These National Religious Voters Are Outraged At Bennett’s Betrayal And Will Not Allow A Repeat

GIVAT SHMUEL — In the Tel Aviv suburb of Givat Shmuel, Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party received more votes in the election last year than any other faction.

Yamina provided a practical political home to many residents of the city of 30,000, known for its large and active national religious population – one that is decidedly right-wing, but not necessarily comfortable with some of the more extremist elements that have gained prominence within the community. during the past years.

The seven seats the party won proved crucial, giving the diverse bloc of parties opposing Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu enough to form a government by June 2021. After long associated with right-wing and religious parties, Bennett agreed to shift blocs to become prime minister in a gamble he hoped would end the cycle of election campaigns that has plagued the country since 2018.

But the coalition only survived for one year, and its dissolution led to the downfall of Yamina, whose lawmakers have spread in different directions. One of them was Matan Kahana, a member of the national religious camp who, as minister of religious affairs, spent reforms popular among the mainstream and liberal members of that community.

Defense Secretary Benny Gantz recognized the critical role played by those voters sometimes referred to as the “soft right” and recruited Kahana in August to his recently revamped National Unity Party, which combined the centrist Blue and White with Gideon Sa’ar’s right-wing New Hope.

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With Yamina wiped off the political map and the shift to the right of the alliance between Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit — and its far-right leaders Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir — it was reasonable to hope that national religious voters in cities like Givat Shmuel would are attracted to National Unity.

Matan Kahana (front left) along with other National Unity party members at a campaign event in Tel Aviv on Sept. 6, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

But residents of the middle-class city told The Times of Israel on Wednesday they were not moved by the gesture.

“Just because Bennett decided to betray his voters and is a partner of the left doesn’t mean we’re going to do the same,” said Gali Rubin as she walked home from the grocery store. “We may not be happy with the options he left us, but personally I intend to shut up and vote for Smotrich or Likud. Most of my friends here tell me they are going to do the same.”

Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, Yamina’s Naftali Bennett and Ra’am’s Mansour Abbas agree to form a coalition on June 2, 2021, in which five other parties will join (courtesy of Ra’am)

Fighting over kosher leftovers

Asher Cohen, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University, said Rubin’s feelings were consistent with his own observations. “It is true that there are many undecided national religious voters, but the vast majority decide within the bloc,” he said, referring to the parties advocacy for Netanyahu.

Stressing that national religious voters are predominantly right-wing, Cohen added that “those who think that if they open the ballot box they will find a lot of Gantz voters because Matan Kahana is there, that won’t happen.”

The BGU professor pointed to recent polls that have placed the Netanyahu-led bloc of right-wing, religious parties at about 60 seats — about the same number it had before Bennett Yamina moved into the anti-Netanyahu bloc to form a narrow coalition. to shape.

Right-wing protesters outside the home of Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked in Tel Aviv on May 30, 2021. The sign with a photo of Shaked and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett reads ‘Lapid’s associates’ (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“The Yamina voters have decided to break through and return home, whether by voting for Netanyahu or Smotrich,” said Cohen, who has written extensively about the national religious camp.

He acknowledged that a very small number of national religious voters would indeed be willing to follow Kahana into the arms of the National Unity Party, but insisted they were well below the value of a seat in the Knesset.

Israel Democracy Institute researcher Ariel Finkelstein agreed that the number of voters looking to switch blocs is small, but argued they could still be critical given the way elections are run down to the tiniest margins. specifically.

“Gantz understood this and he brought Matan Kahana to peel voters away towards his party,” Finkelstein said.

However, if the polls are to be trusted, the move did little to move the needle. National Unity stands at about 12 seats – the same number Gantz’s original Blue and White party and Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party had in total before they decided to join forces.

Finkelstein suspected that Gantz has failed to attract large numbers of national religious voters because he is still associated with the center left. After all, he led that bloc of anti-Netanyahu parties just two elections ago, and he is again campaigning against his refusal to cooperate with the Likud leader.

Benny Gantz speaks at the launch of the National Unity party campaign for the upcoming elections in Tel Aviv, September 6, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Warming up for Ben Gvir

The lack of one-party excitement was noticeable in Givat Shmuel, where campaign signs or stickers were barely visible, despite the election being less than a week away.

“People are tired of elections everywhere, but especially here after the politicians disappointed us so deeply last time,” said Shifra Rappaport, a former Yamina voter.

As she walked to a Talmud class at the neighborhood synagogue, the head-covered retiree said she was still discussing with her children who to vote for this time.

“To tell you the truth, part of me doesn’t want to vote at all,” Rappaport noted, before admitting she would likely support religious Zionism.

Wednesday evening, the city seemed relatively quiet. Malls were barely stocked and most of the action seemed to take place in the ten or so synagogues where male worshipers poured out after the evening service.

One of those quorum members was Yossi Shmuel, who has lived in Givat Shmuel for more than 20 years.

Givat Shmuel on February 10, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

He acknowledged that voting for a party like Religious Zionism may have been difficult for residents in the past. The combination of what he saw as Bennett’s “betrayal” along with the views of Ben Gvir, “who is much more moderate today than 25 years ago,” makes the decision a lot easier for the locals of Givat Shmuel.

Ben Gvir “wants what the majority of the country wants: the death penalty for terrorists, courts that will be a little more in favor of people and the land of Israel…, [and] the expulsion of all terrorists to Syria or to any Arab country,” Shmuel said.

Dana Abekasis said she had no problem counting herself among the followers of religious Zionism, and said she had supported the party in the past.

“I know people here who voted for Yamina, but after what happened last time, everyone realizes we should stay [within the bloc] to preserve Israel as a Jewish state,” she said as she finished dinner with her young son at a pizzeria.

After suspecting that a majority of Givat Shmuel’s residents would vote for Religious Zionism, a man sitting at a table exclaimed, “Ben Gvir is the s**t, bro.”

Abekasis admitted to also having an affinity for Gantz, but said she could not support him because of the left-wing parties he wanted to join.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir seen during a plenum session in the auditorium of the Israeli Parliament, in Jerusalem on June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“With him, [the religious Zionists] out of government,” Abekasis lamented. “We won’t have much power and will be allowed to drive buses on the Sabbath.

“I am not a fanatic, but I want to preserve the Jewish character of the country for my son,” she added.

While disqualifying Religious Zionism for his far-right stances, Gantz insists he will be able to form a broad coalition with ultra-Orthodox parties. The latter would probably never allow changes to the status quo in terms of religion and state. But the two Haredi sides have ruled out sitting under Gantz.

Elephant in the room

Of course, a more moderate alternative exists for national religious voters who are uncomfortable voting for Smotrich and Ben Gvir’s party, but almost none of the Givat Shmuel residents who spoke to The Times of Israel mentioned it: the Jewish Home party is back on the ballot this election after having folded in Yamina for the previous three elections. Number 2 of the party, Yossi Brodny, is even the mayor of Givat Shmuel.

But that also seemed to make little impression on the residents, who were deposed by party leader Ayelet Shaked. The former Yamina No. 2 has paid a heavy price for her decision to join Bennett in his short-lived government, in which she still serves as Secretary of the Interior, and the Jewish Home has consistently remained below the electoral threshold.

Cohen of Bar Ilan University said Shaked should not rely on national religious voters to make it to the Knesset. “We’re talking about the population most battered by the threshold,” he argued, citing the Tehiya party’s failed run in 1992 — which enabled then-Labour chairman Yitzhak Rabin to become prime minister and Oslo process — along with Bennett and Shaked’s failed New Right party, which had fewer than 1,500 votes on the wrong side of the electoral threshold in 2019.

Ayelet Shaked (center) and Yossi Brodny (R) at a Jewish Home campaign event in Givat Shmuel on September 20, 2022. (Flash90)

“That’s why it’s the industry that is most cautious when it comes to the threshold,” says Cohen.

He argued that Shaked’s credibility problem went beyond her decision to join the previous government after she vowed not to sit with several of her parties during the election campaign.

“Just two months ago, she put up signs across the country saying we won’t give Bibi the 61st seat,” he noted.

Those signs belonged to the short-lived Zionist Spirit party, which Shaked launched over the summer with New Hope legislator Yoaz Hendel. The two indicated at the time that they were willing to sit next to Netanyahu, albeit not in a narrow right-wing government.

After the party fell through, Shaked split up with Hendel and returned to Jewish Home with a new message.

“Now she’s saying, ‘I’m going to be Bibi’s 61st chair,'” Cohen said. “Some of the old signs haven’t even been removed yet!”

Zionist spirit leaders Yoaz Hendel (left) and Ayelet Shaked hold a press conference in Ramat Gan on Aug. 21, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A Zionist ghost sticker was indeed found on a bench across the street from the pizzeria, albeit largely scratched off.

Givat Shmuel’s Gali Rubin commented: “It’s funny, because last time Bennett and Shaked refused to work with Ben Gvir, but what they ended up doing made their supporters do just that.”

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