Into the Fray: Bennett’s buddy. Or blunder?

In the interests of full disclosure, I voted for Naftali Bennett’s party in the recent election. But I am beginning to wonder...

2002JFR05 521 (photo credit: Photomontage/Marc Israël Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
2002JFR05 521
(photo credit: Photomontage/Marc Israël Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Have you thought what will happen if you succeed [in preventing the disengagement from Gaza]. Don’t you understand that if it happens we will disengage from you. We will say, “Your God is not our God, your land is not our Land.”Do you suppose we will simply give up what we see as our only chance for a normal life. Have you any idea how you will live in a country in which most of its inhabitants feel they have to sacrifice their lives – day after day, terror attack after terror attack – for you. – Yair Lapid, “To: The Opponents of disengagement,” June 24, 2005.

It [the disengagement] had nothing to do with the Palestinians, demography, the desire to make peace, the relative [fatigue] of the IDF, or any other explanation that was given. There was a totally different motivation behind the disengagement. The Israelis merely felt that the settlers should be taught a lesson in humility and perhaps in democracy, too.
– Yair Lapid, “Things we couldn’t say during disengagement,” May 15, 2006.
In the interests of full disclosure, I voted for Naftali Bennett’s party in the recent election. But I am beginning to wonder...
Vote Bennett, get German?
After all, when I cast my ballot for Bennett, I didn’t realize that Yael German, former Meretz member, or Ofer Shelah, the decidedly left-wing former journalist, were of part of the deal. But this is precisely the situation that has been created by Bennett’s decision to march in lock-step on the issue of national service for the ultra-Orthodox with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid list, in which German and Shelah are in the No. 3 and No. 6 slots, respectively.
I am confident that many supporters of Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi were unaware that they were voting for a“package deal with Lapid’s Yesh Atid, in which Bennett would condition his participation in a Netanyahuled government on Lapid’s participation.
Had they believed that this was a tangible possibility, it is highly plausible that a considerable number of them, myself included, might well have voted differently.
By insisting on the acceptance of both his and Lapid’s demand regarding universal conscription of the ultra-Orthodox into national service as the sine qua non for his agreeing to join the coalition, Bennett is grossly distorting the will of his voters, and abusing the mandate given him by them.
Right goal, wrong tactic
Don’t misunderstand me. I think it is essential to enlist the ultra-Orthodox into the military, or at least some form of national service.
Since the early 1990s I have been urging right-wing parties to make this one of their declared policy aims, and warning that the failure to take the initiative on this issue was a massive blunder.
The current situation of mass exemption is both immoral and illogical and hence unacceptable, and without becoming ensnared in a discussion on details and the desired rate of implementation, I strongly endorse the initiative to induce, even coerce, far greater haredi participation in the workforce, the military and other national organs.
But as important as this matter is, it was not the cardinal issue for which Bennett and Bayit Yehudi were given the support they received. The primary banner that Bennett’s constituency rallied around was his opposition to Palestinian statehood, opposition which he was slated to spearhead.
This was the fundamental reason that many, including me, supported his party – despite grave reservations, some of which I have expressed on this page, concerning his operational proposal on how this should be undertaken.
True, Bennett and Bayit Yehudi are to be commended for it not being a narrow singleissue faction, and for presenting a multifaceted platform, addressing several vitally important socioeconomic problems plaguing Israeli society. However, these were never perceived or presented, prior to the elections, as being imperatives that had to be satisfactorily addressed before the party participated in a Likud-led coalition.
Certainly, voters were never put on notice that such participation was predicated on the approval of Yesh Atid on any issue – including the ultra-Orthodox one, a.k.a. “sharing/equalizing the burden.”
Right goal, perverse partner?
Whatever the manifest moral merits and potential political profits entailed in pushing for a more equitable sharing of the national burden, Lapid is a dubious – some might say, perverse – partner with whom to lock arms on this issue.
For unlike Bennett, who served as an officer in some of the IDF’s most elite special forces units, Lapid can hardly be presented as “leading by example.”
After all, despite being physically fit enough to engage in regular martial arts training, he elected to “share the burden” of military service as a reporter for the IDF journal, Bamahane – hardly the most arduous or hazardous “tour of duty” – which laid the foundation, at the taxpayers’ expense, for his subsequent successful journalistic career.
Now, while I am not implying that noncombatant service in general, and service in one of the IDF media organs in particular, is to be denigrated or dismissed, it can hardly be denied that Lapid’s personal history imparts a rather hollow – some might say, hypocritical – ring to his shrill castigation of haredi avoidance of “bearing the burden.”
Indeed, it makes him a highly unsuited – some might say, absurd – choice for the poster boy leading the charge for the ultra- Orthodox conscription.
Incompatible political DNA
Moreover, it must not be forgotten that Yesh Atid was born largely as a Center-Left party, and was billed as such in the election campaign. Indeed, alliances with Tzipi Livni and Shelly Yacimovich were pursued – albeit unsuccessfully. Much of Yesh Atid’s support came from last-minute ballots cast by a large bloc of hitherto undecided voters, who do not comprise committed hard-core party devotees.
As one veteran pundit put it, it was less a vote for Lapid and more a vote against all the others. It is far from implausible that many of the last-minute supporters were swayed by the un-dovish views – particularly on Jerusalem – in Yesh Atid’s manifesto, which are very different from those previously expressed – repeatedly – by Lapid himself, while gearing for his political career.
However, the views of Lapid’s core constituency, which allowed him to launch his party, as well as those of many of his Knesset members, reflect left to center-left political preferences – particularly on the issue of Palestinian statehood.
This is the political DNA of Yesh Atid, and as such it is incompatible with that of Bayit Yehudi – despite the alleged like-mindedness said to prevail between the parties on other issues.
Thus, while Bayit Yehudi issued a very upbeat announcement Thursday, declaring complete consensus and coordination with Yesh Atid, I would be highly skeptical as to whether such consensus/coordination extends to the cardinal issue at the center of the respective DNAs of the parties: The issue of Palestinian statehood.
Moreover, even on issues on which such consensus/coordination is said to prevail, I foresee future divergence.
For Lapid’s core constituency, the demand for haredi conscription is a great drum to beat – so long as it remains unfulfilled. For I have a very strong suspicion – corroborated by recent pronouncements by several prominent left-wing figures – that if it were to begin to emerge as a tangible prospect, the biggest opponents to it would be many of those who demand it most vociferously today.
After all, the last thing Lapid’s “core” wants to see is battalions of bearded ultra-Orthodox enlistees with M-16s slung menacingly over their shoulders.
Vicious vilification
Bennett’s embrace of Lapid is even more inappropriate and inexplicable in light of the latter’s continued and repeated vilification of a major segment of Bayit Yehudi’s sources of support: The residents of communities in Judea and Samaria, a.k.a. – pejoratively – as “settlers.”
Lapid consistently used his widely read Friday column in Yediot Aharonot to besmirch, berate and belittle them. The introductory above excerpts are but a small sampling of his frequent endeavors to denigrate, demonize and delegitimize the Jews living across the 1967 Green Line, in the most malevolent – and at times, manifestly mendacious – manner.
Thus, for example, in a masterpiece of malice titled “This land isn’t Israel” (August 19, 2008), he begins by declaring that, three years after its perpetration, Israelis should be proud of the disengagement because – wait for it – “it turned out that the state is still able to implement something once it decides to do it.”
No kidding – check it out on Google. He then proceeds to “excommunicate” the “settlers/ settlements” – the main blocs of which he now perversely purports to embrace – from Israeli society, writing “They define the place they live in as ‘not Israel.’ This is a lawless land, lacking respect, where people who are different than us live and conduct themselves in line with codes we don’t understand.
It is a land that has rejected all the basic values that hold us together.”
He concludes in a tone of vindictive vitriol: “These people create a situation whereby, when the day comes, and the agreements are signed on the lawn in Washington, it will be easier to give up this land, which isn’t really ours; this land where not only the laws and landscape are different, but also the people.”
Naftali, get a grip!
In another diatribe of disingenuous drivel, “Stop blaming disengagement” (January 20, 2009), Lapid launches into an absurd apologia for the unilateral abandonment of Gaza.
Subjecting his hapless readers to a partisan potpourri of the preposterous, the puerile and the pathetic, he sallies forth on a toxic tirade, endeavoring somehow to reinstate the lost honor of the disengagement, whose implementation he supported with such fervor.
You have to read to believe!
Flying in the face of facts, he vigorously denies that the disengagement had brought about any perceptible increase in the levels of shelling of Israel or in tunneling/smuggling activity under the Philadelphi Corridor between Sinai and Gaza. For while both shelling and smuggling did exist before the 2005 unilateral withdrawal, the difference in the severity of the realities confronting Israel in the pre- and post-disengagement eras are so stark, that to suggest there is any equivalence between them is as ludicrous as to claim that a mild cold and terminal pneumonia are similar because they can both be diagnosed viral infections.
With infuriating disregard for empirical events, he speculates: “So there is a possibility – and it is even a realistic one – that had it not been for the disengagement, our situation today would have been much worse.”
Then, with breathtaking effrontery, he goes onto assail the critics of the disengagement: “[They] don’t care, because they are not interested in the truth, but rather, in the opportunity to exploit the pain and sorrow over today’s victims in order to avert the next evacuation. And to that end, it is ok to lie, and to smear, and to come up with false arguments.”
Clearly, if he were to replace the word “avert” with the word “induce,” he would have – with perfect accuracy – described himself.
So Naftali, this is your faithful comrade-inpolitical- arms? One with whom you have elected to form an unbreakable pact? Get a grip!
Gives incompetence a bad name
It is a pact whose only tangible result so far has been to ensconce Tzipi Livni, a politician who has brought incompetence to previously unattained levels, at the head of the crucially important Justice Ministry and of the negotiating team with the Palestinians. Both as foreign minister and head of Kadima, she has shown that no outcome is too disastrous for her to accomplish.
It is difficult to overstate the gravity Livni’s appointment might have for Bennett’s constituency.
It virtually ensures the continued animosity of the legal establishment toward the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria and makes the possibility of adoption of the Levy Report, endorsing the settlements’ legality, more remote.
But worse, it diminishes the chances of much-needed reforms to restore the rapidly eroding public confidence in the judiciary and to increase the transparency of funding of Israeli NGOs by foreign governments – both urgently required initiatives, perversely decried by Livni-supportive circles as undemocratic.
Moreover, whatever her substantive authority to advance initiatives with the Palestinians, her formal appointment as head of the negotiation team can only raise the profile the two-state notion, and put greater wind in the sails of its proponents in the media, at home and abroad – especially in light of the inevitable pressure that will accompany Barack Obama’s imminent visit.
Beware a pyrrhic victory
Bennett’s behavior in forming a seamless bond with the likes of Lapid seems to betray a serious lack of judgment. For even if he succeeds in attaining victory on the haredi front, he may well sustain a disastrous defeat on the Palestinian one.
He may well live to rue such a pyrrhic triumph.
Martin Sherman ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.