Election Reflections #2: The National Union - National Religious Party merger
I have been asked by a number of my loyal readers as to my thoughts on the merger between the National Union Party (HaIchud HaLeumi), of which I am a candidate for Knesset, and the National Religious Party (the Mafdal).
The short answer is:
Ideologically: I don't like it.
Politically: I accept it, understand the need for it, and can see the potential benefits (while being aware of the obvious drawbacks).
Now for the longer answer...
(Important background info: The National Union party is currently composed of 3 parties: Moledet, Tekuma, Tzionut HaDatit. The National Union party was founded in 1999 when Moledet, along with Herut and Tekuma joined forces. Since then, Herut left the National Union, Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu joined prior to the last elections, and has since left to run on its own, and most recently, Effie Eitam and Yitzchak Levy broke away from the Mafdal, formed the Zionut HaDatit party and joined the National Union).
If one goes back to the elections in 1992 that led to Yitzchak Rabin's (and Labor's) rise to power, there was not a single (non-Arab) party in the Knesset that openly advocated for the establishment a "Palestinian State" (at the time, even talking to Arafat's PLO was against the law at the time); there was not a single party that would have would have openly called for using the Jewish State's security forces to expel thousands of Jews from their homes; nor was there any party that would have dared to suggest the possibility of dividing Jerusalem.
Today, even the Likud has amended its platform to accept the creation of a "Palestinian State" west of the Jordan River (and of course, was the party in power that implemented the Expulsion plan). Shas was instrumental in helping to push the Oslo Accords through the Knesset, and of late has made it clear that it accepts future territorial concessions; the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party had no trouble sitting in Ariel Sharon's government as the Expulsion plan was implemented; Avigdor Lieberman's "right-wing" Yisrael Beiteinu party has called for redrawing the borders of the State of Israel in order to cut-out areas with too many Arabs; and sadly, even the Mafdal stayed in Sharon's government of Expulsion until the almost the last moment, and recently stated that they would sooner have a "settlement" uprooted than have a religious day school closed.
Furthermore, just about every party from Ehud Olmert's Kadima party and leftward has expressed a willingness to divide the ancient and eternal capitol of the Jewish People, Jerusalem.
That being said, the National Union party came to the conclusion after their inability (along with others) to stop the Expulsion plan from within the Knesset, that if we wanted to really turn the State of Israel into a Jewish State - working from the top down - it wouldn't be possible in a party that only had 6-7 seats in the Knesset.
Ariel Sharon was a master at playing one small party off of another in order to garner enough support for whatever it was that he was trying to accomplish. If he couldn't get what he wanted from the National Union, he would turn to the Mafdal, and if Mafdal wouldn't help him, he would turn to the ultra-Orthodox parties of Shas and UTJ, offering them increased funding for their institutions, and sooner or later, one (or more) of the parties would swallow the bait, and Sharon would be able to bulldoze through his Expulsion agenda.
In order to change that reality, Benny Elon, Chairman of the National Union party, saw the need to work towards uniting the parties of the national / religious right (Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Mafdal, National Union, Shas and UTJ). The goal being to put together a untied bloc that could potentially form a coalition of 61 Members of Knesset on their own, and thus be able to form the next government of the State of Israel (and at the very least form a sizeable opposition that leave any Kadima led government relying on the ultra-secular Meretz party, the socialist Labor party, and the Arab parties to stay in power - in other words a very unstable coalition that would not likely be able to accomplish very much and would not last very long).
The drawback to this, of course, is that inevitably one is forced to unite with parties who do not share all of your ideals or principles. That is clearly the case with the merger with the Mafdal, and would likely be the case if we were to be successful in uniting, at least in principal, with the ultra-Orthodox parties as well as Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu.
In this case, the potential of being able to put together the future government of the State of Israel, one that would strive to strengthen Israel as a Jewish State - through settlement, education, defeating our enemies... - might very well be worth the discomfort that comes with sitting with those who you do not see eye to eye with on every single issue.
Is it a perfect solution?
No, but is voting for Baruch Marzel's Jewish Front party a better answer?
True, you might not be compromising on a single one of your ideals, but at the end of the day, you will have voted for a party that will likely (once again) not pass the electoral threshold, thus wasting tens of thousands of votes that might have otherwise gone to strengthen an already existing party on the right - or, if the Jewish Front does get into the Knesset, what can they hope to accomplish with their 3 seats?
The whole idea of the merger between the National Union and the National Religious Party is to show that we are no longer content being a small party - it is time for the parties of the nationalist / religious right to lead this country, and that will only happen if we find a way to unite our political power in some way.
As I said in the beginning of this post, ideologically, I do not like it, as when it comes to ideology, there is no room for compromise. Yet, I do believe that the potential advantages of such a merger - both with the Mafdal, and with the other parties on the national / religious right have the potential to outweigh the ever-apparent disadvantages.
Time will tell.
(In the next installment of Election Reflections I will discuss how I came to be involved in politics and how I ended up as a candidate in the upcoming elections for Knesset.)