The decision by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and his colleague, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, to quit the Habayit Hayehudi party and form a new party under their leadership is first of all an acknowledgment of the settler party’s electoral glass ceiling.
Bennett and Shaked know there simply aren’t enough Israelis interested in buying the ideological goods that religious Zionism is selling. Habayit Hayehudi’s extremism, messianism, racism and homophobia – all apparently essential ingredients in its ideological stew – were too much even for Bennett and Shaked. As people who have set their sights on the Prime Minister’s Office, it was only a matter of time until they abandoned the extremists and tried to wink at the center from the right.
But the fact that Shaked and Bennett found MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Moti Yogev too extreme for their political ambitions doesn’t mean this duo, which taught the right to stop apologizing, is politically moderate. If Bennett and Shaked are winking at the center, it will truly be a wink – that is, a pretense. After all, Bennett and Shaked represent the ultra-nationalist, ethnocentric, dangerous right.
Shaked’s revolution in the Justice Ministry and Bennett’s in the education system are the materials from which their party, Hayamin Hehadash (The New Right), will be built. It will be a party committed to continuing the erasure of Israel’s liberal characteristics, liquidating its gatekeepers, moving the justice system back in time and adopting a primitive legal system to which the principle of equality is alien.
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Bennett and Shaked will continue to systematically advance the annexation of the occupied territories in accordance with Bennett’s diplomatic plan. They will begin by annexing Area C of the West Bank and establishing an official apartheid regime – that is, two parallel legal systems in territory under the same sovereignty. Israeli citizens will have the right to vote, while Palestinians will be second-class residents devoid of rights.
The departure of Bennett and Shaked leaves Habayit Hayehudi in the hands of the National Union faction – Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and MK Smotrich – which are already outstretched to the Kahanist Otzma Leyisrael party. We can only hope it suffers a serious electoral blow and doesn’t even win enough seats to enter the Knesset.
If Bennett and Shaked, who expanded Habayit Hayehudi to its present, harmful size with their own two hands, also end up being the ones to bury the party, this will be a kind of poetic justice.
We must also hope that the fear voiced by Likud – “there are people who haven’t learned the lesson of the 1992 election, when the right fragmented itself into tiny parties and thereby brought a left-wing government to power” – will prove true in the upcoming election, and that the right-wing electorate will punish Bennett and Shaked in the polling booth.
That would be a big gain for Israeli democracy.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.