The Queen of Netanyahu's Party Plots Her Next Move

Yizhar Hess
Yizhar Hess
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Miri Regev at a right wing demonstration in Tel Aviv this November
Miri Regev at a right wing demonstration in Tel Aviv this NovemberCredit: Ilan Assayag
Yizhar Hess
Yizhar Hess

I rather like Miri Regev’s righteous fervor; it’s a political tool that she skillfully employs. In recent weeks, matters of religion and state have stoked her passion. “I’m a traditional woman,” she says over and again. “I can’t remain silent in view of the attacks” on the Jewish people’s holy sites. She’s losing sleep because of the egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.

Regev’s burgeoning religious feelings are so touching. She preaches passionately against the Western Wall agreement, forgetting only that she voted for it five years ago when she headed the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, before becoming a minister. And she even visited the Western Wall for a Rosh Hodesh ceremony, those at the beginning of every Jewish month, and convened a special hearing on the subject at the committee.

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“I have come to closely follow events here,” she reported with gravitas, adding that “our role is to find a compromise solution. Just as the ultra-Orthodox and traditional Jews want to pray separately at the Western Wall, the members of Women of the Wall also want to pray according to their tradition. To prevent such scenes at the next Rosh Hodesh, we need to create an egalitarian prayer space where everyone can pray according to their tradition.”

Wait a second. Let’s read that again. Miri Regev, the same Miri Regev who’s now browbeating Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and during Hanukkah is calling him a Hellenist, the same Miri Regev who used every foul word to describe Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana, declared back then with great honesty and measured words that the Western Wall should have an egalitarian prayer space.

As someone who has been following Regev’s career for many years, even before she retired from the military and launched a political career, I know that she’s an extremely calculated politician. She focuses her messages before each interview, answers strategically and rarely slips up. So we should wonder: What’s going on here?

Women of the wall pray at a Rosh Hodesh ceremony at the Western Wall last SeptemberCredit: Emil Salman

First, if you’re worried, you can relax. Regev isn’t becoming newly religious. During a visit a few years ago to Argentina, when she was a minister, she took part in a Kabbalat Shabbat to welcome the Sabbath at a Reform synagogue. The people present said that not only did she very much enjoy herself, she took lots of photos and had lots of photos taken of her. (Yes, on the Holy Sabbath.)

So she’s no ba’alat tshuva, a newly religious person. Instead – and here’s the rub – she’s someone who in recent years has made sure to give answers; not to the Lord in heaven above, but to voters in the Likud primary. Veteran Likud members recall how in the battle against the Western Wall agreement, several groups were recruited from among Likud members and with the encouragement of right-wing, Orthodox civil society groups. They tried to shoot down the historic compromise on the Western Wall.

Regev, who is tenacious in her political aspirations, doesn’t take prisoners when embracing groups of Likud primary voters to her bosom. You can find her fighting for Jewish holy sites one day, only to see her flattering Likud’s LGBTQ caucus another day.

Another factor that has sent Regev (and other Likud legislators like David Amsalem and Shlomo Karhi) on the offensive against the Western Wall agreement in recent weeks is related to the person who initiated the deal. That’s right. Benjamin Netanyahu.

When the former prime minister realized that demonstrations supporting him wouldn’t bring the masses out onto the streets, he turned to polling. It was whispered in his ear that a good campaign would animate the ultra-Orthodox street and get hundreds of thousands out fighting for the Western Wall. (Likud members speak with a twinkle in their eyes about a “Million Man March.”)

How tragic that the man who sat with us, persuaded us to compromise and promised that the agreement would be implemented, the man whose government voted for the deal, the man who both in Israel and around the world declared his commitment to the solution he engineered now seeks to ignite Jerusalem in flames of hatred and dispute.

Bennett won’t easily be broken; he has stood up well to the tidal wave of protest against him and his ministers for their reforms of the kosher-certification system and the cellphone-license system for the ultra-Orthodox community – reforms that changed the rules of the game. Behind the scenes, Bennett was one of the agitators for the Western Wall framework and knows every detail of it.

Don’t be afraid, Bennett. Listen to Miri Regev’s rhetoric and do exactly the opposite.

Yizhar Hess is the vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization and a former CEO of the Masorti Movement.

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