The relations between State and Religion in the focus of Israeli Elections

Defence-point.com is presenting for readers a series of observations by noted researcher Gabriel Haritos broadly entitled “The Israeli Parliamentary Elections of September 17, 2019, and the Greek Regional Factor.” These studies will be featured, over the days leading up to the election.

Gabriel Haritos, Ph.D., Researcher, The Ben Gurion Reserach Institute, Ben Gurion University of the Negev and Senior Fellow, Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs,

 

 

 

 

 

Examining the Israeli political system and the ideological trends that have prevailed over time, it is easy to conclude that whenever tensions between Israel and Palestine dampens down, there is an increase in intra-Jewish tensions concerning the between the interrelationship between the state mechanism and the Hebrew religious institutional establishment. This rule is reaffirmed once again during the current election campaign, during which there is a decrease in tension on the West Bank and, to some extent, on the Gaza border. However, the increase in political controversy over the State’s observance of the Sabbat religious holiday is also due to the reshuffling of the party map, mainly within the spectrum of the ethnoreligious right-wing.

It is a fact that in the last decade, the center-right Likud party has incorporated in its structures political personalities inspired by strong ethno-religious sentiments and opinions. In recent years there has been growing talk of Likud moving from the center more to the right. At the same time, the rest of the ‘pure right’ parties, which rely mainly on the influence of the Jewish settlers’ votes, want to maintain their constituents who are inspired by more religious sentiments. Concerned over the right-wing tendency of the once-center Likud, new contentions open up in the perennial struggle to maintain the religious character of the state apparatus and public life, in order to maintain their power within an electoral system shaped by simple representation rules, where every vote is capable of significantly affecting the delicate parliamentary balances.

Specifically, in the elections of April 9, 2019, there was a significant upturn in the votes traditionally belonging to the religious right: the New Right party, led by former Education Minister Naftali Bennett, and former Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked did not meet the electoral threshold for entrance to the Knesset. According to sound analyses, this election failure is due to Bennett’s and Shaked’s decision to move away from the ethnoreligious right-wing spectrum and to attract right-wing voters who are not necessarily religious. Their decision turned out to be wrong, and their erstwhile supporters and right-wing voters preferred the traditional conservative-religious rhetoric of Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich (both formerly close associates of Bennett and Shaked ) who had meanwhile founded the “Union of Right-Wing Parties”. During the elections of April 9, 2019, Bennett and Shaked ‘s “New Right” failed to enter parliament, while the Union of Right-Wing Parties secured five seats. During the current election period, the Union of Right-wing parties and the Bennett-Shaked duo reunited, forming the ‘united’ ethnoreligious ballot ‘Yemina’ (‘towards the Right’), with a main message to voters that the ethnoreligious right-wing manages to overcome personal rivalries when it comes to preserving the religious character of public life.

At the same time, however, during this pre-election period, an additional important factor has focused on the preservation or not of secularism in public affairs: The underlying cause of the failure of the post-election processes to form a government was the gap found between Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right/secularist party “Yisrael Beiteinu ” (“Israel, Our House”).

Correspondingly, the leftist political forces oppose the pursuits of the ethnoreligious right. Thus, on the one hand, when there is tension on the Israeli-Palestinian front, the Left has publicly compromised positions on finding a platform for a dialogue with the Palestinian side and / or with the Arab minority living within Israel – on the other, when political confrontation arises. in State-Religion relations, the Left is opposed to the religious imposition on the character of public life and state machinery in all its manifestations. The Yesh Atid party (“There is a future”) headed by Yair Lapid – a party involved in the center-left party coalition “Kachol-Lavan” (Blue and White), which emerged second in parliamentary seats in the elections of 9 April 2019.

On the basis of the above, the particular pre-election tension observed over the secularism or not of the Israeli state is linked to the gap found during the exploratory contacts following last April’s election between the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu’s leader, Avigdor Lieberman and Benjamin Netanyahu on the one hand, and the ultra-Orthodox religious parties “Shas” and “United Torah Judaism” on the other. Lieberman, of Russian-Jewish descent and traditionally a proponent of the separation of State and Religion, did not show a tendency for compromise in his contacts with Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox parties, especially since over the past five years the fronts of political confrontation concerning the degree of secularism in public life and the state apparatus, or what it should be, have multiplied Indicatively, the points of friction between religious and non-religious Jews are as follows: Opening shops and continuing public works during the Shabbat and other religious holidays, enforcing recruitment for Jewish Rabbinical students, facilitating the recognition of Jewish descent for Russian-Israeli citizens by state religious bodies, establishment of alternative religious control bodies for edible products on the market and abolition of specific religious bodies that have exclusive authority to that end, etc. Due to disagreements on almost all of the above issues, it was not possible to form a coalition government and the country was led to the upcoming September elections.

Nevertheless, as controversial as the state-religion dipole may seem, the Israeli political scene has learned to manage it. Both the center-right and center-left have learned to reconcile with the ultra-Orthodox element and vice versa. The system of simple representation and the political practice that imposes coalition governments inevitably leads to mutual compromises. As a result, a variety of inflammatory statements that are heard from time to time are intended to rally votes, not to make Israel a totally theocratic or secular state. As long as no political force decides to adopt a single constitutional text that clearly defines the degree of secularism of the State, on the one hand, and no political force dares to raise the question of imposing a uniform educational system on all citizens. of the country, regardless of religion, ideology, and ethnicity – the issue of determining the balance between religious and political/secular power will remain open.

Therefore, until the above things happen – something that does not seem probable in the distant future – tensions over State-Religion relations will fluctuate in the ranks of Jewish society, and eventually they will either die down, either under the popular saying in Israel “We are all Jews”, or on the occasion of the many tensions of the intractable Arab-Israeli conflict in every form, that reinforces the feeling of national solidarity regardless of religious currents and trends.