Opinion

Religious Zionists, Stop Pretending You're Any Better Than the Kahanists

An Education Ministry ceremony featuring outgoing minister Naftali Bennett and his replacement, Rafi Peretz, June 26, 2019.
Emil Salman

The closing of the candidate slates for the Knesset has always been the finest hour for the “senior source,” and the “source close to …,” and there is nothing surprising about the lies being floated from the negotiations between the two right-wing alliances. But watching Naftali Bennett play the role of the ideological opponent to a merger with the Otzma Yehudit was really more than I could swallow. Granted, the right-wing parties have been historically opposed to the concept of borders or boundaries, but still, there has to be a limit.

For if there is any difference between Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir and neo-Kahanist Bezalel Smotrich, apparently you have to be Bennett to discern it. And what difference is there really between those two and Rabbi Rafi Peretz? Peretz will smile at LGBTQ people before sending them off for reeducation?

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This is just a façade of a debate among a façade of public representatives. Bennett and Ayelet Shaked would not rule out sitting in the same government with Ben-Gvir, just as Shaked in the past did not rule out negotiations with Ben-Gvir. Recall that those talks broke down over an argument about seats and not over something like what to do about Jewish terrorism. Ben-Gvir is not a red flag and the only reason Bennett doesn’t want him is the fear that he might scare off right-wing voters who can’t quite stomach the same kind of thing that Bennett and Shaked can.

This fear is warranted. Which is why Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing so hard for the merger, ready to scoop up the voters who will then abandon the ship of untouchables that was once the National Religious Party. It’s just not clear who these right-wing voters are who are ready to swallow this lie – to flee to Likud from Habayit Hayehudi only to sit with Ben-Gvir in the same coalition, and with a prime minister who made him a legitimate partner.

The right-wing parties seem to believe that their voters are senile. Bennett can lash out at Moti Yogev one day and wonder how LGBTQ-hatred became the banner issue of religious Zionism, and the next day he can join forces with Smotrich, a proud homophobe. One minute Shaked can boast about being the only woman leading a party, and the next she is pushed back to make way for people who are waging a war to get women out of the army. Only when it comes to hatred of Arabs does everyone get along fine, those who openly support apartheid and those who are still embarrassed to use the word.

Religious Zionism cannot be blamed for the occupation. It was an Israeli project that was supported by nearly the entire political spectrum. But religious Zionist leaders would not deny that their movement played a key role in deepening the occupation and that their voters are the ones who have the greatest interest in keeping us in the territories. For years they mocked us when we said the occupation corrupts. Well, just look at them now – floundering over the question of whether to give a Baruch Goldstein groupie a place in the party, and how high.

And of course there is also the support for a corrupt prime minister. This, too, is a small price to pay for the dream of turning Israel into the South Africa of the 21st century. This is how injustice grows. You wanted to steal land from Palestinians, and now you have to maintain the tyranny to protect the theft. You wanted tyranny and now you find yourselves negotiating with the lowest of racists, seeking to maximize the safety net you’ll be able to provide for a corrupt politician.

This is what the political representatives of religious Zionism in Israel now look like. This is what the movement has come to. And people from the religious Zionist community are going to keep on voting for these people; they should stop pretending that they’re any better than Ben-Gvir. They’re exactly the same.