Collision Course?

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Feature the speed with which the Obama administration and Israel are moving in opposite directions. Here the President, to the dismay of Republicans and Democrats, appears to be readying the nomination as defense secretary of an ex-senator who, in Charles Hagel, is defined largely by his hostility to the Jewish state. In Israel, voters, who will go to the polls in January, are preparing to give a boost to a rising and unapologetic movement of religious Zionists who eschew the old liberal secular sensibility and aim to make Judaism the central feature of the Jewish state.

It could be that neither of these developments will come to pass. Mr. Obama hasn’t acted yet, and Israel hasn’t voted yet. But the vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, was quoted by the Algemeiner, an online news report on Jewish matters, as saying he expects Mr. Obama to nominate Mr. Hagel. In Israel, recent polls suggest that the parliamentary block of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition could be reduced to 33 seats from the 42 it now holds.

At least some gains appear likely to go to a rightwing and religious party known as Jewish Home, which is led by Naftali Bennett, a young multimillionaire businessman. He has made common cause with the settlers and is leading a brand of Zionism that puts a premium on the Jewish religion. He was recently asked by Ari Shavit of Haaretz what he could say to “people like me who see the end of our Israel in the rise of your Israel?” Mr. Bennett replied that most Israelis were ready to move from secular Zionism to “national life on a Jewish basis” and “to give the state a Jewish coloration.”

“I don’t support religious coercion,” Mr. Shavit quoted Mr. Bennett as saying, “but I do believe that Judaism is our ‘why’: Judaism is the reason for our existence and the justification for our existence, and the meaning of our existence.” Mr. Bennett does not see himself as a radical, but as a leader who is taking a firm stand, and who will engage in a “respectful dialogue” with the Palestinians, with the other nations of the world, and with other Israelis.

Mr. Bennett calls for annexation of 60% of the West Bank and declares that the idea of two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian, is over. “In the end, Jordan will be Palestine,” he told Haaretz. He says: “There is no chance that, between the river and the sea, a Palestinian state will arise. The two-state solution is dead. There is no need to bury the two-state solution because it is already buried.”

It wasn’t so long ago that such sentiments would have sounded extreme. But recent polls indicate that Jewish Home and Mr. Bennett could end up with something like 15 seats in the 120 member Knessett, putting it on a par with Labor. We have our doubts about whether that poll will be born out when Israel votes. A report this week in the Times of Israel covers a poll that found 67% of respondents expressing support for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, with land swaps and certain other elements, such as a demilitarized Palestine and Jerusalem’s Old City administered jointly by America, Israel, and the Palestinians.

In either case, a long newspaper life has taught us to pay attention to what happens on the margin. That is where change happens. It was not so long ago that Labor was the dominant party in Israel. It’s not so much the size of these blocs that are the news, but the direction of the change and the reasons why. And it seems increasingly the case that the governments in Washington and Jerusalem are moving in different directions.

The Sun isn’t making an endorsement in the Israel election. But if Jewish Home is the direction in which Israel’s voters turn out to be heading, it strikes us as a rational reaction to war from the Arabs and four years of pressure from an American administration that wants Israel to compromise with those who reject any Jewish state in the land of Israel. It would mark a significant turning point for Israel and constitute an answer by Israel’s voters to an administration that aims to elevate a figure like Mr. Hagel to a major role in American policy making.

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