Habayit Hayehudi has hit rock bottom. The incitement campaign that party chairman Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and his friends have been waging against Labor and Hatnuah is so fierce that it begs for a logical explanation. In one week of strident interviews and unbridled campaign clips, Habayit Hayehudi’s leaders have managed to do to the term “Zionist” what they did to the words “Jewish” and “Israeli” – pollute and mangle it. This peaked with party primary contender Ronen Shoval’s demand that the Central Election Committee ban Zionist Camp from using that name because “of the post-Zionist character of the candidates on the roster.”
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This is a hysterical outbreak. In this spirit we may demand that this party has not been true to its name, which means “the Jewish home.” This party, which throws all those in need of public housing into the street, did not plan a “home” for itself, certainly not a Jewish one. Most of its activists belong to an extremist messianic sect, which has no connection to Judaism as most of the world’s Jews understand it today.
But the choice to sully people in the name of “Zionism” is not funny and is not just a whim. It has a clear goal and a clearly defined target audience – a huge number of despairing Israelis, mostly right-wing, center and “center-light” voters (from Labor and Yesh Atid and rightward) who have had it with Netanyahu’s government and are trying to decide which ballot slip to put in the box in another two months.
These are secular, traditional and religious people who are not of the nationalist-religious ilk. Much research and numerous surveys show that many Israelis, mostly the young and the very young, with varying levels of education, are considering whether to vote for Habayit Hayehudi. In fact, they are thinking of “voting for Bennett.” They see him as a shining role model: the lightest version of religious, a son of secular parents born in California who served in a much-admired elite army unit, had a successful exit, lives in a villa in Ra’anana, does not apologize or compromise and doesn’t believe anyone (i.e., not a sucker), boasts in fine English of his Israeli-Jewish-Zionist identity – the epitome of the neo-liberal nationalist dream.
Up to now, Bennett has done well with this deceptive image. He has carefully hidden the Yesha Council of Settlements’ rabbis, kept Orit Strock quiet, made sure the party’s campaign signs right before the last election starred only the shining visage of the local version of Sarah Palin – Ayelet Shaked. In his appearances stark patriotism is stressed, with nary a hint of the anti-government settler Zionism. Even his hipster clip “I don’t apologize” is taken from the world of Tel Avivian imagery (fanciful and hollow as it is), in which Bennett seems to feel more comfortable than facing off against the Israel Defense Forces among the rocks of some West Bank outpost.
But the last primary tore the mask off Bennett, and despite his efforts to promote additional representatives of the Israeli “Tea Party,” first and foremost Ronen Shoval and Yinon Magal, the party’s real face peeks out from the tatters of the mask: national religious, dripping with hatred, anti-government and anti-Zionist, from the obdurate Bezalel Smotrich to Sarah Eliash, who does not believe in drafting women into the army, to the reactionary preacher Avichai Ronsky and Moti Yogev, who arrogantly takes revenge on the residents of the Negev. Bennett will not be able to hide them.
The courageous testimony of attorney Batya Kahane-Dror, who tried to join the party’s slate and met an ignorant bunch (who immediately accused her of belonging to the New Israel Fund), underscores the realization that has long been sinking in to the broader religious public. The time has come for secular people, too, to understand that a vote for Bennett endangers first of all their future, because behind the illusion of the Jewish-patriotic bourgeois identity and glittering capitalist liberalism hides only extreme religiosity and dark nationalism.