The announcement that Israel’s next elections will be held in April has led to a major political shakeup, with the fracturing of existing blocs and the creation of several new parties. Among the most surprising developments is the decision of Naftali Bennett (who is religious) and Ayelet Shaked (who is not) to defect from the party they lead—the Jewish Home (most of whose voters are religious)—to found the New Right party. Shmuel Rosner explores the significance of the move:
The Jewish Home, the party that made Bennett and Shaked, . . . used to be called Mafdal, the acronym [in Hebrew for] “the religious nationalist party.” For seven decades, Israelis belonging to [the religious-Zionist] sector voted in great numbers for this party, which in return focused on their own sectorial interests—more funds for religious schools, more accommodation for hesder yeshivas [that allow for a combination of military service and religious study], more legislation that favors the settlers, [and so forth]. This was a fine arrangement for a group that felt like a vulnerable minority, but it started to feel awkward and misplaced when religious Zionists started to play a much more pronounced role as leaders in all Israeli institutions.
Bennett and Shaked identified the changing times and wanted to turn the Jewish Home into something else—something less sectorial, with more crossover [between religious and secular constituencies]. They failed. The DNA of the Jewish Home is one of sectorial politics, and it proved resistant to dramatic change. [But] Bennett and Shaked have little interest in being the leaders of a sector. They entered politics to reach the top. And once they realized that the Jewish Home party limited their horizon, by insisting on playing the old sectoral politics of religious Zionism, the two leaders jumped ship. . . .
And this is just one example of an old political Israel that is cast aside as times change. Yesh Atid is a party of the secular and the religious, a party of centrism. Kulanu is a party of centrism. Gesher, a new party [founded by the parliamentarian] Orly Levy-Abekasis, is a party of centrism. These parties cast aside the old definitions of right and left, as do [the other parties founded in the past two weeks]. Sure, this is partially because the “left” is no longer a viable currency in Israel’s politics, so everybody must rush to the center. But make no mistake: this is not just tactics.