HEBRON, West Bank — The Jewish settlement in the city of Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, where a few hundred Orthodox Jews live amid some 200,000 Palestinians, has long been seen as a bastion of the far-right settler movement — on the fringes of Israeli society.
An alliance of far right parties led by Religious Zionism became the third-largest Israeli political force after the Israeli elections this month. The alliance, which included the ultranationalist Jewish Power party and more than 88% of votes from Hebron settlers, was also successful.
The alliance is now poised to become a key pillar of the coalition being put together by the right-wing prime minister-designate, Benjamin Netanyahu — who received the official mandate on Sunday to form the next government — raising fears among secular Israelis that religious and political extremism is entering the mainstream.
Religious Zionism’s supporters hope the alliance will use its leverage to strengthen their idea of a Jewish state by, among other things, promoting conservative family values, preserving the sanctity of the Sabbath and applying Jewish sovereignty in parts of the West Bank, a territory the Palestinians claim for a future state and that Religious Zionism considers to be part of Greater Israel and refers to by the biblical names of Judea and Samaria.
“The Torah of Israel, the people of Israel and the Land of Israel — those are the three flags of Religious Zionism,” said Hananiya Shimon, 39, a father of seven who lives in one of the settler compounds scattered around Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs, the contested holy site that is venerated by Jews and by Muslims, who call it the Ibrahimi Mosque. The Israeli Army is in complete control of the entire area.
“During 2,000 years in exile,” Herr Shimon stated, “the religion is what kept us together.”
Bezalel Shmotrich led the Religious Zionism party. He ran on a joint slate along with the ultranationalist Jewish Power led by Itamar Bengvir and Noam. Noam is a small far right Orthodox party opposing L.G.B.T.Q. rights. That partnership was engineered by Mr. Netanyahu to maximize his bloc’s electoral potential in his bid to make his comeback, and represents the religious Zionists’ most hard-line political incarnation.
According to Tehila Friedman (an Orthodox lawyer who is also a former member of Parliament), there has been a long-standing internal struggle within the Israeli religious Zionist community. More liberal moderates have been involved in this battle. “who want to blend their Jewish tradition with humanistic values against other strident, opposing voices who view humanism as too progressive,” She said. The strictest interpretation of Jewish law is what the hardliners want in matters governed and governed by the State.
Jewish Home, a moderate party that represented the national religious settlers, public and Jewish Home was extinguished this time. It had lost trust from its constituency, after it broke promises in the last election in 2021 and joined forces with leftists to form a government with an Arab party. Over the last 18 months, many Israelis have become more concerned about their safety and supported the hard-liners by fearing Arab terrorism and other interethnic or criminal violence.
Ms. Friedman stated that there was no alternative because of this. “The more moderate forces fell in line with the more extreme ones.”
The Zionist national religious camp has also steadily become a bigger part of the Israeli mainstream in recent years in a concerted effort to integrate and have more of a say in Israel’s future.
Religious Zionists have reached the top ranks of the security establishment and the police, have made up a disproportionate number of the graduates of the military’s officers’ school, have bolstered their presence in Israel’s mixed Jewish-Arab cities and have developed an increasingly influential voice in the Israeli news media and culture.
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“We are a Jewish state, and it’s important that Religious Zionism be in the government and work for its Jewish character,” Rivka Ben-Avraham, a mother of 10, was volunteering at Warm Corner. It is a stop for soldiers in her area of the Etzion Block, north of Hebron. “At the same time, we are a democratic state,” She stated, “and the religious Zionists are involved in all aspects of life here.”
Religious Zionists are people who practice different religions and have different political views. It is estimated that the community comprises between 10 percent and 30 percent the Israeli population. The most recent survey Jewish People Policy Institute (a Jerusalem-based research institute) found that around 15% of men identify themselves as strictly observant Jews who support the idea a Greater Israel.
Religious Zionism dates back to decades before 1948, when the state of Israel became a reality. One of its founding fathers Rabbi Avraham Isaac Isaac Kook saw a Messianic call in the creation a Jewish state. He embraced the avowedly socialist, secular pioneers who arrived at 20th century’s beginning as its builders.
In 1956, the National Religious Party was founded to unify religious Zionist voters. It first focused on issues of religion and government. After Israel’s conquest of the biblical heartland of the West Bank, East Jerusalem with its holy sites and other territories in the 1967 war, religious Zionists spearheaded the efforts to settle the newly won lands, branding themselves as the next generation of Zionist pioneers.
Rabbi Kook’s son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, made an impassioned address weeks before the war, lamenting the fact that Hebron, Jericho and other biblical sites in the West Bank were not under Jewish control. His followers saw his words as a prophecy. After victory, the Israeli occupation of those regions gave rise to an ideological settlement movement with Messianic overtones.
The ultimate goal of Mr. Smotrich (leader of Religious Zionism) is to impose Jewish sovereignty over the entire territory and for Israel to be governed according to the laws of Torah. He has refused the definition of Jewish terrorism as deadly attacks on Palestinians.
Rabbi Yaakov Medan is a religious Zionist leader at Har Etzion Yeshiva. He founded the Etzion Bloc settlement in Alon Shvut and joined the settlement project. He is a voice for tolerance and moderation. Rabbi Medan was active in the decade following the assassination by a Jewish zealot of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. a covenant for coexistence Between secular and religious Jews of Israel.
This latest election — Israel’s fifth in under four years — has underscored the splits within the national religious camp and the rupture with the more liberal half of the country.
Rabbi Medan stated that he respected Mr. Smotrich who was a minister in the past, but had disagreements with his religious Zionism. Mr. Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power “is not religious Zionism,” Rabbi Medan stated, “But rather…” “a protest party against a lack of governance.” He added that protest parties are often doomed to fail.
Rabbi Medan said that he would prefer not to be in power and have a more left-leaning political party join the coalition. He added, however, that he is not a Leftist. “I am willing to pay that price in the interest of national unity.”
Other religious Zionists have embraced the partnership with Mr. Ben-Gvir, a resident of Hebron with a history of provocations and racism, who until recently hung a portrait in his home of Baruch Goldstein, an American-born Israeli doctor who massacred 29 Muslim worshipers praying at the city’s holy site in 1994.
Now that Jewish settlement is deeply entrenched across the West Bank, Mr. Smotrich’s muscular form of Religious Zionism appears to have retrained its sights on changing Israel as a whole.
He is pushing for an overhaul of the judicial system to reduce oversight over politicians and give Parliament more power, which critics say would turn Israel’s liberal democracy into the rule of the Jewish majority.
He also wants to limit the scope of Israel’s Law of Return, which grants automatic citizenship to foreign Jews, as well as their children and grandchildren who may not qualify as Jews under Jewish law. He also demanded that Israeli soccer leagues end the few games still being played on Sabbath.
Uri Keidar is the executive director at Be Free Israel. This organization promotes pluralism and freedom of religion. They are not like ultra-Orthodox parties which focus more on building walls or securing budgets for the Haredi minorities. “aims to change the DNA of Israeli society, and not just stop Israeli society changing them.”
“We are getting to a dangerous point,” Mr. Keidar stated, “but we will fight it and we will win.
Itamar Leshem, 39, who lives in Hebron and teaches at a yeshiva in the adjacent settlement of Kiryat Arba, said he hoped Religious Zionism would infuse the curriculum of Israel’s state secular schools with more Jewish traditions and undo the efforts of the departing government to liberalize the process of conversion to Judaism and promote gay rights.
“Our values were trampled on,” M. Leshem stated that he believed the departure of the government was too nationalist. “The people of Israel have spoken.”