Israel Elections: State's character is at risk from extremists, haredim - opinion

On November 1, the nation will once again head to the ballot box. Five election campaigns in three-and-a-half years have created confusion and chaos.

 RELIGIOUS ZIONIST Party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich (right) and MK Simcha Rothman present the party’s Law and Justice program at a news conference, last week.  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
RELIGIOUS ZIONIST Party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich (right) and MK Simcha Rothman present the party’s Law and Justice program at a news conference, last week.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

At the start of September, a delegation of American senators landed in Israel. During one of the delegation’s meetings with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Senator Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed resentment over the possible integration of Itamar Ben-Gvir and his Otzma Yehudit party in any future government, should Netanyahu win Israel’s November 1 election.

According to sources present at the meeting, Menendez warned that if extremist right-wing elements, such as MK Ben-Gvir, become part of the next Israeli government, this would have a detrimental impact on American-Israeli ties.

Naturally, Menendez sees the danger from his perspective but the warning he sounded is much broader: If Ben-Gvir is included in government, 74 years after the establishment of Israel, its future as a democratic, liberal state will be cast in doubt.

Netanyahu expressed annoyance to Menendez over his comment but this was quickly forgotten when the opposition leader encountered Ben-Gvir during a Sukkot event at the Chabad Village in central Israel. In order to avoid being photographed on the same stage, Netanyahu refused to go up until Ben-Gvir had descended from the stage.

While a photo op was missed, the scenario of a Netanyahu-Ben-Gvir government is realistic.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Yad Vashem's Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, April 7, 2021.  (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Yad Vashem's Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, April 7, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

What won’t Netanyahu do to flee the wheels of justice? He’s prepared to do anything and everything.

The law and justice plan presented by Ben-Gvir’s running partner in the joint Religious Zionist list, Bezalel Smotrich, has been tailored to Netanyahu’s size and needs. They call it reform and say it is needed to return public faith in the legal system, when in fact, the purpose is to destroy the legal system and remove its independence.

Ben-Gvir has also presented his own security call to action, which Netanyahu knows is hot air and would not restore public security but, on the contrary, would set the country on fire. For Netanyahu, everything is fair game. The laws of the game are clear: he either is on top or, as his wife once said, the country burns.

“The State of Israel belongs to two nations: to the ultra-Orthodox and to all the others.”

UTJ chairman Rabbi Yitzhak Goldknopf

Rabbi Yitzhak Goldknopf, the new chairman of the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) ultra-Orthodox bloc, is another senior partner of Netanyahu. Goldknopf has produced several notable quotes, such as “the State of Israel belongs to two nations: to the ultra-Orthodox and to all the others,” and, “I haven’t seen that mathematics or English advanced the Israeli economy.”

“I haven’t seen that mathematics or English advanced the Israeli economy.”

UTJ chairman Rabbi Yitzhak Goldknopf

He also claimed that he was sure that studying Torah intensively is more difficult than being a soldier serving on the frontlines – a statement made during a week in which two IDF soldiers, Sgt. Noa Lazar and Staff. Sgt. Ido Baruch, were killed by terrorists while defending the country.

Goldknopf is Netanyahu’s natural partner and the former and perhaps future prime minister has already promised him that he would match the budgets of ultra-Orthodox educational institutions that do not teach core curriculum subjects to those allocated to schools in the state system.

HOWEVER, IT’S not only Netanyahu that is chasing after Goldknopf, Benny Gantz, chairman of the National Unity Party, and Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party are also courting UTJ.

This comes at a time when, according to Bank of Israel figures, if the ultra-Orthodox public continues to leave core studies out of its curriculum and does not integrate more deeply into the job market, Israel will eventually experience economic collapse.

The public that serves the state, works and pays taxes will not be able to deal with the tax burden. Taxes will rise by 16% if this nightmare scenario materializes. Instead of core curriculum subjects, Israel will receive ignorance and poverty. One can forget about a free country and economy.

Netanyahu, who is fond of quoting the doctrine of Likud’s ideological forefather Ze’ev Jabotinsky, which includes the tenets of economic liberalism, has long forgotten the way.

Recently, The Washington Post published an article praising the Israeli economy. It said, among other things, that Israel is an economic powerhouse with the highest growth rate among developed economies and one of the lowest rates of unemployment and inflation but judging by his campaign promises, Netanyahu, it seems, has no use for a free economy. Deficits, unemployment and inflation are terms that will apparently vanish from the world.

Instead, Israel would receive a freeze on mortgage repayments and somehow this will be used to fund a Free Education Act for ages zero to three. One does not need to be an economics maven to understand that these ideas are dangerous for the future of Israel.

After surrendering to lobbyists for the past 12 years, strengthening the committees and councils that raised the cost of living, and distributing funds to ultra-Orthodox parties, Netanyahu will march ahead in the same fashion.” After all, making promises doesn’t cost Netanyahu any money. Mr. Economy will reverse the achievements of Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, the only minister to stand up and say he would not be part of a government that did not insist that all state-funded educational institutions teach core studies.

On November 1, the nation will once again head to the ballot box. Five election campaigns in three-and-a-half years have created confusion and chaos. To know which vote to cast, we must return to basics and recall the values with which we established Israel.

The writer is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute. She is a former Yisrael Beytenu MK who was elected to the 24th Knesset. She has served as a deputy local council head and has worked as a journalist and as a senior lecturer in academic institutions for 24 years.