By Rabbi Josh Weinberg January 8, 2020 – כ”ד טבת תשפ”א
וְאֵ֗לֶּה שְׁמוֹת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל הַבָּאִ֖ים מִצְרָ֑יְמָה אֵ֣ת יַעֲקֹ֔ב אִ֥ישׁ וּבֵית֖וֹ בָּֽאוּ׃
These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each coming with his household:
The Book of Exodus should be seen as a continuation of the book of Genesis. It will take us from our familial roots and beginnings to the fashioning of Israel, the people of God’s choice. The nation will be enslaved only to leave Egypt, the house of bondage, receive the Torah and eventually inherit the Land of Israel.
All the drama aside, Exodus starts off with a simple list of names. While seemingly mundane, lists tell a story. They account for leadership transitions and convey the ebbs and flows of history. So much of our news cycle incorporates lists and names. As we begin reading this new book of the Torah, we are also looking at how our different tribes organize and are represented in contemporary times. As Israel faces new elections, yet again, let’s examine some of the names and parties to watch for ahead of March 23rd:
Of course, all eyes are on Netanyahu to see if he can pull off yet another electoral victory. Now, having evaded the agreed upon rotational arrangement with Benny Gantz, Netanyahu will have to resort to new “Tricks and Schticks” to continue his term-limitless reign, and move past his ongoing legal entanglements. Just recently, he began courting the Arab vote, after years of warning against them as a threat to him and his party. No doubt he will present himself as heroic, as the anointed one, as the one who can bring salvation to the people Israel: through his single-handed procurement of The Vaccine; and as grand peacemaker as, astonishingly, more and more countries normalize relations with Israel.
But he’s not without his challenges…
The 54-year-old tried and true Likudnik will pose a formidable threat to Netanyahu. Sa’ar has now formed his own party “New Hope,” which advocates bolstering West Bank settlements and reforming the judicial system. With initial tracking of very high poll numbers, Sa’ar has managed to attract Likud defectors – most notably Minister Ze’ev Elkin – a close Netanyahu associate, whose leaving Likud posits a possible path to perdition for King Bibi. Also of note are the wandering couple of Hauser and Hendel (former Blue and White MKs and Ministers Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser), who formed their own ‘Derech Eretz’ faction and will certainly feel more ideologically at home with Sa’ar.
Bennett, the modern Orthodox hi-tech entrepreneur is the leader of the right-wing’s latest iteration of its party called “Yamina” (meaning “rightwards” or “New Right” in English). Over the past few years, Bennett has fluctuated, as the Talmud says, מֵאִיגָּרָא רָמָא לְבֵירָא עַמִּיקְתָא – – from towering heights to deep pits. He has held several ministerial portfolios, and yet recently not even cleared the electoral threshold. He achieved his #2 dream of becoming a (short-lived) Minister of Defense under the caretaker government. To his credit, he displayed serious responsibility and resourcefulness with valiant efforts to curb the spread of the Coronavirus and use the technology and resources of the military to aid the Health Ministry. But can Bennett win centrist votes and really pose a serious threat to Netanyahu? Even if his religious moderation is offset by his militancy on foreign affairs, he is on record saying that he prefers West Bank annexation over diplomatic relations with Gulf States, and his alliance with the zealous MK Bezalel Smotrich is also a liability.
Shas (the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party) will remain Shas, and will get their standard 7-8 seats. However, the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism is working out its own unrest. A growing rift in the leadership between the two factions – the Hassidic Agudath Yisrael (itself dealing with infighting among a multiplicity of Hassidic courts), and the Lithuanian non-Hassidic ‘Degel HaTorah’ (who together form UTJ), will have to unite and stay strong to survive. They will likely do whatever is necessary to join the coalition. We will not be surprised if, once again, they attempt to throw in legislation over the never-ending Conversion issue as a negotiation card.
The Left has been in need of a lift for a while. With no heir apparent in the Labor-Meretz world, an attempt to fill the vacuum was launched by Tel Aviv-Yaffo Mayor Ron Huldai. Dressed as a white knight, the septuagenarian beloved Mayor, ex-kibbutznik, fighter pilot and brigadier general, is hoping to sweep in and take back the country for the secular mainstream lefties. Reminding Israelis that what they really love is a “Sabba-figure” (a grandfather) like, Ben Gurion, Rabin, Sharon, Peres before him, he has teamed up with current Justice Minister and former labor union head Avi Nissenkorn to form a party they’re (presumptuously) calling “The Israelis.”
MK Ofer Shelach, a long-time journalist, confidant and partner of Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid, has announced that he is breaking ties with the party he helped to found, and could link up with Huldai and Co…
But Huldai, who has been mayor for 22 years, is not quitting his day job yet – you know, just in case…
The Labor Party is now going to primarieswith MK Merav Michaeli as a hopeful party leader. Perhaps their deep seated infrastructure within Israeli institutions and society will prevent them from sliding into oblivion.
The Meretz party is one to watch as well. They are going back to their roots and including more Palestinian-Israelis on their list, declaring that the future of the Israeli left is a joint Jewish-Arab future. While they currently have only three MKs — Nitzan Horowitz, Tamar Zandberg and Yair Golan – current polling predicts that number will grow. It will be interesting to see the effect of this move on the Joint List of Arab parties who took the Knesset by storm last round with 15 seats, and were not brought in by the Blue and White who abandoned them for Netanyahu, and who subsequently voted against the Abraham accords.
If you’ve read until now, you might take a pause and notice that there is one name glaringly missing from this list. Yep, you guessed it, the current Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Gantz has seen the departure of seven lawmakers from his crumbling party in recent days, and the white knight of Israeli politics of a year or two ago, may see the ground collapse from underneath him and his political career become ridiculously short lived. This has real consequences for all those who thrice voted for them, and are now disillusioned, potentially leading some to vote for Sa’ar or even Bennett!
Will a new king arise who did not know Bibi, as this week’s parasha suggests (Exodus 1:8)? Will the fourth time be a charm? Will we see a recycled version of the past attempts at forming a coalition that won’t last longer than a fleeting moment in history? Or will we see the formation of a new government that will actually be able to get work done and not just exist between elections.
If patterns tell us anything, then it is hard to be optimistic. But, as we Zionists sing regularly – עוד לא אבדה תקוותנו – we shouldn’t lose hope, yet.