Naftali Bennett and the Politics of Jewish Supremacy

By all accounts, Bibi Netanyahu will be the winner of the upcoming elections on January 22 – after which he will proceed to form the most right-wing/ultra-nationalist coalition in Israeli history. The only question that remains is by what degree.

Among new political figures on the scene, Naftali Bennett, the leader of the HaBayit HaYehudi (“Jewish Home”) party seems to be garnering the most attention. Even as Bibi’s Likud-Beiteinu party drops in the polls, HaBayit HaYehudi (a restructured version of the old National Religious Party) is growing in popularity – and will almost certainly become an important player in a new coalition.

If you’ve never heard of Bennett, you will soon. He’s the son of American immigrants, a successful hi-tech businessman, Bibi’s former chief of staff (they’ve since had a high profile falling out) and the former head of the West Bank settlers’ Yesha Council. Bennett raised some major dust last month when he told a television interviewer that he would personally refuse orders to evacuate settlements or outposts in the West Bank while on reserve army duty.  He also is on record as advocating the annexation of Area C of the West Bank. Under his plan, Palestinians already living there would be given the choice to accept Israeli citizenship or leave.

While he was roundly criticized from many political quarters for his remarks about army service, his party has become the most popular Israeli party with young Israelis under the age of 30. Clearly, Bennett and his views represent Israel’s future – one that seems to be skewing further and further away from democracy and ever closer to apartheid policies.

Take a look at HaBayit Hayehudi’s English language campaign video ad at the top of this post. As Don Futterman recently observed in Open Zion, it’s a canny attempt to gloss over the more odious aspects of Bennett’s ideology with a legit and cheerful veneer designed specifically to appeal to American immigrants to Israel:

This ad, which is part of a campaign to create different and more positive associations with the name HaBayit HaYehudi (the Jewish Home), is an invitation, not a polemic. It mentions buzzwords—Jewish values and Zionist ideals—and one issue from the party’s platform—Jewish education—but does not harp on any of them. You wouldn’t guess that HaBayit HaYehudi has any connection to the national religious right in Israel, and you might even miss the single reference to West Bank settlements (“I live in Samaria”). You certainly wouldn’t suspect that Bennett has promised he would go to jail rather than evacuate a settlement.

Watching the video, I was also struck that it made repeated references to the importance of Israel’s Jewish character without explicitly explaining why this should in any way be considered a political issue:

If you want to bring Jewish values and Zionist ideals to Israel, then the Bayit Yedudi is your home…If you believe that every Israeli child deserves a quality Jewish education, the Bayit Yehudi is your home.

While on the surface, remarks such as this sound perfectly innocuous, they mask a profoundly troubling agenda.  What about the Palestinians citizens of Israel who do not adhere to “Jewish values” or “Zionist ideals?”  It’s certainly sounds noble to say that Israeli child deserves a quality Jewish education, but what about the considerable percentage of Israeli children who don’t happen to be Jewish? The answer, of course, is not too difficult to understand. These Israeli citizens simply don’t fit in the xenophobic ideology advocated by Naftali Bennett and HaBayit HaYedudi.

In a recent post for +972 mag, Noam Sheizaf makes a perfectly reasonable argument – but given Israel’s current reality it would likely strike many as radical in the extreme. Pointing out that in 64 years of Israel’s existence, no government has ever included one of the Arab parties in a coalition, Sheizaf concludes:

Cooperation between Palestinian and Jews is by far the greatest, most important challenge in this country. Every element of Israeli life – from the education system to zoning plans – is constructed to promote ethnic separation, with politics being just the tip of the iceberg…Therefore, the ability to create joint structures and partnerships is the single most important element that would determine the chances of survival and the quality of life for the entire society.

The necessary conclusion for me is that it is simply forbidden to vote for parties which are not shared by Palestinians and Jews, or for ones that preserve the policy of separation between Palestinians and Jews. There are no perfect parties, but this should be the basic condition, just as an American shouldn’t vote for a party that doesn’t accept black people.

Alas, voices like Sheizaf’s are but a whisper in the Israeli wilderness. According to the latest polls, Arab-Jewish parties will garner only a small sliver of votes in the upcoming election.  When it comes to the Israeli electorate, the ideology of Jewish supremacy is clearly the order of the day.

For comparison purposes, take a look, below, at this campaign video ad for the Da’am Workers Party – one of the few Arab-Jewish parties of which Sheizaf spoke.  I’d say their values provide a powerful contrast to ethnic exclusivism of HaBayit Hayehudi:

(This) movement is our hope, everyone’s hope that here will arise, in the State of Israel, for the first time in history a political, social, economic alternative, sane, human, fair, that knows how to be part of the region where it’s located. For 64 years we’ve lived in a ghetto. The time has come to get out of the ghetto! Israel has to stop isolating itself…We say no! We’ll bring down the wall of Occupation, the wall of racism, and the wall of violence. We want to be free in our land indeed, and our land is the entire world, and this world needs one unique answer, it needs a revolution!


11 Comments on “Naftali Bennett and the Politics of Jewish Supremacy”

  1. gwpj says:

    Alarming, but not surprising. Thank you for this, Rabbi Rosen.

  2. Sam Neff says:

    Thank you Rabbi Brant for all you are doing . How good to hear the statement of the Jewish Arab Workers party. How can we here in the U S A encourage , help this party?

  3. i_like_ike52 says:

    Quote:
    ————————————————————————————————————————-
    What about the Palestinians citizens of Israel who do not adhere to “Jewish values” or “Zionist ideals?”
    ————————————————————————————————————————-

    This is no different than Egypt., whose new consititution enshrines “Muslim values” and the Palestinian consitution which says that Islamic Sharia law is a major source of legislation.
    I quote from the Palestinian constitution:

    ARTICLE 1

    Palestine is part of the large Arab World, and the Palestinian people are part of the Arab Nation. Arab Unity is an objective which the Palestinian People shall work to achieve.

    [edit] ARTICLE 2

    The Palestinian People are the source of all power, which shall be exercised through the legislative, executive, and judicial authorities, based on the principle of separation of powers, and in the manner set forth in this Basic Law.

    [edit] ARTICLE 3

    Jerusalem is the Capital of Palestine.

    [edit] ARTICLE 4
    1.Islam is the official religion in Palestine. Respect and sanctity of all other heavenly religions shall be maintained.
    2.The principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be the main source of legislation.
    3.Arabic shall be the official language.

    Sharia law is discriminatory against non-Muslims (e.g. a Muslim man may marry a non-Muslim woman, but a Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim man).

    Now, both Egypt and the Palestinians receive a considerable amount of aid from the US, as does Israel. Why is it wrong for Israel to promote “Jewish-Zionist” values but it is permissible to for Egypt and the Palestinians to define themselves as “Arab” (thus excluding at least to some extent non-Arabs) and to enforce Sharia Law? Simply put, in the Middle East , UNLIKE AMERICA, religious and ethnic roots are still very important parts of one’s identity.

    • Vicky says:

      I get edgy when I hear certain Christian politicians using similar language to Bayit Yehudi (‘godly values’) because I know that this usually translates into things like unqualified support for the death penalty, pretty vicious corporal punishment in schools, and ‘encouraging’ women to stay at home and peel vegetables (whilst wearing skirts, naturally, trousers not being in keeping with the godly values). Such phrases can’t just be accepted uncritically. So what exactly does Bennett mean when he talks about Jewish values, and how does his conception fit with yours?

      Secondly, how is the state (any state) capable of adhering to and promoting such values? I spent a lot of time in Saudi Arabia as a child. The shops were legally obliged to close at prayer times. This doesn’t mean that people in the shopping malls actually went and prayed – a lot of them ambled about the walkways until the shops opened again. No government directive can cultivate religious values in people, because these are the product of a person’s relationship with God. Personally I see it as a form of desecration for a government to intrude on that space, as it transforms religion into a system of political levers and pulleys – a system that not only ends up working against religious minorities, often seriously harming them; but that also has the ability to taint people’s faith, reducing it to a mere question of identity.

      You’re absolutely right that ‘in the Middle East…religious and ethnic roots are still very important parts of one’s identity’, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. A Northern Irish friend told me the old joke about an atheist visitor to Belfast being asked whether he were Catholic or Protestant. The punchline: “Ah, but are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?” In NI we saw people prepared to commit vicious bloody murder for the sake of their religious ‘identity’ – even though they might never pray, never read a holy book, never think of God, only set foot in church for the usual weddings and funerals. This veneration of identity ensures your religion revolves round yourself. How is that not idolatry? A deeper and purer faith might mean that people had a strong enough sense of self not to feel threatened by their neighbours.

      What you wrote about the Muslim Brotherhood is irrelevant, as no one here is endorsing their political philosophy. Palestinians are under the full control of the Israeli military and the highest law is military law. The charter you quote isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, and I hope that when freedom comes it will have been replaced by something better. But judging from your comment, this is not something you would want – you are just interested in using other people’s chauvinistic religious nationalism to rubber-stamp your own.

  4. Joneric Ackerman says:

    You bemoan Bennet’s focusing on Zionism and Jewish ideals as if Israel is not a Jewish state. All nations have a character reflective of the majority. In 22 Arab nations not one person is complaining about an Arab character. Non-Jews not only have equal civil and human rights, they have EXTRA rights as well. As for no Arab party ever joining a coallition, you must be an American. In Israel coallitions reflect the draw of the ticket and aim for the widest appeal. When Balad or Hadash break their demographical representational point (9% vis a vis Israeli Arabs above age 17) and when they represent more than niche demographics you will see them brought into a coallition.

  5. Rachamim Ben Ami says:

    DWP is a waste of time and space. Their platform amounts to Arabisation and any party using words like “Occupation” will end up in the rubbish heap. Israel is in a “ghetto” because Arabs want it there. DWP acts like it is Israel’s choice to be hated by Arabs. That nonsense may fly with Westerners but Israelis do not have the benefit of such ignorance. We know all too well what our “neighbours” are about and how they view us. When states formally at peace with us, like Jordan for example, refuse to allow a Jew wearing a kippah or carrying a religious book to enter the country…or Egypt allows state owned media outlets to serialise the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, what hope is there with regard to a nation like Lebanon?

    Bennet resonates because he represents the aspirations of the majority of Israelisn plain and simple. No need to over intellectualise it. You ask what “Jewish Values” means and then segue into a riff on Saudi Arabia. Bennet was not using the phrase in religious terms. Most supporters of Bayit are secular. Israel is the State of the Jewish People, NOT Judaism. Bayit would be revolted at the idea of a theocracy.

    • Vicky says:

      You are not answering the question. The word ‘value’ suggests an idea, a belief, a philosophy. You say that Bennett doesn’t mean this in religious terms – so in what terms does he mean it? What precisely is he advocating when he uses that phrase? What are ‘Jewish values’ to him?

      My whole point is that while such a phrase will naturally suggest different things to different people (Ike is a Torah-observant Jew, which is why I looked at the religious aspect in my reply to him), whenever it gets used in the political sphere it is usually as code for ultra-nationalist/supremacist attitudes. So when translated, this vaguest of statements (when Nick Griffin extols ‘British values’, what does he mean – our respect for beautiful neat queues? Fish and chips? A deep love for whining about the weather?) actually has a concrete and pretty unpleasant meaning.

      • Rachamim Ben Ami says:

        The “values” referred to are that of Israel retaining its Jewish character and retaining the territort central to the Jewish narrative, YESHA. HaBayit also is adamant that ALL citizens serve in either the security echelon (IDF and MAGAV) or in Sherut L’eumi. The standard Arab mantra is that Israeli Arabs should enjot all the state has to offer while failing to contribute their fair share of the tab Ironically, vis a vid your point up until now, this aspect of HaBayit platform also maintains that HaCharedim need to do so as well.

  6. Steve Hinman says:

    “By all accounts, Bibi Netanyahu will be the winner of the upcoming elections on January 22 – after which he will proceed to form the most right-wing/ultra-nationalist coalition in Israeli history. The only question that remains is by what degree.”

    - actually, no, that’s not how the election turned out. Predicting results in a parliamentary election is risky (ask Winston Churchill right after WWII when he was thrown out of office).

    And the Israeli Arab turnout, according to the Jerusalem Post was 56%…higher than expected. If only the Hamas government in Gaza gave people the same right to vote. Can’t wait to see when the next election in Gaza is going to be.

    As an interesting side note, also from the Jerusalem Post …”Some interesting results were seen in the Arab sector, for example in Kafr Kasim, where 12 votes were cast for Bayit Yehudi, 33 for Shas and one for Strong Israel. Many other Arab towns cast small numbers of votes for right-wing Zionist parties. For example in Sakhnin, in the Western Galilee, Strong Israel received nine votes, Shas 31 and United Torah Judaism 22.”

    So much for those who claim Israel is becoming less democratic. I’ll be thinking of Israel when I next have to vote for representatives from my gerrymandered district.

    • Steve,

      I agree that the predictions of a victory of the far right did not come to pass as many had predicted, but I wouldn’t say that the outcome of this election bodes well for Israeli democracy. Arab parties will still be shut out of the Israeli government as they always have been – and the essentially anti-democratic realities facing Palestinians in the territories will certainly not change as a result of this election. On this point, I think this piece by Yousef Munayyer for Open Zion is fairly spot on.


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