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 â€œThe Hebrew Republicâ€. He advocates Israel abandoning its â€œJewish identityâ€ which he believes the Arabs object to (and which he himself is uncomfortable with) and it should adopt a â€œsecular, globalized Hebrewâ€ identity which the Israeli Arabs would somehow adopt.
Mr Leinerâ€™s comment above about the Arabs being generally conservative and religious leads me to point out that such a â€œHebrew Republicâ€ would be MORE objectionable to the Arabs than the current â€œJewish stateâ€. 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 Avishaiâ€™s â€œHebrew Republicâ€ is nothing more than a modern Crusader state bent on changing (even unconsciously) the Arab/Muslimâ€™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 â€œterritorialâ€ 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 Mitchellâ€™s response:
Mr. Yaâ€™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 Islamismâ€”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 lawâ€”sharia yehudiya in Arabicâ€”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 Smithâ€™s Rhodesia from 1965 to 1980 or South Africa after 1985 or Kaddafiâ€™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 Libyaâ€™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. Israelâ€™s most deadly threat may not be an external one, but rather an internal one. David Ben-Gurion, Israelâ€™s first prime minister, recognized this when he refused to accept either the Communists or Menahem Beginâ€™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.