The Rise of the Jewish Home
"Zionism arose thanks to secularism, the dogmatic religious establishment in the Diaspora was not capable of initiating Zionism without [Theodor] Herzl's secular involvement. But secular Zionism was an existential Zionism that saw the state of the Jews as a refuge state"—Naftali Bennett
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The New Center
Bringing the complex history of this young party would lead to my losing readers with every tedious word I add. Yet, the basics are simple. The party was founded in 2008 mainly over the hot ashes of the National Religious Party (Mafdal). In other words, it became the home of Religious Zionism. Likud and Labor are nationalistic and secular parties. Haredi parties are religious and non-nationalistic or slightly nationalistic. For many years, the National Religious Party was the bridge allowing the unholy alliance between Zionism and ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Their most visible characteristic is a "Kipah Sruga" ("handwoven skullcup") hat (see picture above) as opposed to the black one used by the Haredim and Hasidim. In the 2009 elections, they got just three seats as compared to the twelve the National Religious Party got at its peak, when it was a compulsory part of every coalition. Overall, it seemed that the Jewish Home was the final breaths of the National Religious Party; nobody considered it a significant part of the Israeli political map. That is, until now. Most of the votes leaving Netanyahu go to Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home.
In November, 2012, the Jewish Home held separate primaries in its factions; My Israel leader Naftali Bennet won the leadership with two-thirds of the vote. Bennet's slogan is appropriate "Something New Begins." In the last days of 2012, polls place him just one vote behind Labor. If Netanyahu keeps losing votes, Bennet may become the leader of the second largest party in the Knesset and for sure a senior member of the next government. Considering his background, this is worrying.
Between the Settlers and Maglan
Bennet was Netanyahu's Chief of Staff from 2006 to 2008, when Netanyahu led the Opposition. On January 2010, Bennett was appointed Director General of the Yesha Council, the settlers' main political organization and led the campaign against the 2012 settlement freeze; he supports the open annexation of the West Bank. He served in this position until January 2012. Despite living near Tel Aviv, he is seen as representative of the settlers; like many of them, he is closely related to the USA, he was born to parents who had immigrated to Israel from San Francisco.
Regardless of how impressive the former paragraph may sound, that is not enough to make him attractive to mainstream voters in Israel. Recently, he gave an interview to a mainstream Israeli newspaper—Yedioth Aharonoth—and was apologetic about his background. He said, "I don't support religious coercion, but I do believe that Judaism is our 'why:' Judaism is the reason for our existence and the justification for our existence, and the meaning of our existence. I know that for your 'tribe,' this is difficult. It is difficult because your tribe established the state in a secular-socialist spirit. And as you see the society changing and the state changing, you feel like you are done for. Your feeling is that the home that had been your home is no longer yours." If that was all Bennet had to offer, he would be of no relevance.
English speakers say "the candidates were running neck and neck in the election." This is not the case concerning Netanyahu and Bennet; however, Bennet is already breathing down Netanyahu's neck. Secular Zionism is dying; a new political center has been created.
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