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


The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy