In a paper delivered at a Brandeis University symposium on February 24, 2008, Israeli author Saul Singer stressed that the mission of the Jewish people was not mere survival but that of a higher, civilizing purpose. In a world which “lacks physical adversity and faces instead a crisis of meaning and community in the face of frayed social bonds,” a world, morever, in which Jews no longer malinger in a state of exile and dispersion, the Jewish mission becomes one of establishing vigor and coherence in the midst of anomie and torpor.
There may be much truth in Singer’s position; however, the world is not quite as roseate as he portrays it. For one thing, “physical adversity” is everwhere around us. For another, Jews in the Diaspora, irrespective of the comfort zone many inhabit, are not really living in the post-exilic world of their fantasies (and Singer’s assumptions), since a Hydra-headed antisemitism is never far from arising. This is especially so in Europe whose ethnic composition in the coming years, Walter Laqueur soberly points out in The Last Days of Europe, could “lead to a new exodus of Jews from Europe. But there are not that many left, and by taking a low profile they might be able to survive in new conditions.”
Laqueur is obviously referring to the burgeoning Muslim population and its multicultural enablers. The key term is the troubling modal, “might,” for the history of Europe is not encouraging. Under the botox, the bone structure remains the same. This is a fact that should be acknowledged and its implications absorbed. Nor, in reality, does the history of the rest of the world, whether in the Christian (or post-Christian) West beyond Europe or the Muslim East, give us much in the way of assurance.
Despite the heralded benefits of assimilation, the Diaspora is by no means secure but is intimately involved in the fate of Israel. And Israel is under sustained attack on the ground, in the media, the universities, the Unions, the Churches, the NGOs, the United Nations and the political community. As Saul Bellow writes in To Jerusalem and Back, “Israel must reckon with the world, and with the madness of the world, to a most grotesque extent.”
But Israel is also under sustained attack from within its own borders. One can only gaze in utter stupefaction at the perpetual lack of cohesion among its citizens, its endless intestine strife at every level of civic and institutional life, the gargantuan ineptitude and systemic corruption of many of its political leaders, its unwillingness to learn from history, and that portion of the country which adheres to the left-wing, secular-orthodox faith mirroring that of the sclerotic religious parties of the far Right, but which is potentially far more harmful in the long term. Here the Koran seems to have got it right. Surah 59:14 tells us something very true about us Jews: “There is much hostility between them: their hearts are divided…”
Most troubling of all, we can sense a deep schism in the making, a profoundly destabilizing scenario that may yet come into play, improbable as it may seem. I refer to a movement simmering within Israel, in reaction to what it perceives as the left-wing sellout of the country and recent administrations collectively taking leave of their senses. This movement resembles a re-enactment of the history of the Two Kingdoms of biblical times when, after the death of King Solomon, the Israelite communality broke apart into the two warring monarchies of Israel and Judah. Rehoboam and Jeroboam are once again rattling their sabres. The internal threat of “two kingdoms” may eventually prove as great a problem for Israel’s viability as the endlessly debated “two state” conundrum.
If these issues are not settled, there is a distressing possibility of an upsurge of fratricidal violence in the country. In an escalating game of tit for tat, rabbi-vetted settlers attack IDF bases in Samaria and left-wing activists vandalize settlement homes. The deteriorating situation, however, must be placed in the framework of the failed policies of the Labour and Kadima governments, the suppression of historical truth, the folly of unilateral disengagement and the gradual drift toward capitulation to Arab and Palestinian demands, for which the Left itself is largely responsible. It is thus no passing aberration that there appears to be a growing desire among those who regard themselves as patriots to secede from Israel and create a new state in the ancient homeland of Judea and Samaria, i.e., the West Bank.
Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe, founder of SOS-Israel (Ha’Matteh L’Hatzolat Ha’am V’Ha’Aretz), has warned: “If the government withdraws from Judea and Samaria, then we will start a new state.” SOS has now embarked on a procedure to create a new flag and national anthem for the virtual state. The movement has been backed by Rabbi Dov Lior, head of the Rabbinical Council of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, who has begun to proselytize the army. The date sometimes mentioned for the prospective new state is 2020.
Meanwhile, even more trouble is brewing over the Israeli High Court’s recent decision to provide funding not only for the Orthodox but for the Reform and Conservative conversion programs as well, regarded by Orthodox Judaism as its special halachic prerogative. Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, with the support of his Ashkenazi opposite number, Rabbi Yona Metzger, warned of a widening rift in the Jewish Nation.
The possibility of this “rift” has been exacerbated in the wake of the May 18 meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama, resulting in the concessionary move to dismantle settler outposts in Judea and Samaria. This prompted a rabbinical call to the army to disobey orders, which in turn led Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines to propose launching a criminal investigation against the coalition of dissident rabbis, which includes such powerful voices as Beit El Chief Rabbi Zalman Melamed, Yitzhar Rabbi David Dudkevitch, Rabbi Ya’acov Yosef who is affiliated with the Shas party and Mercaz Harav Yeshiva Rabbi Haim Steiner. Since many IDF officers and soldiers live in the setlements and outposts and are religious Zionists by conviction, the spectre of internecine dissent cannot be dismissed as a mere policy disagreement.
It is far more than that, presaging further disunity, a weakening of civic fibre and, as we have seen, the impulse toward creating a new and independent state. Indeed, this is a two state road map with a vengeance and the most mordant of ironies. Speaking before a Tel Aviv audience on January 28, 2009, Aviva Schalit, the mother of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, faulted the government for abandoning her son, stating that the unwritten covenant between Israel’s leaders and its soldier-citizens “has cracked.” In the light of Jewish history, it would be folly to laugh off the separation scheme as merely another crank project of another splinter group that is bound to come to nothing. It has happened before and may happen again among so fissiparous a people.
Moreover, should any Israeli administration move to cede the Golan Heights to Syria, as bruited by former Prime Minister Olmert, uprooting 20,000 Jewish inhabitants, destroying local industries, jeopardizing its northern aquifer and rendering the country vulnerable to a collective Syrian, Iranian and Hizbullah military presence on the heights, the secession movement would receive even further impetus.
Israel seems to be unravelling before our eyes, its esprit de corps visibly disintegrating, a country eating its seed corn as the time of famine approaches. Much of the leftist governing elite of the past years was composed of people who were simply oblivious to the menace lurking in the Palestinian playbook or who claimed to be doing good but were interested only in doing well. A significant minority of its youth are intent on avoiding military service. Its intellectual Branja (the far-Left intellectual “guild”) questions the validity of their own state and provides succour to the enemy, as does an alarmingly seditious professoriate. An upscale latte society centered in Tel Aviv wishes only to be Europeans or secular globalists. And the post-Zionist political wing long ago slipped into a cataleptic stupor, routinely surrendering most of its bargaining chips at every peace conference it attended while for many years refusing to take the necessary measures to defend the people it represented.
The numberless peace movements and initiatives willing to surrender chunks of territory for nothing concrete in return are only a way of trying to metabolize chaos internally rather than facing up to it, isolating it and keeping it at bay through determined efforts at resistance. And though Israel may be chockablock with peace movements and peace parties, all singing Kumbaya together as the pressure rises, the rockets fall and the armies mass, nothing even remotely similar is to be found in any Arab country.
The peace-mongers might do well to take the time to read Jean-François Revel’s How Democracies Perish. In the minds of totalitarians, he writes, the aim of dialogue and negotiation “has never been to reach a lasting agreement but to weaken their adversary and prepare [him] to make further concessions while fostering his illusion that the new concessions…will bring stability, security, tranquility.”
But whether in blindness, fatigue or weakness, Israel has for far too long chosen to ignore so perennial and timely a warning. It is as if Israel had become its own composite lost tribe, having forgotten the lesson of Jeremiah 6:13-14: “From the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely…saying peace, peace; when there is no peace.” One can only hope this small, beleaguered, internally-riven state manages to resolve its internal divisions before it is too late. And, Saul Singer notwithstanding, so must the Diaspora, for if Israel goes, its own existence will become increasingly vulnerable to anti-Jewish malevolence. The fissures and schisms in the Diaspora mirror those to be found in the Yishuv and, in their own way, are also portentous of a grim forthcoming. But the bottom line is that the Diaspora needs a strong and reasonably unified Jewish state if it is to endure; the spectre of two kingdoms is a threat to its own perseverance.
Perhaps its diplomatic losses and military embarrassments, as in the 2006 Lebanon war, will serve to awaken the Jewish state to the reality of the situation in which it finds itself, so that the famous Talmudic phrase may once again resonate: Gam zu latovah, “This too is for the good.” Though more likely, the great sages of the Talmud, the Tannaim, would be stroking their beards trying to understand the nature and direction of contemporary Israeli policy. Israel today, I’m afraid, needs the entire complement of lamed vovniks, the thirty six just men on whom, according to Jewish legend, the world’s existence depends, in order merely to secure its own.
The results of the recent election, which returned Benjamin Netanyahu and a Likud government to power, may, hopefully, prove to be a step in the right direction, despite the pressure of the current American administration and European governments on Israel to make ever more unproductive concessions to world opinion and a crafty “negotiating partner.” An encouraging sign indicating that Netanyahu may have the “right stuff” is that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has balked at returning to the negotiating table, hoping that pressure from the Obama administration “will gradually force Netanyahu out of office” (The Washington Post, May 29, 2009). He has also rejected the conditions proposed by Netanyahu for the creation of a Palestinian state. A Prime Minister who rattles the Palestinians rather than one who caters to them and to their unrealistic demands is, at the very least, a favourable augury.