Religious Zionism’s Ugliest Hour

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Bezalel Smotrich and Rafi Peretz speak at a Union of Right Wing Parties rally, March 11, 2019.
Bezalel Smotrich and Rafi Peretz speak at a Union of Right Wing Parties rally, March 11, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

How is that religious Zionists are not ashamed of their political representatives, led by Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich? How do they sleep at night when their most senior public servants are the likes of Matanyahu Englman and Daniel Hershkowitz? Why aren’t their stomachs turning in the face of the ongoing rampages by the settlers in greater Yitzhar and the Haredi-nationalist incubators in the hesder yeshivas?

Is this really what has become of the movement that aspired to integrate Torah and labor and be a bridge between communities? This and Natan Eshel? Are these the faces of Judaism, the walls of the Jewish home? Is anything left of the moderate, integrative spirit of the religious kibbutz movement, the original Bnei Akiva, or Meimad?

They always knew how to preach morality and values to the secular and the liberals very well. They also knew how to seal themselves off from any criticism from the outside. But deep within, many of them know the truth. And the truth is that the wagon is emptier than ever.

It’s so empty that its declared purpose is to harness itself to serve the legal and family interests of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The wagon is so empty that the union which purports to represent the entire rainbow of religious Zionism has chosen secular, “conservative” Ayelet Shaked to lead it to better ratings. Both Netanyahu and Shaked worked until the last minute to get Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bentzi Gopstein included. The most important thing is that “no vote goes to waste,” even the holy votes of the Kahanists.

And what was all this hustle and bustle for? To preserve Netanyahu’s corruption and immunity. Not for the sake of heaven, not even to preserve the integrity of the land. For decades now they’ve told us, sometimes regretfully, that this was the core of religious Zionism’s political existence. That it had all shrunk and converged for the sake of retaining the occupied territories and settlements. That one may sometimes lie for the sake of the Land of Israel and that not a single divine grain of sand must be given up.

But the integrity of the land is not in danger; almost no one in the political system disputes this. The only thing at risk is the continued corrupt, corrupting government of the Netanyahu family. And for this, together with the ultra-Orthodox, the representatives of religious Zionism are carrying the stretcher. That’s now the sum total of their contribution to Israel’s revival.

This is their ugliest hour. It’s not just the religious politicians in the Union of Right-Wing Parties and Likud, it’s not just the rabbinic leaders and halakhic judges, but even their state officials and gatekeepers. Mitzvah emissaries like Matanyahu Englman, who was barely appointed state comptroller, is already trying to crush the comptroller’s office in Orwellian fashion and turn it into a petting zoo for the corrupt and a mechanism for arranging mysterious loans for his new masters. Or Daniel Hershkowitz, the former chairman of Habayit Hayehudi, who has been invisible and silent since being appointed civil service commissioner, and who was recently seen with his wife on a world tour of Jewish communities. One wonders what the civil service commissioner would say about that.

What has become of punctilious observance, integrity, guarding one’s tongue from speaking evil and one’s lips from speaking deceit, let alone seeking peace and pursuing it, or concern for the stranger, the orphan and the widow? Maybe they’ve disappeared down the black hole from which religious Zionism’s new friends are emerging, or have been dissolved into its submission to Netanyahu’s stranglehold, or its immersion into ultra-Orthodox nationalism. It has generated some strange alliances, like Gadi Taub and “The Shadow,” Irit Linur and Avri Gilad, Yinon Magal and Galit Distel Etebaryan.

Then there’s Tzachi Hanegbi, a convicted criminal and Kadima refugee, who stated this week that the values of Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel are “a million times” more preferable than the values of the left. Show me who advocates for you, and I’ll tell you how low you’ve sunk. Into the abyss.

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