“People develop orthopedic problems trying to find the kippah on my head,” MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) told me this week prior to a panel discussion at the Jerusalem Conference on the secular right in Israel. Eldad is the Right’s fig leaf. If he were to become religious, it would constitute a huge loss for his political camp. Twenty years after the death of Menachem Begin, the questions persist: Can there be an ideological basis for a nationalist, secular right? Is hawkishness on security affairs sufficient? Can one be faithful to the “Greater Israel” ideology without being religious?
“A true secular Right and true religious Left are statistical anomalies,” Professor Asher Cohen, an expert on Israeli society told me. What about former Knesset member Geulah Cohen, journalist Amnon Lord, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, MK Yariv Levin (Likud), Yair Stern (of the Stern Gang), Ze’ev Jabotinsky, politician Uzi Dayan, activist Elyakim Haetzni, MK Danny Danon (Likud), singer-songwriter Naomi Shemer and National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beitenu)? What about Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin (Likud)? Or Eldad (National Union)? Or Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat (Likud)? “I grew up in a home where my father never once let me say I was secular,” Livnat said at the conference. “We were definitely not religious. But we weren’t secular either. We were just Jews.”
And there you have the solution to the mystery. You can’t hold on to outlying territories without relying on the Rock of Israel (God) as well as the Bible as your title to the land. Political consultant Arthur Finkelstein has found that the Left consistently identifies itself with “Israeliness” while the Right identifies with “Jewishness.” The Israeli Right felt so strongly about Menachem Begin not because he tended to sprinkle his conversation with turns of phrase like “God willing,” but because of his deep connection to the Bible. Almost all secular rightists are ultimately people of faith, or at least serious Bibliophiles. “A Jew who does not live in Israel because of the Bible is either here due to an accident or is a thief,” Eldad said.