A law unto themselves
The Yesha rabbis must be stripped of the status that has been built up over more than three decades, and the offenses of Israelis living in the occupied territories must be dealt with in the same way as offenses committed by people who do not have a rabbinic shield, be they wild weeds or domesticated plants.
"We're talking about a group of kids who are on the margins of the margins and don't listen to us," was how one of the rabbis in the West Bank described those who have been dubbed, rather romantically, the "hill youth." "Wild weeds" was another of the descriptions lavished on these young people by a representative of the Yesha Council of settlements. The idea, apparently, is that the education of these people, according to the principles and concepts that the rabbis and the leaders of the settlers in the occupied territories sought to inculcate in their children, was unsuccessful. However, the question is not only how far we should see the hooligan youths as exceptions - as distinct from the young people who beat up Arabs in the Hebron market - but how much self-righteousness can be taken from a spiritual-political leadership that differs from the hooligans only in their style of action.
It's worth examining how these rabbis and functionaries obtained a status so powerful that it enables them to act as a buffer between the law and its violators. After all, community leaders, even if they have the title of rabbi, are not authorized to act as policemen or judges and have no right to invoke a private law book or to decide on the gravity of particular offenses. Community leaders, particularly in an isolationist community, derive their power solely from their status within the community, and there is no reason to grant them mega-status in the eyes of those who are not members of that community. Outside their community, their authority cannot exceed that of any lobbyist trying to promote the community among those who are empowered by the law.
The status of "Jewish dignitaries," who are negotiated with and who decide on security arrangements and sign agreements, has created the illusion that there really is a Jewish administration with authority that has been established for the convenience of the legal government in Israel. That illusion has already fomented the shameful argument in which the defense minister has to prove in no uncertain terms that there was no agreement between him and the Yesha Council concerning the status of the Havat Gilad outpost.
It follows that the term "Yesha leaders" or "Yesha rabbis," referring to a collective leadership that is responsible for the actions of its public, is misleading. The Yesha Council was not created out of thin air and is not a body that recruited its voters; rather, it was elected by settlers. Therefore it is not the council that is responsible or not responsible for their actions; rather, those who voted for the council are responsible for its behavior. Nor are they the only ones responsible.
The thin line between the authority to promote the cause of ideological settlers by means of a council the settlers elected, and the assumption of sweeping authority to manage all the affairs of all the settlers has been drawn by Israeli governments since 1967. It was they who vested the Yesha Council - or the amorphous body known as "Yesha rabbis" - with the exclusive power to make use of a direct phone line to the Prime Minister's Office and to the bureaus of cabinet ministers. That authority expanded to encompass authority to establish an autonomous army and create a quasi-umbrella commission for construction and building in the territories. The result is the emergence of a highly dangerous situation in which monopolies that must remain in the hands of the state, if it wishes to continue to exist as a governing body, have passed into the hands of pressure groups that have turned the Bible into the legal code.
What needs to be done, then, is to restore the members of the Yesha Council to their original status: in charge only of yeshivas, synagogues and religious schools; managing the budgets of the councils properly and attending to the other affairs that community leaders and those with statutory responsibility are empowered to deal with. The Yesha rabbis must be stripped of the status that has been built up over more than three decades, and the offenses of Israelis living in the occupied territories must be dealt with in the same way as offenses committed by people who do not have a rabbinic shield, be they wild weeds or domesticated plants.