Menachem Zigelbaum, Beis Moshiach
In his holy sichos from Parshas Bamidbar and Parshas Naso 5733 (1973), the Rebbe speaks about the Israeli government’s concessions to the Arabs of Yerushalayim, particularly concessions at the expense of the rights of the city’s Jewish residents. From the depths of his heart, the Rebbe MH”M cried out bitterly as he described in simple terms a situation similar to what prevails in Eretz Yisrael at the present time, when seemingly “right-wing” politicians sign dangerous agreements with the Arabs threatening the security of the People of Israel:
“In the Old City, there live barely a few hundred Jews, and they don’t permit more Jews to settle there. But they give the Arabs full rights, to the point that if an Arab specifically wants to live in the new section of Yerushalayim – he can do so.”
If this was not enough, the Rebbe questioned with amazement the very fact that Israeli Arabs can vote in elections, influencing the political map, the composition of the governing coalition, and the opposition in Israel:
“The situation there [in Eretz Yisrael] is so shocking – that during an election period, seventy thousand Arabs express opinions, G-d forbid, regarding the Western Wall and the holy places of the Jewish People in Yerushalayim.
There is no other place in the world where Arabs are privileged to receive such good treatment: not in Jordan, not in Syria, not in Egypt, and not in Iraq. Only here in the Holy City of Yerushalayim, and specifically after the victory of the Jewish People!
And after all this, the religious representatives (!) dared to make shameful declarations – that this is how the miracles that G-d did for us take expression [payment time will be at the election – when people from his party raise a tumult and remind him of those words].
How is it possible that a religious government minister, who also claims to be a religious leader, is not embarrassed to make such shameful declarations? But not only that, these words are publicized throughout the world! These are G-d’s miracles? Already six years have passed since the war, and it’s only with great difficulty that a few hundred Jews enter Old Yerushalayim to live between the walls – which is our holy city! Could a situation in which a Jew has to steal into Old Yerushalayim be called the Kindnesses of Hashem?
Thus, if the Rebbe cried out over the mere fact that Arabs can vote and get elected, how much more should we be shocked now. “Right-wing” government ministers calling themselves “religious” – not only give approval to these Arabs, they bring them into the governing coalition for the first time(!), and sign foolishly dangerous agreements with them – a disaster for all the Jews in Eretz Yisrael.
These aren’t just potential destructive results. We’re all still “licking our wounds” from the violent demonstrations that broke out in cities throughout Eretz Yisrael: Yerushalayim, Akko, Ramle, Lod, Yafo, Beersheva, highways in the south, etc. In all these locations, Arab rioters came, pillaged, destroyed, caused ruin and devastation – even injuring and killing Jews.
We’re not talking about the historic pogrom of 5689 (1929), rather events that took place just last month – in 5781!
And after all this, what are the representatives of the Ra’am Party requesting in their signed coalition agreement with the new prime minister? No confiscation of Arab weapons, no destruction of Bedouin homes, etc. To put it simply, let the abandonment continue and Jewish lives will be placed in danger on a daily basis!
This is not a political issue per-se; it’s on the crossroads of politics meeting fundamental Torah values. In this light, we bring this interview with MK Betzalel Smotrich, leader of the Zionist-Religious party who was an active player in the unsuccessful attempts to prevent this from happening. He did, however, manage to prevent the Jewish-oriented parties from signing on to this dangerous precedent.
As the Rebbe once said to an Israeli journalist who inquired on the Rebbe’s position on a similar political crisis in Israel, “My fervent hope is that the prime minister will be Moshiach Tzidkeinu, but until then the government must stand strong on matters related to Torah.”
THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR ESTABLISHING A LEFTIST GOVERNMENT
A new coalition government has just assumed office in Eretz Yisrael. Many people are saying that you played a vital role in the formation of this government by your preventing the establishment of a right-wing coalition. Are you satisfied with the results?
G-d forbid. Of course, I’m not satisfied. I can tell you with absolute assuredness based on irrefutable facts that we had a number of opportunities and possibilities to form a strong right-wing government with all the ‘nationalist’ parties without the need to rely upon the supporters of terrorism, parties that reject the very existence of the Jewish homeland in Eretz Yisrael. However, Naftali Bennett wrecked the feasibility of this option every time, deliberately and with malice aforethought. When such an arrangement started to materialize, Bennett blocked it just as it was about to happen.
To our great regret, with a scheme intentionally planned out in advance, Bennett successfully moved this process forward. Before the recent election campaign, we went our separate ways precisely along these lines. Even then, before the election, I realized that he was inclined to go to the left with the primary objective of removing Netanyahu from office and becoming prime minister at any price. Since then, our paths have ceased to cross.
Throughout the campaign, I tried to warn the public about this – not based on some theory, but on clear knowledge after speaking with him. Contrary to virtually everyone else, I knew exactly what his strategy was. When we stated this vociferously during the campaign, we were accused of spreading lies and slander, conducting a negative media blitz by making baseless attacks to harvest right-wing votes. I can tell you with full accountability: Everything he did was planned out in advance. Even his conduct in recent months and weeks, when he told Netanyahu, “You have our seven fingers”, was a blatant lie.
What did Smotrich know from the outset that everyone else didn’t? After the fact, it turned out that you had already foreseen in detail everything that eventually occurred.
I didn’t foresee anything; I simply sat with him, we spoke and we argued, and I realized that Bennett was prepared to destroy the ideological right-wing for the title of prime minister, and it was here that we went our separate ways. I said this from first-hand knowledge.
Politically, we are “right-wing nationalists,” committed to preserving the integrity and wholeness of the Torah, the Land, and the People of Israel, and we simply cannot go with the leftists, because we have no common ideological ground with them. However, Bennett with his slogan, “If it’s not about jobs, I’m not interested”, paved the way for him to establish a common link, as it were, to ensure a livelihood for the citizens of Israel.
There was more than one opportunity, and more than one possibility to form a government of all the right-wing factions without relying upon supporters of terrorism. What Bennett did was a tragedy.
You are a practical and experienced person and saw that the supporters of terrorism would be in the government in any case. Thus, the question is quite simple: If you would have agreed to receive their support, they would have entered the coalition government with a right-wing platform at a far lesser price, with Netanyahu as prime minister and far better policies. What you caused, your detractors claim, is to bring the Arabs into the coalition and give power to the most extreme leftist elements in Israeli politics. So what did you really benefit from all this?
That’s an excellent question, and I’ll give you several answers on the matter. First, since Bennett planned all this in advance in order to join the other side, even if I would have ch”v agreed with this possibility, he wouldn’t have come back to the right. On the contrary, it was much easier for him to sign with the left, especially after he could have said that even Smotrich, the “most right-wing of them of all”, agreed to this. So why is it forbidden to him?…
Today, all those involved in the process, including members of the Likud Party, admit this to be true. There is no doubt in my mind that Bennett came to an agreement with Yair Lapid long before the election. Even during Operation Guardian of the Walls, when he seemingly took any discussion of any such alliance off the table in order to take the public pressure off him, his people continued negotiating with Lapid.
Secondly, there is a world of difference if the left-wing bloc signs an agreement with the Arabs, as opposed to the right-wing bloc. Leader of the Muslim-Arab party Mansour Abbas explained this better than I could. While the leftists were signing this despicable agreement, the right-wing bloc was making the public aware that it had drawn a black line through it, calling it a “tragedy.” G-d willing, we will soon topple this government and convey a clear message that this was a one-time “freak accident.” The people of Israel will see for themselves how dangerous it is to rely upon the support of the Islamic Arab parties, and how terrible it is to be held hostage by their extortion – a regular “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
The reality will become quite clear soon enough, and then all will see that the coalition agreement with the Arabs is totally illegitimate, irresponsible, and treacherous. If, G-d forbid, the right-wing bloc had done this, every tree in the forest would have fallen. We would have been finished…
Practically speaking, the Rebbe himself stated this principle in his sicha with then-minister of transportation, Mr, Moshe Katsav, when he told him that it would be preferable for a government of gentiles to give away territory than a government led by Yitzchak Shamir.
That’s correct, and that’s absolutely how things are. Everyone now knows that it wasn’t the right-wing bloc that did this, rather Bennett, who abandoned the nationalist camp and went to the left. Anyone who saw the left celebrating and the right agonizing understands that Naftali Bennett has struck his tent deep into leftist territory, while the nationalist camp is fully aware that this is a tragedy!
Many people who didn’t understand me before the Arab riots, sent me messages afterwards: “How right you were.” Just a month and a half ago, the true face of Israeli Arabs and their political leadership was revealed. The Arab Knesset Members, including those who are now partners in the government, went up to Har HaBayis and declared that “it’s all because of Al-Aqsa”, “it’s all because of the Jews.” Abbas’ Ra’am Party, a member of the new coalition, is a radical extremist organization far more than the secular nationalist Arab factions.
In his speech before the Knesset, delivered in Arabic, Abbas declared explicitly about his efforts to stop enforcing the law on Arab-stolen land in the Negev: “We will restore the land that was stolen, and you have no more nationalistic act than that” – end of quote. The claim that “he only wants to ensure citizens’ rights” is as if we would proclaim that our desire to deal with the young settlers’ movement in Yehuda and Shomron is merely a matter of securing citizens’ rights: electricity, educational institutions, roads… Anyone with a drop of common sense realizes that securing our rights as citizens also includes the nationalist standpoint.
Abbas wants to organize all Bedouin construction in the Negev, thereby ensuring r”l Arab national control over portions of Eretz Yisrael. This is part of the religious Islamic agenda, which seeks to transform the Jewish homeland into an Islamic state.
I made the decision not to agree to serve in a government that depends upon Arab support after learning the whole subject in depth. I invested considerable sums of money in translating informational material from Arabic into Hebrew, organized seminars, sought the advice of rabbanim and other men of action familiar with this movement, its history and its strategy. Therefore, I realized that this was something terrible and appalling.
While we were unsuccessful in preventing the establishment of a government with Arab support, we were able to sketch out a seriously conscious position that you don’t sign agreements with such people.
In recent days, you have been privileged to receive numerous “accolades.” There were some comparing you to Zecharia ben Avkilus, whose silence indirectly caused the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. One leading rabbinical figure recently publicized a call to you, saying, “Don’t be too much of a tzaddik.” See how MK Betzalel Smotrich’s excessive righteousness prevented the establishment of a Jewish government with the Arabs out, bringing upon us a government with Arabs in and traditional Judaism out. How do you respond to that?
I have tremendous respect for Torah scholars, I am mere dust upon their feet, and therefore, I neither argue with them nor attack them in the media.
However, I’ll tell you one thing: The vast majority of rabbis with whom I have consulted during this entire process reject this argument out of hand. I didn’t reach this decision on my own.
As for the shame and humiliation I have endured, accusations of me allegedly preventing the formation of a right-wing government, absorbing such humiliation in this world is a great zechus, especially regarding matters that are correct and proper. Perhaps this will bring some balance to the honor that comes as part of my public role. Hashem will make certain to safeguard my honor, and I will not lose any of my merits in the World to Come.
STANDING WATCH TO PROTECT THE LAND, THE PEOPLE, AND THE TORAH
Today, there is tremendous hatred among certain sectors of the Jewish People towards other communities. The atmosphere is saturated with fumes of sinas chinam (baseless hatred). How do you see the present situation?
The Ramban says that the exile into Egypt came as a result of Yosef HaTzaddik being sold to the Ishmaelites, and the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash occurred after one side established a connection with the haters of Israel. There is one political side that expresses itself, using extremely harsh words of baseless hatred against Netanyahu, the ideological right wing, and people of faith.
If we would have connected to the enemies of Israel as a means of solving problems among the Jewish People, this would appear to me as something frightful and terrible. In the end, the other side did it, but in a manner of irresponsibility and recklessness. We will struggle against them with all our strength and topple them from power as quickly as possible. We will do our utmost to restore and establish a Jewish government without the need to rely upon support from our enemies.
Those who today serve as ministers in the Israeli government want to harm the territorial integrity of Eretz Yisrael, not to mention the national integrity of the Jewish People and the Torah. Do you feel that we are reaching a point of danger on all three fronts?
When you read the coalition agreements, it’s really quite alarming. They also want to inflict harm upon the integrity of the Torah – the character of the Jewish People. They want to make a kind of separation between religion and state. Naturally, they seek to harm the wholeness of the Jewish People as well through improper conversions and concessions on portions of Eretz Yisrael.
Are you concerned?
Most definitely. We’ll need to work much harder to foil their proposed plans. After many years in opposition, the left wants to show that they too can achieve their agenda. They merely have to prove that the concessions they made to Bennett were simply tactical in nature in order that they can truly fulfill their vision.
More than my concern over the legislation they want to pass (in the hope that we will succeed in defeating their shaky coalition), I am worried over what will happen in the government ministries now in their control.
When the right-wing bloc was in control, it wanted to advance its interests. ‘Right’ is not just Yehuda and Shomron, rather the whole traditional outlook connecting the nation more to its roots in matters of faith and Eretz Yisrael.
Yet, to our great regret, when the ideological right is in power, it has far less success than when the left runs the show.
Do you see it as an inability to rule?
We are standing against not only the leftist parties, but the media, the legal elite, economists, government officials – and the entire culture of the liberal world. We have great difficulty clearing a path with one concept and then another…
How do you explain the fact that it’s much harder to build, whereas in the span of half a term, they can destroy everything the right-wing has built over a period of several years?
This is the DNA of our political system. Look at people working in the fields of justice, economics, the media, academics – all run by leftist and post-Judaism Jews. To our great regret, that’s the situation today.
Now that we are in the opposition, we will have to keep our finger on the pulse, and most importantly, we must do everything to bring down this evil, divisive government of hatred, which has placed as one of its objectives to fight against the Torah, the Jewish People, and Eretz Yisrael.
We must remember that in the final analysis, the so-called “nationalist” camp represents the majority in this country. Bennett and his cohorts robbed us of our democracy in broad daylight, taking seats belonging to the right and dragging them to the left. Most of the Israeli public loves tradition and the Jewish People.
If such is the case, then why is the public silent? How do you explain this?
The public isn’t really silent; it just doesn’t raise its voice in protest enough. I think that since the Gush Katif expulsion, it is difficult to get the people out into the streets, apparently due to the despair over the failure to move Ariel Sharon an inch from his position. Before the “disengagement”, hundreds of thousands of citizens came out in the streets, only to be trampled by the Sharon bulldozers.
In addition, the right-wing bloc has been in power for many years; it is satiated, not hungry like the left-wing. You can see this from the election results: Were it not for the hatred and personal accounts against Netanyahu, the forces on the right would have a majority. The problem is that there are many people who simply couldn’t rise above their petty squabbles and joined up with the supporters of terrorism. Yet, the right still is the majority. If we work hard and restore our spirit, we will establish new leadership in the hope that there won’t be too much damage to repair.
Tell me, after you “torpedoed” the prime minister’s efforts in forming a government, is he angry with you?
Absolutely not. We have excellent relations between us. In general, I have a very businesslike connection with him. On the one hand, I have much admiration and respect for him. I know how to appreciate the good he has done for the citizens of Israel. Nevertheless, we do have many arguments. Yet, even when I level criticism against him, I always stick to the point, hoping that he knows how to appreciate that.
Only recently, we met and discussed matters, and we maintain a good rapport. Throughout this process, we’ve had open conversations in a spirit of frankness. Even when there were differences of opinion, we kept them behind closed doors.
THIS IS THE TIME FOR MESIRUS NEFESH
This interview is taking place in the background of a new and very ominous reality. Nevertheless, let’s try and conclude this interview with a few words of hope and strength…
I am convinced that with Hashem’s help, this government will not last long. It is comprised of so many differing opinions on the extremist fringe. Their only common denominator is hatred of Netanyahu, and this won’t keep them together for very long. The whole government has a working majority of one vote over the opposition, and even that will prove difficult to secure.
Eventually, the truth will come to light, and the reins of power will be restored to the people. The Strength of Israel will not lie.
We are doing this interview in the days leading up to the Chag HaGeula of the Rebbe Rayatz. His most prominent characteristic was self-sacrifice. Every time I mention the work of Chabad, I bring this main point of mesirus nefesh, upon which the Rebbe raised everyone. At every waking moment, every Jew sees the world placed before him as if on a scale, and the responsibility to repair the world is squarely on his shoulders.
This is our obligation, and Hashem will bless us and grant us strength.
I wish you success in your future endeavors and your struggles on behalf of the People of Israel.
We are trying. Amen v’Amen.
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