Israel Update – Week of November 6, 2022
Coalition: The Israeli elections held earlier this month gave Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s Likud Party a clear majority. The elections were essentially a de facto referendum on Bibi himself, and it was clear that a majority of Israelis want to see him continue running the country.
The Likud received 32 out of 120 Knesset seats. As 61 seats are required for a majority, the next step is the forming of a coalition. The members of the coalition are all but certain. The Likud’s coalition partners will include the Religious Zionist Party with 14 seats, and two ultraorthodox (Haredi) parties – Shas with 11 seats and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) with 7 seats. Coalition negotiations will revolve largely around the distribution of ministries to the coalition partners. The Mamlachti (National) Party, headed by Minister of Defense Benny Gantz and manned by an impressive array of politicians whose common denominator is a fierce dislike for Bibi, will nearly certainly not be part of the coalition and will most likely disintegrate or splinter into smaller ideologically cohesive parties.
Over the past week, a significant metamorphosis has occurred among Israelis who voted against Bibi. Statistically speaking, the average person that did not vote for Bibi is upper middle class Ashkenazic elite living in the Tel Aviv area. Before the election, the greatest threat to Israeli democracy (in their eyes) was a sixth term for Bibi, a person who has been indicted on no less than three counts of political corruption of one sort or another. The threat has now evolved. The enemy is no longer Bibi. The enemy is now “religious fanaticism.” Bibi is now viewed as a moderating factor while his coalition partners want to turn Israel into a theocratic state, a sort of Jewish Iran.
Some background is necessary. Religious Israelis can roughly be divided into two camps: National religious and ultraorthodox (Haredi). National religious Israelis see Israel as the manifestation of a return of the Jewish People to their national homeland as predicted by the prophets. The national religious are fully integrated into Israeli society, serving in the army for two and a half years and working shoulder to shoulder with non-religious Israelis. While their children might go to different schools than their non-religious compatriots, they live in the same towns, shop in the same supermarkets and go to the same soccer games. Haredi Israelis, on the other hand, live a much more isolated lifestyle. They tend to inhabit their own cloistered neighborhoods. Most of them receive exemptions from Army service, and many are unemployed, spending their days poring over tomes in Yeshivot (upper schools of Jewish learning) and living off of a government stipend.
The State of Israel today is largely non-religious. Compromises were struck in Israel’s early years in order to enable the religious and the non-religious to build the nascent country: food served in the Army and in hospitals is kosher, marriage and divorce are managed by the Rabbinate, and public transportation over the Sabbath is limited. Nevertheless, legislated religious coercion is relatively rare. No Israeli is forced to eat Kosher, to circumcise his son, or to keep the Sabbath. Indeed the opposite is true. Attempts at religious legislation over the years have unequivocally shown that the best way to increase adherence to Jewish Law is by not legally mandating it. Israelis have historically reacted better to the forces of attraction than to compulsion.
Since the election, the fear among erstwhile Bibi opponents of Israel becoming the playground for religious extremists has quickly turned into a frenzied panic. A female principal of a prestigious school in a very well-to-do non-religious area told her teachers, among them my (religious) daughter, “They will never force me to cover my hair!” My co-workers in the defense industry warn that “they will never stop me from driving my car on the Sabbath!” President Isaac Herzog was overheard by a hot mic voicing concern that extremist members of the new government will expand Jewish access to the (Moslem controlled) Temple Mount in Jerusalem, enraging the nations of the world and endangering Israel’s global political support.
Yesterday, radio host Natan Zahavi spoke on the air about the government-in-formation, and launched into a vitriolic tirade about the religious: “All these dreckes [Yiddish slang for feces] quote to me passages from the Bible,” he said during the broadcast. “Pray, put on tefillin, light Sabbath candles, take challah, dress modestly. Go to hell with the modesty and the challahs and the candle lighting and with the tefillin. I’d be happy if some of you would tie the tefillin around their necks and hang themselves since they do nothing, but they’re public representatives.” Less than one hour later, he was suspended indefinitely by the radio station.
The fear of having one’s basic freedoms infringed upon is understandable. The
people who are headed for Bibi’s cabinet are, in the minds of certain Israelis, esoteric and disconcerting. What if they want us to act like they do? Call it the fear of the unknown. I suggest that a similar fear lies at the heart of global anti-Semitism: Jews are different. They dress differently, they eat differently, they marry differently. One thing is true: The minute that Israelis begin referring to other Israelis as “them” instead of as “us,” we become no less anti-Semitic.
Wishing you a quiet week,