Of a political nature.
I referred in my last posting to the campaign circus that was about to begin. Turns out it is likely to be even more of a circus than I had anticipated. There is a feeling in many quarters that we could really do without that circus. But what is, is. And so I share preliminary information with my readers.
On Saturday night, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked held a press conference, at which they announced that they were leaving Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) and starting a new party: HaYamin HeHadash, The New Right. HH
Bennett is chair of Habayit Hayehudi and currently Education Minister, Shaked, Bennett’s close associate, is currently Justice Minister.
Another new party?
In broad terms, their explanation was that HaBayit Hayehudi was focused too narrowly, because its foundation is religious. (Bennett is probably best described as dati leumi, modern Orthodox nationalist, while Shaked is secular and was the only non-observant member of HaBayit Hayehudi.)
What they said they wanted was a broader politically right-wing party that embraced both religious and non-religious voters equally. They expressed a belief that right-wing Zionism would only garner its full strength in this way.
A brief, somewhat simplified background explanation is necessary here. Brief and simplified because the musical chairs of political affiliations over the years could make one’s head swim. Even the “simplified” version is not really simple:
HaBayit Hayehudi had been the National Religious Party (modern Orthodox, Zionist), but with the addition of Tekuma (in English, rebirth), which is a religious Zionist faction ideologically further to the right. (Tekuma is sometimes referred to as National Union because it was once part of that party.)
The Tekuma faction is headed by Uri Ariel, Minister of Agriculture. MK Bezalel Smotrich (pictured), however, intends to challenge Ariel for this position. Ariel will apparently resign from Tekuma if he is not re-elected as head.
Smotrich explained that “Tekuma needs to step up ahead of [the next election] and situate itself as the political home of religious Zionism, and everyone who identifies with its ideas and values.
“The challenge of representing the religious Zionist public… is not part [of the Jewish Home’s larger aspirations]. That is our job.”
Smotrich indicated that the move of Bennett and Shaked was “logical” because, “From the moment they entered politics they did not come to…lead Religious Zionism.” He said he thinks the groups could have managed to work together under the umbrella of HaBayit Hayehudi, but he wishes them well.
And here, I think, we begin to have a bit of clarity.
It is a point of considerable significance that neither Bennett nor Shaked were from religious Zionist parties. They had both come out of Likud and had worked with Netanyahu. The relationship between Bennett and Netanyahu evolved into a situation of tension, with the prime minister viewing Bennett as a challenger and not a protégé. It is unlikely that Bennett would have left Likud had that interaction been different.
When Bennett came to HaBayit Hayehudi, he attempted to reach out to a broader base, so that it was no longer the party that its predecessor, the National Religious Party had been. He saw this as necessary to establishing a wider Zionist right wing party. But there were religious Zionists who were frustrated by the change in the party.
In their announcement, Bennett and Shaked said that they will now seek to appeal to all right wing Zionists, religious and secular, but it would seem to me that religious Zionists are likely to stay with Habayit Hayehudi, while The New Right will attract more secular right wing Zionists. (See more on this below.)
Some commentators see Bennett’s move as signaling a direct confrontation with Netanyahu, because he perceives that the prime minister’s political fortunes are winding down. There is some indication that this break-off may have been in the planning since the end of the summer.
The recent challenge to Netanyahu with regard to Bennet’s insistence that he be appointed minister of defense after Avigdor Lieberman resigned may be a part of the backdrop here:
Bennett and Shaked had issued a threat to Netanyahu: if Bennett – who I suspect would have been quite effective – was not appointed, Habayit Hayehudi would pull out of the coalition, thereby bringing it down. But, in the end, Bennett and Shaked backed down, declaring that they were doing so for the good of the country. I do not believe this had anything to do with a perception on the part of Netanyahu that Bennett would have been an incompetent defense minister; it was about his refusal to be threatened or maneuvered by Bennett. Bibi Netanyahu is a smooth and clever politician: he won the day.
But, not surprisingly, this stayed with Bennett.
A primary concern on the right is that electoral strength is lost if there are too many parties – a splintering of the base. But in this case it might not be so.
Bennett and Shaked today told a slightly different story from the one that we heard last night. In reality, they will not be trying to draw as many right wing Zionist voters as possible, religious or not: they will be primarily speaking to secular voters, while Habayit Hayehudi draws religious voters. This is in line with what I described above. In this way, goes the reasoning, more mandates can be achieved than if Habayit Hayehudi tried to appeal to everyone. And they may well be correct here.
After the elections, the two parties would unite and form one faction in the Knesset, doing coalition negotiations with Netanyahu (should he be charged with forming the coalition) jointly. They would have a superior negotiating position because they would represent a larger number of mandates.
Additionally, there is talk now about Netanyahu arranging to lower the threshold for how many mandates a party needs in order to enter the Knesset (it is currently set at four). A lower threshold helps to protect the right-wing base when the parties are splintering.
MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, a religious right-wing member of Knesset, is leaving Habayit Hayehudi and going with Bennett, which is a bit of surprise.
Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan has announced that, with Bennett’s departure, he will run to become head of Habayit Hayehudi. “There is only one right-wing religious Zionist party – the Jewish Home.”
He regrets Shuli’s move: “Shuli is the flesh and blood of religious Zionism and her place is in the Jewish Home.”
A couple of final political campaign notes here:
Minister Michael Oren, American-born historian and former Israeli ambassador to the US, has announced that he is leaving the Kulanu party, but leaves open his political future.
There had been rumors that Danny Danon, Israel’s excellent ambassador to the UN, would be leaving to run for the Likud Knesset list. But he has announced that this work is important and he is staying.
With regard to the political campaign, I can only say here what I say so often: we must watch and see how this plays out. This will not be boring. Each party has its own timetable and its own method for determining its list. (We do not vote for individuals, but the lists advanced by each party.)
I move very briefly here to the issue of the US pullout from Syria – also an on-going story. I first note that US commanders planning for that withdrawal are recommending that Kurdish fighters battling ISIS be allowed to keep US-supplied weapons. A final Pentagon decision has not been made yet, but this would be a good move.
It would apparently also anger Turkey, and thus – who knows? – possibly shift the dynamic.
And then, I close with an article on the issue of the Syrian pullout by Dr. Mordecai Kedar (emphasis added):
Not a great situation, he tells us, but not a crisis either: “Stop pushing the panic button.”
He is convinced that Israeli leaders responsible for security are in serious communication with the Americans regarding how to proceed. And he believes that the US security decision-makers “will be more willing to accede to Israeli requests for arms and the types of weapons the US did not agree to provide for Israel in the past – or grudgingly agreed to provide in limited amounts.”
He is further convinced that US intelligence on Iran will be more readily shared and that “the US will give Israel a clearer green light than it has in the past to deal more decisively with Iranian targets.”
My read on this is that the US would be more amenable to Israeli attack on Iranian targets because there will no longer be a possibility of American troops getting caught up in such actions.
Lastly, he expects solid American diplomatic support for Israeli actions.
Tomorrow night the secular new year is celebrated. What this signifies for me is that after tomorrow I must put the 2019 date at the top of my postings.
For me, new year observance means Rosh Hashana, and is marked with prayer and contemplation.
We all need happy times and celebration, but the state of the world is such that drinking and fireworks and giddy merrymaking are not the responses that come to mind first. OF COURSE I wish all of my readers a good new year, filled with health and sustenance, personal fulfillment, love and peace. With all of the blessings that truly matter.
What must be celebrated is having a new start, a new year, in which to make the world a better, safer, more humane and beautiful place. We have that chance! So perhaps, a prayer, and a moment of contemplation, to start us on the way.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.