The National Religious Party (Hebrew: Mafdal, מפד"ל ) is an Israeli political party representing the religious Zionist movement. Mafdal is an acronym for Miflaga Datit Le'umit , מפלגה דתית לאומית.
Religious Zionism: Background
The Religious Zionist Movement (RZM for short) is an Orthodox faction within the Zionist movement which combines a belief in the importance of a Jewish state in the land of Israel with a religious way of life. It is contrasted with secular Zionism on the one hand and anti-Zionist Orthodox movements on the other. The founder and main ideologist of the RZM was Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook who urged young religious Jews to settle in Israel and called upon the secular Labour Zionists to pay more attention to, and have more thoughtfulness about, Judaism. Rabbi Kook saw Zionism as a part of a divine scheme which would result in a resettling of the Jewish people in its homeland, Israel, and the coming of the Messiah.
The Mafdal was created after Hapoel Ha-Mizrachi ("The Workers Religious Centre") and Ha-Mizrachi ("The Religious Centre") merged in 1956. The founders of the Mafdal were doctor Yosef Burg and Haim Moshe Shapira who focused its activity mainly on the position of the Jewish religion within the framwork of Israeli society. Throughout the Mafdal's existence it has attempted to preserve the relevance of Judaism on issues such as Israeli personal status laws, education, culture, and municipal issues such as prohibitions on the selling of non-Kosher food (in prescribed areas, and occasionally throughout a given municipality), prohibiting transportation and public activities on the Sabbath, and so forth.
The Mafdal has operated a trade union (Hapoel Ha-Mizrahi), a newspaper (Ha-Tzofe) and a youth-movement (Bnei Akiva). The newspaper and the youth movement still exist today in sharp contrast to other party newspapers such as Davar or Al HaMishmar that lost their respective parties' backings and eventually closed down.
Around 1969 a new generation rose in the Mafdal, led by the late Zvulon Hamer and by Yeuda Ben-Meir, called the youth (Hebrew: הצעירים), which demanded that the party pay more attention to socioeconomic issues in addition to its customary topics of interest. They were also to lead the Mafdal into the right-wing of Israeli politics. Perhaps ironically, Yosef Burg outlived Zvulon Hamer, who died of a heart attack in 1997.
The Mafdal participated in all the governments of Israel until 1992. It was considered during the majority of this period to be a central party, interested mainly in religious matters and impervious to the left-right division of the Israeli public. Indeed, the long time cooperation between the Israeli Labour Party and the Mafdal is sometimes referred to as the historic league (Hebrew: הברית ההיסטורית). The seeds of change were sown in 1967, when Israel's victory in the Six-Day War spawned messianic trends among religious Israeli Jews that would end up moving much of this population to the political right, finally forcing the corresponding political parties to follow suit. Today the Mafdal is a strictly right-wing party which would find difficulty working in a coalition with the Labour party, much less with the more left-wing parties such as Meretz.
From its inception the Mafdal maintained an almost constant number of 12 members of the Israeli Knesset, until 1981 when it shrank to 6 and has never fully recuperated. The reasons are probably diverse, and have to do with an overall reduction in its natural voting population, the moderate Orthodox Jews; with its progressive turn towards the right-wing; the growing importance of the right-left schism in Israeli politics; and the rise of Orthodox Sephardic parties such as Tami and later Shas.
The Ideology of the Mafdal
Mafdal is a Zionist party and states that Israel is a "Jewish democratic state". Mafdal's main goal is to contribute as much as it can to the state of Israel and influence its character to be more Jewish, including to fight till death for the protection of Israel and for maintaining Israel's security.
- "The core belief “the Land of Israel for the People of Israel according to the Torah of Israel” commits the N.R.P. to doing everything possible to further the security and integrity of the Land of Israel. The N.R.P. aspires to influence policy from within the government, and thus continue to safeguard Eretz Israel."
Unlike the Haredi Jewish parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism) the Mafdal does not promote Medinat Halacha - a theocracy run according to the Jewish law. Mafdal wants to keep Israel's democratic character and make the Israelis better people and better Jews by acting as role-models and teaching them Judaism and tradition with love and kindness. Also, Mafdal holds that Haredi Jews must also complete 3 years of mandatory military service.
Mafdal also emphasises national unity and vows to work as a bridge between the different parts of Israeli society.
- "Religious and secular, Sephardim and Askenazim, right and left, old-times and new immigrants – we are all one people. The N.R.P. works toward national unity, absorption of immigration, and bringing people together from all sectors of the population. Without hatred and without coercion. Gently, pleasantly, and with a smile."
They call this principle Ahavat Israel אהבת ישראל (Love of Israel).
Mafdal is the patron of most of the national religious schools (חינוך ממלכתי-דתי), which teach both Judaism and general mandatory educational subjects such as mathematics, English, Literature, physics, biology etc. It even sponsors some pre-military schools for giving higher education to future IDF officers and commanders. Besides funding and patronising national religious schools it also supports Yeshiva schools and Beit Midrash schools, places dedicated solely to learning the Torah. They also run "Yeshivot Hesder", where religious soldiers combine combat military service with learning Torah.
- "The N.R.P. actively promotes Torah in Israel and strengthens national religious institutions: Zionist rabbinical training institutes, Zionist Kollels, Yeshivot gevohot, Hesder Yeshivot, Yeshiva high schools, and more. The N.R.P. encourages Zionist rabbis to take on active roles as teachers in Yeshivot, and as spiritual leaders in cities and in neighborhoods."
Mafdal believes that the land of Israel is holy and belongs to the Jews on the basis of God's promise to Abraham and later to Isaac and Jacob. They believe it is God's will to settle all the land of Israel and nurture it. This principle has great impact on Mafdal policy toward the disputed territories and the Palestinian issue.
Religion and State
Mafdal is against the separation of religion and state and believes that Israel should keep its special Jewish character and enhance its commitment to the Jewish heritage.
Mafdal argues that affairs of personal status (such as marriage, divorces and burial) should be kept under the authority of the Rabbis (or other religious clerics for non-Jews).
Mafdal claims that the Jewish state must show respect for the Jewish religion by preserving the Sabbath and Kosher food in its institution and organizations (such as the IDF, public transportation, the police and governmental companies such as El Al national airline).
Mafdal calls for reforms to Israeli law such that only Orthodox conversion would be valid for the purposes of granting citizenship under the Israeli Law of Return. This is a controversial position — it is upheld by all religious parties in Israel (there are few reform or conservative Jews in Israel) but rejected by all secular parties, who claim that it would undermine Israel's connections with worldwide, and especially American Jews.
Within Israel, Mafdal advocates that the Rabbinate must act to ease the procedures for non-Jews who want to convert, following the Neeman Committee (Hebrew: ועדת נאמן) recommendations. It also calls for the restoration of the nationality (לאום Leom, in Hebrew language) clause in the Israeli identification card. Both have to do with a recent debate about Russian immigrants were suspected of not being Jews. Mafdal found itself in this debate on the same side as the secular parties, and opposing the views of the Haredi parties and particularly Shas.
The conscripton of Yeshiva students is a particularly sensitive issue in Mafdal's rhetoric. Historically Mafdal initiated the regulations allowing Yeshiva students to avoid military service and was its strongest supporter for years. This come in conflict with the Mafdal's ideology and its supporters as the party moved to the right, and as the number of such students rose sharply leading to allegations that many were not really students. Today Mafdal explicitly states that participation in the IDF is a Mitzvah and a moral obligation (יא) (http://mafdal.org.il/?sid=4), and stresses that its "finest youth... serve in the elite commando and combat units in the IDF"  (http://mafdal.org.il/?sid=27). However, it does not reject any of the current arrangements, nor suggest limiting number of said students in any way.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the settlements
Mafdal's views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be summarized as follows
- There will only be one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea – the State of Israel. No independent national Arab entity (such as a putative Palestinian state) will exist within these borders
- No part of Israel will be given over to a foreign government or authority.
However, Mafdal does agree on giving the Palestinian Arabs a self-governing autonomy, subject to Israel's authority only in matters of security and foreign affairs (borders, diplomacy). That, of course, without the dismantling of the settlements.
Mafdal reacted to the recent outbreak of violence by demanding harsh military response to "root out terror infrastructure". It also called to disband the Palestinian Authority and to deport the PLO back to Tunis. Mafdal believes that Israel can stop Palestinian violence through the use of military force.
Naturally, Mafdal uses religious discourse to justify these positions. They stress that Judea and Samaria were parts of the ancient kingdom of Israel and hence rightfully belong to Israel. Furthermore, Mafdal views the settlements as an upholding of the Mitzvah of settling the land of Israel. Many of its supporters and parliament members are settlers.
Social issues and Welfare
Mafdal does not hold a complete economic ideology (such as Marxism or Capitalism). However, Mafdal believes that Israeli society and the state of Israel should support the poor and the needy. This, they said, is derived from the Mitzvot of the Torah. Mafdal's most notable figure in this respect in Zevulun Orlev, the current Minister of Labor and Social Welfare. However, this issue is not high on Mafdal's agenda or rhetorics.
Members and supporters
Mafdal has 6 seats in the current Knesset (16th Knesset). The member of parliament are:
- Tat-Aluf Ephraim Eitam (Efi Fine) - the head of Mafdal, former general and a war hero in the IDF (earned a medal of honor עיטור המופת in the Yom Kippur War). Has M.A. in political science and international relations.
- Zevulun Orlev - A teacher, considered to be the most hardworking dedicated Knesset members, won the award of the Best legistlator of the 15th Knesset. As a soldier, Orlev earned a medal of honor for bravery and resourcefulness in the Yom Kippur War.
- Shaul Yaalom - the head of Mafdal Knesset faction. One of the most experienced Knesset member of the Mafdal
- Rabbi Izhake Levi - a Rabbi and a teacher. The most senior and experienced Knesset member from the Mafdal.
- Gila Finklestein - was a principal of the religious high school Zeitlin צייטלין in Tel Aviv.
- Nisan Salomianski - a physicist and qualified for Rabbinate.
Mafdal supporters are comprised mainly of religious Zionists, who are ideologically religious Jews, which obey all the laws and commandment (Mitzvah) of Judaism. They are considered as highly-motivated and disciplined soldiers and have excellent reputation of contributing to the Israeli state and the Israeli society. However, they are idealist and very stubborn concerning ideology issues. Many of them are living in West Bank settlements.
- "Wherever you look, you see them. Members of the national religious community, with the knitted kippot on their heads. In academia, in economic life, in the educational system, in hi-tech, medicine, the courts, the I.D.F., even in the media. Each one of them doing their bit of kiddush Hashem in daily endeavors."
The religious Zionists can be recognized by their colorful hand knitted yarmulkah (skull-cap , כיפה ) and therefore their nickname is הכיפות הסרוגות ("Ha-Kippot Ha-Srugot", lit. "The Knitted Yarmulkhas").
There is a lot of critism that the Mafdal is focused too much on the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and neglects other issues such as education, social responsibility and Ahavat Israel.
Critics from the Left insist that Mafdal's stubbornness on keeping the settlements is an "obstacle for peace" while critics from the Right say Mafdal isn't pressuring enough to use more military power against Palestinian terrorism.
Critism from religious parties such as Shas and Agudat Israel scorn Mafdal for sitting in the coalition with an ultra-secular party Shinui (which is often described as "anti-religious") and not doing enough to keep the Jewish character of Israel. For example, they state that Mafdal shows little, if any, resistance or dismay, against Internal Minister Avraham Poraz's decision not to enforce the prohibition of selling bread during Passover.
Despite all the criticism, Mafdal has a reputation of honesty and dedication to its parliamentary duties. None of its Knesset members has been blamed in corruption.
Mafdal is a member on the current government led by prime minister Ariel Sharon and has 2 ministers on the cabinet. Efi Eitam is the Housing minister and Zvulon Orlev is the Labor & Welfare minister. Rabbi Itzhak Levi is a deputy minister responsible for the Religions ministry (currently in disbanding procedures).
Mafdal is forming the current government's coalition along with the Likud, Shinui and the National Union, which is based on the following base principles:
- Hard line policy against Palestinian terrorism and increasing use of the military for counter terror operations.
- Supporting the Road Map for Peace, but on reservation that the Palestinians should stop terrorism and elect a democratic prime-minister.
- Supporting the Israeli West Bank barrier, in condition it will include the major settlement blocks in the West Bank.
- Finding a solution to people who can't marry according to Jewish law in something similiar to civil marriage.
- Drafting the ultra-orthodox Jews to military service like the rest of the people.
- Keeping the Jewish character of the state of Israel.
- Obligation that Shinui won't commit unliteral actions in state & religion affairs, but rather will talk out issue with Mafdal and reach a compromise.
Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan of 2004 from the Gaza Strip which hints at the removal of Jewish settlements from the strip, caused great controversy within the Mafdal. Sharon has sacked two cabinet ministers from the National Union in order to achieve a majority for approving the plan in his government. Mafdal declared it is resisting the plan and any removal of Jews living in Gush Katif. Following Mafdal and part of the Likud resistance, the government only approved a "fixed" plan with reservation that dismantling of Jewish communities should be voted on separately.
Few days after the resolution, Efi Eitam and Rabbi Itzhak Levi resigned from the government. However, the four other Knesset Members of the Mafdal supported Zvulon Orlev's stand that Mafdal should remain in the coalition and thwart the plan from inside. As for today ( July 6 ), Mafdal faction in the Knesset is split in two:
- The Opposition (Eitam and Rabbi Levi) - they resist Sharon's plan and see themselves uncommitted to the coalition and government.
- The Coalition (Orlev, Yaalom, Finklestein) - they are still in the coalition, but vowed to quit if a Jewish settlement is actually dismantled.
- Nisan Salomianski hasn't taken clear position and tries to compromise between the two factions.
On September 13, 2004, the Mafdal's "center" (a forum consists of all Mafdal's party members with a voting right) voted between Efi Eitam's proposal of immediate quiting of the government and Zvulon Orlev's proposal to leave the government only when it approve actual removal of settlements. Eitam and Orlev agreed that the "center" decision will be binding.  (http://www.nrg.co.il/online/11/ART/782/089.html) The "center" supported Orlev's proposal by 65%-35%. Orlev proposal states that Mafdal will stay in the government in condition that the government will not hold a general referendum ( משאל עם ) on removal of Israeli settlements, which will require special majority, before the issue will be brought to decision on the Knesset. If such a referendum will not be held, or if the government will approve de-facto removal of Israeli settlements, Mafdal will immidetly quit the government.  (http://news.walla.co.il/?w=//598397)
It was decided the Mafdal will quit the government if any of the following occur:
- The government will approve actual dismantling of Israeli settlements.
- The Knesset will complete the laws of evacuations and compensations.
- The Israeli Labor party will join the government and the coalition.
- A general referendum on the disgengagement will not be held.
On November 9, after Ariel Sharon declined Mafdal's demand to hold a national referendum regarding the disengagement, Zevulun Orlev and Mafdal quit the coalition and the government, vowing to pursue general elections in an effort to replace Sharon with a right wing prime minister. After Mafdal quit, Sharon has a minority coalition of 56 Knesset members out of 120.
- Mafdal Official Website (http://www.mafdal.org.il/) (Hebrew)
- Mafdal Overview and Mafdal Platform (http://www.mafdal.org.il/?sid=27) (English)
- The Website of Shaul Yaalom (http://www.shaulyahalom.co.il/yahalom/default.asp) (Hebrew)
- The Israeli Knesset Official Website (http://www.knesset.gov.il/index.html) (Hebrew, English and Arabic)