The Jewish Brotherhood Movement

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Nobody in Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party can claim to be surprised by Or Kashti’s article Wednesday in which a consultant warns that the government's new Jewish identity initiative is based on fascist values. The Religious Services Ministry's Jewish Identity Administration is being set up by a former chief military  rabbi, Brig. Gen. (res.) Avichai Rontzki. It seeks to strengthen "Jewish identity” in schools, though this bit of mischief was already included in the coalition agreement with Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi party.

Yesh Atid members should pay attention to what's going on here. For the first time in the country’s history, a government will provide assistance (not to mention a budget and salaries for the employees and the enthusiastic manager) to an activity aimed at brainwashing high-school students with fanatical messianic ideas painted in strong nationalist hues and clad in military uniforms and insignia.

Simply put, the kind of rampage that got official budgetary support but took place far from the eyes of the secular middle class will now take place in public schools all over Israel. It will be a rude intrusion on the Education Ministry’s territory by another ministry. And not just any ministry but one that was declared superfluous long ago and was closed down. But this ministry now thrives again to give Brother Bennett a way to promote other brothers.

All this is happening even though officially the ministry isn't supposed to do anything but provide religious services. It would be interesting to see what Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, sharp journalist that he is, would say about that.

How ironic. Yesh Atid's members gloat euphorically in the government, in the Knesset and on Facebook about the wild successes of all kinds of reforms. But it's still not clear whether these reforms are worth the paper they're written on, particularly the “revolution” of drafting ultra-Orthodox men into the Israel Defense Forces.

At the same time, the government, in which Yesh Atid is a senior partner, lets an extremely destructive nationalist-religious splinter group determine young people's conceptual world with the radical-settlers' ideas (which in Rontzki’s case are also superficial and rash). All this is happening after Yesh Atid promised its voters to hold aloft the banner of the common Israeli.

It’s conceivable that Yesh Atid isn't noticing this process. When Bennett was asked this week why he supported Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s bid to become chief rabbi, he answered with sophisticated scorn: “That doesn’t interest me at all.” Maybe it’s because he’s busy with cattle exports to China, but like him, maybe Yesh Atid people are also convinced that the most important thing is the pseudo-economic revolution, and all the rest is peanuts. Indeed, that’s the gap forming between Yesh Atid’s show and what's happening in our own backyard.

The show prides itself on “reforms” such as the natural-gas miracle, the privatization of the ports and changing the structure of the public sector. These are portrayed not only as enormous revolutions, but also as actions to make things easier for the middle class. But for all practical purposes, they're part of a sweeping neoliberal policy that even U.S. officials realize only benefit the well-off. And behind the scenes of Yesh Atid's show, the “Jewish” spirit — Khomeinist and anti-democratic — is running wild.

It seems that instead of two different parties fawning over the middle class, one new movement is taking shape: the Jewish Brotherhood.

Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett in the Knesset. Credit: Michal Fattal

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