We Must Stop Israel From Becoming a Theocracy

Should Israel be a democracy in which a minority enjoys equal rights, or an ethnocracy for Jews who believe that their right to the Land of Israel is greater than any other human right?

Those of us who believe that the internal debate in the Jewish community in Israel is still focused on defense needs or the number of settlements that should be evacuated, were proven wrong by the followers of Kiryat Arba's Rabbi Dov Lior. The real controversy focuses on the image of Israeli society and the nature of the country's governance. The conflict with the Palestinians is only a platform for shaping positions on this issue.

Whose power is greater? The rule of law set by institutions with democratically elected officials, or the rule of rabbis who make decisions in accordance with the Torah? Former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, blessed be his memory, expressed the position of those who follow Jewish law thus: "There is no national law that can alter our position and our rights as they are laid out by the Torah."

Should Israel be a democracy in which a minority enjoys equal rights, or an ethnocracy for Jews who believe that their right to the Land of Israel is greater than any other human right? Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook said: "This land is ours, there are no Arab lands here ... within its entire biblical borders it belongs to Israeli rule ... this is the decision of divine politics, which no earthly politics can overcome."

During deliberations on a petition to the High Court of Justice against the establishment of Elon Moreh in 1979, Menachem Felix, one of the leaders of Gush Emunim, argued that the significance of the settlement enterprise is "And ye shall drive out the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein." At the time people's eyes had not been opened to realize that this expression hid inside it a different worldview from the secular Zionism of Chaim Weizmann and Ze'ev Jabotinsky. From the worldview expressed by Felix it emerged, inter alia, that the law for Jews in the Land of Israel is different from the law for the Arabs.

That year, Yitzhak Rabin said: "In Gush Emunim I saw a most terrible phenomenon, a cancer in the body of Israeli democracy." His words fell on deaf ears.

On the eve of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, Hillel Weiss reiterated the messianic outlook of Gush Emunim: "The source of authority in the Jewish State ... is not the Knesset, or the rule of law and not the government of Israel, but eternal Israel [God]. So long as the Knesset and its institutions represent the entity of eternal Israel [God], they are legitimate. If they do not represent it, they are illegitimate."

Not all settlers supported Weiss and his views. Ze'ev Hever, the bulldozer of national-religious settlement, said that "you reach the conclusion that under very difficult circumstances you must withdraw ... but without any questioning of the right [to the land]." Hever, with the Yesha Council, contributed to the implementation of the disengagement without serious domestic strife, but paid a personal price and was kicked out of the fold.

A few years after the disengagement, in 2008, one of the heads of the faction, Hanan Porat, said that Zionism is nothing but "the establishment of a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, restoring the divine spirit to Zion, having a kingdom of the house of David, and building the Temple." But the Jewish community in Israel opted to watch reality shows, like "Big Brother." The public saved its strength for fights on Facebook and protests over the price of cottage cheese.

It is worthwhile to remind ourselves of the philosophy of Theodor Herzl, who had something to say also on this. In his book Der Judenstaat, Herzl wrote: "Will we have a theocracy? No!... We will not allow the theocratic tendencies of our religious leadership to raise their head. We will know how to keep them in the synagogues ... they will be very well-respected ... but they should not interfere in matters of state ... lest they bring upon themselves difficulties from within and from without."

If we do not appreciate and implement what Herzl said, the rioters in Jerusalem will not stop at the Supreme Court. They will prefer to bring us all to Masada once more.