Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked had pretensions of creating “a new right”; a right that unifies while maintaining ideological purity and virtue; religious and secular Jews seeking to preserve the wholeness of the people and the land. A party that would be what Likud, before it became a single-leader party, should have been. A political framework in which the sons and daughters of religious Zionism would join up with their secular and traditional (but not Orthodox) co-religionists to restore Israel to practical Zionism.
The idea inspires hope. The potential for success was, and remains, great. Many Likud supporters who were disappointed by Benjamin Netanyahu looked forward to it. Many religious Zionists, disgusted by the regime of the rabbis and by the political hacks of the National Religious Party and its successor, Habayit Hayehudi, were enthusiastic about it. But instead of persevering and leading a consistent, long-range process, chose repeatedly to stand at the head of a divided, if not entirely fragmented, “hack-eat-hack” religious framework.
By giving in to their fear of following through on the promise to establish a pure framework, with a stronger commitment to ideology than to parliamentary math – and by capitulating to Netanyahu, who schemes against them – Bennett and Shaked have proved that they lack the necessary leadership skills to carry out a revolutionary vision. While their departure from Habayit Hayehudi, under pressure from rabbis and party mechanisms, was necessary, its timing and manner were highly dishonorable.
Now, having reestablished Hayamin Hehadash (the New Right), they have been given an opportunity to demonstrate honorable, considered and independent leadership. But despite the expectations raised by their new-old rhetoric, they returned to their evil ways once more. Instead of blazing a new political path, they have placed themselves at the head of an alliance of fragments of factions, whose members are hostile to each other and whose word cannot be trusted in the least. As to the political future of these distinguished individuals, Bennett himself prophesied Thursday: “We are not [only] a technical bloc. We shall be a unified list even after the election.”
The inexplicable behavior of Rabbi Rafi Peretz, the education minister, left him, in effect, without supporters. Bennett and Shaked came along and extracted this harmful individual from the pit he dug for himself and gave him the No. 2 slot on the Yamina joint slate. To think it was only yesterday that these people promised a revolution of principles in Israeli politics.
An “arrangements committee,” controlled by rabbis, decided that Peretz, who has no political skills, would be the leader of Habayit Hayehudi. He showed himself to be a fish out of water, acting at the behest of his patrons. He became their emissary for the purposes of obtaining funding allocations, placing their people in key positions and carrying out their agenda. His media appearances have been disasters. But despite all the damage he has done – and even if it were only to save him from continuing to harm his party, himself, his family and his many students – those who planted him at the head of the veteran party did not step up to tell him: Arise and return to the place whence you came; every day you are in politics you get in trouble and you make trouble. As they did not do this, the inevitable climax indeed arrived: his bizarre alliance with the neo-Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party and the betrayal (“a commitment is a commitment”) of an ally. Is this how an educator behaves? An officer? A pilot? A chief military rabbi?
The vision of the new right is essential. It will contribute to the healing of the entire political system. The day will come, the day must come, when honest people, people with the requisite leadership skills, step forward and say to those who are waiting for that day: “Do not despair. Give us your trust. We will not throw it away due to a momentary set of circumstances.” Such a moment could be the start of the change for which so many people hope.