Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Political Failure of Religious-Zionism in Israel - An Explanation

Summary: This post will try to understand the consistent, abysmal political failure of right wing religious Israelis (Religious-Zionists) using the basic concepts of a simple but effective psychological theory called Transactional Analysis.
This post will address the following questions:

  • In what way is the Religious –Zionist sector subservient to secular Jewry in Israel. Can this be changed? How?
  • What is the role of Religious-Zionism in Israeli Society?
  • Why does the Religious Right in America have political power that matches their numbers while in Israel it continually fails?
  • Why and in what ways are Israeli Orthodox Jews so different from their Anglo-Saxon counterparts and why does this matter?
  • Why does any of this matter to a secular Israeli like me?
  • What will happen if the Religious-Zionist sector does not change? What are its options?

Obviously the subject is complex so this will not be short but it should be interesting and perhaps useful if you are interested in the future of Israel and the Jewish people.
The post is divided into frequent headers so you can scroll down to the parts that interest you.

Background - Anecdotes From RZ Life

Previously I promised that after explaining the basic terms and ideas of Transactional Analysis with the help of a few clips from Seinfeld, I would use this theory to discuss and hopefully clarify several of the bigger issues that our society faces.
This is my first attempt to do so (If you do not know T.A. you can catch up in this wiki or get the drift of things as you read). This post was inspired by a Moshe Feiglin article on the Jewish Leadership Blog. Feiglin ran just a few weeks ago in the Likud primaries and garnered a quarter of the vote. Moshe is an original fellow who has some very interesting observations to make about his fellow Religious-Zionists. He starts by relating an anecdote from the elections:

As the polls closed Tuesday night in Haifa, the poll chairwoman eyed the two official observers suspiciously. "You're pulling my leg, aren't you?" she half stated, half asked.
How could it be? The Feiglin representative is an obviously non-observant, veteran Likud woman, while the Bibi representative is obviously a Religious Zionist, who has spent the entire night in dread that Feiglin will get more than 30% of the vote! What is going on here?

In this post, Feiglin tries to explain why his fellow Religious-Zionists continually fail to implement their own beliefs and policies and he reaches this conclusion:

The Left has designed our national symbols and culture. And as long as we are culturally captive to the Left, we will necessarily reach the Left's conclusions…Why doesn't the belief based public stand up on its own two feet? …The answer is that Religious Zionism draws its legitimacy from secular Zionism.


Fieglin concludes by stating that only when Religious-Zionists take upon themselves to lead Israel as opposed to following will they be able to implement their policies.

I agree with Feiglin's observations but that is all they are – observations. In my mind it is possible and even necessary to ask: Why are the Religious-Zionists willing to be culturally subservient to the secular left? How did this situation come about and why does it continue? For that matter, why is Feiglin's wake up call rejected , sometimes violently, by so many of them?
There is a reason for this and I believe that with the help of Transactional Analysis we can understand the problem correctly and perhaps even solve it – if that is at all possible.

I will begin with another anecdote, this time from the 2005 Jerusalem Conference (site is in Hebrew). The conference was established (or should I say "cloned") by the right wing Israeli National News network as an alternative to the prestigious and influential Herzelyia Conference where the secular Ashkenazi leaders of the country gather each year to determine the future of Israel. The Jerusalem Conference is a pale imitation, sparsely attended by the public. An inordinate number of the participants are prominent left-wing secular spokesmen like Dan Margalit ( I imagine this is done in order to receive some coverage from the Israeli media, surely not because these people are underexposed….).
In any case, two years ago the conference happened to occur just before the disengagement from Gaza and discussions were heated and also very depressing. Two things struck me then.

First was the question: "Should the soldiers of the Religious Zionist sector obey the order and help to ruin the homes and lives of their brethren?"
One after the other prominent RZ leaders said, "Without the army we have nothing" and that disobeying orders will be disastrous. This came after a two hour discussion in which it became obvious that there is no way that Israel would be better off after the disengagement. Most prominent was the voice of General (ret.) Yaakov Amidror who urged the young people to conform. What was worse was that his words were greeted enthusiastically by the small Religious-Zionist crowd. When I heard the applause I knew that nothing would save Gush Katif.
The only one to display any kind of human feeling, common sense and faith was a secular person. This was Col. (ret.) Moshe Leshem, a secular Jew who stood up and said: "I don't have a Kippah but I believe in God and I believe that the Disengagement is an act of ethnic cleansing and should be fiercely resisted." Leshem of course called upon the soldiers to refuse the illegal orders. Leshem spoke with force and confidence and belief – and his words were greeted largely with silence by the Religious Zionists.

The second interesting event was what I learned when Motti Shecklar, CEO of The Second Authority for Radio and Television, stepped up to discuss the relationship between the media and the RZ. He said that when the Second Authority was being established he traveled all over the country begging his people, the Religious Zionists, to get their foot in the door, to apply for jobs there and also to start training their children as media professionals. Motti said that everywhere he went the answer was that they preferred their children to do something useful and lucrative like being a lawyer or doctor. Media was looked down upon. Today, the same people complain that radical, secular, left-wing moonbats have "taken over" Israeli media. But they didn't takeover - they created it and made it viable.
Motii went on to establish Maale, the first RZ "School of Television, Film and the Arts" but that may be too little and too late – it has only 20-30 graduates a year according to Motti, compared to thousands of secular graduates.


Religious-Zionism – Depending upon Secular Creativity and the Secular Social Center

These stories demonstrate recurring themes:

1. Religious Zionists following in the footsteps of secular Jews, imitating them, sometimes lagging behind by decades.
2. Religious Zionists rejecting a new idea in favor of the familiar old ways while secular Jews embrace the unknown and pave the way to the future, leading the way for everybody else.

One last anecdote which illustrates how dependent the RZ are upon the creativity and originality of secular Jews, even in the face of their own destruction, this time from an old post on this blog, also concerning the disengagement:

I recall walking in downtown Jerusalem a year ago, a week or two before the Disengagement. I saw a middle-aged National-Religious woman all dressed up in the official Gush-Katif colors (orange ribbon around the hat, orange bracelet, orange ribbon tied to her purse, orange shirt, orange cap) walking up to a newsstand and buying a copy of Yediot Ahronot. This paper happens to be not only the largest in the country but also the worst in terms of anti-religious and anti-Zionist sentiment (tied with Haaretz). In fact even now, in the midst of a war with Hizballah that has already cost many lives – Yediot has yet to match the degree of animosity and pure, unadulterated hatred it directed towards the settlers at that time with its current, slightly adulating coverage of Hizballah today.
Anyway, I was shocked. After she bought the paper I just had to ask her what the hell does she think she’s doing? I told her that she just donated a dollar to the cause of evicting her people from the Gaza Strip. She shame-facedly admitted it but said, in justification – “ I just wanted to be in the know”.


And that is the root of the problem. Because to know what's going on you have to be connected to the heart of things and this heart, the center of our society is - as Fegilin correctly points out - in the hands of secular people and everything and everyone else in Israel revolves around this center.
So Feiglin is right: the Religious Zionists are subservient to this center. Of course they are not alone in this servitude but they are alone in trying to directly challenge this center.
Most Israelis are quite content with having this center in secular hands and living around it or in it. Haredi society seems just as content living completely outside of it and they tend to erupt only when they feel that their self-imposed boundaries are being overrun. But the RZ seem to want it both ways – to let others create and sustain the cultural center and at the same time they want to look down upon it with disdain and contempt while receiving recognition and admiration for their own endeavors from the very same people they despise! They enjoy the secular papers and music and TV shows and yet decry and sometimes even violently oppose the political results of this culture. It is this two-sided attitude that is so baffling.
But now we can begin to answer the real question: why is this so? What is this center and why is it so powerful? Why did secular Jews establish it and not RZ Jews? And most importantly, why don't Religious Zionists establish their own center to rival it? Why are secular Jews always the first, with the RZ a distant second? How can this be changed?

Creativity in Israel: Secular Compared to RZ

I think this situation can be explained by one basic psychological difference which sets secular people apart from religious people. This difference is in the attitude towards the Free Child (explained here with the help of a few clips from I Dream of Jeannie).

According to Transactional Analysis the human psyche is comprised of four states of mind:
The Adult, which is oriented towards reality, processing information and making decisions dispassionately, like a computer.
The Parent, which makes the laws and rules that govern our behavior, emotions and thoughts and is oriented towards the complete fulfillment of these rules at all times. This is the invisible mental prison in which we live our lives.
The Child, which contains all our emotions and feelings. Three different states can be recognized in the child:
The Adaptive Child – this part does its best to adapt to the demands of the Parent.
The Rebellious Child - this part does its best to reject the demands of the Parent.
The Free Child - this part does not care at all about the demands of the Parent. It is centered around the needs of the moment, whatever they may be. It is spontaneous and carefree and endlessly curious, living in the moment just like a kitten. But unlike other animals the Free Child can also be creative. Emotions and senses and intuition are the realm of the Free Child.

The Attitude Towards Creativity in RZ Society
Generally speaking, in most cases the attitude of religious people in Israel towards the Free Child is that of the Parent towards any child that is breaking the rules and threatening to overthrow the established order of things. This is an orthodox view in which everything new is bad, the best days were in the past and things can only get worse. It is a defensive, frightened attitude towards life itself. This is not especially surprising considering that for the past two hundred years and more, orthodox Jewry, especially in Europe and in Israel, has been under constant, sometimes violent attack, on the part of "The New" – the new secular way of life, new freedoms and new ideas, not to mention the new, extremely secular state of Israel. Under these conditions education tends to be dull and stifling and defensive. Children are encouraged to conform and their gaze is turned inwards and backwards – to the glory of the past. This is a most unfavorable atmosphere for innovation and creativity but it is a time-tested Jewish defense: when danger is abroad, circle the wagons and cling tightly to the familiar tradition.

The Attitude Towards Creativity in Secular Society
On the other hand, secular Jews in Israel tend to the opposite – they favor the new. They are curious and inventive and bold and brash, sometimes stupidly and brazenly so. They are not tied to the past, in fact they are taught to hate it and disengage from it. In many cases they are taught to despise and disengage from the community. This leaves them free to experiment in every way possible – there are no limits to what can be done, for better and for worse. They do not care who they are hurting, because they do not share anything in common with the rest of society.
Of course these are generalizations. Living in Israel, it seems to me that the majority of the population stands somewhere in the middle between the two extremes and in fact – only a small part of secular society is actively engaged in a creative endeavor. But that is more than enough, and far, far more than can be said of Religious- Zionists who, it seems, need a Rabbi's permission before they are allowed to think of something new, much less act upon that thought.

The Creators Can Dictate the Rules
From its inception Zionism was a secular endeavor. Apparently it took a completely secular, assimilated Jew to have the nerve to think of something completely old, in a radically new way. This is the essence of creativity – taking the existing materials and combining them or viewing them in new ways. The representatives of the Parent at the time – the orthodox community - rejected this new idea. But some did not and they formed the Religious-Zionist movement in a valiant effort to combine the new Zionism with the old orthodox Judaism. Many of the ideas and certainly the spiritual authority of this movement in Israel may be attributed to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook the first Chief Rabbi in Israel and a very original thinker, perhaps the first and last free thinking Religious Zionist in Israel, until Moshe Feiglin popped up a few years ago.
The secular Zionists broke away from their traditional parents, like good Rebellious Children, and made their way to Israel where they proceeded to create the infrastructure of the future state which their spiritual heirs control to this day.
And therein lies a second lesson for Religious-Zionists – if you want to control something you had better create it. In social life, it is far easier to invent something then to take it over (although to be sure, Feiglin seems to disagree, which is why he joined the Likud instead of doing something new and different - and better) .

Why the Religious Right in America Succeeds

This is the secret of the success of the religious right in America. Consider this: numerically, right-wing Christians number about a quarter of U.S. population – about the same porportion as orthodox Jews in Israel, and yet their influence is enormous while orthodox Israelis have to fight every year anew for very basic elements of life such as an education budget!
I think the reason is this: in cultural terms, right-wing Christians are the descendants of the founders of America. The accepted form of public debate which they set two centuries ago are much more suitable to a rational argument than it is to the disinformation campaigns conducted by the Left.
In terms of transactional analysis American culture has had from the very beginning a strong orientation towards the Adult – towards facts, reality, effectiveness and utility. This is the "matter- of- fact" and common-sense attitude that pervades much of American society. This is a society that is so used to considering facts and distinguishing between fact and opinion and fiction that to this day, despite the concerted efforts of the Left, if you have a good, truthful argument for something – you still have a good chance to win. If you build a better mousetrap – it will sell and you will be successful. The best the left can do in America is to confuse the issues and feed the public misinformation, but with the development of new technologies and the diffusion of news delivery this effect is not as great as it once was.

The Founders of Israel – The Patronage System

In Israel it is almost the opposite. The founders came from a society and political culture that favored patronage. The relationship between the government and the population is the relationship between the Parent and the Adaptive Child. Reality is not a necessary part of the equation. Argument is useless. All you have to do is abide by the rules, do what you are told and hopefully you will be taken care of. Graft and protectionism are a way of life in this system. If you build a better mousetrap, well so what? First, get a license from the government. Second – get another one and another one, each time from a different ministry. Finally you begin to sell your great mousetrap only to find out that a different company with a far inferior mousetrap has a monopoly (brought and paid for, of course...). It undersells you and after a year you go out of business.

Although it is true that this system has been attacked ferociously from many sides and it has suffered many defeats in the past thirty years (dating from the fall of the Labor Party in the 1977 elections), the framework and most importantly the frame of mind for many Israelis has not yet changed. In many areas we are still satisfied with doing what we are told. For instance, ask military historian Dr. Uri Millstein (Hebrew link) – he is an expert on the lack of rationality- of the Adult - in the Israeli Army, or Bibi Netanyahu who did his best to fight this all-embracing nanny state, as Finance Minister.

Creativity in Israel Today

The attacks on the Eastern-European political culture have had one positive effect – they have spurred a renewed wave of creativity in Israeli society which has been led, as usual, and in spectacular fashion, by the secular sector. So it is that for the majority of the people in Israel secular Zionism has proven its vitality over and over again. It has proven itself when it began to establish Israel years before the Holocaust and it seems correct to this day - it has created an extremely free, vibrant, rich society in the midst of an intense struggle for national survival. No other group has done as much or offered a better vision to the people of Israel to this day. Will this change?
Perhaps the depravity and negligence of the current secular leadership will be its downfall as Feiglin predicts but I personally do not see it happening. The orthodox vision has been available all this time and while it has grown in popularity orthodox society is still not close to numerically rivaling mainstream Israeli society and the settler vision is not attracting many new supporters – their numbers have remained pretty constant throughout the past 10-20 years.
What is the problem? I will repeat again – the Free Child.

There is an old Chinese story that explains it well:

A beggar receives two dimes. With the first he buys a loaf of bread, with the second a lily.
"Why did you waste half of your money on a lily?" he was asked.
" The bread is to sustain me, and the lily I bought so I will have a reason to live!" answered the beggar.


Creativity and the Future of Israeli Society

And that is the point – without the Free Child, without the full gamut of emotions and senses, without the ability to at least potentially experience life at its fullest – what is the point? Without this, life is dull and routine, like watching TV in black and white when the neighbor has color television. This why Orthodox Jews, RZ as well as some Haredim, read secular newspapers and watch secular television and hear secular music – because it is fun.
Until the Israeli public loses its taste for fun, secular culture will prevail, unless someone provides a better alternative – perhaps one that achieves a better balance between the need to survive and the need to have a reason to survive. Because secular culture is definitely not perfect and in many ways its imbalance is becoming evermore pronounced, even dangerous. Therefore it is possible, maybe even necessary, for a new player to come in and offer a different cultural option. The question is: can the religious right – can Religious –Zionism do this? Can it finally lead the way and thus have its way? Can it lead instead of following?


Religious-Zionism and Creativity – The Dilemma

Religious Zionists face a unique problem: how to be creative, without ruining the existing order? How can one be assured that the newly created will not destroy the way of life that has been diligently preserved for thousands of years?
From its inception Religious-Zionism was intended to achieve a healthy balance between the old and the new – between the Parent and the Free Child. This is why RZ has been very careful in adopting the new, always following in the footsteps of secular Zionism. It joined the institutions created by the first Zionists and assimilated into them. Its party, the Mafdal, participated in the same political practices of political patronage and corruption as the Labor Party did, using its power and influence to funnel funds (and new olim) to its own people just like Labor did and especially into its own education system. Later these funds went where the people went – into the recaptured territories of Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
The first settlements were established while struggling against the government (or at least part of it to be exact) reminding the new settlers of the struggles of the secular Zionists against the British Mandate. They saw themselves as a logical and necessary continuation of the secular settlement that began a century earlier.
RZ prides itself in these settlements which are a copy of the previous secular settlements and also on its contribution to the Army's elite. Like the Kibbutznikim before them, RZ sons and daughters now comprise a very large proportion of the Army elite, much higher than their part in the population. The only difference is this: when the kibbutzim sent their sons to the Army, their party ruled the country. Today, the RZ sons are sacrificing themselves for an ideology that is openly trying to ruin their own community. The RZ education system is another source of pride and perhaps rightly so – but at the same time secular Jews built an education system that is open to everyone. Perhaps it is not as good but it is certainly not something to be sneezed at and you can guess by yourself which education system is appreciated more by the general public, especially when even RZ parents do not have an easy time getting their children in.

What Has Been Created By Religious-Zionism?
It seems that, to date, the RZ creations have been copies and variations on previous secular themes adapted to the needs of the RZ community. When I try to think of something new that the RZ community has created for the benefit of Israeli society I come up blank. Perhaps this is because I do not know it well enough. I know of new trends in RZ society such as a new openness towards woman studying Torah but this is again a careful adoption of Feminist ideas into orthodox society.
Actually, I can think of three new things: The aforementioned "Maale School of Television, Film and the Arts", Jewish Leadership and the "Hilltop Youth".

1 - Maale makes a specific point of making quality visual art while avoiding any contradiction with Jewish law. A committee which includes a Rabbi reviews all scripts in order to ensure their propriety. This is an interesting way to give the Free Child a safe place without threatening the Parent. But is it effective? Will Maale writers and filmmakers break new ground? Can such a trapped creativity invent something so new, so interesting that it will rival their secular counterparts? That remains to be seen. Still, if nothing else, their award-winning films are testament to the fact that such a combination is indeed possible. It is an open question if this combination can also be attractive and influential enough to change the tide.

2 - Jewish Leadership has a well-known and colorful history so I will not repeat it here. But as far as RZ society is concerned one point is clear – Feiglin himself and his new ideas are viewed as completely contradictory to what constitutes traditional Religious-Zionism and he has been under constant attack not only from secular elites which is to be expected, but also from what should have been his own home base. Once again, when RZ society is confronted with a new idea it attacks.
This case is significant in my view because Feiglin's ideas arrive at a time in which RZ has witnessed more than one devastating defeat. One would expect that a society on its heels would at least be willing to consider something new, some new idea or new way to stop the breathless, hopeless retreat and perhaps even go on the attack. Feiglin offers just such a way that by no means contradicts Jewish Law. That it is not even considered tells me all I need to know about the sickness of Religious-Zionist society in Israel - a society of Adaptive Children and their Parents.

3 - The Hilltop Youth , on the other hand, do not seem ready to adopt to anyone's demands except themselves. They seem to be Rebellious Children, rebelling against their parent's placid, accepting ways, renewing the settler tradition, which is the old secular tradition of Homa u migdal. If this is indeed the case then this is nothing new. Anyway, the reaction of mainstream RZ society is the same – rejection, reprimands, and threats. At least that is the story if you hear it from Avi Ran. Again, it fits the pattern: something new is created and then it can either be brought under control or else it is immediately attacked and rejected.


The Connection Between God, Creativity, Obedience and Belief

The RZ track record with creativity seems to me to be very poor. The main reason is that there is a built-in contradiction between keeping the old ways and encouraging creativity, between the Parent and the Free Child – they cannot co-exist.
This is because the essence of creativity is its unexpected nature. Creation is always an ongoing experiment with results that are yet to be determined. Creativity by its very nature is uncertain. In a way, it is absolutely necessary for creative people to have some kind of belief in God because without it, the uncertain aspects of creation will gnaw at them constantly and sometimes even ruin them.
So, at least theoretically speaking, one would expect that believers would be among the most creative people around! For a believer is not afraid of creation, of the unexpected, of life itself – because he knows that the world is in God's hands and everything is for the best even if we cannot understand it. I would go even further and state that a believer realizes that it is our duty, as men created in the image of God, to emulate him and be creative. In fact, if there is one reason for our being created I think that it is in order to continue God's work – and be creative human beings.
But if this is a believing attitude towards creation, how can we explain the RZ approach, and the orthodox view of creativity in general?
As far as I can tell it is a question of confusing belief in God with obedience to the Parent.
This means that children in RZ society, as in every other society, obey their parents as best they can in order to survive. For RZ children, belief in God and Jewish god-given law is "inherited" so to speak, not discovered or achieved. I
n other words - their belief in God stems from obedience to their parents who insisted upon this belief with all its attendant behaviors and opinions. But obedience is not the same as actually believing.

Children in such a society are forged into being Adaptive Children with strong Parents. The Adult is relatively weak because many areas of enquiry are not open to rational discussion. The Free child is curtailed because by its very essence he is the enemy of the Parent (think about the child who sees the naked emperor). So it is most likely that an RZ child will be an Adaptive Child and if he fails at that – a Rebellious Child. It will be very difficult for him to be creative and I would suspect that creative RZ people will come from homes that were comparatively less strict and more open-minded. These kind of homes tend to be more Leftist than the usual RZ and indeed, I have already heard one complaint that the movies being produced at Maale have a definite anti-religious and anti RZ slant.
What this means is that RZ education, at home and later in school, will tend to encourage a very conformist state of mind. This is why the sons of RZ serving in the Army have such trouble disobeying orders. Psychologically they have been trained to obey the Parent, the voice of authority, which in the case of the various expulsions and demolitions happens to be an Army officer. This is why the leaders of the RZ community seem to be at a loss with the new situation. They know how to deal with the familiar. The new confuses them and even paralyzes them. Imagine if the tens of thousands of RZ gathered in Kfar Maimon were let loose? And why did they not free themselves to act? The lack of creativity and freedom in RZ society has come back to bite it in a most cruel and ironic manner.

The Difference Between Anglo-Saxon Jews in Israel and RZ Israeli Jews

Not all orthodox education is the same. RZ children in Israel will likely have a stronger Adult than Haredi children since their range of legitimate, Parent-approved interests is much larger. A notable difference is also to be found in Anglo-Saxon Jews. They are much more apt to think freely and creatively and to treat all the aspects of life in a rational manner. In terms of Transactional Analysis – their Adult is stronger and so is the Free Child. The light air of fear and suffocation that seems to me to pervade much of RZ society does not seem to touch Anglo-Saxon Jews, at least in my experience.
I imagine that not growing up in a nanny state like Israel helps. Perhaps the innate tendency of American society to encourage and reward rationality and also the complete separation of state and religion helps too. Maybe turning religion into something completely personal frees the individual. Or rather, perhaps this separation creates the individual and enables him to forge his own way in this world? Maybe that is how a Nadia Matar is born? Many of Feiglin's supporters (not to mention his wife) are also Anglo-Saxon and they are prominent in the political activities of the Israeli Right, or even when they walk the streets of Jerusalem! (now that guy is a believer!).
In any case it is clear to me that growing up in an American society with its great and historic emphasis upon the individual, affects Anglo-Saxon orthodox Jews in a way that makes them obviously different from the average Israeli orthodox Jew who grows up "within the tribe", with a very strong emphasis on the group and its survival.
In my opinion, the most important thing that Anglo-Saxon Jews bring with them when they make aliyah is not their money, if they even have any, nor their professional education and work experience – it is their attitude of freedom, liberty, and civil rights, the outlook of citizens who expect their government to serve them and not the other way around, what may be called - cultural capital. RZ would do well to learn and emulate them, as indeed it seems they are.(Hebrew link. No English, but it's start…)

Why A Secular Jew Cares About RZ

Growing in a Secular-Zionist home and living in this part of society for most of my life, I have no illusions about our situation. There are many people in the ruling elites who seriously view orthodox Jews as the enemy and a far more dangerous one than Hamas or Iran. People like Yuli Tamir have no compunction about killing Orthodox Jews and in fact that is a major reason why weapons are still being supplied to the Palestinians.
Of course, this kind of internal struggle in Jewish society is nothing new. It has been going on for over two hundred years and Orthodox Jews have been, at times, just as violent and intolerant. But today we actually have a country and this struggle between "enlightened" Jews (as they used to be called) and orthodox Jews is threatening to bring the house down.

I have spent most of this post describing the imbalance of RZ society. But Israeli secular elites are just as imbalanced, just in different ways and areas. As a good secular Israeli child, the issues of faith, belief, God, and Judaism were all taboo. The secular Israeli can go to a mosque or church and can respect the beliefs of anybody – as long as they are not Jewish. Even years later it is still difficult for me to access those parts of my soul, as I once described on this blog.
Where RZ stress the group, secular society emphasizes the individual to the exact same degree of extremity. Family values, marriage, rearing children – they are viewed with concern if not actual horror by the members of the ruling secular elite, while anything the individual does for himself, especially in the realm of art, is considered good and proper no matter what havoc it wreaks upon other individuals or society itself. Self-expression is the master, society its slave.

The Role of Religious-Zionism in Israeli Society

RZ and secular society are almost mirror images of each other and that is why there is so much antagonism between the two. It is a love-hate relationship between two parts of society that are simply incomplete without the other. Secular Jewish society is not viable in Israel without Zionism. Religious-Zionism is not viable without the creativity, the fun and excitement generated by secular society. Each without the other is like a cripple hopping about with only one leg. Together can they stand on two feet and deal with life's challenges in an appropriate and timely manner.
They can also do so alone – if they grow the other leg. In other words if secular society can return to Zionism it will be able to deal with the external and internal threats facing it with relative ease, as it has done many times in the past. If RZ learns to be creative and original it will be able to overcome its problems and defeat its enemies.
Personally, I do not think that secular society can overcome the malady of the ruling elites. There are some healthy, Zionist parts in this elite but they are definitely the weaker and smaller part. Help is needed and that help can only come from the one remaining Zionist sector in Israel – the RZ.
RZ youth still have the energy and enthusiasm needed to carry on the work of their secular predecessors. Joe Settler describes this scene, from August, 2005, a scene which I too have seen at various times:

This evening I had the opportunity to observe the children of Gush Katif (who have just been brutally ripped from their homes) and the children of Israel’s secular elite (who promoted the ripping of these people from their homes).

The Children of Gush Katif gathered in Kikar Safra in Jerusalem and spent the night

* dancing,
* singing their hearts out, and
* simply supporting each other to keep their wonderful spirits high.

In contrast, the Children of the Secular Elite gathered near Ben-Yehuda and spent the night

* dancing,
* puking their guts out,
* supporting each other (as they were too drunk to stand on their own), and
* simply getting high.

It is no surprise to discover that nearly every member of Nezer Hazani served in an elite combat unit, while in contrast, secular hero Aviv Gefen (the draft dodger) and his friends literally dance on a flag of Israel.
If I were a secular Israeli, I too would be terrified of the tremendous uplifting, positive spirit of the Na'ar HaGivaot and want nothing more than to destroy their communities.

We are insurmountable.

Well, I am not terrified – I am glad. And as I have tried to point out and as recent history proves, RZ is definitely surmountable, unless it embraces change.


The Choices Facing RZ Society

RZ society is culturally enslaved to secular society in Israel. This results in one political defeat after another and it may even result in the eventual elimination of Religious-Zionism in Israel. What can be done? Here are some options and their likely results.

1 – Do nothing and continue the current state of affairs
Most likely result – an eventual retreat from most of Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem. RZ will be dragged (by their sons who serve in the Army) kicking and screaming from their homes to caravans all over the country. This will probably be more painful than the retreat from Gaza. RZ will not be able to recover for years if at all. Israel itself may not survive the war that will follow.

2 – Embrace Feiglin, join the Likud, liquidate the Religious-Zionist parties.
Most likely result – The Likud will get a majority of the votes next elections, but its base will be a lot more Hawkish enabling the prime minister (Feiglin?) to implement a Zionist agenda in internal and external affairs. In this scenario, the state will divest itself of all religious affairs, as Feiglin suggests, so that the one major obstacle to the involvement of Orthodox Jews in Israeli government will be removed. Such a move will be devastating to secular Jewry in Israel, in the best way possible - they will have to deal with their identity themselves instead of relying on Orthodox Jews to sustain it for them, while hating them for it.

3 – Fully integrate into Israeli society. This means giving up on all the separatist institutions – no more separate schools, synagogues, or settlements. This means embracing the revolutionary idea that all Jews were created equal by God.
Most likely result – a huge increase in contact between secular and RZ members of society will lead to a wave of both secular Tshuva and RZ desertion. Eventually everything will even out. Jewish identity in the general population will be stronger but orthodoxy will be weaker than before. This intermingling may bring about a new wave of very original, Jewish creativity in Israel, which is severely lacking today.

4 – Meekly surrender. Accept that the secular elites are too powerful to resist at the moment. Try to rescue whatever is possible, retreat and regroup.
Most likely result – depends on what philosophy the survivors of this move will adopt. This may lead to complete disintegration of RZ or to a future renewal which may be inspiring. Some groups will splinter off and continue to resist the secular elites and they will be hunted down and destroyed.
5 - Empower the people. The current secular elites treat the population as if they are children in need of a parent. Everything is the responsibility of the state, while the individual is not only blameless, but worse - helpless. Of course this puts the elites in a position to wield their power and keep it indefinitely.
An alternative elite will do the opposite - do its best to empower the citizens. A great example of this, which deserves an entirely separate post ,is Paamonim. Ten more initiatives like this, offered to all citizens, will work wonders for RZ and the country. Remember - in order to get power from the people - you must give it up and trust them and trust God.

6 - Something else. Religious Zionism starts to get serious about its future and develops a new strategy, or even better, several new, original strategies and tactics to deal with the threats it faces.
Most likely result – Hope, perhaps even victory, eventually.


Gmar Hatima Tova

Jerusalem Joe




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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Jewish Agency and Neo-Nazism in Israel

Probably you have already heard about the Israeli police busting a ring of Neo-Nazis. They were all immigrants from Russia with a very tenuous connection to their Jewish origins.
How did they arrive in Israel? I do not know them personally so I cannot say, but I did happen to witness the state of mind that has brought about this reality:

A few years ago I was working in the Jewish Agency helping to install new software. This entailed individual instruction sessions in which I got to know the Agency and its personnel very well. I was very impressed with the quality and sincerity of the people working there. But some things struck me as odd, if not actually stupid.
For instance, a major concern of the board of governors at the time was how to become cost-efficient. Management tried to think of ways to measure output. In some cases this is very difficult but in the case of the Aliyah Department there was an obvious formula : the more new olim the department brings to Israel, the more successful the department (and its head and staff...) would be considered. So the Aliyah department had a clear goal - bring more olim till the next meeting of the board of governors (when allocations are made). But by then there were not that many Jews left in Russia. The solution was simple:

find more Jews and if needed - manufacture them.
This is possible because according to Israeli law, if you have a Jewish grandparent you are considered Jewish for the purpose of immigrating to Israel, receiving many benefits and also citizenship in a modern, Western country. It's not a bad deal if you are sick of living in a backward, third world shit hole.
So the Jewish Agency's shlichim supposedly encouraged people to find out if they had any Jewish connection. They helped people with this and with the whole process. This way the number of olim remained high and even grew, as the department staff pointed out to me with unabashed pride one day.

But, as I said, I got around and soon enough I saw the other side of the equation. I was having a session with the head of a completely different department in the Jewish Agency who told me an enlightening story: the other day he saw on the street one of his
old tormentors from his hometown in Russia. This acquaintance was a violent antisemitic bully at school and he used to torture this Jew who now headed a department in the Jewish Agency. The bully smiled at his old victim and explained proudly how he discovered - with the help of the good people from the Jewish Agency- that he had a Jewish grandmother he never even heard about. They offered money and a new future in a modern country so he came...
This Department Head lamented the policy that enabled this to happen but said that he was powerless to stop it.

So when I heard about Neo-Nazis in Israel I cannot say I was surprised. The Jewish Agency has brought thousands of people to Israel who have no business being here and some of them were, and still are violently antisemitic.

I wonder if this will cause the Jewish Agency to change its aggressive aliyah policy, if it still is in place. Carl from Israel Matzav seems to think the Agency is hopeless. Go there for a good review of the situation. For some history you can read this post on the same subject - but two years old on Simply Appalling.

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