If preliminary election results are to be believed, the Religious Zionism party—led by Bezalel Smotrich, and which includes a faction led by the controversial Itamar Ben-Gvir—could get fourteen seats in the next Knesset. Daniel Gordis has little affection for either politician, but argues that they win votes not for their most extreme statements, but because they guarantee something essential that many Israelis want, and that other political figures don’t persuasively offer. To illustrate his point, Gordis cites a campaign video from the center-left incumbent, Yair Lapid:
It’s a perfectly fine, innocuous video. There’s not a platform there that I disagree with. The elderly living with dignity. Combat soldiers having their education supported by the state. Women’s rights. Caring about people with disabilities. Respect and protection for gay and lesbian couples. A liberal Israel. A democratic Israel. All the rest. What’s the problem?
The problem, for me, is that if you translated this video into French and substituted “France” for Israel, Emmanuel Macron could use it in his next campaign. Translated into English with “America” substituted for Israel, it would make a fine video for Liz Cheney or Amy Klobuchar. It’s a lovely video that would work for any modern liberal democracy.
But here’s the rub. I never intended to move to any old modern liberal democracy. Democracy? Of course? Liberal (in the philosophic, not political sense)? Absolutely. But “any old”? Definitely not. I came here to live in a Jewish state, a state that while not imposing religiosity on anyone, would be Jewish in manifold ways, culturally, educationally, in values, and much more.
And in this video, the words “Jewish” and “Zionist” are entirely absent. . . . The first time I watched the video, I felt like I’d been sucker-punched.
That, in short, is why some of Ben-Gvir’s voters voted for him. . . . They may or may not want many things, but what matters to them is that this state not be like France or the United States, that its leaders be mindful that they are at the helm of a Jewish state, the place to which the Jewish people has returned to reconstitute itself.