By Shmuel Katz
It is Election Day here in Israel; time to cast our votes. The budget crisis which led to the early elections (no one wanted to vote in a tax hike and budget cuts right before facing elections) still looms large. Many national issues (should chareidim serve in the military or perhaps another form of national service?; the housing crisis; corruption, etc.) and international issues (the horrid relationship between Netanyahu and Obama; Iran and nuclear weapons; our shrinking exports as the world buys less) are debated back and forth, day and night.
I voted for the Likud Party in the last national elections. While I do not believe that Bibi Netanyahu is a person of any more integrity or honesty than most other politicians, I have always felt that his comfort with spoken English made him our most effective representative. Furthermore, I thought he would be the person least likely to cave in to the “We need the world to love us” syndrome, of all the politicians. So, I voted for Likud, in the hope that Bibi would be chosen to lead the country.
That was a close race, one that was essentially between Bibi and Tzipi Livni, between the “Right” and the “Left” (no matter that they call themselves the “center”), between parties who were prepared to do anything to appear to be civilized among the nations of the world and parties who stood for security of the Jewish State and Jewish People first and foremost. (Or at least as I saw it then.)
I voted for Likud because I wanted not only for the “Right” to win, but for the leader of the “Right” to have the fortitude to stand strong in building a ruling coalition without having to be beholden to the small coalition partners. I voted for an end to the stalemate I had been witnessing in the government to that point. With a strong mandate, I thought that Bibi could act decisively for Israel.
I am much more politically to the right than you would think. I trust neither our enemies nor the Western world (U.S., U.K., etc.–although Canada has been surprisingly sensible). I do not believe the current U.S. administration cares a whit about Israel; their concern is for the legacy of a man who was elected for the sake of history and will be looked back upon as a horrible failure (and you can guess how I cast my absentee ballot).
At that time, none of that was on my mind. I felt disheartened by political infighting and the threat of war (having lived through one just a year earlier). I was frightened by seemingly endless rocket attacks from Gaza. I wanted to see a strong and empowered leader. So, instead of voting for the party that may have been closer to my heart, I voted with my mind.
Looking back, although he scared us quite a few times, for the most part, we got what I had hoped for. He gave an awesome speech to the U.S. Congress and another to the UN (prior to his most recent speech to the UN–which was a disaster). He withstood most of the pressure from Obama and the U.S. His team even successfully turned back the upgrade of the Palestinians at the UN the first time around and managed to make the second time around seem (at least here) like a non-event.
Yet he has flirted with the parties of the Center/Left, even making a “unity government” for a short while last year (it disintegrated quickly over a dispute on the need for the chareidi public to do national service). I fear that his desire to maintain broad appeal and thus gain reelection constantly leads him to try to bridge the gap with the “Let’s make a deal” and “Give away our land” political parties. Given a strong enough mandate, I fear that this is exactly what he will do.
While there are many pundits whose spin agrees with my assessment, that a weaker Likud means a stronger “Right,” there are also many who say the opposite. Weakening Bibi, they argue, will lead him to forge a coalition with the “Center/Left” parties, rather than agree to be held hostage by the many special interests of the smaller parties in the “Right.” However, based upon the makeup of the Likud’s Knesset candidate list, I do not think this will happen; I do not see people like Moshe Feiglin (and others on the list) lining up to support such a coalition.
Early on, Goldie settled on HaBayit HaYehudi as the party for which she will cast her vote. She read up on Naftali Bennett and the party’s platform, she listened to some of his speeches, and she decided that she felt most in line with what they have to say. We are, after all, Religious Zionists, and we agree with practically every tenet of theirs.
From financial equality for our religious institutions (in line with the funding that Shas gets for chareidi institutions) to the settlement of the entire country, to his seven-step plan for dealing with the West Bank and Gaza, we are very in line with their platform. We might prefer a harder line toward national service for everyone in the country, among other differences. But we are close to their platform, and Goldie was an early supporter.
I had been on the fence. I still love Bibi as our leader. I still believe that he presents himself to our friends and to those who are undecided much better than any other candidate. This is a long-held opinion and I was proud when I was finally able to cast my vote for the Likud in the last elections. I was not sure which way to go, and I had been watching and listening, and waiting to make up my mind.
I had pretty much decided to follow Goldie’s lead to vote HaBayit HaYehudi. That is, however, until a wildcard came into play. His name is Arieh King.
Twenty months ago, in May 2011, I interviewed Arieh King and wrote a feature article for this paper about him and his work leading the Israel Land Fund (“Owning Your Own Part of Israel”). Arieh has dedicated his life to the purchase and reclamation of land, properties, and houses throughout Israel with the purpose of keeping those assets in Jewish hands. His dedication and commitment to our land and our nation are much more than admirable; Arieh is, in my opinion, a true hero of the Jewish people.
I was conflicted then, upon hearing that Arieh was a candidate for Knesset on the Otzma Yisrael party’s candidate list, in the number 4 slot. Otzma is currently polling anywhere from zero to three seats (if a party does not pass a minimum threshold of 2%, all votes cast for them are discarded; no party can ever win a single seat with the current rules). Arieh, in slot number 4, is on the outside looking in. Yet he would be one of the first alternates, should one of the top three leave the Knesset (it happens).
The possibility that Arieh could be an MK is intriguing to me. I am 100% supportive of him, if not the party itself (it is a bit Right-wing, even for me). I could see myself voting for them–indeed, I do see myself voting for them more and more. With two reservations.
The first is the potential that they will not pass the 2% threshold, leading to my vote being thrown away. The second is that even if they are elected, the party does not stand to be a major (or maybe not even a minor) player in any coalition government. With a platform viewed as ultra-nationalistic and radical by many, I do not foresee them being invited into a coalition. The likelihood is the contrary; in my opinion, “Left/Center” parties would be invited to join the government before Otzma.
So what did I do?
I waited to decide until the last second. Had the polling suggested that Otzma was anywhere near four seats and my vote could help put Arieh King into the Knesset, then they would have gotten my vote. However, since they polled at somewhere around either two or three seats (or maybe zero), which is a strong possibility, and electing Arieh King became a severe long shot–I voted for HaBayit HaYehudi.
By the time you read this, the results will be out and we will probably have a pretty good guess about who will and will not be invited into a coalition government. We will all know what the makeup of the government will be.
I hope and pray that Hashem looks down upon us favorably and gives us the best possible result–the ultimate redemption and the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash and reestablishment of Malchut David. If we still have not merited this, I pray for a result that ensures the continued safe and secure existence of our country as a home for Jews of all stripes, a center of Jewish identity, a wellspring of Torah study and Torah knowledge. v
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a gap-year yeshiva opening in 2013. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.