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Neoconservatism (Yisrael)

Yitzchok Katz (left) and Noah Feldman (right), leading Yisraeli neoconservative leaders.

Neoconservatism refers to a right-wing political movement in Yisrael that emerged in the 1990s and early 2000s but became publicly visible later in the 2010s under the presidency of Conservative Noah Feldman (2012-2020) that brought together the political and religious right into a durable political coalition in Yisraeli politics. It is considered the successor of the New Right movement among the Dati Leumi in the 1970s and 1980s in reaction to the Yarden Accords.

Post-Yarden Chareidi world

Chareidi politics in the 1970s and 1980s

The Chareidi sector of Yisraeli society was small and insular in the years after the Year of Blood. Surveys in the 1960s pegged sectarian affiliation as under 10% of the overall public. The Dati Leumi, religious Jews who participated more freely with the less-religious, secular-oriented culture, dominated the advocacy and identification of Dati (religious) interests in national and local politics. Few Chareidim involved themselves in political activities, instead focused on intensive Torah study in their yeshivos in Chareidi neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, given the weak religious cultural power in post-1951 society, many Chareidi-affiliated families could not afford tuition to private yeshivos and sent their children to the Mamlachti (state secular) schools. These public schools were strictly secular and taught Jewish and Bible topics as a secular discipline. While the government permitted the Dati sectors to operate their own schools (typically day schools, yeshivos (for boys), and seminaries (for girls)), with some state aid, many Dati families could not afford even this and sent their children to the Mamlachti schools.

The Chareidi public faced a growing crisis as many children who attended Mamlachti schools abandoned or relaxed their family's strict religious observances, with many becoming Chiloni and going "off the derech." This peaked in the late 1960s, as the contemporaneous baal teshuva movement was under way after the Fourth West Scipian War and a growing backlash to the ongoing Yarden peace negotiations was emerging.

A prominent Chareidi rabbi, Yezechiel Wein, met with other roshey yeshiva and together formed a political party, Torah Achdus, in July 1969 to advocate Chareidi interests, such as reforming or eliminating the Mamlachti schools, increasing kollel subsidies, and instituting stricter kosher standards in public spaces.

While the nascent Chareidi party supported the emerging Yarden peace negotiations (unlike others on the political right at the time), it sought to harness the growing religious and conservative backlash to the liberalizing and secularizing society of the 1950s and 1960s. Between 1970 and 1972, Torah Achdus won a raft of local city council seats in Chareidi neighborhoods in the big cities and and mayorships in Chareidi-majority towns. In the the 1974 midterms, the party ran independently as a right-wing force for the Knesset, spurning attempts by Conservative power-brokers to align with their candidates. The TA only elected two of their candidates, failing to elect eight others in Chareidi-heavy Knesset constituencies due to the political organization of more established parties and the lack of a sectarian political consciousness among Chareidi voters at that point.

In the run-up to the 1976 elections, Torah Achdus joined the new Right Bloc coalition. Wein had directly negotiated with the 1976 Conservative presidential nominee Binyamin Schwartz, who agreed with the Chareidim that the Mamlachti school system had to be dismantled as well as set a fixed Kollel subsidy per yeshiva family pegged to inflation. Schwartz won in an Electoral College landslide, winning the Yerushalayim and Central Districts, which contained large Chareidi blocs of voters, overwhelmingly. In 1978, the Mamlachti system was shuttered and a new private-centric and Dati-friendly school model instituted in its place.

As long as Schwartz or his Vice-President and successor, Michoel Citron, held the Presidential Palace, the Chareidi Bloc stayed allied with the Conservatives and the Right Bloc. In 1979, the Knesset passed a Chareidi-sponsored bill that set a stricter kosher standard for meat in public institutions, a major religious victory as the Chareidi and other Dati communities were increasingly moving towards reliance on glatt kosher as an universal norm.

After the Left Bloc took a majority in the Knesset in 1982 after the "six-year itch," Torah Achdus lobbied hard to defeat multiple attempts by anti-Chareidi figures in the Con-Libs to end inflation-pegged kollel subsidies, a major source of income for many Chareidi families and communities. While the Chareidim found common cause with the Conservatives and their mostly Dati Leumi and Chardal members, intra-religious tensions still simmered under the surface, meaning while Chareidi lawmakers backed the Right Bloc in general, they did not feel any long-term loyalty to the conservative coalition.

By the end of the Citron presidency in the late 1980s, many Torah Achdus Knesset members had started to form political alliances with the Con-Libs, who had moderated their liberal and secular politics to be more Dati-friendly. The Con-Libs, generally, stopped attacking kollel subsidies and mocking strict religious beliefs, instead opting to convince the Chareidi Bloc that a more activist government could leave their communities with a windfall in new state benefits. This message was attractive to many Chareidi voters and activists, as the community remained over all relatively poor and impoverished versus other sectors of society.

In an act labeled the "Great Betrayal" by the Conservatives, Torah Achdus endorsed the 1988 Con-Lib nominee Yosef Aronov, who won in that year's presidential election.

Emergence of the Chardalim

The Chardalim, more formally known as the Chareidi Leumi or "National Chareidi", emerged from the Hashfakic (religious philosophical) movement that arose around Rabbi Zalman Gold, a more right-wing Dati Leumi rosh yeshiva and dayan (religious judge). In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a growing congregation of baalei teshuva - those who had grown up in less religious homes and become more consistently religious according to halacha - began to attend Rabbi Gold's yeshiva and synagogue.

Expressing Pan-Yisraelist sentiments, Rabbi Gold fiercely opposed the Yarden peace process, viewing it as irreligious Jews forsaking G-d's promise of a Greater Yisrael, according to the Hebrew Bible. Gold denounced the whole Benayoun peace agenda, increasingly attracting both newly religious and those who were raised in religious homes who agreed with the anti-Yarden politics espoused.

In the early 1970s, the Dati Leumi world was split over the issue. Meanwhile, the Chareidim were organizing themselves politically thru the Torah Achdus party, and had aligned themselves with the Conservative-led Right Bloc. Separately but occurring at the same time, there was a vocal minority in the National-Religious community that pushed liberal ideas, wanting to relax certain religious customs and strictures and were staunchly pro-Yarden.

Writing in his autobiography Letters to the King Above, Rabbi Gold says that "I admired the strength and rigor [the Chareidim] showed with their [punctiliousness]. Some many Dati Leumi have become lax in their [religious] observance. As our country debated the hated Yarden peace talks, I felt an insight [...] what if I combined the stricture of our Chareidi cousins with the [social] participation of the Dati Leumi? A match made in Heaven."

Starting around 1973, as the Yarden Accords were on the verge of being signed and ratified by both Yisrael and Sydalon, Rabbi Gold announced that his yeshiva and synagogue no longer identified as National-Religious, saying it wanted to be its "own movement...between Dati Leumi and Chareidi: Chareidi Leumi." By this point, thousands of families affiliated with his institutions. Many of his students, learning or serving in Dati Leumi yeshivos or organizations, returned to join him.

Over the next few years, several new yeshivos, day schools, and synagogues opened or split away from existing Dati Leumi institutions, precipitating a near civil war-like mentality among both sides. Many Dati Leumi denounced the new Chardalim, considering them simply "Chareidi lite" and arguing their split from the DL world would weaken the overall religious society, which was then-anchored in the National-Religious sector, who consisted of the vast super-majority of strictly religious Jews. This mini "Dati civil war" would continue through the late 1970s and much of the 1980s, before each side had established an accepted line of identity and jurisdiction.

By 1990, surveys illustrated that the growing Chardal world had over 150,000 people affiliated with it. The Chardal institutions had grown to over a dozen yeshivos, thirty day schools and high schools, and over a hundred synagogues.

The Chardalim stacked out their theological position in the "mainstream right" of the religious world, with the DL to their left and the Chareidim to their right. The Chareidim by and large focused on yearslong Torah study and inward-looking communities, while the Dati Leumi communities continued to practice religious observance but stress wide engagement with the Chiloni and Masorti sectors in the rest of society.

The Chardalim paired intensive Torah study with national service, and by the late 1990s and early 2000s, many in the royal security forces, the military, the regular police and the government workforce belonged to the Chardal sector, vastly over-representing their numbers in these key public and security roles versus their percentage of the overall population.

Dati Leumi shift right

Yarden revisionism

Increase in religious punctiliousness

Constitutional Liberals move towards the center (1980s-2010s)

New Chareidi clique

2005 influx of Polnitsan Chassidish Jews

2009 New Chareidi coup


2012 presidential election

Feldman alliance with Chareidim

Late 2010s tensions

2020 presidential election

Yitzchok Katz as Right Bloc leader


Under Yitzchok Katz

See also