Article Library / 2016

2016 Annual Assessment

Religious Zionist political leadership is not confined to the Jewish Home Party. Several of the more prominent Likud leaders are Religious Zionists and promote a Religious Zionist agenda. This identification has been reciprocated by the Religious Zionist voting public. In the last elections, held in March 2014, four parliamentary mandates moved from the Jewish Home Party to the Likud.

While the Likud always contained Orthodox members, in the last 20 or so years, self-conscious Religious Zionists started to join Likud with the explicit purpose of influencing (and even taking control of) its ideology and policy. The first, vanguard example of this was Moshe Faiglin, a far right settlement activist. Although Faiglin was elected as a Likud MK, his challenges to Netanyahu for the leadership of the party were successively defeated.

Despite Faiglin’s defeat and eventual departure, the idea of joining and influencing Likud began to take hold in the settlements, and substantial numbers of settlers joined the party. While many of these new members did not, at first, vote for Likud,9the increased Religious Zionist presence made itself felt among the leadership. Thus, one Likud minister, and an important member of its leadership, Ze’ev Elkin (Minister of Jerusalem and Heritage) is an avowed Religious Zionist and settler; the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tzipi Hotovely is also a Religious Zionist, as is the Knesset’s Speaker, Yuli Edelstein. Some of the people closest to Prime Minister Netanyahu are also Religious Zionists, namely Natan Eshel, Rami Sadan, and Shlomo Filber. The latter two hold important bureaucratic positions – Chairman of the News Corporation of Channel 10 and Director General of the Communications Ministry. In the last election, Filber and Hotovely were in charge of the Likud election headquarters in Judea and Samaria.

At the same time that Religious Zionists gained prominence in Likud, Likud leaders who were identified as secular and liberal were removed from leadership positions, and even from the party. These include the President of the State of Israel, Ruvi Rivlin (who was elected President against the will of Prime Minister Natanyahu), Dan Meridor, and Michael Eitan. The prominence of Religious Zionists in the current government, and in Likud, points to the fact that more than any previous government, the current government does not give pride of place to secular figures, but rather to those groups that did not fully accept the change in Jewish identity the Zionist revolution attempted to effect.10 These include Haredim, National Religious, and Masorati elements (such as Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev).11