Regev Responds

Religion & State issues are at the fore of the September 2019 elections

Dramatic developments on Israel's political scene

Dramatic developments following the elections have validated Hiddush's pre- and post-election analysis, although it is not entirely clear yet whether the necessary lessons will be drawn by all.

Avigdor Lieberman, source: WikipediaAvigdor Lieberman, source: Wikipedia

For many months now, Hiddush has repeatedly stressed the importance of religious freedom and equality in the Israeli public's mind as the state was gearing up for the April elections. Regretfully, none of the relevant parties seized this opportunity in any serious way, nor presented a strong, comprehensive vision on these matters.

Two recent, major developments of note are:

  1. Avigdor Lieberman (Leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party) "upgraded" his pre-election messaging regarding religion & state; and the public reacted favorably to this shift.
  2. The strong reactions of the public and leading politicians to Minister Smotrich's disclosure of his eagerness to assume the position of Justice Minister, based upon his desire for the State of Israel to be “governed as it was governed in the days of King David and King Solomon – by Torah law.”


1. Lieberman prevented the formation of Bibi’s Coalition

Whereas Lieberman referred to the "Draft Bill" as one of the pillars of his election campaign, it was only after the elections that he prevented the formation of the anticipated coalition, which required his party's five seats to form a narrow majority government of 65 seats. He was not only adamant that the passage of the Draft Bill be completed, which had been voted upon shortly before the elections, with no further changes by the new coalition; but he also added strong rhetoric regarding broader matters of religion & state. He turned this into the central public message of his party. He used the language of "I am for the State of Israel, I am for a Jewish state, but I am against a State of Halacha (Jewish religious law)."

Following the resulting decision to hold new elections in September, he changed his party's slogan to "Yes to a Jewish State - No to a State of Halacha" and "Yisrael Beytenu believes that the most important issue voters should consider is what kind of government will Israel have and what will its composition be: will it be a halachic government or a national and liberal government?"

One might have expected that Lieberman singlehandedly undermining the formation of Netanyahu’s planned coalition would have resulted in both scorn and loss of support among the party's voters, who support the formation of a right-wing government. However, what transpired was exactly what Hiddush's pre- and post-election polling had indicated. Namely: a strong position against religious coercion and for religious freedom strengthened the hand of the party that promoted this. In fact, Hiddush’s analysis and polling indicate that these positions are appealing across the entire political spectrum.

In different election surveys that were conducted by different media outlets and polling institutes since the decision to hold new elections was made, the findings indicate that not only has Yisrael Beiteinu's support not diminished, but following its new thrust, 3 polls project the party rising from its current 5 seats to 9, and 3 others show an increase from 5 to 8. (for those following this shifting political scene in anticipation of the September elecitons, a digest of all the election polling in English can be see at this LINK.

Interestingly, Hiddush's ongoing polling over the years has indicated a shift in the community of olim from the Soviet Union regarding its views on same-sex marriages. Today there is clear majority support for same-sex unions, compared to the opposition of only several years ago. A possible manifestation of this shift can be seen in the public participation in the 2019 Pride Parade by a new Yisrael Beiteinu MK - Eli Avidar, a former Executive Director of the Israel Diamond Exchange.


2. Smotrich aims to “restore the Torah justice system.”

We want the justice portfolio because we want to restore the Torah justice system.

This week, Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed MKs Rabbi Rafi Peretz and Betzalel Smotrich as Minister of Education and Minister of Transportation respectively. This followed a protracted attempt at pressuring Netanyahu to appoint Smotrich as Minister of Justice and claims that this had been previously agreed upon between them. It is not clear whether Netanyahu ever intended to appoint Smotrich, but what is clear is that Smotrich's recent public pronouncement at a gathering celebrating Jerusalem Day at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva that the reason he pushed strongly to get the post of Minister of Justice is: “We want the justice portfolio because we want to restore the Torah justice system” greatly hurt his chances of becoming Justice Minister.

In line with Hiddush's assessment that matters of religion & state play a much greater role in the public’s mind than assumed by many, including the Blue-&-White and Labor parties, it took no time at all before a flood of outrage, criticism, and dissociation poured forth. Needless to say: MK Yair Lapid and others who share his views had a field day, but Prime Minister Netanyahu who is blessed with sharp political instincts understood the explosive effective of such statements and immediately tweeted a one-liner: "Israel will not be a state of halacha."

It was clear the next day that Smotrich's chances of being appointed Minister of Justice had been reduced to nil. Just as clear: it provided Lieberman with yet more ammunition. It should be added that even as Minister Rabbi Peretz is considered a far more moderate public figure, his appointment as Minister of Education was accompanied with media and public challenges regarding his ability to serve as Minister of Education, given his regressive views on LGBTQ rights, gender equality, and other matters of dispute in the field of education that are rooted in the religion-&-state conflict.


What now?

These examples and others that have unfolded in recent weeks, as well as Hiddush's consistent public opinion polling, serve, we believe as compelling evidence that the charged debate over religious freedom and equality is not merely abstract, but rather it could potentially affect the outcome of the coming elections in line with Hiddush's repeated conclusion that what the public wants and what Israel needs is a civil Coalition, based on moderate parties, which does not depend upon surrendering to the edicts of the religious parties and can finally move to realize the long overdue full realization of Israel's Declaration of Independence promise of religious freedom and equality for all.

Hiddush will continue in both communicating to the leaders of the relevant political parties and the general public its current and future survey findings, as well as collaborate in support of this direction.

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