National Religious Party

National Religious Party

The National Religious Party, Israel's largest religious party, resulted in 1956 from the merger of its two historical antecedents, Mizrahi (Spiritual Center) and HaPoel HaMizrahi (Spiritual Center Worker). The NRP (as Mizrahi prior to 1956) has participated in every coalition government since independence. Invariably the Ministry of Religious Affairs, as well as the Ministry of Interior, have been headed by Knesset members nominated by this party.

Although the NRP increased from four to five Knesset seats in the 1988 elections, it had not fully recovered from major political and electoral setbacks suffered in the 1981 and 1984 elections. In those elections, much of its previous electoral support shifted to right-wing religio-nationalist parties. As a sign of its attempted recovery, in July 1986 the NRP held its first party convention since 1973. The long interval separating the two conventions was caused by factional struggles between the younger and the veteran leadership groups. In the 1986 convention, the NRP's second generation of leaders, members of the Youth Faction, officially took over the party's institutions and executive bodies. The new NRP leader was Knesset member Zevulun Hammer, former minister of education and culture in the Likud cabinet (1977-84) and secretary general of the party (1984-86). In 1986 Hammer succeeded long-time member Yosef Burg as minister of religious affairs in the National Unity Government. Hammer and Yehuda Ben-Meir, coleader of the Youth Faction until 1984, were among the founders of Gush Emunim in 1974. Both leaders somewhat moderated their views on national security, territorial, and settlement issues following Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, but the NRP's declining political and electoral position and the increasing radicalization of its religiously based constituency led to a reversal in Hammer's views. As a result, in the 1986 party convention the Youth Faction helped incorporate into the NRP the religio-nationalist Morasha (Heritage), which was led by Rabbi Chaim Druckman and held two seats in the Knesset. In return, Rabbi Yitzhak Levi, the third candidate on the Morasha Knesset list, became the NRP's new secretary general. Moroccan-born Levi has been a fervent supporter of Gush Emunim and an advocate of incorporating the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into a greater Israel.

Until the 1986 party convention, the dominant faction in the NRP was LaMifneh (To the Turning Point). The center-most faction, LaMifneh advocated greater pragmatism and ideological pluralism. Burg, a Knesset member since 1949, who had held a variety of cabinet portfolios including interior (1974-84) and religious affairs (1982-86), led LaMifneh. Burg and Rafael Ben-Natan, former party organization strongman, were responsible for maintaining the "historical partnership" with the Labor Party that officially ended in 1977, but continued in some municipal councils and in the Histadrut.

In the 1988 internal party elections, the NRP took a number of steps to regain the support of segments of the Oriental Orthodox electorate that were lost to Tami in 1981 and, to a lesser extent, to Shas in 1988. The party also sought to regain the support of right-wing religious ultranationalists. In the internal party elections the NRP nominated Moroccan-born Avner Sciaki for the top spot on its Knesset list, Zevulun Hammer for the second position, and Hanan Porat, a leader of Gush Emunim and formerly of Tehiya, in the third spot. As a result of these steps, the NRP attained greater ideological homogeneity and competed with Tehiya and Kach for the electoral support of the right-wing ultranationalist religious community.

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