June 13, 2006
There is a widespread belief amongst the members of Israel’s national religious community that the Israeli government represents the majority of Israeli Jews. This way of thinking is so prevalent that it affects both laymen and rabbi alike. A clear example of this can be seen in a pamphlet, written by leading national religious rabbis, which was distributed a few weeks ago throughout synagogues in Israel. Although arguably an admirable attempt to build some consensus in the face of threatened future withdrawals, nonetheless the pamphlet reveals the rabbis’ belief with such statements as “a minority cannot impose its views on the majority”. In other words, the minority (the faith-minded public that cares about Torah, the Land of Israel, and the People of Israel) cannot impose its views on the majority of Israeli Jews since the majority, via the electoral process, chose Ehud Olmert and his Kadima party.
However, what many of the signatories to this pamphlet, as well as many in the national religious camp in general, fail to understand is that this so-called majority is nothing but a fabrication of the ruling establishment. In other words, via the use of the media, the establishment has managed (already for many years) to implant the belief in the public that they represent the majority of Israelis. Thus, even when opposing the views of the ruling establishment, there is an accepted belief that ‘we are the minority’ and ‘they are the majority’. Moreover, since it is accepted that they represent the majority, there is a constant attempt to be liked by the establishment. This way of thinking has unfortunately guided, and still guides, many of the good-intentioned members of the national religious camp. However, if it doesn’t stop, the tragedy of last summer in Gush Katif will be nothing compared to the awaiting tragedy.
My question is, has anyone ever checked this notion of who are the majority of Israelis (a demographic question), or who represents them (a political question), rather than accepting it as a divinely-given fact?
On a political level, an analysis of Israel’s elections for the past 30+ years presents a very interesting picture. (the following statistics can be found on the web site of the Israeli Knesset http://www.knesset.gov.il/description/eng/eng_mimshal_res.htm) Starting with the most recent elections in March for Israel’s 17th Knesset, as everyone knows Kadima received the most votes. However, has anyone bothered to notice that of all the eligible voters (of which, more than 35% chose not to vote), Kadima received roughly 15% of the votes. Or to turn this statistic on its head, of all the eligible voters, roughly 85% did not vote for Ehud Olmert and his Kadima party. If we analyze the elections this way, then even Ariel Sharon and his Likud party during the landslide victory in 2003 managed to receive only 20% of the votes (once again, of all the eligible voters, many of whom chose not to vote). Although obviously better than Ehud Olmert and his Kadima party, nonetheless of all the eligible voters roughly 80% did not vote for Ariel Sharon and his Likud party.
In fact, analyzing the election results this way for past 30+ years will show conclusively that no one party has ever came close to receiving a majority of all eligible votes. Even the biggest winner, when analyzed this way, only received roughly 30% of all eligible votes (this being the Alignment back in 1973).
True, Israel is a parliamentary-democracy (sort of) so the largest winner in the elections has usually managed to form some sort of governing coalition. However, these coalitions and their ensuing policies invariably have nothing to do with the wishes or desires of the majority of Israelis but rather are based upon (for the most part) a bunch of opportunists joining together to get access to, and control, the various sources of power in this country.
Turning to the demographic picture, there is the accepted notion that the majority of the Jews in Israel are secular and therefore the religious minority (to quote the pamphlet mentioned above) “cannot impose its views on the majority”. However, similar to the “political majority” discussed above, the accepted “demographic majority” is also quite deceptive.
An article of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (How Religious are Israeli Jews? by the late Professor Daniel Elazar, available on the web at http://www.jcpa.org/dje/articles2/howrelisr.htm) cuts through this assumption. Although based on statistics from 1993 and therefore a bit outdated, this article is nonetheless still relevant in that it clearly shows that the accepted demographic notion is far from the truth. Without going into all the details, it shows that nearly 25% of the Jews living in Israel define themselves as ‘religious’ (haredi, national religious, etc) while another 55% define themselves as ‘traditional’ (mainly Sephardim). Although it is true that amongst the individual Jews that fall within these two groups there can be found a wide range of religious differences (both in observance and outlook), nonetheless nearly all have some affinity for the Jewish tradition, the Torah, the Land of Israel, etc. Moreover, when viewed this way, the secular Jewish population comprises a mere 20% of all the Jews living in Israel. Thus, rather than being the majority (as is commonly assumed), the secular Jewish population in Israel is in fact the minority.
To summarize, a) the largest political parties in Israel do not represent the majority of Israeli Jews and b) the overwhelming majority of Jews in Israel define themselves as either religious or traditional. Given these facts, it should be clear that the national religious public has to stop viewing the establishment as representing the majority and stop trying to be liked by them, but rather should go on the offensive with their ideas since they, and not the establishment, are connected to the majority of Jews.
The first leader or political party that learns how to tap into the ‘real majority’ will easily change the face of Israel.