Naftali Bennett’s New Party Might Signal a Major Change in Israeli Politics

Jan. 10 2019

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.

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More about: Ayelet Shaked, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics, Naftali Bennett, Religious Zionism

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East