One of the natural assumptions of this election campaign is that Benny Gantz is a relevant candidate for prime minister. Yet how can someone who failed in his attempt to defeat Benjamin Netanyahu, was lured into entering a Netanyahu-led unity government, was burned by Netanyahu’s deceit and roused the wrath of his own voters now be a realistic candidate – at least according to the polls – for this job?

Supposedly, this is a way to solve the stalemate between the blocs by forming another “unity government,” this time with Gantz serving as prime minister first. Whether such a compromise is either moral or worthwhile deserves a separate discussion (the short answer is no and no).

But Gantz’s relevancy stems from his increasingly close ties with the ultra-Orthodox parties, which may not lead them to recommend him as prime minister or to separate from Netanyahu, but certainly creates an interesting platform. And it is rooted in a deep well whose waters have been nourishing the political system for decades.

What keeps Gantz in the picture is his affection for religion and his positive attitude toward tradition. This is the most important hidden indicator of one’s political bloc in Israel. Gantz’s fondness for tradition is authentic, rooted in his childhood and his parents, and rightist voters can tell. Consequently, they seek to merge him into their bloc, or at least are willing to befriend him.

An affection for religion, tradition and traditional practices doesn’t require stringently adhering to Jewish law or adopting a religious lifestyle; it doesn’t even require a decision on questions of faith. Nor does an affection for religion entail the shame of the inevitable clash between Judaism and democracy, which isn’t a religious issue at all (even though racism against non-Jews is very common, and perhaps even more common, in religious circles). Rather, this clash stems from a constitutional and political structure that was meant to entrench the supremacy of one nationality or race over another.

When I interviewed Likud MK David Amsalem at the start of his national political career, I was curious about the reasons for his deep loathing of Mapai, the Labor Party precursor that ruled Israel for its first three decades and was also the political home in which he grew up. His answer was clear and decisive. “We loathed them because they wanted to turn children away from religion.”

A great many of the immigrants who came to Israel after its founding benefited from health, education and welfare systems that provided heroic responses to an enormous wave of immigrants arriving with nothing. Nevertheless, they increasingly grew alienated from, hostile to and afraid of the people who wrought this miracle, because they discerned their contempt for the traditional practices that were inseparable from their love of their parents, their parents’ honor and their emotional ties to communal structures in the countries they came from.

At some point in life, people start defending their parents and their parents’ honor, even if they experimented with courageous and justified rebellions along the way. This is happening now as descendants of the labor movement mount an offensive against accusations hurled at the founding generation in the never-ending saga of what happened to Yemenite children in the 1950s and 1960s. And it happened when many immigrants crowned Menachem Begin, an authentic lover of Yiddishkeit, as prime minister in 1977 because he promised (and kept his promise) to govern “in good Jewish fashion” – that is, to legitimize and respect the identifiers and symbols they clung to.

This sentiment isn’t exclusive to Jewish Israelis. The warmest friendships in the Knesset are between some of the ultra-Orthodox and Arab lawmakers. The latter consistently and quite sweepingly show that they feel much more comfortable with Shas members than with representatives of the secular left.

Every important Israeli politician understands this. Netanyahu, who is secular to the bone, has both internalized and externalized traditional rhetoric and even despicably incited against the left, while riding on the aforementioned historical sensibilities.

Even Prime Minister Yair Lapid, at one point on his way up the political ladder, tried to change his image and started externalizing his participation in religious rituals. But the public didn’t buy it, because for Lapid – in contrast to people like Begin, President Isaac Herzog and Gantz, the latter two belonging to the leftist bloc – the religion of secularity is a deep part of his identity.

In a political system that has repudiated the religion of secularity every time it sought to become mainstream, someone seen as hostile to tradition cannot become prime minister. That is Lapid’s problem. And it is Gantz’s advantage.

In a political system that repudiates the religion of secularity every time it tries to become mainstream, someone seen as hostile to tradition can’t become prime minister.

QOSHE - Gantz’s Plus, Lapid’s Minus - Ravit Hecht
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Gantz’s Plus, Lapid’s Minus

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28.09.2022

One of the natural assumptions of this election campaign is that Benny Gantz is a relevant candidate for prime minister. Yet how can someone who failed in his attempt to defeat Benjamin Netanyahu, was lured into entering a Netanyahu-led unity government, was burned by Netanyahu’s deceit and roused the wrath of his own voters now be a realistic candidate – at least according to the polls – for this job?

Supposedly, this is a way to solve the stalemate between the blocs by forming another “unity government,” this time with Gantz serving as prime minister first. Whether such a compromise is either moral or worthwhile deserves a separate discussion (the short answer is no and no).

But Gantz’s relevancy stems from his increasingly close ties with the ultra-Orthodox parties, which may not lead them to recommend him as prime minister or to separate from Netanyahu, but certainly creates an interesting platform. And it is rooted in a deep well whose waters have been nourishing the political system for decades.

What keeps Gantz in the picture is his affection for religion and his positive attitude toward tradition. This is the most important hidden indicator of one’s political bloc in Israel. Gantz’s fondness for........

© Haaretz


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