(First published yesterday at Israelnationalnews.com )
As the media would have it, American Jews have overnight been afflicted with BenGvirPhobia, an irrational fear of newly re-elected Knesset Member Itamar Ben Gvir who is poised to play a prominent role in the incoming Israel government. One would think that American Jews might grapple first with real fears– of incessant attacks on Jews in the streets of American cities, rising crime, runaway inflation, a secular society inundated by an immoral and un-Jewish culture and value system that threatens to undermine Jews’ ability to live in America and raise their children to be pious Jews, assimilation, intermarriage, and a host of other problems.
Instead, we are informed that American Jews and many among the alphabet soup of American Jewish organizations are petrified of Ben Gvir, what he (in their mind) represents, and the mortification he might cause them in progressive circles. Undoubtedly, much of this anxiety is being drummed up by the media in order to taint the political environment and especially to pressure Binyamin Netanyahu to jettison some of his right-wing coalition partners in favor of Benny Gantz and his center-left “National Camp” party. Gantz has ruled that out but that might just be his opening ploy in negotiations. And even if some of his partners are implacable “Never Bibi’s” – like Gideon Sa’ar or Ze’ev Elkin – and would never sit under Netanyahu, that would not necessarily inhibit Gantz who could spin his move as “saving the nation from Ben Gvir.” And if the “National Camp Party” collapses as a result of this split? Well, the small Israeli political parties routinely come and go, here today and gone tomorrow, resurfacing with almost the same cast of characters under a new name and banner. The Machaneh Hamamlachti – it was a bad name anyway – might have already outlived its usefulness.
For his part, Netanyahu has made a career of such double-dealing, campaigning on the right and forming his governments and executing his policies from the center, even left. In fact, he is a master at it, betrayed only by the vast number of enemies and “Never Bibi’s” that he has accumulated over the years. He would glibly explain that this back-stabbing maneuver of abandoning the Religious Zionist Party is unfortunately necessary to prevent America from signing a nuclear deal with Iran, or some such other excuse. It really depends on the final count, and whether or not Netanyahu can reach 61 mandates with Gantz and without Betzalel Smotrich and/or Ben Gvir, who can also be divided, representing, as they do, two separate parties.
The good news is that all Netanyahu’s coalition partners have their eyes open and know how the game is played. The better news is that the numbers might not be there to allow this duplicity to again occur, in which case the government will be solidly right-wing plus, instead of centrist, which is another word for being pulled in opposite directions, with incoherent policies and festering problems the inevitable result.
And what if Netanyahu has sincerely repented, changed his ways, and will first embrace his natural coalition partners, as he should and as the voters expect? Then there will be a stable right-wing government for several years (depending on the verdict in Netanyahu’s interminable trials). That right-wing government should deal forcefully and cogently with the Iran threat, undo the damage of the educational system that has been committed to obscuring the riches of Judaism from our elementary and high school pupils, repeal the Avigdor Lieberman tax hikes that were primarily intended to hurt the Haredim, crack down on Arab terror and those who foment it, reclaim Jewish sovereignty in the Negev and Galil, halt illegal Arab building there and in Area C of Judea and Samaria, expand Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria thereby immediately lowering the cost of housing, limit the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and pass the Override Law, further integrating Haredim into society, and most importantly of all, reverse the attempts to diminish the Jewish character of the State and the Jewish identity of its citizens, and quash the threats to Torah, the traditional Jewish family, the public observance of Shabbat, and the proper observance of Mitzvot such as Kashrut, conversion, military service, and others.
That is a full plate for any administration.
Above all, the new government can restore Jewish pride in the land of Israel. In that regard, the Religious Zionist party including Ben Gvir has a significant role to play. The influence on the Diaspora could be immeasurably constructive. American Jews should not fear a proud Jew or a Jewish state that is proudly Jewish. Indeed, this can assist American Jews in regaining their spiritual footing which has been wobbly for decades. There is nothing wrong – in fact, it is an unmitigated good – for American Jews to see ministers with kippot who take their Judaism seriously, who are committed to the Torah, the State, Jewish self-defense, the study of Torah and mitzvot, and whose policy prescriptions – for economics and social programs, for foreign affairs and culture – are grounded in Jewish law and values. It has happened before but it needs to be appreciated and magnified.
That is a good thing and for American Jews it could be a wonderful thing. I don’t doubt that the more alienated a person is from Torah, the more he or she will fear Ben Gvir and the specter of a strong Jew unafraid to assert Jewish rights – and unafraid of bad press while doing it. Certainly, Ben Gvir – like all politicians, journalists, and public figures – has said things in the past that he regrets, retracts, or wishes to clarify. That is a sign of growth, not opportunism. Decent people should embrace it.
To be sure, the Democratic Party to which most Jews belong with a passion others reserve for their religion, will be unhappy with Netanyahu, Ben Gvir, and any right-wing government. Its sole Mideast foreign policy objective is to strengthen Iran with money and a nuclear capacity while weakening Israel through the two-state illusion and sowing internal unrest (and claiming that all this is strengthening Israel and weakening Iran). These Jews, devoted to the Democratic Party, have the chance to support a strong, democratic and Jewish Israel by influencing their party to accept the demographic realities in Israel and the decisions of our electorate. They certainly should not, as the liberal and left-wing American Jewish organizations have already begun to do, urge boycotts of Israeli politicians and promise to provide cover to the Biden administration if it does so. They will only further marginalize themselves, sow a greater rift between secular American Jews and Israel, and impair even more their attachment to Judaism.
The fear of Ben Gvir is overblown. Even thinking that one person can have such influence on Israeli politics – a media obsession here for months – is overblown. The Israeli political system remains deeply fragmented. Since 1996, the ruling party in the coalition has always fallen short of 40 seats (by contrast, from 1948-1996, every ruling party had at least 40 seats). The same is true with this election. Perhaps one way to change that dynamic is for a government…to be successful, to restore serenity and prosperity, to bolster Jewish identity, and reinforce and expand relations with neighboring Arab states. What should be discouraged is the return of those incessant demonstrations and street blockages that became a ritual during Netanyahu’s last few terms and impaired domestic tranquility and people’s quality of life. Give it a rest, man.
And for the first time, a majority of Israel’s coalition government (assuming no additions of parties outside the right-wing bloc) will be comprised of religious and observant Jews. They will have the special privilege of serving and the solemn obligation of comporting themselves with dignity, nobility, and integrity, rising above the pettiness of politics to illuminate the polity with the wisdom of Torah. Heaven forbid that they should be perceived as out for themselves or just their constituents. Instead, they should be seen as representatives of Torah to the nation and the world. That is no small task.
It is an astonishingly significant moment and opportunity. To be sure, the Religious Zionist Party should take the lead in that sphere, and its leaders Smotrich and Ben Gvir are well positioned to assume that role.
There is no need to fear Ben Gvir or anyone else. As Rav Yosef Soloveitchik exhorted, one who fears God need have no other fears. If the current government, led by its religious majority, succeeds in increasing reverence for Heaven through its dedication, successes, and policies, our society will be transformed for the good.
Let us pray for the new government’s success and well-being, for its accomplishments will benefit the people who dwell in Zion and bring glory to the Torah.
It would also be very helpful if the voting process were drastically changed. I have heard calls for the threshold to be 5% but 10% would be much more effective so that every little movement couldn’t effectively form its own party and be a kingmaker in a coalition. Further, it is about time the elections were geared towards representing districts instead of parties. This way, each citizen would have her own rep in the Knesset to pursue benefits for their local areas.