Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Mizrahim Return to Politics

Since its establishment in the 1980s, the Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox party Shas has become a powerful player in Israeli politics. It presided over a religious revival among Jews of North African and Middle Eastern origin and a revolt against the Ashkenazi elite that dominated both Labor and Likud. Now the party has been split in two by its two leading politicians. In effect, argues Haviv Rettig Gur, Shas voters, instead of giving priority to their specific religious concerns, are dividing along conventional left-right lines:

It would be a mistake to believe that the schism in Shas is driven entirely by personality. The egos of the two leaders may shape the way the schism expresses itself, but these are ultimately symptoms. Shas is being rent apart . . . by larger, more substantive disagreements, the very disagreements that are shaping the new political architecture of the Israeli body politic writ large.

Israel’s political system is in chaos. A new order is materializing, and its shockwaves are being felt in nearly every corner of the political map. The left has returned in force as dovish Labor swells in the polls. So has the annexationist right, with a growing base of support for Jewish Home and growing power for the Likud’s right flank. And as the center shrinks, sectoral politics, too, are dramatically responding to the change. The Arab parties are uniting their squabbling lists in a bid to appeal to, and help shape, a more assertive Arab voice and identity.

For some time now, and largely hidden from view, these deep shifts in the public mood have been making themselves felt within the insular world of ultra-Orthodox politics. The change is coming from the street, say Shas officials. In a sense, the [two] ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism have represented an anomaly in Israeli politics. Their devotion to their spiritual leaders subsumed the usual divisions that define Israeli politics. . . . Shas was more or less insulated from the left-right divide of mainstream politics. . . .

[But] even Shas, once the bastion of a narrow haredi-centric, Sephardi-focused politics, is cleaving in two along the new fissure that increasingly defines mainstream Israeli politics, a new-old divide between left and right on generations-old questions of economic policy and, of course, what to do with the Palestinians.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Eli Yishai, Israeli politics, Mizrahi Jewry, Ovadiah Yosef, Shas, Ultra-Orthodox

If Iran Goes Nuclear, the U.S. Will Be Forced Out of the Middle East

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in May that Iran has, or is close to having, enough highly enriched uranium to build multiple atomic bombs, while, according to other sources, it is taking steps toward acquiring the technology to assemble such weapons. Considering the effects on Israel, the Middle East, and American foreign policy of a nuclear-armed Iran, Eli Diamond writes:

The basic picture is that the Middle East would become inhospitable to the U.S. and its allies when Iran goes nuclear. Israel would find itself isolated, with fewer options for deterring Iran or confronting its proxies. The Saudis and Emiratis would be forced into uncomfortable compromises.

Any course reversal has to start by recognizing that the United States has entered the early stages of a global conflict in which the Middle East is set to be a main attraction, not a sideshow.

Directly or not, the U.S. is engaged in this conflict and has a significant stake in its outcome. In Europe, American and Western arms are the only things standing between Ukraine and its defeat at the hands of Russia. In the Middle East, American arms remain indispensable to Israel’s survival as it wages a defensive, multifront war against Iran and its proxies Hamas and Hizballah. In the Indo-Pacific, China has embarked on the greatest military buildup since World War II, its eyes set on Taiwan but ultimately U.S. primacy.

While Iran is the smallest of these three powers, China and Russia rely on it greatly for oil and weapons, respectively. Both rely on it as a tool to degrade America’s position in the region. Constraining Iran and preventing its nuclear breakout would keep waterways open for Western shipping and undermine a key node in the supply chain for China and Russia.

Diamond offers a series of concrete suggestions for how the U.S. could push back hard against Iran, among them expanding the Abraham Accords into a military and diplomatic alliance that would include Saudi Arabia. But such a plan depends on Washington recognizing that its interests in Eastern Europe, in the Pacific, and in the Middle East are all connected.

Read more at National Review

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy