The emerging landslide victory for the camp headed by Israeli opposition leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is causing more than the average stir. Though there’s nothing unusual about a losing side feeling disappointed by an unwanted result at the ballot box, the outcome of Tuesday’s Knesset elections – the fifth round in three-and-a-half years – is generating a level of disgruntlement not seen in the country since 1977.
That was the year when Menachem Begin, founder of the Likud Party now chaired by Netanyahu, became premier. The upheaval ended three decades of Labor Party dominance.
Panic on the Left was palpable and shrill, with detractors calling him a terrorist, likening him to Mussolini and bemoaning Israel’s inevitable downfall at his hands. Not only was the frenzy unwarranted but in retrospect, it was laughable.
Today’s equally undue apoplexy surrounds two phenomena: Netanyahu’s smashing comeback, which his foes had been doing everything to quash, and the meteoric rise to mega-popularity of Otzma Yehudit MK Itamar Ben-Gvir.
At Netanyahu’s behest prior to the election, Ben-Gvir and Religious Zionist MK Bezalel Smotrich merged their factions so as to prevent the possibility of split and wasted ballots. The move turned out to be a brilliant one, as together they garnered a large number of seats.
The haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism also increased their mandates. The upshot is a strong majority for the Right with Netanyahu at the helm. In other words, for the first time in its history, Israel will have an exclusively nationalist and religious governing coalition.
The situation is not only of concern to left-wingers. Even some conservatives are uneasy.
NOR IS the carry-on merely local. Astonishingly, Ben-Gvir has become a household name well beyond Israel’s borders and like Begin before him, he’s being attacked as a dangerous fascist.
This isn’t an attempt to compare him to one of Israel’s most prominent prime ministers, mind you. In the first place, it’s Netanyahu who’s about to take the reins, not Ben-Gvir. The latter isn’t even number one on the Religious Zionist list.
Secondly, he’s neither in Begin’s league nor pretends to be. But what he lacks in gravitas, he makes up for with a record of provocations and public disturbances.
He also has a past that includes support for Rabbi Meir Kahane’s outlawed Kach Party and admiration for Baruch Goldstein, the American-Israeli doctor who killed 29 Arab worshipers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994.
Despite his renunciation of the above, he isn’t given the least bit of a break or benefit of the doubt. While Arab MK Mansour Abbas, head of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Ra’am Party, is championed for finally acknowledging that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state, Ben-Gvir’s moderation is pooh-poohed as a ploy.
Furthermore, while Arab-Israeli parliamentarians in the Hadash-Ta’al and Balad parties have gotten away with hailing Palestinians who murder IDF soldiers as heroic martyrs, Ben-Gvir is accused of racism for calling them out on it and for demanding the death penalty for terrorists.
Itamar Ben-Gvir isn't actually a homophobe
BY FAR the most ironic of the double standards applied to Ben-Gvir is that relating to the LGBT community. Though not the only religiously observant politician labeled by the Left as a homophobe, his splash on the scene and electoral success, including in unexpected circles, has made him a favored target of the charge.
Smotrich, too, is in the crosshairs of the chattering classes for his ostensibly harmful and primitive attitude toward same-sex couples. His displeasure with gay-pride parades is sufficient to bring the wrath of the woke upon him, as is his desire to uphold the status quo of no public transportation on Shabbat.
Ditto for Ben-Gvir, who, like Smotrich, makes no bones about wanting to honor and highlight the Jewish nature of the state. The idea that this age-old debate of how this is accomplished suddenly poses a threat to Israeli pluralism is not only false, it’s ridiculous.
What those who yammer about the political clout of the ultra-Orthodox fail to recognize is that religion and secularism in Israel have been growing alongside one another at the same rate, with the proliferation of both synagogues and non-kosher restaurants. Such people also obfuscate the fact that intolerance is just as rampant, if not more, among those who claim to denounce it.
Indeed, members of the LGBT faction of the Likud receive more flak from leftist gays about their political proclivities than they do from right-wing/religious allies over their sexual ones. This brings us to MK Amir Ohana. A Netanyahu loyalist who served in previous coalitions as minister of justice and minister of public security, he is number six on the Likud Party list. This high spot means that he is bound to receive a cabinet position when the portfolios are distributed during coalition negotiations.
IN A Facebook post a couple of days before the election, Ohana – who lives with his partner, Alon Hadad, and their twin children – wrote, “Last Yom Kippur, we wanted to take our [7-year-old] boy, David, to synagogue for Neilah [the closing services] and to hear the blowing of the shofar. His [twin sister], Ella, was at a friend’s house... As we walked [in the neighborhood], we heard Yemenite prayers emanating from one of the synagogues [on the street]... and entered. As I’m not the most anonymous person in the country, congregants recognized me and [welcomed us to] join them in prayer.”
He continued: “We prayed until Neilah. We heard the shofar. The stars came out. And when we turned to leave... one of the congregants pointed at David and asked the rabbi to ‘give the boy a blessing.’ Now, I’m familiar with that blessing and understand that after saying, ‘He who blessed our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will bless so and so, son of (a father’s name) and (a mother’s name.) Not wanting to put the rabbi in an embarrassing situation, I pulled toward the exit. But the congregant insisted, ‘A blessing for the boy!’ Without saying a word, the rabbi began blessing David.”
Ohana then recounted that when the rabbi got to the part where he needed to insert the father’s and mother’s names while being aware that these were two fathers, he didn’t falter. When he was done blessing “David, son of Amir and Alon,” the congregation warmly shouted “Amen.” And this, stressed Ohana, was an Orthodox Yemenite synagogue.
He continued, “Why am I sharing this personal story that, a few years ago, I assume would have been possible only to dream about? Because many left-wing gays have been sending me photos of Ben-Gvir and Smotrich from the ‘beast parade’ 20 years ago and asking, ‘These are your coalition partners?’ Even the leftist Aguda-Israel’s LGBT Task Force wrote a post about it.”
Well, he went on wryly, “left-wing hypocrisy is nothing new. But is it really possible they don’t know that they’re sitting today in a coalition with the Islamic Movement’s Walid Taha, chairman of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee, who said only recently that he would never allow the pervert laws to pass? And that his party imposed such a strong veto that not a single LGBT bill passed during the entire duration of this coalition, which doesn’t include the Haredim, Ben-Gvir and Smotrich? Is it possible that they really don’t know that they’re sitting in a coalition with [Ra’am Party chair] Mansour Abbas, who supports conversion therapy? Is it really possible that they don’t know that the oh-so-liberal Yair Lapid doesn’t have a government without the vote of Ahmad ‘anti-gay-pride-parade’ Tibi?”
He proceeded to point out, that “for anyone who sees him/herself first and foremost as gay and that’s his/her main drive when voting for the Knesset, there is no perfect solution. In every viable coalition, there will be members who oppose equal freedoms (as a liberal, I relate much better to that term than to ‘equal rights’) for LGBTs.”
HOWEVER, HE concluded, “On our side [of the spectrum], we have those who bless ‘David, the son of Amir and Alon,’ at a synagogue. On our side, when Ben-Gvir is asked about the LGBT issue, he answers that today, he would no longer refer to the ‘beast parade;’ he calls gays and lesbians ‘my brothers;’ and he claims that if his son were to come out as gay, he’d ‘give him a hug.’ When you manage to extract such a statement from Walid Taha, come talk to me.”
That will happen when the messiah arrives or when apples grow on cherry trees, whichever comes first. While the Left is waiting, the rest of us can celebrate the benefits of an incoming coalition of the electorate’s actual choosing.