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Minister of Education Naftali Bennett and MK Ayelet Shaked announced they are breaking away from Bayit Yehudi an forming a new party. .(Photo by: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
The religious call behind Bennett and Shaked’s Hayemin Hehadash Party
The public Bennett and Shaked seek to represent is tired of divisive rhetoric, of the blame game and, mostly, of the conflict and religion dominating and defining who and what citizens are.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett dramatically broke off from Bayit Yehudi last week to form a party they are calling Hayemin Hehadash (the New Right.) The driving forces behind the party: a clear and unapologetic rightwing ideology, and the symbiosis of secular and religious values.

Hayemin Hehadash joins several new parties which promote a right-wing ideology, further crowding the political landscape for the elections in April and increasing the chances of one or more parties from the nationalist camp not passing the electoral threshold.

Why would Bennett and Shaked risk further dividing the right-of-center vote and possibly putting the chances of a future right-wing government at risk?

For one, Bennett and Shaked understood months ago that they would have to part with their political home and set out on a new path to continue to advance their ideology. Their influence from the Bayit Yehudi base was waning, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu increasingly understood how to control the religious-Zionist camp.

But their key to success is not going to be in attracting the extremist National-Religious voter. If they are looking for a trans-religious partnership, they will have to draw in the more moderate religious- Zionist public and secular Zionists. Even though the extremist voices from both sides of the aisle dominate public discourse, Israel’s moderate and reasonable public is widespread and strong. Bennett and Shaked did not manage to mobilize large parts of this crowd when they took over Bayit Yehudi in 2012. And worse, the extremist voices within Bayit Yehudi, such as Bezalel Smotrich, increasingly distanced more moderate religious voters and turned the party into a mouthpiece of the fundamentalist and messianic elements of the settler community.

As such, the Hayemin Hehadash is setting out to do what Bennett and Shaked have said they wanted to achieve all along: create a new voice and represent the new Israel: the tolerant, unified voice that is tired of disagreements and “religious identity politics.”

The ideology of bridging the religious divide is not only noble and virtuous, but necessary and overdue.

But Bennett and Shaked will have to do something different this time if they want to succeed: They will need to transcend politics and reach the public ear from a different angle.

Even though the potential for many mandates is there, the segments of society they are trying to reach are not consolidated, don’t have a representative voice and are insecure.

Bennett and Shaked will therefore not be able to campaign on catchphrases and political propaganda, but will have to create a unity movement that sweeps the nation, and that these silenced voices can trust to stand behind.

It has been less than a week since the announcement, but Bennett and Shaked don’t seem to have internalized this fact.

The name the Hayemin Hehadash suggests more emphasis on the political than on the ideological aspect of the new party. While the opposition to a Palestinian state and the objection to prisoner releases are legitimate objectives, Bennett and Shaked would do well to tone down on this uncompromising attitude and give space to softer, more tolerant speech – even when talking about the Palestinian question.

The public Bennett and Shaked seek to represent is tired of divisive rhetoric, of the blame game and, mostly, of the conflict and religion dominating and defining who and what citizens are.

It is a public that transcends the questions that have ruled Israeli society since its establishment and instead looks to heal, rebuild and create something new, after exterior and interior conflicts have torn Israeli society apart for too long.

If Bennett and Shaked want to be the voice for that community, they will have to rise above politics and the Israeli- Palestinian conflict and turn inward.

The writer is a breaking news editor at The Jerusalem Post and studies sociology and anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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