How do you stop Smotrich and Touma-Suleiman? - opinion

A thriving and liberal Israel is a source of strength and pride for Diaspora Jews. They worry that the haredi sector’s political gains herald a decline.

 THEN-PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and then-IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot attend the graduation ceremony at the National Security College in 2016. (photo credit: FLASH90)
THEN-PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and then-IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot attend the graduation ceremony at the National Security College in 2016.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

I imagine that on Election Day many like me hesitated between three bad alternatives: to skip elections and enjoy a free day; to vote for one of the outgoing coalition parties and partner with terrorist supporters, as without them there is no government; or to vote for Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloc and partner with the extreme and racist right-wing, which gained momentum following the deterioration of governance in the Negev and Galilee. The only positive option – a unity of the sane forces – was not in the cards. It was rejected by the “Just not Bibi” bloc.

The results show that a vast majority of Jewish voters decided to hold their noses and vote for their own fanatics over the extremists on the other side. They did not expect such cynical arm-wrestling conduct after the elections. The latest polls show that a majority of Israelis believe that the time has come to stop the outrageous demands of the extreme Right, and to bring the “unity alternative” to the table.

Netanyahu should dismiss Bezalel Smotrich’s blackmail to head the Defense Ministry. Smotrich compares himself to the late Moshe Arens, who indeed didn’t come from the military, but his experience and preparation for the position were unmatchable.

Before being appointed defense minister, Arens, an MIT graduate, received the Israel Defense Prize, served as an associate professor at the Technion, was chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, and served as Israel’s ambassador to the US. 

How has Smotrich prepared for the position? He studied at the Ono Academic College and did a 14-month IDF service in a clerical position. Consider this: Upon finishing high school, would Netanyahu and his brothers have returned to Israel from the US to enlist in the most dangerous elite unit of the IDF had someone like Smotrich been in charge of the Jewish people’s security?

 ITAMAR BEN-GVIR and Bezalel Smotrich attend an election campaign event, last month. Let’s see how Benjamin Netanyahu manages the conflict when Ben-Gvir sets the region on fire, says the writer (credit: FLASH90) ITAMAR BEN-GVIR and Bezalel Smotrich attend an election campaign event, last month. Let’s see how Benjamin Netanyahu manages the conflict when Ben-Gvir sets the region on fire, says the writer (credit: FLASH90)

The new demand of Smotrich’s partner, Itamar Ben-Gvir, not to accept Reform conversions must be rejected outright. The election results have already turned on a red light for many Jews around the world. The racist statements and homophobic attitudes of Avi Maoz, Smotrich’s third partner who heads the Noam party, and Rabbi Zvi Tau (recently accused of rape), who is the Noam party’s spiritual leader, are causing outrage.

Antisemitism was not born in 1948, nor in 1967. However, in 2022, a new wave is rising that threatens the American Jewish community – hatred that is not characteristic only of the progressive streams, but is also spreading among the young Evangelical generation, whose parents were among the most committed Israel supporters.

A source of strength and pride 

A THRIVING and liberal Israel is a source of strength and pride for Diaspora Jews. They worry that the haredi sector’s political gains herald a decline. The participation of a potential incoming minister at the memorial of Rabbi Meir Kahane harms their ability to identify and support Israel in times of need. This radicalization also prevents the Jewish state from fulfilling its mission to provide a national home and spiritual center for Jews in the Diaspora.

The time has come to digest the results of the elections and join forces in an effort to reach peace in Israel and prevent a rift with the Jews of the Diaspora. The latest polls show significant support among the “anti-Bibi camp” voters to join the Netanyahu-led government in order to prevent the extremists from dictating the Jewish destiny. It can be assumed that Smotrich’s blackmail in recent days raises similar feelings among right-wing voters.

This requires leadership. Netanyahu should quietly invite former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot for a deep conversation. For years, they worked shoulder-to-shoulder with mutual respect and appreciation. Together they were a winning team, and today they could reach out to partners who are truly willing to put the future of the Jewish state before their own egos.

The condition to realize such a dream lies depends on a unified effort to lay down the swords, to stop the hatred, jealousy and personal interests on the first day that negotiations begin. It should be an agreement to cooperate for four years with no games and no tricks on either side.

The public is fed up. If such an agreement could be reached, the likely result would be that in 2026 the blackmail power of Ben-Gvir, Smotrich and Maoz – and, on the other extreme, the influence of non-Zionist MKs Ayman Odeh, Ahmad Tibi and Aida Touma-Suleiman – would deteriorate beyond recognition.

The writer is president emeritus of the Jewish People Policy Institute and a former diplomatic correspondent and Washington bureau chief of Maariv.