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LIBERAL ZIONISTS MUST CHOOSE THEIR POLITICAL BEDFELLOWS CAREFULLY

The at-large goal of liberal Zionists is to make Israel more like a wealthy OECD democracy. Two major obstacles stand in the way of this pursuit. The first is the continuation of the occupation of Palestinian territories. The second is Ultra-Orthodox Jewish domination of Israeli civil society.

In the short term liberal Zionists will have to choose to solve one of these problems or the other, especially when it comes to how parties that represent liberal Zionists function in the Knesset. Looking at current polling, we can find two potential coalition partners for liberal Zionists. The first are the Haredi parties- Shas and United Torah Judaism- who polls show winning between 11 and 13 seats in the Knesset. The second are the religious nationalist parties- United Right, New Right and Zehut- who polls show winning between 17 and 19 seats in the Knesset.

If liberal Zionist parties, such as Blue and White, Meretz and Labor, want to prioritize a renewed and vigorous diplomatic process with the Palestinians, they would find potential partners in the Haredi parties. Although these Haredi parties often take a “security-first” line when it comes to Palestinians, their ultimate concerns are much more narrowly domestic. If Yeshiva students are still protected from the draft, if subway work is halted on Shabbat and if the Western Wall compromise is still stymied, they will be willing to swallow a more aggressive peace process.

But, if liberal Zionist parties want to secularize civil society, then their best bet would be the religious nationalist parties. Although these religious nationalist parties have religiously observant voters and leaders, they are more open to compromise when it comes to the Rabbinate. Often it is religious nationalist leaders who want to allow more active participation from liberal streams of Judaism in Israeli society, advocate for more flexible conversion laws and are more open to religion being a matter of personal choice as opposed to state control. However, the price for an alliance with religious nationalists would be a complete stop to progress towards a Palestinian State. These religious nationalists want to aggressively expand current settlements, legitimize illegal outposts and move towards eventual annexation of the West Bank.

If these priorities are equal among liberal Zionists than the most logical choice of who they should choose as partners would be those that would forward one of these goals in a way that would prepare the ground for the second goal being accomplished. In this way, an alliance with the Haredi parties makes the most sense.

There is little chance that the tension over the role Orthodox Judaism plays in Israeli society will be stalled or solved by a single event. At the end of the day, many Jews of Israel want an Ultra-Orthodox control over civil society and many others do not. So this struggle between these two will be slow to change.

However, the religious nationalist goal, of annexing the West Bank and growing the settlements can be stopped through a diplomatic process that establishes a Palestinian State. If a Palestinian State was formed, and if this outcome secured a better quality of life for Israelis and no great security threat, much of the animated support for the religious nationalists would fade- as their worst fears would not be realized. Additionally, political groups often become less motivated when their feasible goal turns into an impossible task. Invading and annexing the land of a formally recognized foreign country is a much tougher nut to crack than expanding settlements in territory you occupy.

However, many liberal Zionists seem determined to crush the Ultra-Orthodox and end their political power. In fact, much of what galvanizes liberal Zionists currently is the desire to make the Ultra-Orthodox “pay their fair share”, with the IDF draft issue foremost among their minds.

It seems that the trends in Israel favor this less-successful strategy. If the current polling bears out, Haredi parties are set to attain their lowest seat count since the early 1990’s. Religious nationalist parties, on the other hand, are set to record their highest seat counts. It would behoove liberal Zionists to encourage their politicians to refrain from actions that would further push this trend. Pushing liberal Zionists towards prioritizing the Palestinian issue over the religion issue in coalition-building and policy is probably the best way forward to accomplish these very differently difficult political goals.

Categories: Uncategorized

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