Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Why the Israeli Right Goes Wrong

Writing a post about the consistent failures of the Israeli right is a futile task, because this sorry subject is much more suitable for a book or even a ten volume encyclopedia. Nevertheless, I just have to get some of my anger at this situation out of my system, especially after reading this on the GOPBloggers site: under the inspiring title, “Believers of the World Unite!” blogger Mark Noonan describes one instance of political cooperation between Evangelical Christians and Mormons (link) despite the fact that many Evangelicals would consider Mormons to be non-Christian.It seems that this kind of cooperation is expanding and Mark sums it up with these words of wisdom:

“…there is plenty for Mormons and Evangelicals to squabble over - and, of course, plenty for Catholics, Evangelicals and Mormons to argue about, and when we throw Judaism in to the mix...well, the dissent between theologies just grows to massive proportions. For many years, these divisions among believers have helped the secular progressives to prevail. They are united against all believers, while all believers were not united against them - well, now differences are being composed and arguments glossed over in the interests of survival. (My bold fonts)
In the end, after all, a devout Mormon and a devout Jew have more in common with each other than either does with a secular progressive. And we can all get back to arguing matters theological once we have securely re-established the right to free-exercise in this nation.”

This is, in a nutshell, one of the main problems of the Israeli Right. In the past elections three religious parties – Shas, (orthodox Sephardic), Yehadut Hatorah (Ashkenazi Orthodox), and the National Unity (settler) parties garnered 27 seats in the Knesset, out of 120, which is 22.5 percent of the seats. That’s a lot. Many political analysts have attributed the recent successes of the GOP to it’s vigorous and loyal base consisting mainly of Evangelical communities, which constitute an estimated 50-60 million people. That’s roughly 20 percent of the American population. Now, why is it that such a base can bring so much success in one democratic country and yet, here in Israel , a religious base that is even larger cannot do anything except suffer one political defeat after another for years on end?
This a very important question that is hardly ever addressed, except in the most superficial of ways (witness the reluctant, ugly unification of the Mafdal – the National Religious Party with the National Unity Party that resulted in a spectacular flop.)
A few reasons come to mind, but I will dwell on one. The rest will wait patiently in that crowded corner of my brain dedicated, like many other Right-wing supporters in Israel, to political frustration.
First of all the quote from above – believers in Israel have never been able to find it in themselves to unite against the common enemy. Apparently carrying over Halachic nit-picking into politics, the religious parties will invariably dwell on the unbridgeable differences between them, and not on the fact that their similarities and common interests far outweigh their petty squabbles and internal power struggles. This is why the Mafdal, the National Religious Party, agreed to enter a coalition with Shinui, an openly, rabid, secular Anti-Semitic Party, a coalition whose prime target, at it’s conception, was the orthodox Haredim, which make up the Shas and Yehadut Hatorah constituencies. I assume the national religious MKs were flattered to be invited into a coalition with straight-backed, blonde, blue-eyed Israelis like Tommy Lapid , and were only too glad to prove their loyalty to the cause of secular Zionism by financially strangling their opponents in the two remaining orthodox parties. Of course, after the Mafdal outlived it’s usefulness they were unceremoniously kicked out of the coalition, which was held up by – you guessed it - the two Haredim parties, who proceeded to give the Mafdal and their constituency – the settlers -  as good as they had received from them previously. And so on and so on etcetera etcetera.
In other words, Israeli religious politicians would much prefer arguing about the seating in the burning synagogue than actually joining hands and dousing the fire so that they can continue the argument later. No, they would rather burn with their rivals, as long as they are assured that they (their rivals) will go to hell.
Is it a wonder then that we fail miserably? Is there no Jewish wisdom corresponding to the well-known American adage (attributed to Lincoln?): “Together We Stand Divided We Fall?”
I can only imagine, and be thrilled by such a vision – all the believers in Israel uniting under a common banner, against a common enemy – against all those within and without who wish to destroy us physically and spiritually. Such a coalition would include a population much larger than that of the three religious parties; after all the evangelical support base is just that – a base, a starting point. There are many, like me, who are not religious but do want to live in a Jewish State, and not in the abstract, value-free, a-historical,  “State of all it’s citizens” advocated by the Israeli Left, a state in which they themselves most likely would not want to live in. I am thinking of the many Israelis, like me, who wish to keep or regain their ties with our past and traditions, I am thinking of working parents who are concerned about the alarming degree of alienation and immorality displayed and encouraged by our leaders throughout many areas of our culture, not to mention our political culture, I am thinking even of the few secular people who have realized , or can be made to realize that the choice is between us, the believers, and the end of this miracle we call Israel.
So the inability of Jewish believers to unite against their common enemy, as opposed to the secular-radicals ability to do so consistently and effectively, is one reason for our failures.
But, being a restless guy I wish to ask – what is the reason for the reason? Why is it impossible for us to unite? What’s holding this back?
I can think of a few possibilities. I do not if any of them hit the mark or not and to what extent. I’ll just jot them down and welcome any further suggestions and comments.

Reasons why Religious Parties in Israel Politics do not Unite or Act in Unison:

1 – The differences between them are really that big, much bigger than the differences between Shas and Shinnui or Yehadut Hatorah and the Labor Party.
2 – Religious parties are run by religious people, who are not necessarily believers. As I explained here, believing in God is not the same as believing in ritual, whether religious ritual or secular ritual, so it is wrong to assume that religious parties are also believing parties, and the whole issue becomes moot.
3 –The leaders of the religious parties, the political and spiritual elites of this public, are simply not up to the task. They lack the necessary vision needed to unite the believers, they lack the political and social skills needed for such a monumentous task, and most of all – they lack the intellectual knowledge and sophistication needed to understand Israeli politics and act effectively in them.
4 –Religious people in Israel are every bit as greedy, near-sighted, selfish, sectarian, fanatic, and abysmally stupid, clueless and out-of-date as the Israeli secular press makes them out to be.
5 – The various Religious parties really could care less about the well being of Israeli society, as far as they are concerned, it is hard enough to survive in such a hostile environment as it is, without shouldering the responsibility of running a state and caring for a society that shuns them.
6 – The religious parties are so intimidated by secular society that all they want is to get what they need from it and hurry back home to their familiar and reassuring insulated existence.
7 – any combination of the above
8 – none of the above. I’m clueless. The real reason(s) is________________________.

Like I said, suggestions and comments are welcome.


Karma said...

Well, thank god they don't unite more than they already do - otherwise we'd have even more of a theocracy. I would like to add to list: ethnicity (Ashkenazi/Mizrahi) and that the parties have real serious differences in terms of their beliefs - some are anti-Zionist while others are very Zionist; there are very different political viewpoints; etc. Also, they have plenty of power without more unity.

Jerusalem Joe said...

What theocracy? as a secular jew living in israel i do not feel like we're living in anything remotely approaching a theocracy.

yes, i know there are major differences, but that's the point - getting to the common ground and working on that. you think there weren't major differences between Peres and Rabin? they really , honestly, hated each other, and yet - managed to be in the same party for years and even eventually worked together and enjoyed some success.Why can't right-wing parties do that?

most anti-zionists do not form political parties nor vote. that is not to say that Yehadut Hatorah are zionists but they have gradually become much more involved in the zionist project than they used to be.

i would love to hear what power you think they possess.

westbankmama said...

You are assuming that the right wing religious parties have a lot in common. They don't. The chareidi parties care about ONE thing - money for their yeshivot. If they get that, they join any government that will have them - no matter how left wing the government is (despite the fact that the Haredi public is very right wing and is sometimes not happy with their decisions - they vote for whoever will help bring in the money). (Shas voted for Oslo, Yahdut HaTorah stayed in the government when it approved the disengagement). There is a lot more in common between the traditional Likud voter and the Mafdal than in the Shas/UTJ voter and Mafdal. The Mafdal voter works and pays taxes, serves in the army, and would like to see Israel as a Jewish state, but is more relaxed about how that happens (not necessarily through legislation). The traditional Likud voter also works, pays taxes, serves in the army, and wants his kids to follow the traditions. Arik Sharon muddied the waters, and made a shift to the left, which basically confused the Likud voter. If the Likud comes up with a strong candidate for Prime Minister, the right will come back to itself - but it won't be because of the religious parties.