Bennett’s Religious Zionist Regime Is Coming

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Naftali Bennett, Yamina party chairman, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, this week.
Naftali Bennett, Yamina party chairman, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, this week.Credit: Menahem Kahana,AP

The anticipated investiture of Israel’s first religious-Zionist prime minister could also usher in a new type of national conversation, one of condescending, religious-patriotic schmaltz, saccharine and pathetic. It is not exactly new: This brand of discourse has starred on the hills of the West Bank for half a century, with all the sanctimonious gazing heavenward. From there it spread to the army and the media and all the other junctions of power that the religious Zionists have conquered over the past several years. From now on, it will play a much more central role.

The Jewish state will become the Yiddishkeit state. In the role of the harbinger is MK Nir Orbach of Yamina. The post he wrote explaining his decision to support Naftali Bennett’s government is an instructive document: a thousand sublime words about nothing. A personal political decision presented as if it had world-shaking importance. A political deal by someone who has switched parties a few times, packaged as a shift in the order of creation.

Choosing one of two possible right-wing governments, as if it were a matter of “principle.” When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he sounded less pompous. From now on, any amendment to the laws governing parking will be presented as if it was a divine order. We may as well start getting used to it.

Good old Hapoel Hamizrachi, whose leaders objected to launching the Six-Day War, was long since replaced by messiahs on their own behalf. Orbach best exemplifies the change: In his own eyes, he is the Messiah’s deputy. What didn’t he throw into the flowery explanation of his decision; they, by the way, are always the only ones who have misgivings. They have exclusivity over values and principles, too.

Key terms in his post are as follows: eternal values and the eternal people (which is not afraid); the Amoraim and the Tannaim; the Zionist vision and the musician Aviv Geffen; the popular Haredi musician Avraham Fried and 2,000 years of exile; not willingly (with them, nothing is done willingly).

The style is the man himself, and that’s fine, but pay attention to the content: the return of the repellent, arrogant, ultranationalist talk of “a model society” and “a light unto the nations.” At a time when Israel has long since stopped being a beacon, a pocket flashlight or even a match of morality to the world, but is rather something of a pariah state – for many good reasons, people in the religious right continue to deceive with their talk of an exemplary society. Even Orbach thinks we no longer are, if only for the past two years and only because we don’t have a stable government. Up until then, and we’ll soon be again – a light unto the nations, thanks to his decision to support Bennett.

This mindset must be taken seriously. It has seeped deep into Israeli society, far beyond Bennett’s base. Many Israelis, too many, still believe in the preposterous story about the chosen people and our divine right to this land. Seemingly, there’s nothing wrong with it; what’s so bad about a people that is self-satisfied to the point of intoxication? But as in every loss of contact with reality, here too there is a suicidal syndrome that is dangerous to believers and their surroundings.

What kind of model society is Orbach talking about? The one that deports asylum seekers? That throws people out of their homes because of their national affiliation? The one that imprisons hundreds of people without a trial? That shoots demonstrators? Light unto the nations, seriously? It would be enough for Israel to be like all other nations. In terms of morality, it is inferior to the most mediocre of them. And of which eternal values of religious Zionism does he speak, as a representative of a movement that worships mass dispossession, that believes in the supremacy of one nation over another in this land, that believes that a divine promise equals property registration, that is sure there is no one else besides it and that translates its condescending beliefs into political doctrine?

They condescend to the non-Jews and to secular Jews. They are principled, with full wagons ranged against all the empty wagons. They are more pioneering and more Zionist than everyone else. They do not deal with trifles, but rather only with the fate of the Jewish people. Orbach is not important, his thought and his style will from now on be more important. Pay attention to the blinding light of religion, of ultranationalism and of the condescension that he represents.

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