New Israeli Elites, Same Piggish Capitalism

Today’s religious Zionist ethos: Only the strong survive; we are strong, so that means we’re right, whether we’re talking about Jews vs. Arabs or rich vs. poor

Nitzan Horowitz
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Netanyahu and Bennet
File photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naphtali Bennet.Credit: Haim Horenstein
Nitzan Horowitz

The religious-Zionist leadership is today spearheading the suppression of any social protest. In the past it was an important partner in building the welfare state, but it has grown corpulent and tired. The huge budgets for the settlements and the coalition perks that continuously expanded have changed its nature. For years the rabbis, politicians and public opinion makers of religious Zionism have been devoted to the right’s flagship project: crushing the welfare state. Now it is recording an especially sad chapter as the source of the most venomous voices against the disabled, against the gas struggle, against the anti-corruption battle. They’ve gotten fat and arrogant.

There are among them those who cynically and consciously oppose any social struggle, simply to preserve their status and privileges. And there are those who have been made unresponsive by all the budgets and power; they avert their eyes and think that everyone is in the same situation and everything here is wonderful.

Both types have the same modus operandi, labeling social struggles as betrayals of the state, using code words like “the New Israel Fund” and “left-wing NGOS.” Any peep of protest is immediately labeled whining and “leftist.” That is, unless it occurs in the settlements. The extortion of billions, as at Amona, is perfectly fine for ultra-capitalists like Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Her ardent capitalism stops at the Green Line.

Not all religious Zionists are like that. There are many fine people who reject what has happened to the community of “Torah and labor.” But they remain silent. Why are there no yarmulkes at social-protest demonstrations, they wonder. Because the religious right flees from any issue relating to workers or the exploitation of human beings. Because religious Zionism allows heartless capitalists to drag it to the realm of social piggishness.

Whoever thinks the alliance between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett and Bezalel Smotrich relates solely to diplomatic issues is seeing just an ear or the trunk of the elephant; it is a moral partnership of the extreme right, both economic and religious. Only the strong survive; we are strong, so that means we’re right. This is true whether we’re talking about Jews vs. Arabs or rich vs. poor. By the way, there’s nothing new about this; it’s the same right-wing corruption that has emerged throughout the generations, all over the world.

How does this square with religion? Easily. It’s one of the oldest alliances there is, the alliance between the wealthy man and the religious functionary. That’s how it is in all religious establishments – accepting the decree, reconciling oneself to one’s fate, and of course, charity, but only in moderation. God forbid that charity should become justice; it must remain in the realm of pennies. “The Torah doesn’t require the existence of equality and doesn’t encourage reducing gaps,” explained Rabbi Uri Sadan of the Keter Institute for Economics and Torah, relying (erroneously) on Maimonides. But what should the community do nonetheless? “Make sure the poor person has his most basic needs, and that’s it,” he said.

In this spirit Sadan rules that raising the disability allowances violates Jewish law. Hard to believe? At the Makor Rishon conference, Eli Groner, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, explained that raising the allowance would increase the number of disabled in the population. His remarks were greeted with applause. Still hard to believe? In response to the National Insurance Institute poverty report in 2015 which showed that a third of Israeli children are poor, Smotrich gave us this pearl: “I have five children and I don’t think two of them are poor.”

This is how a ground-breaking movement based on Hapoel Hamizrahi’s principles of equality and social justice now has leaders who espouse an evangelist morality that is anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish, which scorns every social struggle, accuses the weak of being responsible for their situation and is divorced from the reality of most people in Israel.