National Religious Party

(NRP; Miflaga Datit Leumit—Mafdal)
   The NRP was founded in 1956 by Mizrachi as a religious political party seeking to combine religious concerns and a moderate socialist orientation in economic matters within a Zionist framework. It was a merger of Mizrachi, formally established as a party in Palestine in 1918, and Hapoel Hamizrahi (Mizrachi Worker), founded in 1922. Hapoel retained a degree of independence as the trade union section of the party responsible for immigration (see ALIYA) and absorption, labor and vocational affairs, housing, settlement, culture, pension funds and economic affairs, and so on. The central NRP organization was responsible for policy, party organization, religion and rabbinical relations, and publications.
   From its beginning, this party of Orthodox religious Zionists began to have an impact, electing 19 percent of the delegates to the 12th Zionist Congress in 1921. After Israel's independence, the NRP served in every government except for a brief period from 1958 to 1959, when it left the coalition over the question of who should be considered a Jew (see WHO IS A JEW) for purposes of immigration. The party is overseen by the World Center, a council elected by the world conference of the party. The conference also elects the chairman of the World Center, the party leader. Delegates to the conference are elected from local party branches by the party members. The party also has a very active youth wing, Bnei Akiva, as well as a sports organization and a vast network of nurseries/day care centers, kindergartens, and educational institutions. Bar Ilan University and the Mosad HaRav book publishing house were established by Mizrachi.
   The NRP was founded to emphasize the need for legislation based on Jewish religious law (halacha) and to protect a "Torah true" tradition. It actively supports Jewish immigration, the development of the private sector, and government support of all halachically necessary religious activities, including a religious school system and rabbinical councils in every city in Israel. These aims have been constant since the founding of NRP's predecessors, and they have been realized to a large degree. With only some minor intraparty disagreement, the NRP view was that it was organized for religious purposes and had no particular role to play in political, economic, or foreign affairs. It was able to cooperate effectively with Mapai and the Israel Labor Party primarily because of its willingness to defer to the left on foreign and defense questions in return for support in religious matters. At the same time, the party's commitment to religious Zionism was reflected in the establishment of the hesder yeshiva system, combining religious studies with military service.
   With Israel's capture of the West Bank and the Sinai Peninsula in the Six-Day War (1967), however, NRP political attitudes began to change. The capture of ancient Israeli cities—Hebron, Shechem (Nablus), and Old Jerusalem—was seen as a miraculous achievement in fulfillment of the covenant between God and the Jewish people. The NRP believed that the return of any of the territory of historic Israel would be a repudiation of that covenant. On that basis, NRP hawks sought to focus the party's efforts on the rapid settlement of the new territory with the aim of securing it for Israel in perpetuity. Most of the party's efforts in this regard were spearheaded by its Bnei Akiva youth wing, which after 1967 sought to appeal to nontra-ditional voters with the slogan "no return of any part of Eretz Israel." Largely because both groups are composed of the same people, the youth faction has strong but informal ties with Gush Emunim, the leading movement of West Bank settlers. In some respects, the youth faction considers itself the political representation of the Gush Emunim.
   Youth faction leaders have come to increasing prominence in both the NRP and the government. Nevertheless, the NRP also encompasses other factions that represent more flexible (i.e., moderate) points of view on the future of the West Bank. The factionalism of the NRP reflects both personal conflicts and differing policy perspectives. Yosef Burg served as the party leader from its founding to the mid-1980s and served in many Israeli cabinets. A man of great political skill, he worked successfully to maintain and expand the religious foundation of the state. His seniority and role as head of the largest faction (Lamifneh) secured his dominant position in the party, but he did not dictate its positions or policies. His influence was, in part, the result of his shrewd use of patronage in allocating jobs in the party and the party-controlled institutions. As a government minister, he was also able to distribute many public jobs in the religious and educational establishments and a variety of posts controlled by the Ministry of the Interior.
   The longtime leader of the party's Bnei Akiva youth wing, Zevu-lun Hammer, became NRP general secretary in 1984. Between the 1984 and 1988 elections, the NRP went through a significant reorganization, and there was a clear move to the right on political and educational issues. In 1988, Professor Avner Shaki was elected to head the ticket, and Hammer was placed in the second position. The party's election platform reflected a hawkish tendency, with great emphasis on the party's relationship with Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria and permanent Israeli retention of these areas. As a member of the government at the time, the NRP had supported the Camp David Accords in the late 1970s, including the plan to accord limited self-governing authority to West Bank and Gaza Palestinians. However, the party's discernible shift to the right in the mid-1980s caused some internal divisions, as reflected in the formation of the breakaway dovish Meimad faction prior to the 1988 Knesset election. Led by Shaki in the 1988 Knesset election, the NRP supported a program that there would be only one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea—the state of Israel. The NRP, however, was prepared for direct negotiations with neighboring Arab states based on a realistic peace proposal. In 1992, the party platform reflected a continued shift to the right, effectively ruling out the possibility of joining a governing coalition headed by Labor. In the election to the 13th Knesset (1992), the NRP won six seats but did not join the Yitzhak Rabin-led government.
   The credibility of the party was to some extent shaken by the assassination of Rabin by Yigal Amir, a member of the religious Zionist community and a graduate of the hesder yeshiva system. However, under the careful and pragmatic leadership of Hammer, the party reasserted its commitment to Zionist values, and having won nine seats in the 14th Knesset (1996), the NRP was accorded two ministries in the coalition headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. Many analysts expressed uncertainty about the direction the party would take following the death of Hammer in January 1998. The NRP voiced strong opposition within the Netanyahu government to the Hebron and Wye River diplomatic protocols, frequently threatening to bring the government down if the territorial concessions in those agreements were implemented fully. This threat was fulfilled in late December 1998 when, faced with the NRP's likely support for a Knesset no-confidence motion, Netanyahu approved the dissolution of his government and the call for new elections for both prime minister and the 15th Knesset on 17 May 1999.
   The party's 1999 policy platform emphasized "The NRP—giving the state a soul." It also emphasized the need to protect Israeli vital interests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including all Jewish settlements, in the context of projected final status negotiations with the Palestinians. The NRP in the spring of 1999 suffered the defections of two of its stalwarts, who shifted allegiance to the new Tekuma faction that ultimately was incorporated into the right-wing National Union Party headed by Ze'ev Binyamin Begin. The NRP won only five seats in the 15th Knesset, and after much internal debate, it joined the governing coalition headed by Ehud Barak but quit the coalition to protest the concessions offered to the Palestinians by Barak at the Camp David II talks. In 2001, the NRP joined the new government formed by the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, with party leader Yitzhak Levy serving as minister of construction and housing, Shaul Yahalom as deputy education minister, and Yigal Bibi as deputy religious affairs minister.
   In April 2002, Levy relinquished the party's leadership in favor of the popular recently retired Israel Defense Forces general Efraim (Effie) Eitam. The NRP joined the 30th government of Israel headed by Prime Minister Sharon in 2003 but resigned in June 2004 to protest the proposed evacuation of settlements as part of Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan. The NRP was torn asunder. In the spring of 2005, Eitam and Levy seceded from the party to form their own right-wing splinter faction that they called the National Religious Zionist Renewal Party, thereby compromising the integrity of the NRP. In March 2006, the NRP merged with the National Union in an effort to strengthen its electoral prospects, but the joint list took only nine seats in the election to the 17th Knesset.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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