The Deep Abyss of Israeli Discourse

The taunting and jeering aimed at army generals, the flood of curses and spitting with which IDF soldiers serving in Gush Katif are assailed (especially the religious ones), or the pulsa denura voodoo ceremony, should be of major concern and worry to anyone who cherishes the Torah of Israel and its values.

Michael Melchior
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Michael Melchior

The last horror show in Gush Katif featured several thugs (it may be assumed that they were, once again, uninvited guests there) welcoming the chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces in black plastic bags, the sort used for removal of corpses. This act reflects another stage in the transformation of the legitimate protest of the residents into a blatantly unlawful act, with a black body bag hovering above it.

The incident, like the taunting and jeering aimed at army generals, the flood of curses and spitting with which IDF soldiers serving in Gush Katif are assailed (especially the religious ones), or the pulsa denura voodoo ceremony, should be of major concern and worry to anyone who cherishes the Torah of Israel and its values. Not because of any influence these punks might have, but due to the granting of legitimacy to and encouragement of unacceptable and wicked ideas, and the coarseness, gutter language and the revolt against basic values, which slowly but surely are seeping deep into the core of the religious-Zionist public. Demonization of the process is turning into dehumanization of those leading it.

Astonishingly, this burning hatred, which is enflamed by vicious slander and "Jewish legal rulings," is not being met by the vocal opposition of the spiritual leadership of religious Zionism, even from its moderate wings. All of this exacerbates the desecration of God's name and forges an appalling image of the Torah of Israel, its values and its concerns. As a sort of echo, we hear the gutter language of a high-ranking police commander, replete with curses and "praises"; even animals deserve better.

These acts point up the deep abyss into which Israeli discourse has deteriorated. In light of such a painful and sensitive phenomenon, which entails the evacuation of children from their homes, destruction of synagogues and educational institutions and the exhuming of graves - everyone should have been speaking a different language: a Jewish, humane, ethical, sensitive language. This has not been the case.

Part of the blame may be placed at the doorstep of the leaders of religious Judaism. For many years, many of them showed a lack of sensitivity and indifference to the suffering of the Palestinian "other," to the outcry of children banished from their homes, to the cries for help from wretched workers without enough food to eat. In their messianic zeal, they forgot that there is no partial morality. He who curses a Palestinian will not hesitate to curse a soldier doing his duty tomorrow. He who uproots the olive groves of a Palestinian farmer will not be deterred at puncturing the tires of an Israeli general's vehicle.

All of this has led to a situation in which the religion and the Torah of the Jewish people is unjustly made into a synonym for moral indifference, shutting one's eyes to human and social injustices, and a catalyst to acts of vandalism and turning over vegetable stalls in the market.

On the other hand, leaders of the secular population cannot wash their hands of blame. As opposed to the founding generation, which was rooted - willingly or not - in the humane values of Jewish tradition, a generation of proud Israelis, ignorant Hebrew sabras, has been raised here, many of whom are disengaged from the Jewish heritage. Its language is not its language; its values are not its values. In place of speaking a Jewish language, members of this generation choose to speak a meager, foreign language that may be saturated with universal democratic "sign language," but is disconnected from the heritage of the past.

This has generated a situation in which the religious Jews did not have to go to any great effort to take possession of the basic Judaism values, with all their rich philosophical and cultural capacities. They did not need it. These gifts fell into (or more precisely, remained in) their hands like ripe fruits, after the secular public cast them away, happy to be rid of the cumbersome baggage. It was not the mouse that stole it; it was the hole. The big, black hole that was left by the secular public when it forsook its engagement in Jewish heritage was quickly filled with sand and dirt from the house of study of the extremists and fanatics, who until that time were situated at the outermost margins of religious Zionism.

As painful and tortuous as it may be, the disengagement from the Gaza Strip must be accompanied by a parallel connection. On the one hand, a renewed connection of religious Zionism to the entire people, together with its social problems and educational and cultural challenges. On the other hand, a renewed connection of the Israeli public to its sources, heritage and past.

The fault line of the disengagement could create a rare window of opportunity for casting off the moral contagion of ruling over 3.5 million Palestinians without rights, a contagion that spreads through the body of the ruler and has metastasized throughout more and more organs of its body.

The identification of messianic nationalism, religious fundamentalism and incendiary zealotry with Judaism and with observant Jews is disastrous. No less dangerous to the future of Israeli society is the identification of extreme liberalism, which has flung off all restraints, with a secularism devoid of all roots that consciously cuts itself off from any connection to past heritage.

Only a reconnection to the hyphenation that links Jewish and democratic values, Zionism and religion, the teachings of Judaism and the teachings of ethics, will offer a chance for the continued existence of the State of Israel as a state that fulfills the dreams imbued in it when it came into being. Only the reconnection of past heritage to present challenges will ensure future hopes.

Rabbi Melchior is the Deputy Minister for Israeli Society and the World Jewish Community.



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