The X Factor of Israeli Politics

The thinking liberal public must understand that there is a very large group of people who do not necessary carry out the religious commandments and are exposed to Internet culture, yet still feel close to religion.

I remember as a little boy, in elementary school, walking with my father one Saturday morning to Zichron Yosef – the “Kurds’ neighborhood” in Jerusalem. My father was not an ordinary person, certainly not in the Jerusalem of those days. He was Moshe Baram, head of the Histadrut labor federation in Jerusalem, and, some people said, the “strongest man in the city.”

We had come to the neighborhood because of the local elections at the time. Passersby treated my father with great respect, but when I told him “The party is strong in the neighborhood,” he answered me in a whisper: “I wish we could get even 25 percent here.”

It was the eve of the founding of the state, before the waves of immigration, before the second generation of the immigrant transit camps rose up and turned their backs angrily on the establishment that had received their parents into the country. These were hard-working people; laborers. The shadow still lingered of the conflict between the leaderships of the Yishuv and Etzel (the prestate underground militia led by Menachem Begin), but the real disagreements, like the question of the territories, had still not erupted at the time. And yet the natural flow was still toward nationalist parties with a pinch of religion and tradition.

Last week, TheMarker published figures about voting patterns in Israel. It turns out, for example, that the centrist and leftist parties receive more than 80 percent of the votes in the neighborhoods where income is greater than NIS 10,000 a month. People who want to see things simply will say that Ashkenazim with higher-than-average incomes and university graduates tend to vote center-left. All the others turn to Likud, the ultra-Orthodox parties and the religious-Zionist right. This axiom is accepted as the unchallenged reality. But we should give it some thought.

According to TheMarker, “The results indicate that the left has abandoned the outlying regions, and the outlying regions have turned their back on the left.”

That was the assumption behind Ehud Barak’s apology to Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern origin) in 1997, when he was leader of the Labor Party. “I ask forgiveness in the name of the Labor Party and [Labor’s precursor] Mapai throughout the generations,” he said. He expressed hope that “this apology will allow the renewal of dialogue between the Labor Party and residents of the development towns.”

However, the apology did not help. The Labor Party now, under the leadership of Shelly Yacimovich - a leftist on social issues - is not producing the dialogue Barak had hoped for. Why? And how was it that former Meretz MK Ran Cohen, who was so wholeheartedly identified with social struggle, did not yield results for his party at the polls?

All attempts to blur the picture and draw a different map have failed. Not because the methodology is wrong, but because the real problem has almost pointedly been ignored. When I ask myself what the Barashi family of prestate Zichron Yosef has in common with the people of the outlying towns after the waves of immigration, I see in my mind’s eye Ezra Barashi, a construction worker, blessing my father, holding a prayer book in his hand.

I meet many of my acquaintances and relatives, among them people who appear secular but who have not given up kissing the mezuzah, reciting the blessing over the wine at home, and other prayer customs that stem not only from habit but faith in the power of the Creator of the universe.

There are ever-strengthening religious groups to which any liberal thought is foreign. Not only do the ultra-Orthodox segregate women, the national-Zionist camp successfully imitates them. Add to that the nationalist component, and the conclusion is that apologies will not help, because this is a matter of conflicting values: The religious public cannot accept liberal values, and vice versa. And so the alliance between Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett will not hold out for much longer.

The thinking liberal public must understand that there is a very large group of people who do not necessary carry out the religious commandments and are exposed to Internet culture, yet still feel close to religion. And so they cannot relate to what is being offered by Lapid, Yacimovich, Hatnuah’s Tzipi Livni and Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On. Not because of their positions on social issues and foreign affairs, but because of their atheism. This writer is a sworn atheist who sees the situation before his eyes and cannot hide it.