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All the major parties in Israel had active counterpart movements here. In the weeks and months preceding elections, a flurry of animated debates would take place around the country between British spokesmen for groups such as Likud (formerly Herut), Poale Zion (Labour) Mapam, Mizrachi and Aguda. Large enthusiastic audiences would often attend. Election night gatherings were as compelling here as in Israel itself. The euphoria in London when Menachem Begin was first elected Prime Minister in 1977 was something I shall never forget.
How radically things have changed. Once the disastrous policy of territorial appeasement in Judea and Samaria began in the early 1990’s followed by the fiasco of Gaza ten years later, the difference between the parties on foreign policy became increasingly blurred. Previous “Zionist” ideologies became redundant and the suicidal concept of a “two-state solution” entered the Middle East vocabulary. Coupled with this, the rise and fall of numerous new parties, alliances and coalitions made Israeli politics so complicated and unpredictable that the wider Jewish public simply lost interest.
Things have spiced up again since the election in January of this year. It has produced a polarisation that is quite unprecedented. It has effectively produced a straight 50-50 division in the Knesset between right and left. On the right there is Likud and all the religious parties, totalling 60 seats. On the left there is Labour, Yesh Atid, various miscellaneous groups and the Arabs, also totalling 60. A fascinating outcome, and it is to be hoped that Netanyahu will form a strong coalition with the right people, well equipped to stand up to the vicious international pressures that are bound to follow.
To me, the most negative feature of the election was the 19 – seat success of Yesh Atid. I see its “ultra-chilled” leader Yair Lapid as representing all that is decadent in Israeli society and in what remains of secular Zionism. He has the profile of a Hollywood film star, with little to distinguish his image from any swash-buckling upstart one might encounter on the European or South American political scene. Apart from the fact that he speaks Hebrew, his attributes and outlook are not in the slightest bit Jewish. On the Yesh Atid agenda, Shabbat, Kashrut and Torah study are completely irrelevant, as is any notion of the sanctity of the land of Israel. It is deplorable that downgrading religion, forcing Yeshiva students into the army and demonizing the Charedi community are the major planks of that party’s social policy.
In Jewish terms, the Lapid philosophy is both destructive and self-destructive. It represents a sterile modern day hellenism which, for all their faults, was not the approach of the country’s “founding fathers”. Zionist leaders like Weizman, Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky generally recognised the paramount role of Judaism within the land of Israel, even though they themselves were not actively observant. It was Ben Gurion who coined the phrase “the Bible is our mandate”. Even today’s political leaders – Peres and Netanyahu – are capable of connecting with their Jewish heritage and retain a residual “heimishkeit” in their statements and conduct. Little of this can be said for Lapid and his ilk for whom assimilationist secularism seems to be a creed in itself.
On the positive side, every time there is an election, an increasing number of seats move to religious parties and religious politicians. In this new Knesset, there are 18 Charedim (Shas and UTC combined) and 12 national religious (Habayit Hayehudi). If you add to this the 9 observant MK’s among the secular parties you find that virtually one quarter of the Knesset is actually religious. This development surely reflects the demographic reality of Israel’s population that religious families are increasing in numbers, while non religious are decreasing or remaining static.
If, as one can only hope, the said trend continues, there will in due course inevitably be a religious majority in the Knesset and a religiously dominated Government. This, more than anything else gives me reason for optimism, since Israel’s survival can only ultimately depend on adherence to Torah values. That, ironically, is the real meaning of “Yesh Atid”. Yes, Mr. Lapid, there is indeed a future, but it is quite different from the message you are preaching.Opinion: Israel's Survival Depends On A Religious Majority in Knesset by Brian Gordon