This is a cross-post of an article from Haaretz – via The Spittoon – by Sefi Rachlevsky, author of ‘The Messiah’s Donkey’, the best-seller which critiqued the Jewish Orthodox establishment.
“A Bag of Fibs,” the classic collection of tall tales from the pre-state Palmach militia, tells of a truck driver sent from Tel Aviv to deliver a water cistern to Jerusalem. During the steep approach to the city, at Sha’ar Haggai, he slams on the brakes and the tank slips off the truck. While backing up in order to reload the tank, he falls in and drowns. Israel’s cistern is the religious autonomy that has grown within it.
In 1985 I spoke on Army Radio with Moshe Unna, then a leader of the National Religious Party and of the Religious Kibbutz Movement, which had created a world in which mixed dancing and egalitarian, socialist culture were taken for granted. In the middle of the interview, Unna suddenly grew quiet and began to cry. Eventually he said meekly that when he tried to speak to his own party, Haim Druckman would shout him down until the veteran MK was silent.
Today Druckman is perceived as a “moderate,” and the culture of silence is being imposed on Pinhas Wallerstein, until recently the long-serving head of the Binyamin Regional Council. A leader of the Samaria hilltop settlements in the 1980s, Wallerstein was convicted of causing the “death by negligence” of a rock-throwing Palestinian youth. Now he says he can’t take it anymore. His attempts to condemn systematic, violent attacks on innocent Palestinians are silenced by his erstwhile friends.
MK Yaakov Katz (National Union), the leader of the Knesset political camp that inherited the NRP’s mantle, said “good riddance” upon hearing of Wallerstein’s departure, adding that the movement is “tired of his whining.” It is not for nothing that Katz failed to condemn recent death threats against the defense minister, but instead said that every time the government tries to carry out “crimes against the Jewish people,” the Shin Bet security service instigates slanderous provocations. After all, the Shin Bet initiated the murder of Yitzhak Rabin.
It is not for nothing that the head of the Council of Rabbis of Judea and Samaria is Rabbi Dov Lior, who was a respected Torah authority for the Gush Emunim Underground and a mentor to Baruch Goldstein – who Lior described as “holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust,” “principled” and “persecuted.” With several important positions, Lior receives tens of thousands of shekels a month from a government that has blinded itself to reality.
The religious public was the first to fall into the cistern, but the state itself will follow shortly after. In its weakness, Israel has developed an autonomous, competing religious apparatus, one operating in stark opposition to the promises of Israel’s Declaration of Independence for civil equality. Israel has passed racist legislation like the Citizenship Law, which prohibits Palestinians married to Israeli citizens from becoming naturalized citizens, and has brought the consequences of such legislation upon itself. It is no coincidence that the country now has a justice minister who calls for the legal system to be informed by Jewish juridical codes, as well as an interior minister driven by transparent racism and a foreign minister with a racist platform. As such, most Jewish first-graders in Israel receive a religious education explaining that the goyim are not human beings, that women are inferior and that the secular are deficient.
A similar process is taking hold across the Middle East and beyond. In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the world of the madrassa has swallowed the national-secular order completely.
This pattern is anything but coincidental. When the secular system allows religion to create a messianic bubble within it, it creates a hothouse that converts religion into reality and fosters the growth of violent sentiment with no room for those who are both pragmatic and religious.
Unless democratic, non-messianic forces in Israel unite, they will find that the existential threat to Israel is the religious-messianic threat both within and without. They must dismantle the religious-messianic autonomy, step by step, and restore equality, democracy and openness in Israeli society, or Israel will be no more.