Israel Gets Its First Religious Prime Minister

While there is much about the new prime minister Naftali Bennett that is unusual—the small size of his party, the parliamentary gridlock that preceded his formation of the government, the heterogeneity of the coalition he leads—perhaps most noteworthy is that he is the first religiously observant head of Israel’s government. Oddly, his victory signals a loss for both the ḥaredi parties and for the Religious Zionist party that Bennett himself once led, albeit under a different name. Bennett’s chief coalition partner, who will succeed him in two years per a rotation agreement, is Yair Lapid—the embodiment of the secular, liberal Tel Aviv elite. Likewise his other partners include two secular left-wing parties and an avowedly secular right-wing party; the only other religious party in the government is Muslim.

Oren Kessler, writing before Bennett was confirmed in his position, considers the significance of Israel’s first kippah-clad chief executive:

Prime Minister Bennett represents the mainstreaming of religion in the state of Israel’s 73rd year. He aims to unite right and left, devout and secular, the hills of Samaria with the country’s high-tech center. He has long believed religious and right-wing Israelis are the silenced majority, their voices obstructed by left-wing elites in media, the courts, and academia. But he favors honey to vinegar; he wants to bring [the religious West Bank community of] Tekoa to Tel Aviv. If in the process the country’s face becomes a little more religious, a little more right-wing, so much the better.

But [his selection as prime minister] represents a broader acceptance in Israel of religion’s growing presence in the public square. Lapid’s late father headed a party whose core platform was protecting secularism and combating [what it believed to be] religious coercion; as recently as the early 2000s it was the third-largest faction in parliament.

Much water has flown since then, to borrow a Hebrew expression. There were the grim years of the second intifada, the 2005 pullout from Gaza and the surge in rockets that followed, and the crashing failure of the Oslo Accords’ two-state vision. There is no straight or direct line leading from these developments to a Bennett premiership, but there is the feeling, deep and wide across the country, that the future promised by Israel’s historically secular, center-left leadership has proved a mirage.

“I don’t support religious coercion, but I do believe that Judaism is our ‘why;’ Judaism is the reason for our existence and the justification for our existence, and the meaning of our existence,” he once told the liberal journalist Ari Shavit.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Israeli politics, Judaism in Israel, Naftali Bennett, Religious Zionism, Yair Lapid

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security