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.