Religious Zionism is not a monolithic bloc in Israeli society, nor does it have total identity with the NRP (Mafdal)*. This public is, however, a constituency of possibly ~10->12% of the Israeli population, and largely sympathizes with settlement, whether it is strongly oppositionist to Disengagement, or not.
*The NRP almost split over the initial government vote on Disengagement, but is now co-existing in the Opposition as one faction; in previous elections, some members moved to more right-wing parties, largely because of the potential constituency of support in Judea, Samaria, & the Gaza Strip.
Far from all Israelis living in the Gaza Strip and N. Samaria settlements are religious [See Table in Timeline] and the population base is far wider, including the history of the Gush Emunim lobby. [See also: Gush Emunim]
- While most of the religious Israelis in the settlements are religious Zionists by self-definition, some of them support parties like Ichud Le'umi-Yisrael Beiteinu, many the NRP, and some the Likud.
- Many of the Hesder Yeshivot (for combined IDF service with Yeshiva studies) are right wing, but not all of them. This led directly to a recent IDF decision to spread Hesder groups more widely in the IDF, in the future (but not to disband the Hesder format!).
- The definitive right wing of the NRP is headed by MK Effi Eitam, and the NRP's spiritual leader, former Chief Rabbi Shapiro.
- Most of the Bnei Akiva Religious Zionist youth movement also strongly opposes Disengagement, and it has members throughout Israel;
- Most Ulpanot and Religious Zionist Women's Colleges of Higher Education are similarly aligned.
However, there is a great distance between the overall identification with the love of Eretz Yisrael or pioneering and an actual crisis: far from all Religious Zionists are forthright right-wingers, and it remains to be seen whether the formal leadership really represents their constituency and whether the constituency will influence the leaadership. Religious Zionists inside the Green Line, or even in the established communities of Gush Etzion and of the Disputed Territories, may also lean more centrally.
Religious Zionism has not lost its centre-left roots, either:
- MK Rabbi Michael Melchior has aligned his small Meimad Party with the Israel Labor Party; (see below)
- Netivot Hashalom, a religious lobby that campaigned for territorial compromise, is also centre-left.
- A new social Religious Zionist movement has emerged that places the emphasis on moral and social issues and resolving Israeli society's problems, in order to create a better and more just society (Tikkun Olam). Many middle generation and young rabbis have joined this small movement and it is attracting the socially conscious religious public, who feel that these are the country's priorities today.
- Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau appealed for responsibility, law and order.
- The Religious Kibbutz movement (Hakibbutz Hadati) has an organized right wing and a moderate centre-left constituency: at a recent 75th anniversary celebration, the political tone was mute and there were no political speeches.
- Bnei Akiva Yeshivot (offering 2 years of Yeshiva and 3 years of IDF service) are also more moderate than many of the Hesder Yeshivot.
What is fairly clear is that there will be a very difficult period during and after Disengagement, when the most vocal campaigners who opposed the Plan will be under considerable pressure. It is too early to speculate how the Religious Zionist public at large will come out of this period.
MK Michael Melchior answered these questions in online interviews for the Haaretz newspaper. [Link]
We also offer a range of articles that express ideas, tensions and opinions:
by Gila Ansell Brauner