Israel’s “First Religious Government” Presents New Opportunities, and Heightened Responsibilities

Last year’s Israeli election gave the country its first religious prime minister, Naftali Bennett. And although the most recent election has returned Bennett’s rival—the secular Benjamin Netanyahu—to power, it has also ushered in the country’s most religious government to date. In the current Knesset, 32 seats went to Jewish religious parties, all of which are expected to be part of the ruling coalition; another five seats went to the Islamic Ra’am party. Eliyahu Levi considers what this means for the Jewish state, and for its ḥaredi community, of which he is a part:

The new government will not be a coercive one. [Contrary to] some of the vicious and unscrupulous remarks made by some on the Israeli left, no individual is about to lose his rights and freedoms, and claims to the contrary are based on emotions at best. Nobody on the religious right is interested in coercing religious observance, and neither Ḥaredim nor anyone else wants Israel to become Iran (or even Turkey, for that matter). Personal freedoms will not be threatened, but the selection of curriculum authors [for public schools], academic commissioners, cultural boards, and committee members for every issue under the sun will diversify and shift over time.

Notwithstanding the symbolic importance of the recent political triumph, there remains ample room for concern about the short-term future. The religious parties, particularly the ḥaredi ones, have over several decades become accustomed to lobbyist politics at best—known colloquially as shtadlanus [intercession]—and to tribal maneuvering at worst. The long list of embarrassing statements made by the incoming United Torah Judaism chairman Yitzchak Goldknopf, most of them indicating one or both political attitudes, has caused widespread discomfort and raises the troubling question of whether the first religious government of Israel might become an unfortunate spectacle.

It is up to our representatives to rise to the challenge and take responsibility. It is also time for us, the general ḥaredi public, to do the same. We need to change our own mindset and demand accountability from our representatives. . . . The familiar narrative whereby ḥaredi politics aim to protect the faithful flock from the dangers of hateful predators no longer applies.

[Currently, the ḥaredi] United Torah Judaism has more seats than Avigdor Liberman’s [center-right, anti-ḥaredi] Yisrael Beitenu, and [the Mizraḥi ḥaredi party] Shas is electorally far stronger than the left-wing Labor and Meretz combined. We are the majority; both we and our representatives need to internalize the responsibilities this implies.

Read more at Tzarich Iyun

More about: Haredim, Israeli Election 2022, Israeli politics

What Is the Biden Administration Thinking?

In the aftermath of the rescue of four Israeli hostages on Friday, John Podhoretz observes some “clarifying moments.” The third strikes me as the most important:

Clarifying Moment #3 came with the news that the Biden administration is still calling for negotiations leading to a ceasefire after, by my count, the seventh rejection of the same by Hamas since Bibi Netanyahu’s secret offer a couple of weeks ago. Secretary of State Blinken, a man who cannot say no, including when someone suggests it would be smart for him to play high-school guitar while Ukraine burns, will be back in the region for the eighth time to urge Hamas to accept the deal. Why is this clarifying? Because it now suggests, here and for all time, that the Biden team is stupid.

Supposedly the carrot the [White House] is dangling in the region is a tripartite security deal with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Which would, of course, be a good thing. But like the stupid people they are now proving to be, they seem not to understand the very thing that led the Saudis to view Israel as a potential ally more than a decade ago: the idea that Israel means business and does what it must to survive and built itself a tech sector the Saudis want to learn from. Allowing Hamas to survive, which is implicitly part of the big American deal, will not lead to normalization. The Saudis do not want an Iranian vassal state in Palestine. Their entire foreign-policy purpose is to counter Iran. I know that. You know that. Everybody in the world knows that. Even Tony Blinken’s guitar is gently weeping at his dangling a carrot to Israel and Saudi Arabia that neither wants, needs, nor will accept.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Antony Blinken, Gaza War 2023, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship