The Birth of Manhigut Yehudit
In 5752 (1992) the Labor party’s Yitzchak Rabin became Prime Minister of Israel. Rabin’s government subsequently initiated and signed the Oslo Accords, creating a fracture in Religious Zionism and threatening the settlements in Yesha both ideologically and practically. The Yesha Council organized a long series of demonstrations that attracted tens of thousands of Israelis. But even at that stage – ten years before the Disengagement – the settlers found themselves with “patriotic” leadership that was prepared to do everything…except win.
When the hopelessness of the established struggle became apparent, private groups attempted to create a more effective struggle. One of these groups was Zo Artzeinu. What set Zo Artzeinu apart from the other Right wing organizations was its emphasis on the fact that the State is meant to serve the nation and the land, and not vice versa. In keeping with this perspective, Zo Artzeinu adopted the principles of refusal to obey army orders and non-violent civil disobedience. On the 12th of Av, 5755 (exactly 10 years before the pogrom of Gush Katif) Zo Artzeinu brought 100,000 Israelis out to protest in the streets and intersections, paralyzing traffic throughout Israel. It was the most widespread civic struggle that the State of Israel had ever known. Zo Artzeinu leaders Moshe Feiglin and Shmuel Sackett were convicted of sedition and sentenced to jail terms.
Zo Artzeinu introduced a new perspective on the role of the belief-based public in Israeli society. It evinced a refreshing fighting spirit, leading its public struggle with the actual intention of winning. Secondly, it saw the belief based public as a potential leader on the national level and not just as a group of candidates ready to jump on the bandwagon being driven by others. This perspective was an important contribution to the Religious Zionist camp and paved the way for the establishment of Manhigut Yehudit.
The Goal of Manhigut Yehudit
Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu rode the wave of anti-Oslo protest and was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1996. Netanyahu’s victory, which came after Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated, was a victory against all odds. It could not have happened without the active support of the Oslo opponents. But when the Arabs embarked on the Western Wall Riots, killing sixteen Israeli soldiers, Right wing PM Netanyahu turned his back on the public that had worked so hard to get him elected. Instead of announcing the end of the Oslo Accords, he warmly shook Arafat’s hand in both of his. With this act, Netanyahu effectively eliminated the National Camp that had brought him to power.
From that point on, the belief based public was left with only two options: either to continue to ride the Likud bandwagon with the clear knowledge that it will ultimately implement a policy of destruction or to attempt to create alternative leadership for Israel – belief based leadership.
The Zo Artzeinu veterans shouldered responsibility and began the process of creating belief based leadership for the State of Israel. Manhigut Yehudit was born. As opposed to Zo Artzeinu, whose goal was to fight against the destructive process that had already been set in motion, Manhigut Yehudit was established to create a governing alternative based on Jewish faith. Essentially, Manhigut Yehudit continued from where Zo Artzeinu had left off. There is no reason to enter the tunnel of the struggle if there is no light at its end. The opposite is also true. When the true alternative can already be detected on the horizon, the struggle against the destructive process is infused with energy and purpose.
Manhigut Yehudit started out in 5755 (1995), clarifying its ideology and searching for leadership tools. The weekly newsletter, Lechatchilah was launched in 5756 (1996). In the following years, Manhigut Yehudit promoted the idea of belief based leadership and suggested ideas for its practical expression. Many attempts to convince well-known public figures to lead the process and to announce their candidacy for the premiership failed. With that option exhausted, Manhigut Yehudit organized a Belief Based Public Census. The idea was to create pressure from the public that would show the potential leaders that they have many voters on whom they can count. Thousands of people did sign up, but the project failed when no known belief based public figure agreed to take responsibility and lead. Manhigut Yehudit also presented its candidate for President of the State of Israel (Professor Branover). In addition, feelers were put out to begin a new political party.
During that entire period, Manhigut Yehudit ceaselessly worked on changing public consciousness. Countless articles, gatherings, books, newsletters, radio interviews, internet and more, acquainted the public with its new idea. Even today, Manhigut Yehudit’s greatest success is in the fact that it has created a new public awareness. The idea that initially seemed totally unrealistic became the rallying cry of the entire belief based public. Even those people who vocally oppose Manhigut Yehudit’s tactical strategy present themselves today as aspiring to Manhigut’s goal of belief based leadership for Israel.