Resurrect The Old NRP

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THE result of the recent elections has added a new urgency to a problem that has come to haunt many of us in the Diaspora concerned with the future of Israel: the specter of a potentially tragic kultuurkampf developing between secular and religious citizens.

With the increase in religious extremism in recent years, the growing stranglehold the haredi parties have established over religious life, and the consequent gulf that has developed between religious and secular, the outcome of the recent election – particularly the composition of the new government – has raised some profoundly disturbing questions.

For the first time in decades, Centrist Orthodoxy has no voice in the government.

Centrist Orthodoxy has traditionally and effectively been championed by the National Religious Party. In successive Mapai/Labor and Likud governments it has been a voice of reason and moderation, a channel for constructive dialog between secular and religious that recognized the state’s fundamentally Jewish character without denying the secular life-style of the bulk of its citizens.

But the NRP has in the past decade so closely tied its political fortunes to those of the Likud and so radicalized many of its previously more balanced positions on peace and security that it cannot bring itself to accept the basic guidelines of the Rabin government. Labor’s former “historic alliance” with the NRP, based on a shared Zionist vision, has now been replaced by a marriage of convenience with the haredim.

The marginalization of moderate religious Zionism, as traditionally represented by the NRP, from the mainstream of politics is a great tragedy, with potentially profound consequences not only for Israel but for the Jewish people as a whole.

Religious spokesmen in Israel will increasingly become identified exclusively with extremist haredim or nationalist zealots, neither of whom can provide bridges to the majority of secular Israelis or Jews in the Diaspora.

The result will be a slow but inevitable drift toward a religious-secular kultuurkampf that will, if left unchecked, irreparably damage the country’s social, cultural and political fabric with terrible long-term repercussions for the entire Jewish people.

There are, however, a vast number of moderate religious Zionists – many of whom do not share the ultra-nationalist ideology now adopted by the NRP. These people no longer have effective political representation.

What can such people do? Can the NRP, even at this late hour, be resurrected as the constructive voice of moderate religious Zionism? Perhaps new political frameworks can emerge, possibly giving modern Orthodoxy an effective voice in the existing political structures. Or there might be room for a new political party, representing the ethos and ideals of the old NRP.

These are matters for moderate religious Zionists in Israel to work out, with the full support and encouragement of like-minded Jews in the Diaspora.

But if they fail to publicly dissociate themselves from the anti-Zionist obscurantists who now appear in the ascendancy; if they allow the nationalist zealots to assume the exclusive role of spokesman for religious Zionists and thus split the Jewish people, then the disunity and enmity could threaten us once again.

The writer is co-chairman of the governing board of the World Jewish Congress.

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