A Jewish state vs. a “Judahist” state

During my latest, lengthy respite from blogging (and, as much as possible, from thinking very hard), Y. Ben-David suggested that a “truly traditionist Jewish/Israeli” culture would be less threatening to “the Arabs.” Similarly, here and elsewhere, (if I understood him correctly), he has suggested that religious Jewish settlers are more likely to get along better with Palestinians under occupation than secular Israelis. I have posted one of his comments below, followed by a lengthy response from Tom Mitchell.

Before we hear from them, I have questions for both of them, or for those who agree with either of them.

I would like to ask Mr. Ben-David or others who want a more religious Israeli culture if they have any concerns about tensions between secular and religious Israeli Jews. A few weeks ago, women in a choir were banned from singing Hatikva in the Knesset because of objections from so-called “ultra-Orthodox” Jews who did not want to hear women’s voices. At what point does the desire to avoid offending the religious sensibilities of a small minority result in the hijacking –indeed, the Talibanization– of Israeli democracy?
For his part, Tom Mitchell states that “Israel is slowly evolving into the type of state that Mr. Ben-David advocates. I argue that is the duty of all true friends to work to halt this evolution.” Tom, Israelis would argue that it is none of your business, or my business, to shape the nature of their society. Elsewhere, I have argued that what happens in the occupied territories and Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors is very much the business of American Jews and other Americans, in part because what happens there directly affects our own nation’s security. It is hard to make a similar argument about the place of religious law and culture in Israeli society.

Here is a comment from Y Ben David:

As I stated elsewhere, the Judea/Samaria settlement movement placed a big emphasis on good relations with their Arab neighbors until the big outbreak of Arab violence in 1987. I also pointed out that contact has been renewed in Hevron after years of disconnection.

Dr Bernard Avishai, a Canadian/Israeli professor has written a book called “The Hebrew Republic”. He advocates Israel abandoning its “Jewish identity” which he believes the Arabs object to (and which he himself is uncomfortable with) and it should adopt a “secular, globalized Hebrew” identity which the Israeli Arabs would somehow adopt.

Mr Leiner’s comment above about the Arabs being generally conservative and religious leads me to point out that such a “Hebrew Republic” would be MORE objectionable to the Arabs than the current “Jewish state”. Judaism is not a missionary religion and the lifestyle of Orthodox/religious Jews is much closer to that of the Arabs than of the secular, globalized elite that controls Israel and its culture today

Dr Avishai’s “Hebrew Republic” is nothing more than a modern Crusader state bent on changing (even unconsciously) the Arab/Muslim’s values, inculcating materialist, secular values including disrespect for elders, sexual permissiveness, homosexuality, and disparagement of Islam.

A truly tradionalist Jewish/Israeli culture is not threatening to Arab/Islamic values and, having come to power, after a time, would lead to at least some relaxation of the tension between the sides, regardless of the “territorial” question (HAMAS opposes Palestinian nationalism in any event, viewing themselves as part of the larger Islamic world which they feel must be mobilized in order to confront Israel).

Here is Tom Mitchell’s response:

Mr. Ya’akov Ben-David has recently proposed at this website, as he proposed previously at the APN website, the idea that a Juhadist state run according to halakha (Jewish religious law) would be more acceptable to the Arabs than the present semi-secular Israeli regime. I have no doubt that an Israel led by Yosef Burg, the leader of the National Religious Party (NRP/Mafdal) before and just after the 1967 war, or his son Avram, an influential politician in the Labor Party would be more acceptable to the monarchist regimes of the Middle East and the moderate military dictatorships in Egypt, Yemen and possibly even Syria than the present Israel.

But this is not what Mr. Ben-David is really proposing. He is proposing a Jewish version of the fundamentalist Islamic regimes in Iran, Sudan, and Pakistan. I will dub this ideology Judahism because it is really a Jewish version of Islamism—the ideology of the Iranian mullahs and of Al Qaeda.

Mr. Ben-David would have us believe that a Judahist regime that was busy colonizing the West Bank and recolonizing Gaza would be more acceptable to the Arabs because it would be seen as less of a foreign colonial implant. I disagree with this for three reasons.

First, ultra-Orthodox parties that assimilate and come to accept the Zionist state tend to accept the ideology of religious Zionism of the late Rabbi Avraham Kook over time. If they accept Zionism they naturally accept the religious version of it. This has become evident with the history of Shas, which has evolved over the last quarter century from a Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party to a party that is a supporter of colonization of the West Bank. Now Shas is the natural coalition partner of the Likud and the NRP. Labor is forced to offer Shas larger bribes to get it to become a coalition partner than the Likud has to. This means that over time a Judahist Israel would be one committed to colonizing the Palestinian territories.

Second, Israel is acceptable to the European Union and its members because of its democratic character. This is partially offset by the European need to appease the Arabs upon whom they are dependent for oil and who make up an increasing percentage of the immigrant population of Europe. While the process of Eurarabization is continuing and on-going, a number of European countries are still quite friendly to Israel. These include: Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, and Britain. It also includes a number of Central and Eastern European countries that admire the Israelis for their resistance to Soviet expansionism in the past. If Israel becomes a Judahist state governed by Jewish religious law—sharia yehudiya in Arabic—it will become as ideologically alien as the Arab regimes without the advantage of control over large reserves of oil and natural gas and the presence of millions of threatening co-religionists in Europe. Europe will then be ripe for an anti-Israel boycott mimicking that against South Africa in the 1980s.

Third, pro-Israel sentiment in the United States is based on a number of sources: religious Zionism among evangelical Christians, rejection of Islamic terrorism, and support for democracy. These various sources ensure bipartisan support for Israel among both Democrats and Republicans. Most Republicans support Israel for all the above reasons. Most Democrats support Israel more out of support for a loyal Cold War ally, a democracy, and because Israel was a refuge for the Jewish people following the Holocaust.

If Israel were to become a Judahist state it would forfeit the support of Americans who support it because of its democratic nature. It would also sacrifice the support of those who perceive Israel as the underdog and aggrieved party in the Arab-Israeli conflict. This means that Israel over time could count on support only from the Republicans and not from the Democrats. Combined with a loss of European support, this would be fatal in the future. Israel would become a pariah state like Ian Smith’s Rhodesia from 1965 to 1980 or South Africa after 1985 or Kaddafi’s Libya. Rhodesia succumbed to trade sanctions and insurgent infiltration. South Africa negotiated from a position of strength during the early 1990s in order to avoid negotiating from a position of weakness later after it had been devastated by internal civil strife, guerrilla warfare, and trade sanctions. Kaddafi changed Libya’s foreign policy after the American invasion of Iraq in order to avoid a similar invasion of his own country. A Judahist state could not survive in the long run. It would suffer the fate of Rhodesia or the fate that Frederick Willem de Klerk avoided by negotiating early.

Israel is slowly evolving into the type of state that Mr. Ben-David advocates. I argue that it is the duty of all true friends to work to halt this evolution. To continue to move along this path risks not only Israeli democracy but also Israeli existence. Israel’s most deadly threat may not be an external one, but rather an internal one. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, recognized this when he refused to accept either the Communists or Menahem Begin’s Herut party as a coalition partner. Their modern equivalents are Israel Beitenu (Israel Our Home), the National Religious Party, and the Communists. Israel should make certain that it does not fall prey to their plans.

5 thoughts on “A Jewish state vs. a “Judahist” state

  1. Dan, thanks for this posting. These are very important issues that are not discussed enough and they are also quite complex and what discussion there is usually degenerates into platitudes.

    Tom Mitchell stated:
    But this is not what Mr. Ben-David is really proposing. He is proposing a Jewish version of the fundamentalist Islamic regimes in Iran, Sudan, and Pakistan. I will dub this ideology Judahism because it is really a Jewish version of Islamism—the ideology of the Iranian mullahs and of Al Qaeda.

    Tom, I have to completely disagree with what you are stating here. NO ONE IN THE RELIGIOUS CAMP IN ISRAEL IS PROPOSING SUCH A THING. Orthodox/religious Jews in Israel are a minority and we are well aware of that. Imposing religious laws on the secular public would be counter-productive. None of the religious political parties support such a thing.
    First of all, the so-called “Haredi” (Ultra-Orthodox) Parties, i.e. United Torah Judaism and SHAS have no real interest in running the state. They are sectoral parties primarily (but not exclusively) interested in getting benefits for their continuents, just like the Labor Party and Kadima and Likud do for theirs. The Religious Zionist party-i.e. the so-called National Union/National Religious Party does, theoretically, have a more “national” agenda, which includes support for Jewish settlement in Judea/Samaria, but this party is torn with internal dissension and has no agreement on what sort of national policy or structural reforms it should support. However, one of the basic platforms Religious Zionism has supported since its inception long before the state of Israel arose is tolerance and dialogue between the religious and non-religious sectors of the population.

    Secondly, it is important to remember that Israel is not neatly divided into two opposed camps: religious and non-religious. As I have already pointed out, the religious camp itself is divided, but the so-called “non-religious” camp has a great variation of attitudes towards Jewish religious tradition. About 20% of the Jewish population would say they are Israelis and not Jews and have little or no tie to Jewish tradition. If we say that the Orthodox/religious is also 20% (I can’t really say how accurate that is, but I belive it is in the ballpark), that leaves 60% who fit neither category but would consider themselves “traditionalists” to some degree in that they do practice certain parts of Jewish tradition, such as Sabbath observance (e.g. they may go to synagogue on the Sabbath and then afterwards drive to the beach, something the Orthodox/religious wouldn’t do). People of this type often say “I am not religious/observant myself, but I am glad there are religious people around in order to give Israel a Jewish flavor”. A famous expression of this is Dr Shlomo Avineri (a veteran Labor party professor and foreign policy expert who writes in the newspapers frequently) who said “the synagogue I DON’T go to is Orthodox”, i.e. he means he views “authentic” Judaism as Orthodox (as opposed to Reform or Conservative) and he is glad it is there, but he doesn’t want to practice it himself.

    So the question now arises, what do I mean by a more “traditionalist Israel” which I believe would be able to reduce, over time, the hostility of the neighboring Arab/Muslim population? No one is talking about enforcing Jewish observance on the non-religious population. Today, virtually all Jews give their sons “Brit Milah”, i.e. ritual circumcision even though there is no law saying one has to do this. Also, on the Yom Kippur (the annual Day of Atonement fast day) no one drives their cars, even though, again, there is no law to that effect. In fact, if laws were passed to mandate these things, it would encourage people to go out and violate them on purpose, just to make a point. The religious camp is aware of this and so is not interested in enforcing laws of this sort. Instead, what they want is to make the public realm in Israel more reflective of Jewish tradition. A good example was the recent homosexual parade in Jerusalem. A rare meeting of Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders made a joint statement saying that it is not wise to carry out such a parade in a holy city like Jerusalem, but the secular elite, through the Supreme Court, almost all of whose members are a part of this minority elite, forced the city to allow the parade, even though the political leaders INCLUDING the secular opposed it. No one, including the Haredim is advocating attacking homosexuals, they have gathering places just outside the Haredim neighborhoods, and usually there is a “live and let live” attitude, but having homosexual groups pushing their agendas on people who don’t accept it merely inflames public opinion on both sides. Other examples include avoiding advertising or other public billboards showing scantily clad women which religious people don’t want to be exposed to, avoiding egregious anti-Jewish content in the media (I realize censorship is a delicate issue, but again, the public airways belong to everyone so it is reasonable for the religious sector to have input regarding the content that is broadcast there). There is no broadcasting of radio or television on Yom Kippur, I think we could aspire to having this the situation on the Sabbath as well. There is a major discussion today about whether commercial activities should be allowed on the Sabbath and many non-religious people favor ending it because many workers are coerced into working 7 days a week and that it over-emphasizes commercial/materialist values to the detriment of society.
    Regarding education, none of the Orthodox/religious expect the non-religious school system to suddenly become religious and enforce Jewish observance on the children, but students coming out of the secular school system today are woefully ingnorant of Jewish and Zionist thinking and values, so they would favor giving more time to teaching these thins in a non-coercive manner. As a matter of fact, there is a network of secular schools called TALI which have, on their own, added time during the day in which Jewish tradition is taught. There is no reason why secular students should not know the basics of Judaism. As a matter of fact, I think all Jewish students, both religious and secular should also know the basics of Islam and should be taught Arabic, which is the main language of this part of the world. I believe this would, over time, help break down the barriers between the people and help convince the Arabs that Jews in Israel have no interest in disrupting their society, which is one of their biggest fears and something the militant Israeli secularists are doing, even if unwittingly.

    I hope this begins to clarify this very difficult issue.

  2. And what about 1/5th of Israel’s population, Israel’s Arabs? If there are just as many of them as Orthodox Jews, why shouldn’t their sensibilities be considered as well?

  3. Ya’akov,
    I’m glad to hear this. But that does not sound like what you proposed in your previous post. There is also the problem of the “slippery slope” particularly when law is based on precedent.

    My basic point is that as long as Israel continues to settle/colonize the West Bank with no end in sight, the Arabs will not find it acceptable no matter what the nature of the regime within the Green Line.

    And Teddy makes a good point. Arabs are forced to learn about Jewish/Israeli culture. Why shouldn’t secular Israelis be forced to learn more about Arab culture? This is even more pressing than learning about religious culture.

  4. Tom and Ya’kov,

    Building a culture that is inclusive of Israel’s Arabs is also critical to Israel’s security. That’s one of the things Avishai focuses on in The Hebrew Republic. In terms of the well-being of the vast majority of Israeli Jews, that is much more important than placating the haredim.

  5. Orthodox applications spin to the sublime and sincere and also to the fascist and most opportunist false rationalization.

    Its unfair to state that that is the fault of halacha.

    The confusion arises when the orthodox attitudes alternate between emphasis on Jewish living in the land, to protection of Jews living on the land, to cruelty in the effort to protect Jews living on the land.

    And, then not considering the range of options and the means to implement those options, in the kindest way possible.

    Then, in not considering and acting assertively for the kindest alternative, the orthodox appear (and often do) end up CHOOSING the cruel.

    Even the concept, “we don’t seek to affect much” ends up being false actually, as the efforts of the religious parties do result in a change of character of Israel as a whole.

    It turns out by my logic (thankfully not just mine), that the most lawful as in “equal due process under the law”, is also the most substantively in conformance with the applicable inspiration of Torah.

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