Something worse for Israel than things as they are? Try a religious dictatorship.
My friends are beginning to scare me.
As a resident of a religious settlement in the West Bank, I’m hardly sheltered from right-wing views. But I’ve felt twinges of alarm recently as forced “transfer” began to reappear in civilized conversation as a solution to implacable Palestinian hostility.
Then, as Israel’s 2003 electioneering heated up, a close friend sent me e-mail propaganda for the banned Kach party, heirs to the brutal heritage of Rabbi Meir Kahane. Other friends, separately but as a kind of anti-Greek chorus, announced to me that in the name of saving Zionism and Judaism they would vote for Herut, the far-right party that had just added former Kahanist Baruch Marzel to its list.
That’s when I got scared. Maybe Michael Kleiner, the far-right Herut party’s one-man show in the Knesset, had become so desperate about retaining his Knesset seat that his good sense gave way. But what excuse had my friends for allying themselves with racists and thugs?
Kahane is not my main subject here, but since the evil that men do apparently doesn’t live long enough in memory after them, maybe it’s worthwhile to remind a new generation what Meir Kahane stood for. In a program that seemed a purposeful copy of Nazi anti-Jewish edicts, Kahane proposed to the Knesset in 1984 that the State of Israel (among other things) strip Israeli Arabs of their citizenship, ban non-Jews from residing in Jerusalem, establish separate beaches for non-Jews and criminalize (with jail sentences up to 50 years) sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews. Kahane enjoyed likening Arabs to various species of animals while humbly claiming that he was merely teaching Jewish law, and Kahanist gangs have a history of threatening and harming both Arabs and leftist Jews. Some years ago, the Kach party took “credit” for the terrorist bombing of a Jerusalem butcher shop in which an Arab butcher was killed and a dozen innocent people injured. Around the same time, Kahane’s son was quoted in Newsweek as saying that killing Arabs is “natural.” (See two other articles on this web site, Kahane Heil?
and Doing Evil
The Kahanists are, in short, the Jews’ fascist bully-boys. But Kahane is not my friends’ only new favorite. They also fancy Moshe Feiglin, who is working to effect a hostile takeover of the mainstream Likud party with the ultimate aim, like Kahane’s, of establishing a theocratic dictatorship.
Much of this extremism is bound up with the nonsensical tootling about the coming ge’ulah
(redemption) that increasingly infects ordinary kitchen conversation on the Orthodox right, with people announcing, as if they just got it in a telegram from God, that the redemption is on its way, to be finalized through the Jewish people’s control of a Greater Land of Israel conveniently emptied of Arabs, after which, give or take an apocalyptic war or two, we all live happily ever after, bossed by rabbis. Talk of “redemption” became common after the Six-Day War brought Judea and Samaria into Jewish hands, but the frustration and dread engendered by the current war seem to have potentiated it.
The notion is not only silly but dangerous. Every time the Jews have identified contemporary political events with “redemption,” it has brought disaster. The Zealots of the Second Temple helped get Jerusalem destroyed, Bar Kokhba’s failed rebellion contributed greatly to bringing on the Exile and the false messiahs of the Middle Ages, culminating in Shabtai Tzvi and Jacob Frank, left the Jews spiritually and physically exhausted. Even Chabad’s current foolishness has, beyond making it a laughingstock, seriously weakened the good work it does in our unredeemed world.
What is going on here? My friends are educated Americans and Brits, most of them Orthodox by adult choice – people I assumed to be both discerning and instinctively anti-totalitarian. What combination of romanticism, meanness, historical amnesia and battle fatigue is taking hold of them now?
Nor is my argument merely anecdotal. A recent study by Dr. Ami Pedatzur and Dafna Kanti published in the Teachers Union periodical “Panim: Faces of Art and Culture in Israel”(Issue 20) indicated that 32 percent of Likud voters and even 25 percent of immigrants from the former Soviet Union want halacha
, Jewish religious law, to replace some or all existing civil law. In many circles on the Orthodox right, the word "“democracy” is uttered now with distaste.
I preached to my friends what is obvious to me: that the difference between left and right actually matters less than the difference between people who want to preserve and cultivate an open political system (and the open society that goes with it) and those who want to close it down. I don’t think they heard. Don’t Jews, of all people, know that the dark visionaries whose aim is to use democracy in order to destroy it must be weakened and marginalized, not cooperated with?
Such sentiments may lose me friends in my own camp. But the dialogue has reminded me of a companionship I don’t always recognize through the political flames. The Labor party and leftist Meretz party are delusional about dealing with the Palestinians, so I’ll cast my vote for a party on the right. But as fellow democrats, they are allies, not antagonists, and I acknowledge that I value – and need – them, too.