The Religious Zionist community is aflutter, with elements of unknown size abandoning the Religious Zionist party for other political homes. Such is not that unusual, in the sense that there are many Republicans who are “never Trumpers” and many Likudniks who are “never Bibi’s.” Such an approach is conceivable, which is not to say sensible, as it elevates personality over policy. What results is what is to be expected; the election of those who policies are anathema to the feinschmekers (those of genteel tastes) but who retain what they perceive to be their moral high ground.
Similarly, there are self-identified Religious Zionists who will not this cycle, or perhaps not in any cycle, vote for the Religious Zionist party, which they find to be too religious, too Zionist, with a leadership they deem unsavory and unworthy of their votes. Oddly, some of these voters prefer secular parties – such as Benny Gantz’ Machaneh Hamamlachti – to advance their religious Zionist vision in some uncertain way. This should be unpacked, notwithstanding that it is impossible anymore to convince anyone of anything they don’t already profess.
Much of the discontent among these putative religious Zionists is an avowed distaste for some of the past statements, current policies and personalities of Betzalel Smotrich or Itamar Ben Gvir. They have been aided, and no doubt influenced, by the archeologist-activists posing as journalists who unearth utterances from decades ago, sometimes wrenched out of context, sometimes not. Apologies, explanations, personal evolution and growth, and even repentance, are of no significance. These politicians, in the eyes of some of the voters, are forever doomed. In its ugliest iteration, being picked up across the world because of its dissemination here, these Jews are dangers or embarrassments to Israel and are destroying the Jewish character of the State.
Even a little self-reflection should engender this provocative thought, which seems to escape many Israelis. The way “elite” opinion in Israel treats Smotrich and Ben Gvir is the way “elite” world opinion treats Israel. “Elite” opinion here deems them racists, bigots, and narrow-minded nationalists who believe in apartheid. “Elite” opinion across the world deems Israel racists, bigots and narrow-minded nationalists who believe in apartheid. On college campuses across America, and in social settings across Europe, Israel is depicted as a Nazi regime led by Hitlers. On Israeli television, one can find satiric depictions of Ben Gvir and his supporters as Nazis led by a Hitler.
Of course, there is no substance to any of these allegations or indictments, domestic or foreign, but at least we should realize the harm caused to us, not to mention the repugnance of the charges, when Jews level them against other Jews. Sure, I recognize that every election needs bogeymen and the political process in most democracies has long abandoned the notion of advancing a positive agenda for elections as opposed to besmirching the opponents, whoever they might be. It is still unseemly but the discontented religious Zionist voters seem to have fallen for it.
They have also succumbed to the implications of the old maxim that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” Since Religious Zionist leaders are not “perfect” they must be perforce rejected, in favor of a secular, left-wing party with some observant Jews in it. Really?
Are the values of Religious Zionism advanced by governments that cede land to Arabs in the Negev and Galil and refuse to exercise sovereignty over it? Are the values of Religious Zionism advanced by weakening standards of Kashrut? Are the values of Religious Zionism advanced by mass conversions that are akin to affixing a plumba to a chicken and calling it kosher, regardless of any other factor? Are the values of Religious Zionism advanced by governments that promote public transportation and commerce on Shabbat? Are the values of Religious Zionism advanced by a government that endorses carving out Israel’s homeland to create a Palestinian state? Are the values of Religious Zionism advanced by a concerted effort to dilute Israel’s Jewish character? Really?
Part of the complaints and strategizing is anti-Netanyahu – these voters simply do not want a Netanyahu-led government – but among the religious Zionist malcontented more of their antipathy is focused on the presumed alliance between the Religious Zionist and the Haredi parties. Simply put, and as painful as this is to write, in pockets of the religious Zionist world there is hatred – there is no other word –for Haredim and the Haredi parties.
Well, some of this hostility is deserved. The Haredi political parties are perceived as very parochial, interested less in the general welfare of society than what government money can be sent to their communities. (To be sure, in that execrable practice, they are no different than Meretz. Yisrael Beteinu, Labor or other small parties, or other big parties.) Some of their politicians are, shall we say, less than completely honest and often comport themselves in public in undignified ways. There are the perennial issues of IDF service and participation in the work force but even amelioration of those matters in recent years – Haredi IDF service and male work force employment rates are higher than ever – has not dented, and perhaps even intensified, the loathing for them that occasionally emanates from some religious Zionists.
That should be surprising and even disappointing as it flies in the face of something Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l once said, which surprised and disappointed some in the audience to which it was said, that obviously he has more in common with Haredim than with a secular Tel Avivian. Haredim learn Torah, observe the mitzvot and want a real Jewish state. (This is not to suggest how Rav Aharon would have voted today. No one knows.) Notwithstanding the differences in outlook (army, work, approach to modern life), of course we should feel a close affinity with the Haredim even when we disagree.
Yet, there are many religious Zionists who do not, and so will vote against their own interests just so as not to empower Haredim in any way. That is short-sighted, to say the least. Just like “love upsets the natural order, so too hatred upsets the natural order” (Midrash Breisheet Raba 55:8). This requires soul-searching. For all their deficits, and despite the fact that I could not vote for a Haredi party, to see them as foes and not allies is foolhardy. And to vote for a secular party that wants a Jewish state in name but not in actuality because the Religious Zionist party leaders made this or that remark in the past is really self-destructive. Some would rather indulge the two state delusion, risk another expulsion and undermine Israel’s Jewish character than see Aryeh Deri as a minister. Indeed, for them, the perfect is the implacable enemy of the good.
It makes little sense, especially when one considers that most, if not all, politicians are not exemplars of integrity. I have often voted for the politician whose lies were least implausible. Such is modern politics. It is undoubtedly true that one can have more confidence in Betzalel Smotrich implementing his political vision than Ayelet Shaked implementing hers which seems to lack a firm grounding in any set of permanent values or even Binyamin Netanyahu, who – who knows ?– could just as easily jettison the religious parties if he wins a slight majority in favor of bringing in the Gantz party. It has been done before. With Smotrich, you really are getting what you are voting for, which is so unusual in politics that it should count for something.
What prevents religious Zionists from voting for Religious Zionism? Essentially, this is (another) crisis of faith of Religious Zionism, many of whose adherents seem to prefer it to be a movement of lofty ideas and delightful theories as long as it never impacts on any practical policies and never gets involved in the rough and tumble of politics. It reminds me somewhat of what Bobby Kennedy once said about Arthur Schlesinger, the Harvard professor and Kennedy administration aide: that Schlesinger’s liberal politics are so pure he would prefer that nothing ever actually get done than compromise on anything.
There are those religious Zionists who believe in the Religious Zionist mantra that the State of Israel is “the beginning of the flowering of the redemption” but are determined that it always remain “the beginning” and nothing more. They love to hear that proclaimed on Shabbat morning but then, the rest of the week, are not engaged in making the redemption flower. Indeed, some would be horrified if it “flowered” even more, as that would run contrary to some of the Western values they cherish. Perhaps they are religious Zionists in name or identification but not in beliefs or values.
But we should not partake of the name-calling, the tendentious media game of digging up old statements to castigate their bogeymen while burying those of their favorites, indulging the gevalt syndrome of the world collapsing if there is a right-wing government or utilizing the slanderous tropes against our political opponents that Israel-haters use against us. This is the most important election ever, we are told. Until the next one.
In the meantime, we should not vote to prevent this guy from attaining power or to stick it to the next guy. We should vote positive, vote our values, our interests, our faith and our vision. We should vote out of love and not hate. We should vote for what we think will bring the full redemption even closer –something on which I hope we can all agree.