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The Cross of Bethlehem II

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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Does Benjamin Netanyahu pray? Probably not, anybody capable of ordering Operation Pillar of Cloud is unable to distinguish between good and evil; he doesn't belong to God. However, it is not difficult to imagine what his prayers would have been: "God, please bring the elections on as fast as possible." He is leading comfortably; most polls show that he will be able to form a secular coalition and then add to it the religious Haredim for good measure. However, most polls also show a slow and constant deterioration in the number of seats that Likud-Beiteinu will get. Every week, it loses a seat. "Hurry up, God, bring on the elections, Amen."

The source of his problem is the inherent instability of his joint list with Avigdor Lieberman. Traditional voters of the Likud and settlers welcomed the unification between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu (see The Rebirth of the Stern Gang); however it didn't take long before this alliance was attacked by Mizrahi Haredim. Likud is perceived as the party that restored honor to Mizrahi Jews; yet, it is invariably led by non-Mizrahi Jews. Now it has made an alliance with the Russian immigrants (Lieberman's party), who are not considered proper Jews by much of the Jewish society. On December 27, 2012, Aryeh Deri, one of the most charismatic leaders of the Mizrahi-Haredi movement said, "once the party of the people, it has turned into an arrogant and haughty party that represents Russians and whites." Prayers or not, Netanyahu lost at that moment another seat or two. "Hurry up, God, bring on the elections, Amen."

Aryeh Deri - Shas

Aryeh Deri - Shas
Elusive Israel: The Puzzle of Election in Romans

Naftali Bennett

Naftali Bennett - The Jewish Home
Politics and Government in Israel

Zero-sum Game

Elections to the Knesset are what in Game Theory is known as a "Zero-sum Game," similarly to chess and go. The voters cannot change the number of Knesset members to be elected; this remains static at 120. If Benjamin Netanyahu loses a seat, it goes somewhere else. The upcoming elections will probably become a change point in the Israeli political map. For the first time in the country's history, it is unlikely that a kibbutz member would be part of the Knesset; compare this to the twenty-six kibbutzniks in the First Knesset and the political vector becomes highlighted. Israel is stepping away from its Communist roots. Most voters abandoning Likud won't vote for what Lieberman recently called the Polish Trio of Zionist parties in the center and left of the political spectrum (there are more than three). Neither will they run to the Haredi parties or to the extreme right of the National Union. What is left is about to become the great surprise of the upcoming elections: The Jewish Home, Habayit Hayehudi.

Kipah Sruga

"Kipah Sruga" ("handwoven skullcap") hat | The Mark of Religious Zionism


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.

The Jewish Home Campaign Poster

The Jewish Home Campaign Poster | Removed after it was found to be a fake picture; a religious soldier was added to the original one


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.

In yesterday's article about Lieberman, I commented about his problematic military background; it limits him as an Israeli politician. Bennet is on the other side of the spectrum. He was a company commander at Sayeret Matkal, and at Maglan. The first is the IDF's top commando unit. The second is like the first, but smaller and specializes in high-tech weapons. Founded in the 1980s, it was hidden for years behind Moran, an anti-tank weapons unit, they were the first to use optically guided missiles in the IDF. His Maglan background opened for him the gates of the Israeli High-tech world. In 1999, he co-founded "Cyota," and served as its CEO. In 2005, he sold the anti-fraud software company to RSA Security for $145 million. Since then, he has been free to play in the political arena and has the suitable background to get the votes of most Israelis.

Maglan Insignia

Maglan Insignia

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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