This is, as I noted, Religious Zionism's third opportunity. Played right, the religious leadership of the Dati Leumi community could retake the Rabbanut and make it more relevant for average Israelis. It could position Religious Zionism back in the heart of Israeli religious life.Or it could, pardon the baseball reference, be strike three and out.The recent Israeli election seems to have lent an air of semi-prophecy to my words. Bayit Yehuda went from an influential number of seats along with a palpable sense of momentum back to being a second-rate party with sectoral influence only. If it weren't for the mathematics of it all and Yisrael Beiteinu's sudden nasty divorce from the Likud it would not even have the limited influence it does on national policy. In fact, Bayit Yehudi is starting to strongly represent the party it replaced,
So what happened?
For several decades Israel had two dominant parties, the leftist Avodah and the rightist Likud, which were surrounded by innumerable smaller parties, each representing a single sector or community of society or a special interest. These parties never pretended that they were governing entities. They were in government to suck out as much money and influence as they could to their pet projects and followers. Over time some parties did try to break into the big time and develop a comprehensive platform but other than Kadima, which was a leftist breakaway from Likud and riding on sympathy for Ariel Sharon's untimely stroke, none every succeeded.
Bayit Yehuda, for what it's worth, did try this tactic and in the previous election it looked to be successful. However it's gains were its loss. As the only religious party in the coalition the party seemed to become pigeon-holed over time and instead of representing an alternative to the Likud on the right it became the bigger party's handmaiden. What's more, the party seems to have developed the same problem that ultimately took down the Mafdal: an obsession with the Jewish population of Yehuda and Shomron.
Now, I am certainly not suggesting that Israel's policies in the Jewish heartland aren't important. I'm not suggesting they shouldn't be a government priority or worthy of support. However, the issue is a passionate one and tends to consume groups involved with it. Quick, when you think of Meretz do you think of leftist economic and social policies or of a group of losers dedicated to helping Israel commit national suicide because it'll make the Arabs happy? Exactly my point. The Mafdal lost popular support even within the National Religious community because it became perceived as a party for the "settlers" and not even all of them but really a party for the right wing religious settlers. It failed to create the impression that it was a truly national party. Has Bayit Yehudi made the same blunder? Is that why it's seat total plummeted?
Here's my free, unsolicited advice: Yehuda and Shomron aren't going anywhere. Bibi Netanyahu can promise the EU and US he'll accept a two state resolution based on the 1937 Peel partition plan and we don't have to worry because ultimately the Arabs will say no to any final agreement. Make perfunctory statements about the integrity of Israel including it's heartland but then move on. What is Bayit Yehudi's plan to reduce income discrepancy in Israel? Any initiative to reduce corruption in the government and police force? How about trade policies with Europe and the Far East? National education standards to restore excellence to all Israel's school systems? A plan for tackling the never-ending health system crises?
As I wrote before, Bayit Yehuda can become a truly national party if it champions all of these issues and presents progressive (ie. not leftist) ideas on how to tackle them while adding in a Jewish perspective, using the halacha where able to provide suggestions. Before this unstable government gets too wobbly the party needs to turn itself around and present itself that way else it join the Mafdal in obscurity.