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Ben Gvir: Nightmare for Netanyahu or the Left?

The following is a transcript of Episode 59 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors. 

Donniel: My name is Donniel Hartman and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute. And this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage Project. Our theme for today is Ben Gvir: Apocalypse Now?

In each edition of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem, and myself discuss a current issue central to Israel in the Jewish world.

And then Elana Stein Hain, director of the Hartman faculty in North America explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue. Elana unfortunately has lost her voice. She won’t be able to join us today. So Yossi, it’s just you and I and let’s begin.

Yossi: I think we’ll figure it out.

Donniel: I don’t know actually. I think on this one I really wanted Elana here. I have to tell you, cause like you and I, we, she corrects us in ways. There’s a voice of, anyway, we’ll have to make do. 

Now what’s the subject?

Though we’ve already been through four elections in the past three years, this coming round in November 1st feels for all of us profoundly different. For many Israelis and for many of Israel’s friends abroad, there’s a growing fear that the return to power of former Prime Minister in Netanyahu, could lead to the ruin of something very, very profound. Could be Israel’s democracy. It could be its legal system, it could be its moral code. 

There’s something, there’s a lot of fear about that moment, and now some of it might be unjustified, but the cause for this fear is because this time Netanyahu, I, we, Yossi, you and I believe that this is the essential core of this fear, is that Netanyahu will potentially be completely dependent on the far right to form a government something, which, by the way, Netanyahu never wanted to do or be.

He never did that in the past, and even if he could form a far-right government, he chose people from the center when he went with Blue and White and Gantz and rejected a stable far-right coalition together within right-wing um, Yemima. 

Yossi: We, we, we forget this.

Donniel: We forget this.

Yossi: It’s like ancient history, you know, two years ago. Yeah

Donniel: You remember, he could have, he had a strong, he could have built it with him, and he, and he preferred Gantz, and then he didn’t want to turn power over to Gantz, but Netanyahu never wanted to.

But in this time, it looks like he will only be able to be prime minister and as a result, he will be completely dependent on this far right. Only two years ago, Netanyahu declared Itamar Ben Gvir, when he was against the far right, the most popular leader on the far right with deep roots in the racist Kahanist movement, he said he wasn’t fit to be a government minister. 

Now though, yesterday, Netanyahu readily affirmed that Ben Gvir will be a minister in a Netanyahu led government. The fears aren’t only coming from the left. Warning about the rise of Ben Gvir, the editor of the center-right Jerusalem Post, Yaakov Katz in a really interesting editorial, called the election one of the most fateful in Israel’s history and potentially the most dangerous.

But what exactly are those warning about in Netanyahu/Ben Gvir government afraid of? That’s what we have to talk about Yossi. Is the threat of Ben Gvir exaggerated? After all, Ben Gvir claims to have left the extremist Kahanist ideas of his youth behind him. And by allowing him to run the Israeli Supreme Court has effectively exonerated him from the charges of racism because a racist party is illegal to run in the Knesset.

So is Ben Gvir, as many of his voters believe, merely presenting a basic hard-line or maybe even an extreme hard-line security position that remains within the boundaries of mainstream Israeli conversation, or is it something more sinister at play? And if so, wha exactly is it?

And finally, if their fears are legitimate, how should Israeli liberals and liberal Jews abroad react to a Netanyahu Ben Gvir government, the apocalypse, Yos. What are we afraid of?

Yossi: Maybe before we get to the apocalypse, I just wanna say Mazal Tov to you. 

Donniel: Oh, ladies and gentlemen. Okay. You could say it, Yossi. Um, I just had, my fifth grandchild was born on Shabbat. And this Shabbos is gonna be the Bris. 

Yossi: So B’shaah tova, and really love to the whole family.

Donniel: Thank you. For my audience who doesn’t know, our audience, the job that I am most equipped to do in life is to be a grandfather. It’s like all the other jobs I’m still working on, I’m developing, I’m here. It’s like I, this is what fills my whole being. And, uh, um, so anyway, thank you for that Yossi

Yossi: Wow, and not be, I, I felt before we get to the apocalypse. Let’s, let’s give the readers, uh, the listeners a little good news.

Donniel: Yeah. Like, cause I actually. That’s right. I have more invested in this now. I already had four grandchildren. Now I have a fifth invested in this. So thank you. 

Yossi: So look. You know, Donniel, the question that Israeli voters are, are struggling with, right wing voters, is as you mentioned, is Ben Gvir something qualitatively different. Is he beyond the pale? 

Donniel: Because by the way, that’s every, all everybody’s talking about is Ben Gvir. They’re not talking about Iran, they’re not talking about economy. 

Yossi: Extraordinary.

Donniel: It’s like there is, the voters might be deciding on other issues.

There are multiple issues, but Ben Gvir is dominating. And by the way, that’s one of the reasons for his success. He’s a media star.

Yossi: Yes. And this is one of Netanyahu’s greatest failures because in the last four elections everyone was talking about Netanyahu. Pro, con, now it’s Ben Gvir. Netanyahu is almost irrelevant.

Donniel: Very interesting. 

Yossi: So the question really, I think that for most of his voters, I don’t think that most of these young people who are voting for Ben Gvir have suddenly adopted a Kahanist racist ideology. I think they look at him and they see, here’s a guy who’s going to be the real Netanyahu. What Netanyahu promised to be. Mr. Security.

He’s going to be tougher but certainly well within the norms of, uh, of Israeli society.

Donniel: But can I just on this, I wanna refine, he doesn’t speak about external security.

Yossi: Right.

Donniel: You know, he wasn’t even in the army. Not by of his own choice, but he didn’t even have a military career. The army didn’t wanna draft him. When you’re talking about security, it’s security vis a vis Palestinians in the West Bank and vis a vis Palestinian Israeli citizens. That’s 

Yossi: ultimately, look, you know when, when his mentor, Meir Kahane would talk about the internal threat, even more than the Palestinians, he meant Israel’s Arab citizens.

Donniel: Interesting. 

Yossi: And that’s where I think that Ben Gvir is the legitimate heir of Kahane. Last week he casually told an interviewer that what he’d like to do is open up an office, government office to encourage, not God forbid, to push people out, but to encourage Arabs to consider immigrating.

He didn’t make a distinction between Palestinians who live in the territories, and Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. Now Ben Gvir went into law. Ben Gvir is a lawyer by training. He went into law to figure out how to skirt the law for his far-right clients. He became the lawyer for anyone on the far right who got into trouble with the law. 

Donniel: For, in many ways, for acts of terror. 

Yossi: Acts of terror. He became a politician to whitewash Kahanist ideology and he succeeded brilliantly as a lawyer, and now he’s repeating that success as a politician. And the fact that here we are, a week before the elections, and you and I are having this conversation, who is Ben Gvir? Is he really a legitimate politician or is he actually playing a role, and is in fact the Kahanist that we knew him to be for years that in itself is a measure. It’s it’s a measure of his success.

Donniel: That’s the question. 

See now, like I personally in my life, I, I hate it when somebody’s record from their teens is brought up to them. And Ben Gvir himself said, that’s true on a Purim, I did dress up as Baruch Goldstein cause he was my hero. And now he says that was a mistake. 

So, I can’t stand it where every politician has to say, no, I never said it. You didn’t understand. Why can’t I be stupid? I was stupid as a teenager. Why can’t someone else be stupid? So in theory, the notion that who you were and what you said is who you will always be. I hate that notion and it’s a fundamentally un-Jewish notion. 

Yossi: Agreed. Agreed. 

Donniel: But here, let’s go to your point cause this is what I wanna, because you just presented a critical fact that needs to be unpacked.

You said he’s setting up a ministry for the voluntary immigration 

Yossi: Or an office.

Donniel: An office for, uh, for Palestinians, for Palestinian immigration. Kahane spoke about forced expulsion, which made him illegal.

Yossi: What’s interesting, Donniel,

Donniel: So, but now why is this, let’s, I know what’s wrong with this, but since you raised it, what do you see is wrong with this office?

Yossi: Okay. Two points before I answer. Quick points. Number one, Kahane began his political career in 1973, running for the Knesset and I was there, I was a volunteer on his first political campaign.

Donniel: See, by the way, I, we’ve forgiven you, right? 

Yossi: Yes, yes, yeah And I’ll I’ll come to that at a moment. I’m not, maybe, there are some who haven’t.

But uh, I’m bringing that up because one of his key platforms in 1973 was voluntary immigration for Arab Israelis. Ben Gvir is taking a page out of early Kahane.

Donniel: So it’s actually there. 

Yossi: It’s there. The second point, when you talk about Ben Gvir disassociating himself from from Baruch Goldstein, I’m with you. Fine. We shouldn’t be penalizing him for something he did as a teenager.

But until a couple of years ago, he had a big picture of Baruch Goldstein hanging in his living room. And he took it down only because there was media attention to the photograph. And he was losing support in the public.

Donniel: It’s when he actually, when the first time that Netanyahu was forcing Bennett to run with Ben Gvir in order for him to be able to do that is when he took down the uh, poster. 

Yossi: Two years ago. But let’s go. 

Donniel: Yeah. I’m sorry, Yossi. 

Yossi: No, no. So I your, your question, if I understand, you’re asking, what is it about setting up an office to encourage voluntary immigration is so problematic? What Ben Gvir is ultimately trying to plant in the minds of Israeli Jews is that they’re the real citizens. His poster, his slogan is mi baalei habayit? Who are the real, 

Donniel: Homeowners.

Yossi: Owners, homeowners, in this country. And what is he saying to the Jews? You’re the real citizens. The Arabs are here by our largess. 

Donniel: So then essentially the Supreme Court got it wrong because at the core of this notion is a fundamental distinction, since it’s between Israeli Jew and Palestinian, it’s a racial distinction between those, when you say voluntary immigration, it’s for whom? It’s not for law breakers, it’s not for someone. It’s by virtue of your national identity that by definition you’re not a part. That means at the core of Ben Gvir’s

Yossi: You’re, you’re a flawed citizen. 

Donniel: You’re a foreigner.

Yossi: You’re a foreigner. Exactly.

Donniel: That the only indigenous population here are the Jews. In the Jewish state everybody else might be uh, tolerated.

Yossi: You’re here on sufferance. Absolutely. 

Donniel: And that then Supreme Court got wrong. 

Yossi: Look, there is no lawyer in the state of Israel that understands how the Supreme Court works more than Ben Gvir. I don’t know if there’s another lawyer in this country who’s appeared as so often because he takes serious cases. Cases of Jewish terrorism. 

What Ben Gvir understood about the Supreme Court is that they don’t want to ban parties. They’re not looking for 

Donniel: The opposite. 

Yossi: The opposite. 

Donniel: And so as long as he dances. 

Yossi: Exactly, but careful with the language. Ben Gvir is careful. 

Donniel: But in essence, let’s now be clear, let’s be clear. Because one of the things that bothers me or that I think is very flawed in the criticism both of Netanyahu and Ben Gvir, and you and I have been very clear about it, is that we’re not presice. 

We call them anti-democratic, and then they say, yes, we are democratic. We call them racist, and we say we’re never racist, et cetera. If you wanna argue, and we do believe that this is a dangerous move, which has nothing to do with right or left, and it has nothing to do with Iran. It has nothing to do with the defensible borders of Israel. And it even has nothing to do with whether I believe the land of Israel is holy or not. 

There is a fundamental move and shift away from a core moral principle of Israel. In fact, this so-called innocuous office is not an innocuous idea at all. And what makes it even more insidious is that it creates a distinction between Jews and non-Jews in Israel without people even being aware of it. 

Oh, what’s wrong? What’s wrong? Don’t you want Israel to be a Jewish state? Of course. Cause it is. We want Israel to be a Jewish state. Don’t you want a Jewish majority? Of course I want a Jewish majority. But it is already a Jewish state and we have a Jewish majority. 

And if we’re continuing to do this, we are basically mainstreaming in, into the core consciousness of Israel that there are the citizens, the indigenous, those who belong, those who this is theirs, and those who are basically almost like perennial refugees who are allowed, you know, it’s like in the Jewish tradition, we have this idea of the stranger, the ger. You might be nice to the stranger, but the stranger is what? Still a stranger, at the end of the day.

Okay. So this I think is one serious issue that we have to put on the table. And this is what we’re frightened of. I wanna put a different one, Yossi.

And for me it’s very important because, I think a lot of the racist attacks against Ben Gvir have nothing to base themselves on. And we overstate it. And we’re not talking about what the problem is.

For me, one of the biggest problems with Ben Gvir is the name of his party and what it represents. His party is called Otzma Yehudit. 

Yossi: Interesting.Yeah. Yeah. 

Donniel: And Otzma Yehudit. It’s not Jewish power. Otzma is not power. Power means is koach. Otzma is might. Jewish might.

Yossi: It’s so visceral. 

Donniel: It’s much more, it’s a visceral, it’s a much more grand, Jewish might. And I could understand the need for a Jewish Defense League. Again, don’t get me wrong, I’m not joining the Kahane party, but I remember there was a time when you joined, and with your background as a second generation, or actually the way you grew up, it’s almost, you were almost a first generation vicar, you didn’t grow up as second generation. You’re, you were living in a, in, 

Yossyi: My father tried to raise me as a vicarious Survivor. 

Donniel: Suvivor. No. So it’s like that under that intensity, when Jews were frightened, I think the Haganah, that’s what Haganah was. We have a Jewish Defense League. Like we need to defend the Jewish people when no one was defending us. 

But what does a party of Jewish might mean at a moment when Israel is one of the most powerful countries in the world, when all of our enemies are almost inconsequential, with the exception of Iran, when nobody poses an existential threat. We won the war. We won. We are dominating, controlling in Judea and Samaria. So there are intifada, there are attacks from time to time, but none of it is existential. 

Under Lapid we now have again, targeted assession, we doing anything we want in the middle of Kasbah of Shchem. Like this is where we are. Israel, our victory is beyond any of the great most wild fantasies of the Jewish people.

The idealization of Jewish might at this moment is about, I believe, creating a discourse of power completely immune from any of its moral correctives. That’s what it means. When you say, I want Jewish power a distinct from what? What do we have now? Oh, now you have Jewish power, but you have Supreme Court, it’s somehow being controlled. It’s somehow being mitigated. 

When the rabbis say ezehu gibur, hakovesh et yitzro. Who is the mighty? The person who controls their impulses. Who is wealthy, who is happy with their lot. The rabbis who have a more, who are trying to moderate this sense of, I want more. This gashmiyut, this physicality of defining a meaningful life.

At this moment to say, I need Jewish power. Is about the exercise of control and power devoid of any correctives. It is so easy to manipulate because we feel attacked and we feel frightened. And even though we are so clearly winning against the Palestinian terrorists, but still, each time we are frightened. 

And it’s true that in a number of mixed cities and neighborhoods in Israel, because of Netanyahu’s neglect, they’re not safe. We have allowed our police force to be weak and we build a stronger army and we should be doubling our police. Because we have problems inside, not just problems outside, but all of that is there. 

But to now come and say, I need Jewish might, is to tell Jews in Israel, you’re not safe. You’re not safe, and the way I’m gonna make you safe is I’m going to use Jewish power in a way that’s unmitigated, without the checks and balances. That discourse,

Yossi: Mm-hmm. 

Donniel: You know, we banter around the word fascism or ultra-nationalism. But it is that embracing of power as almost an end unto itself in the service of your community, which are the fundamental, they’re what accompany this process of ultra nationalism. That, when power is worshiped, not as a means, but as an end, then uh, I get very, very frightened for the future of our country.

Yossi: I think it’s an important insight, but I would like to qualify it. And look I know something of the psyche of that world and the relationship to power comes from deep insecurity. There can never be enough power because there is a void in your core. And the void is existential dread. 

Remember how you used to make fun of me for using the word existential, you know, at every one of our iEngage sessions? That’s a legacy from my childhood. Now, it’s true that an Israeli follower of Kahane has a different mentality, a different worldview than those of us who followed Kahane in Brooklyn of the 1960s and 70s.

But what we have in common is this deep fear that whatever power we’ve secured is temporary. And the truth is that if you look at the history of the state of Israel from the beginning, there’s this tension between vulnerability and power.

There’s something schizophrenic that’s built in to the Israeli experience. 1945, we’re at the lowest point in our history. 1948, the founding of the state, suddenly we’re at the peak. May 1967 we’re about to be destroyed again. June 1967, we’re the masters of the Middle East. Go from June 1967 to October 1973, suddenly we’re about to be destroyed again. From October 1973, go three years later to, to the Entebbe rescue.  

Donniel: Yossi, this is too much, almost. 

Yossi: To the Entebbe rescue. Our story is schizophrenic. You can even leave the Holocaust out of it for a moment, but of course the Holocaust is hovering over this. And so the Kahanist mindset in Israel has in common with the mindset that I grew up in and my friends in Brooklyn grew up with, is we don’t trust Jewish power. 

Donniel: You know, it’s almost, I your, your framing of this is, it’s almost as if this is a diasporic consciousness. 

Yossi: Absolutely. 

Donniel: And so, and when you bring that diasporicconsciousness into power, when you have the power. 

Yossi: It’s very dangerous. Very dangerous.

Donniel: It becomes very, so here it is. Like, you and I could probably go on, but then we be depressing our, I don’t know, depressing our audience, but we depressing, I’d be depressing myself too much. 

There is something very significant here. And we speak about a cultural war, regardless of who wins the election. And we’re gonna talk, a little promo, Yossi and I, and we’re gonna be having a uh, a special election night podcast in which we’re gonna talk about the election and we’re gonna analyze the results on November 1st. 

Yossi: November 1st. When is that? Tuesday. 

Donniel: Tuesday. Tuesday evening at 9:30 Israel time. 2:30 New York time. And then the first polls come out at 3 Eastern Standard Time. But we’ll be talking some more about this. 

So this is serious. Regardless of who wins, we’re gonna have to repair the deep undermining of core moral and democratic principles that have become mainstreamed and why they’re in the religious Zionist community. These are 14 seats of people who, as you said, didn’t overnight become racist, but these positions have been mainstreamed.

We can probably add another 10 seats from the Likud. We, we have a serious non-political, we have a major educational agenda regardless of who wins to deal with. But let’s talk, uh, for a few moments about, uh, so what does this mean? What does it mean for what we have to do in Israel? If the predictions, if Netanyahu, and it’s this close, if Netanyahu could form this coalition, what are we gonna have to do here in Israel?

Yossi: We have to, first of all, reexamine the ways in which civic education Democratic education is taught in the high schools. There’s a lot of civic education that happens in this country.

Donniel: But if they control the ministry, it’s gonna be very hard, isn’t it?

Yossi: It will be. It will be. But look, you know, Israel is an anarchic country. 

Donniel: That’s true. 

Yossi: And each teacher is uh, is sovereign,

Donniel: Each, each principal is sovereign.

Yossi: Yes so there will be a revolt in the educational system if God forbid this camp controls the education ministry.

The question is, what is it that we’re not conveying. What is there about the Israeli ethos? Because democracy is not something that was imposed on us. It was there from the first Zionist Congress. We just observed the 125th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress. It was an extraordinary democratic achievement.

And Zionism, pre-state Zionism was democratic and the state has been democratic all along. What are we not conveying to young people? What are we missing? That I think will be the first question. And that’s very much of a Hartman Institute question. 

Donniel: I know. It’s like I see here, you know, we talk a lot, we’ve been such close friends for so long and we’ve been walking with each other and talking and learning from each other.

It’s, I don’t do depressed. I don’t do depressed. 

Yossi: I try not to do depressed because I’m, I’m paying attention to you.

Donniel: Look, I don’t even, And when I do depressed, I deny it and go on. And I do believe that we’re going to have to elevate on a completely different level our fight for the marketplace of Israeli society.

And one of the things that’s happened, which is so beautiful, and I think in many ways, Menachem Begin started it, is this country, as you say, is much less centralized. It’s not all run by the government. Not only the NGOs, the private sector, we are a private sector country. 

And, and again,  I’m not saying anything about Trump or not Trump because that’s some, that’s not my problem for today. But America didn’t fall apart when Trump was elected. 

And, um, people fought and people, whether on issues that they cared about. It wasn’t all, not everything came out of Washington. It just didn’t. And I think part of what we’re gonna have to do is we’re gonna have to lay claim, be far more active, far more clear, about what we want to do, and we’re gonna have to look at dramatically upgraded educational, cultural, and public initiatives. 

Because just take these two points. We’re gonna have to have a different conversation about Jewish power here in Israel, and we’re gonna have to have a serious conversation about who’s indigneous in a a Jewish state. And what does that mean? And what are subtle forms of discrimination? We’re gonna have to unpack it and we’re gonna have to think about formal, informal education to do that.

Yossi: There’s one more element, here, Donniel, which in speaking to Ben Gvir voters, we’re going to have to deal with people’s fears. Not legitimize or empower all their fears. But we have to acknowledge that and try to understand what is it that young people in this country are actually afraid of? They’re afraid of losing their country.

Donniel: And we’re gonna have to be far more sophisticated in our language. You just came out with this Times of Israel article, which was beautiful. So much of the critiques are just, we’re using the wrong words. We’re not nuanced enough. We’re using attacks that the other side could defend too easily. 

If this is a cultural war, the arrogance of assuming that we know and that culture is with us and enlightened is with us, and we’re gonna win. We have to rewrite that. 

Let’s shift for the last few minutes to talk about what do you think, if this happens, and, you know, maybe it won’t happen, and God willing it won’t. But already now it’s posing a serious issue. Everybody’s talking about it. If Ben Gvir will be a minister, you know, the year of grace that we had and now the few months since Yair Lapid, the year of grace of Bennett and the feeling, Israel is, can again be a bipartisan issue. 

Which, certain benefits that we had leaving certain progressives aside, things have been okay, but Ben Gvir already changing the conversation, you see he is a lightning rod. And how do we respond and what do you think needs to be a response, either for or on the part of Jews who live around the world, for whom a Ben Gvir policy is an anathema to them, not to their democratic principles, but also to their Jewish ones. 

Yossi: Look, you and I are part of two conversations simultaneously. An Israeli conversation and a diaspora conversation. And what we were just speaking about was an internal Israeli conversation. Now we need to think of a wider Jewish conversation.

I’ll put it personally. I’ve really been struggling with what is my voice going to be? What am I going to have to say to American Jews? I’m going on a Hartman lecture tour in November. If Ben Gvir is a government minister, what am I going to say? And I’m struggling with developing two languages on Israel.

There’s one language with which to address those who would criminalize Israel, who would turn us into a Ben Gvir state and, and retroactively delegitimize. All of Israeli existence. And that’s one conversation. 

The other conversation is an internal Jewish self reckoning. Who are we and who are we becoming? Is this why we waited 2000 years to come home? Is is this the end point of a 4,000 year story?

And yes, I don’t for a moment minimize the challenges that we’re facing, but what has to define us as an ancient people that always placed moral struggles at its core, is carrying that tradition into these very difficult, wrenching dilemmas that we have. And that’s how ultimately, Jewish history is going to judge us.

Donniel: Judge us. You know, like we’re struggling with this together and we’re gonna continue in the iEngage seminar about what we do. I really appreciate that you mentioned both issues, both types of conversations. I don’t engage at all in the first conversation. I just don’t. I’m not there. It’s just not, my conversation is an internal Jewish one. 

In general, I find that I’m an Israeli in the sense that when somebody wants to, I defend myself, but I don’t, I don’t try to convince them. I’m not trying to convince like that I’m not an illegitimate state, but I know, 

Yossi: But I think, I’ve been part of this other conversation,

Donniel: for years.

Yossi: For 40 years. 

Donniel: For 40 years, and you’re part of it, I’m not part of it. I’m part of an internal Jewish conversation. And my greatest fear and my whole, not my, but a major part of my life’s work and this institution’s goal is to make sure the Jewish people don’t walk away from each other.

And um, what we’re gonna have to do is first, we’re gonna have to be very careful not to engage too much in the anti-delegitimization conversation because it’s gonna make it seem as if the Zionist camp is whitewashing the Ben Gvir situation. We have to be really, really careful because if we cross that line, we’re gonna lose overnight a whole generation of people.

Yossi: Oh absolutely. Absolutely. 

Donniel: Cause like that’s, if that’s the focus, here it is, we Jews defend ourselves, this is, 

Yossi: No no, we have to have, we have to have those, the two conversations simultaneously. 

Donniel: Simultaneously. You’re there. Now, and we have to make sure that they’re balanced. But for me, the primary conversation, and it’s been something that I’ve been engaging in, but we have to do far more significantly. North American Jews have to feel that they have partners here in Israel. That their fears about what we might become and their aspirations for who we ought to be are inherently Zionist conversations that they’re not only allowed to have, but that’s what it means to be a Zionist and to have a living relationship with Israel.

And what we need to do is we have to make sure that there is a clear distinction between the government of Israel. And the people in the state of Israel. And that doesn’t mean this is not a, this is not an illegitimate government. There was no great steal. This is not a stolen election. The Israeli electoral system is actually quite effective in representing the real will of the people. 

But the fact that there is a certain percentage, it is so close, it could be, it could be 61 to 57 on both sides. We have to make sure that a voice, a strong Israeli voice is there in which we and world Jewry could reach with each other and say, let’s fight for the Israel.

We are your partners that a country is not dominated by who won an election. That’s true. They won it democratically fair and square, but that doesn’t define or exhaust what Israel. The ability to do that and to have that conversation is not gonna be easy because many people, especially the delegitimizers, are gonna shut it down.

And sometimes they shape the whole tenor and the content of the conversation. But that’s what we’re gonna have to fight. I’m here, you’re here. Millions of Israelis are here. Just as upset as you are. Let’s build the coalition. We lost this four years? If we did, I, God willing, we won’t, but we’re gonna fight and we’re gonna redraw it in another four years.

This force we, in other words, it’s there is so much like I used the term, you know, apocalypse now? You know, we don’t like mashiach now, and I don’t like apocalypse now. I don’t believe that redemption is around the corner. We’re gonna have to fight and we’re gonna have to be far more effective. Last word, Yossi, before we conclude?

Yossi: Listening to you now, you’ve helped me reframe an argument, which in its original form is defensive and not that useful, certainly not useful in an internal Jewish conversation, which is don’t judge Israel by Ben Gvir just as you’re not judging uh, Sweden by a far-right party that’s coming in, or Italy by the fact that a far right Prime Minister is taking over. 

But if you take that argument and just shift it a little bit by saying, 

Donniel: why is that, that’s, that’s the argument we don’t wanna have.

Yossi: No, but you can take that same argument and merge it with your argument, which is, nobody’s talking about the end of Italy. Nobody’s talking about the end of America. Even if Trump, well, they are talking about it. But Amer, as you pointed out, America survived Trump. 

We are going to fight for Israel. We’re not giving up Israel. This is a major blow and there’s no denying it. And that cannot be whitewashed. But look at what’s happening around the world and the same process. 

Donniel: The only difference is, right,

Yossi: may be happening here, and we’re going to fight. We’re not giving up for our Israel.

Donniel: So we’re not claiming, see what you’re trying to say is, I’m not claiming like when people say, Oh, okay, so there’s a Ben Gvir.

Yossi: No, I’m not saying all is well. It’s quite the opposite. Quite the opposite. 

Donniel: No. And it’s not even that because Sweden and, Sweden and Italy could have a problem. But you’re not asking me to build my Jewish identity on a relation here. You’re saying Israel is yours, it’s not just another country. 

But the point is that, one election, a country does not define.

Yossi: Yes. 

Donniel: And what Israel will be, here, we’re gonna really have to ask in many ways, both Israelis and Jews around the world to be chalutzim, pioneers again. Not in draining the swamps. But if there is a moral swamp, let’s get to work. 

Yossi: There will be many. There will be

Donniel: And we’re gonna have to find it. And there’ll be those who check out. Just like there was when Israel was formed, you know, people left. We, we don’t like to tell that story. I didn’t want, we left, it wasn’t all glamour. There’s gonna be a new trench, there’s gonna be new swamps, and um,  we’re gonna be tested. 

And Yossi, I love being with you. It’s like, 

Yossi: So mutual, Donniel. 

Donniel: You are a gift, my friend.

For Heaven’s Sake is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by David Zvi Kalman and edited by Gareth Hobbs at Silver Sound NYC. Our production manager is M. Louis Gordon. 

Transcripts of our show are now available on our website, typically a week after an episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us online at We wanna know what you think about the show, you can rate and review us on iTunes to help more people discover the show. You can also write to us at [email protected]

Subscribe to our show in the Apple podcast app, Spotify, SoundCloud, Audible, and everywhere else podcasts are available. See you next week, for the special election podcast on November 1st at 2:30 PM Eastern Standard Time. And thank you all for listening. 

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The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics