A Hollow Victory

It isn’t just the chareidi community in Israel that feels confused and betrayed by Naftali Bennett, the head of Habayit Hayehudi who made his entry into the government contingent on the chareidi parties being excluded. Many in the national-religious camp are equally confounded.

Uri Elitzur, a resident of Ofra, one of the first “settlements” built in Yehudah and Shomron, and an associate editor of the right-wing Makor Rishon, notes that while it’s true that, in the past, chareidi parties have joined governments that excluded the National Religious Party (Habayit Hayehudi’s predecessor), Bennett’s move is different. Very different.

“The chareidim never demanded a government without the National Religious Party,” says Elitzur, who served as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s bureau chief in the latter’s first term of office in 1996–1999. Instead, it was the prime minister who, for reasons of his own, decided that he didn’t want to include the National Religious Party.

This time, the prime minister desperately wanted to include the chareidi parties in his government, but couldn’t do so because of the ultimatum issued by the National Religious Party.

It would have been one thing had Bennett conditioned his entry into the coalition on a policy matter — like including a plan for “equal service for all,” i.e, drafting yeshivah students, in the government’s guidelines — and the chareidi parties chose not to enter such a coalition. But to disqualify a segment of the population, ipso facto? Such a move is not only unprecedented — it reeks of discrimination.

Can anyone imagine Bennett and his partner in political grime, Yair Lapid, blacklisting Sephardim or Ethiopians? How would the ADL respond to a nationalist political party in Germany or Belgium conditioning its joining a government on Jews being excluded?

What makes Bennett’s actions not only repugnant but incomprehensible is the political company he’s keeping. He joined forces with Yair Lapid, head of the new Yesh Atid party, whose concern for the welfare of Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron is maybe a notch above his concern for the chareidi community.

Immediately after scoring a huge election victory and winning 19 Knesset seats, Lapid set out his two primary goals for the next government: passing a universal draft law and resuming peace talks with the Palestinians.

Considering that the only way to resume peace talks is to make “gestures” to the Palestinians that include freezing building in Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron and evacuating “outposts,” for starters, it boggles the mind that Bennett could have entered into such a partnership.

In his campaign, Bennett promised right-wing voters that he would keep a close eye on Netanyahu, ensuring that he doesn’t do an “Ariel Sharon” and agree to major territorial concessions. But by joining Lapid, he is doing the opposite.

Indeed, Yesh Atid’s No. 2, MK Shai Peron, confirmed recently that the Likud’s negotiation team had promised to tear down Jewish communities if Yesh Atid joined the coalition independently. “The prime minister suggested that Yesh Atid enter a coalition without Habayit Hayehudi, on the grounds that Habayit Hayehudi would prevent evictions of communities,” he said.

This explains why the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization that represents the Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron, rushed to issue a statement citing the “great importance” of including the chareidi parties in the coalition and hailing the chareidi public as “partners in the struggle of Eretz Yisrael.”

The argument that Bennett had no choice but to form a coalition with Lapid because Netanyahu had signaled his desire to keep him out of the government is both incorrect and, worse, an insult to the intelligence. It is incorrect because the chareidi parties — Shas and United Torah Judaism, with their 18 combined seats — offered Bennett the same deal: They said they wouldn’t enter the government without him.

It is an insult to the intelligence because, for Habayit Hayehudi’s voters, there is no point in entering a government that will harm the “settlement” enterprise. No less important, there is no point in entering a government that rams through policies that will further divide an already splintered society and, chalilah, harm the Torah world.

Bennett, a newcomer to the national-religious political scene, apparently doesn’t understand that his constituency, the Jews of Beit El, Ofra, Kiryat Arba, Efrat and elsewhere, are infinitely closer in their worldview to the chareidi parties than they are to Yair Lapid. There may be differences regarding the role of the army, secular studies in high school, and employment, but when it comes to core values — preserving the Jewish character of the state, promoting achdus, ensuring the continued study of Torah — there is a shared vision.

Conversely, when it comes to Eretz Yisrael, there may be differences over emphasis, but there is a common understanding of the historic bond between Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael.

In his campaign, Bennett promised a new beginning for the old National Religious Party. He promised to reach beyond its natural constituency and attract secular-traditional voters, which he succeeded in doing.

He also succeeded in outsmarting Netanyahu, who clearly wanted to keep him out of the government. But if these successes do nothing but pave the way for Netanyahu and Lapid to implement a left-wing, anti-religious platform, his victory will have been hollow, indeed.