The word “politics” comes from a Greek word, politikos, which means “of, for, or relating to citizens,” but politics these days is a cynical business, both here and in Israel, that has little to do with the interests of the citizenry.
That cynicism, however, may have reached new heights this week when United Torah Judaism (UTJ), the rigidly religious right-wing party that took seven seats in Israel’s January parliamentary elections, issued an astounding threat: It is preparing to either propose or support such measures as a freeze on settlement building and expansion in the Administered Territories, the evacuation and dismantling of settlements deemed illegal by the state, and the reopening of peace talks with the Palestinianian Authority.
This should be welcome news to those on the left who already advocate such measures, but as noted, UTJ’s offer is meant as a threat, not as a legitimate shift in position.
What UTJ is saying, in effect, is that either Naftali Bennett and his Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) Party, which won 12 Knesset mandates, drop their insistence that charedi military exemptions come to an end, or it will join with the left to force aggressive moves in the peace process. Playing into its thinking, among other things, is the upcoming visit of President Barack Obama, which it believes will bring with it increased United States pressure to adopt just such moves.
UTJ makes no secret of what it is doing. Bennett and his party are opposed to the peace process and the two-state solution, and are adamant in their demand that the charedi exemptions be ended now. UTJ, for its part, campaigned on a platform that rejects virtually every move to undermine the settlers in the west bank, and to maintain the exemptions. Its stand on the settlements was so outspoken that it outpolled the Shas Party in the west bank by a comfortable margin, and helped it pick up five new seats nationwide. Following through on its threat would be a total betrayal of those who gave it the clout it now wields. In Israel’s dysfunctional political system, seven seats are worth their weight in gold. This is especially true when the reigning prime minister is having such a difficult time assembling a new coalition government. Small parties can virtually write their own tickets.
UTJ is willing to sacrifice what it claimed a month ago to be an overarching existential issue – nothing less than the future of the state – in order to delay and perhaps even to end the threat that charedi yeshivah boys will have to serve that very state.
Personal interests outweigh the people’s interests.
It is a shameful display made even more shameful because it comes from a religious party. We would expect such behavior from the secularist parties, as we do from Democrats and Republicans here, but not from a party that claims to espouse the principles of Torah Judaism – principles that reject this kind of behavior.
Whether Israel should freeze settlement construction, evacuate illegal outposts, and make every effort to negotiate with the PA are subjects for another time. Whether Israel should cave in to such a cynical ploy is the only issue now – and we say no.
United Torah Judaism’s cynicism cannot go unanswered. We would hope that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will publicly decry the ploy and announce that because of it, there is no chance that UTJ can enter the next government.
We would hope, as well, that voters who supported UTJ this time around will remember this when they next go to the polls.