Answers for the Confused Israeli Soul

The roots of the settlers' propaganda success derive from the old-new cultural reality, the reality created in the earliest days of the state.

Ever since the prime minister announced his disengagement plan, the public debate about it has been very worrisome. From the left, a small group warns, logically, that the unilateral departure from Gaza will create a dangerous vacuum. A feeble silence of acceptance emanates from the center. And everyone is drowned out by the screams of "don't uproot the tree," of the settlers and their powerful hard-core supporters in the Likud Central Committee.

The power of that shouting is not merely the result of the ideological feebleness of the center and left. The remnants of the "peace camp" may mumble slogans about the occupation and its price, and the leadership of the left has indeed been smashed - but that is not the entire picture.

The roots of the settlers' propaganda success derive from the old-new cultural reality, the reality created in the earliest days of the state. Then, when popular songs rhapsodized about the shepherd's flute in the desert and the politicians delivered speeches with trembling voice about the people that reconquered its land in the spirit of Joshua Bin Nun, the definition of the relationship between the people and its land was exclusively biblical. Thousands of years of Jewish thought and creativity, both religious and secular, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Diaspora, was erased.

Everyone prefered Samson the violent hero over Spinoza's thoughtfulness, little arrogant David with his slingshot over David the singer with a harp or the Gemara's David, who contemplated the issue of leadership; let alone Reb Yehoshua who replaced Raban Gamliel, after he was deposed because he was disconnected from the public.

In the early years of the state, the connection to the Bible was direct. God, who was dropped out of that connection, remained as "the Rock of Israel" in the Declaration of Independence, and was quickly forgotten. In his new book, "God Returned," Avraham Burg describes how that tepid approach created an enormous cultural lacuna in Israeli society, both religious and secular. The results of that vacuum are now being plucked by the settlers like ripe fruit. They offer to the hungry soul of Israelis who are desperate for spirituality of some kind, an instant connection not only to the Bible and its heroes but to a level above those heroes, the highest level of all, to the God of Israel and the Divine commandment.

In a confused, post-modern, deconstructed world, the settlement movement spokesmen offer the ultimate temptation to the confused Israeli looking for an answer to the question of why there's no end to the cycle of violence and what, if any, should be the price of the peace (or at least the quiet). On Rosh Hashanah eve, for example, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner published a long poem directed to "Master Ahmed, Master Mustafa," in issue 478 of B'Ahava UBemuna (With love and faith), read by some 80,000 subscribers, including many of his devoted disciples.

"This land is mine," wrote the rabbi, who usually portrays himself as liberal and broad-minded, "Sarah our Mother said, `Tell that truth and its son, because it will not inherit that truth with my son Isaac.' And the poem goes on, "this is mine, I do not intend to give you a millimeter of it ... nor do I have permission to give you land." He doesn't have permission, of course, because he has a Divine Order, more powerful than any other commitment.

During the same week, with regard to the same Torah portion (Ha'azinu - Listen), Hagai Segal, writing in Basheva (which correctly is described as the most widely circulated publication for the religious public in Israel, distributed to hundreds of thousands of households), also mentioned the sacrifice of Isaac, "one of the focal points of the Rosh Hashanah prayers."

Abraham's moral quandary, according to Segal, continues to this day, and rightfully so. But according to Segal, since it is clear that "every mortal, even the chairman of the international association of heretics, would agree to sacrifice their son if delivered a personal instruction by the master of the universe," the question becomes why Abraham was made into a paradigm. Segal's answer: The minute Avraham accepts the order, "he thereby announces his readiness to obey decisions that are too sublime for him to understand."

Segal then draws a direct line to our era: "One should not automatically obey the feeling of compassion," he says. "Abraham's descendants were instructed not to always rely on their ability to distinguish between good and bad, light and dark ... not even the judgment of the people who formulated the Geneva initiative and attorney generals."

Here's what Aviner, Segal and their ilk are offering Israeli society: Turn your backs on any other interpretation of the biblical text (including sharp criticism by the sages of Abraham, such as the thundering silence of the Rab"sha about the sacrifice of Isaac), in favor of messianic mediation between a jealous, narrow-minded God and a feeble-minded nation of gullible laymen, a conception of Judaism as an isolationist, dangerous form of thought, and finally, total eradication of any of the universal foundations on which Zionism founded the state of the Jewish people.

That - and not the obsequious "we have love and it will win" campaign - is the real discourse to which Israelis must now respond. If they don't hurry, it will win, with or without love.