Once upon a time, the Mafdal (National Religious Party) was an important part of the Knesset. Controlling enough seats to make it a valuable part of any coalition, it was a member of the government from the inception of the State until 1992.
Over the last twenty years, as part of the increasing obsession within Mizrachi with the pioneers of Yesha, the relevance of the Mafdal has decreased within Israeli society including its constituent base, the Dati Leumi community. The last time the Mafdal turned in a respectable election result in 2003, it chose to join Ariel Sharon's last government and sit at the cabinet table with the Shinui party, further alienating it from the religious public. Following that poor decision, the party returned to opposition and then split into two despite have only a handful of MK's in the first place!
Then, to confound matters, the party chose to run a joint list with the National Union party in the 2006 election. The two parties together only managed to obtain 9 seats and the Mafdal's share was only 3 of them. What a slide into irrelevance!
And now a new announcement out of Israel today: The Mafdal and the National Union are once again merging, but this time into a single party instead of one joint list.
Naturally there is much celebrating by all the official movers and shakers of this deal but I am still disappointed. Much life shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic, this merger does not address the fundamental reason that the Mafdal and the National Religious community have lost influence within Israeli society over the last 20 years.
Let's face it: there are three parties in Israel capable of forming the dominant portion of any government: Likud, Avodah and Kadima. All three parties run on comprehensive platforms and can serve up a full slate of ministers if necessary. The remainder of the small parties, like Gil, the Chareidi parties and Meretz, are single issue vehicles only interested in being part of a governing coalition if their narrow interested are met.
Due to the Yesha agenda, the Mafdal has similarly become a one-issue party and it isn't a popular one. Through the efforts of the leftist governments and media since 1993, the brave pioneers of Yesha who are struggling to keep Jewish control over Jewish land have been villified and turned into the extreme fringe of Israeli society. To support them marks one as a fanatic, a war monger, an obstacle to peace.
Then there is the general wordly nature of the National Religious community. Unlike the Chareidim, most of the Mizrachi live and work within general Israeli society. Like their secular counterparts, they have concerns about the roads, taxes, health care and the direction the State is taking. Does it make more sense to vote for a one issue party like the Mafdal or for a comprehensive party like the Likud which may not be religious but politically reflects many Mizrachi values?
If the Mafdal really wants to regain importance in the Knesset, and the National Religious community wants to start growing and replacing the Chareidim as the definitive form of Judaism today, then they have to rebuild their philosophy. No longer can being Mizrachi be all about Yesha. Through the effort of Mizrachi talmidei chachamim, the issues facing a modern state have been analyzed through the lens of halachah. Being Dati Leumi shows that one can be a member of the modern world while being an observer of Torah law without compromise. It is this element of Mizrachi, that if necessary it could run the State in a normal fashion within the bounds of halachah, not the manner found in Iran, that the movement needs to emphasize.
Mizrachi must not be about Yesha. It must be about making Israel more Jewish.