud these days, from Benjamin Netanyahu’s opportunistic politics and refusal to take responsibility for the consequences of any of his problematic past actions and activities; to individual MKs who advocate total war against Israel’s current legal establishment and enforcement agencies, rather than responsible measures to mend what requires mending in them; to the apparent indifference within the party in face of persons with criminal records, or facing criminal charges, standing for elections to the Likud list to the 25th Knesset; and even to the foul and libelous language used by a large group Likud MKs in the course of the 24th Knesset against all members and supporters of the Government of Change, and direct threats against the religious members of Yamina.

Everyone I spoke to voted for alternate prime minister Naftali Bennett in the last elections and believe he betrayed them, even though they all admitted that because Religious Zionists objected in principle to sitting in the Government with Ra’am, even if Bennett had joined Netanyahu, the latter would not have had the 61 seats he needed to form a government.

One of the people with whom I spoke was honest enough to concede that the Government of Change had actually done some positive things, but everyone found the dependence on Ra’am to have been unforgivable, though not all were against an Arab party joining the coalition, as long as the government was not dependent on it (apropos what MK David Amsalem said recently and got told off by Netanyahu for it).

 Head of the National Union party MK Betzalel Smotrich and attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir attend Otzma Yehudit party's election campaign event in Bat Yam on April 06, 2019.  (credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90) Head of the National Union party MK Betzalel Smotrich and attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir attend Otzma Yehudit party's election campaign event in Bat Yam on April 06, 2019. (credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)

The agreement between Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked from Yamina and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel from Derech Eretz to run in the approaching election in a single list, the Zionist Spirit, does not offer a solution for my moderate, right-wing religious friends and acquaintances, since at least for the time being there isn’t a single religious candidate on the list, though one might be added in the third slot by the time the lists are presented to the Central Elections Committee.

The Moshe Sa'ada factor

I asked another religious acquaintance of mine whether he feels that he has no one to vote for and he replied that he never supported Bennett, so that he hadn’t lost an option. I am not sure whether this person is a Religious Zionist or a Likud supporter but following my question he shot back at me: “Aren’t you worried about what Moshe Sa’ada revealed in his interview with Amir Segal?” (Channel 12, July 25 and 26). He concluded that “people in the State Attorney’s Office will end up going to jail,” without adding “if what Sa’ada says is true.”

I answered: “Of course what Sa’ada said is very serious, and his accusations will have to be investigated. But the fact that Moshe Sa’ada, the former deputy head of the Department for the Investigation of Police in the Ministry of Justice, who was not chosen to head the department when the job fell vacant in 2018, was not considered to be a candidate for the post of State Attorney in 2020, when Shai Nitzan retired, and was fired from the Department for the Investigation of Policemen in January 2022, due to insubordination to the new head of the Department, Keren Bar Menahem, as well as the fact that he has not denied that he is considering running in the elections to the 25th Knesset (apparently on the list of Jewish Zionism), are a warning light that one ought not to take his claims at face value.

SA’ADA ACCUSED former police commissioner Ronnie Alsheikh, former state attorney Shai Nitzan and former attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit of serious misconduct in a long list of cases, such as the killing of Yacoub Abu al-Qia’an in Umm al-Hiran in 2017, the investigation of Nir Hefetz in 2018, the Ritman Affair (concerning sexual harassment) in 2018 and the death of hilltop youth Ahuvia Sandak in 2021, which – according to Sa’ada – was not properly investigated. Among the reasons Sa’ada mentioned for all this were the desire of the State Attorney’s Office not to disrupt the investigations and trial against Netanyahu, and in the case of Nitzan that “the truth is not a guiding principle for him” and “his ambition to be selected to the Supreme Court.”

Needless to say, Sa’ada presented in his harangue a long list of accusations, but not a shred of concrete evidence to back them up. Nitzan said about him in a TV interview on Channel 11 on Friday that Sa’ada is “a liar, and a vindictive person, who is acting on the basis of personal interests”. Nevertheless, I believe this story deserves serious investigation, in case there is even a slightest shred of truth in the accusations and counter accusations.

The decisive acceptance by my acquaintance of everything that Sa’ada had said in his interview with Segal as unquestioned fact is characteristic also in the case of numerous Likudniks, who related to the Sa’ada interview in the course of last week, as well as the line adopted by TV Channel 14. These are the very same people who have questioned the truth of the evidence given both to the police and in court in Netanyahu’s trial in case 1000, by Hadas Klein – Arnon Milchan’s personal aide in Israel in the past – who was responsible for passing on large quantities of expensive gifts to the Netanyahu family from Milchan and billionaire James Packer, even though Klain’s evidence was accompanied by invoices and receipts.

I heard former justice minister and public security minister MK Amir Ohana from the Likud in two interviews: one to Yaakov Bardugo from Channel 14 and the other to Ayala Hasson from Channel 13, in which he spoke of Sa’ada’s accusations as part of what “we shall put right when we return to power” – all this before Sa’ada’s accusations have been investigated or verified.

But to return to the voting options of moderate, right-wing religious voters, it will be interesting to see whether their dilemma will be resolved by September 15 – the last date for presenting lists to the Central Elections Committee.

The writer, born in Haifa in 1943, worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher, and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her book Israel’s Knesset Members: A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job was published by Routledge last Friday.