Beware of Leftist McCarthyism

It would behoove us to abide by certain accepted rules of the game to govern Israel's ideological clash.

A new, dark wave of leftist McCarthyism has been sweeping the public dialogue in recent weeks. In the spirit of the late senator Joseph McCarthy, there is Gideon Levy's "blacklist" of those disqualified from serving on the High Court of Justice, people whose only sin is that they chose to live across the Green Line (Lawbreakers in the Supreme Court, June 25). There is an initiative by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar to upgrade the status of a nonprofit organization headed by a nationalist-religious rabbi, Mordechai Elon, a move that has drawn fire from other nonprofit groups. And there is the statement by the Israel Defense Forces' chief rabbi, Avichai Rontzki, who said that women should not serve in the army, a comment that ignited demands for his resignation even though no one denies Rontzki's help to women who do choose to serve.

I do not share the worldviews expressed by rabbis Elon and Rontzki, nor does my stance on settlement in the territories qualify me as a candidate for membership in the Yesha Council. Nonetheless, it would behoove us to abide by certain accepted rules of the game to govern Israel's ideological clash. Let us examine these latest attacks one by one.

On the matter of judges, if we are to accept the claim that they should be barred from sitting on the bench because they live in an area considered by international law to be occupied territory, we should remember that the 1967 lines are essentially the 1949 armistice lines, which received political, though not legal, recognition. From this starting point, all territory conquered by Israel in the War of Independence beyond the partition plan's lines is classified as occupied land. According to this logic, an Israeli who settled in Nahariya or Be'er Sheva after the War of Independence should be disqualified from sitting in the High Court of Justice. In other words, Israelis who do not wish to see the state descend into oblivion would be well-advised to refrain from relying on "international law" as the ultimate moral code.

As for the education system, whoever bars the Mibereshit nonprofit group due to its "controversial" nature will also have to ban other programs that have been offered to schools by organizations such as the Reform movement, the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace, the Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace in Memory of Emil Greenzweig (the slain Peace Now activist), and a long list of liberal organizations whose views also illicit disagreement.

It would undoubtedly be preferable if the education system could subsidize school programs on its own, but the current shortage of manpower and funds leaves it no choice but to lean on nonprofit groups. The standard for judging these groups should be whether they work to advance worthy educational values that do not serve as a cover for proselytizing political or ideological views. For example, nurturing the bonds to Jewish tradition, the land and the state are laudable values, just like nurturing the commitment to humanistic and democratic norms.

As for Rontzki, it would be interesting to gauge the reaction if the chief of staff's adviser on women's affairs had said that, in her mind, women should not be drafted into the IDF for feminist reasons. It is reasonable to assume that there would be criticism about a conflict of interest between her job and statements (and Rontzki is indeed guilty of such a conflict), but the tone and volume of that criticism would certainly be different.

Finally, beyond the essential injustice inherent to McCarthyist persecution of political adversaries, we have observed a serious tactical error. Coupling political disagreement with a witch hunt creates a sense in the national-religious camp that they are not only undertaking a struggle for Jewish settlement, but are fighting for their very status as a legitimate part of the Israeli elite. Such a sentiment will only embitter the struggle and prevent those who were ready to accept a democratically-obtained decision against them from demonstrating this willingness on judgment day.