Ben-Gurion Didn't 'Finish the Job,' but Not in the Way That Smotrich Thinks

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David Ben-Gurion in his office in Jerusalem.

Sometimes, even a con man lets a truth slip out. That happened to MK Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset podium not long ago. After discarding all the racist litter in his remarks, what’s left is a small kernel containing a big truth. “Ben-Gurion,” he said of Israel’s first prime minister, “didn’t finish the job in 1948.” That’s true. It’s absolutely true.

Admittedly, in the loathsome realm which is the subject of Smotrich’s dreams, Ben-Gurion did far too much. If only he hadn’t done anything at all. But in the work of establishing the state and steering its future, he definitely didn’t finish the job. In fact, he screwed up big-time.

At one decisive moment, while forming his first government, in his arrogance, exaggerated self-confidence, astonishing historical blindness, petty political considerations and desire to keep the Mapam party out of any positions of power, he decided to bring the United Religious Front into his government – an umbrella party uniting all the religious parties. In other words, Ben-Gurion deliberately chose to say “no” to separation of religion and state.

He thereby indeed failed to “finish the job,” and wound up producing a flawed, confused product. It’s a half-democratic, half-theocratic hybrid that suffers from an innate tendency toward bipolar disorder.

The first of our ongoing tragedies arrived swiftly: Contrary to the explicit promise in the Declaration of Independence, no constitution was adopted. The religious parties opposed it, so the constitution was buried. And that was just the beginning.

Later, the religious got their own school system, a voracious, powerful rabbinate, a system of religious courts whose judges are devoid of any loyalty to the country’s laws, generations of state-funded idlers in yeshivas, and, worst of all, total control over the keys to joining the Jewish people in Israel. And thus, democracy gradually faded, while theocracy ballooned.

And then came the great defeat of Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. The demon of religion slipped from its restraints and lost any semblance of sanity. The wisdom of 2,000 years was cast aside in the stones of the Western Wall, and generations of experience were thrown into martyrs’ graves and rotted there. Boys with suppressed hormones began letting their urges loose to hasten the Messiah’s arrival and abuse helpless people. A gang of rabbis drunk on power supported and encouraged them.

And thus was born the Gush Emunim settlement movement. Thus was born the Jewish Underground. Thus was born ultra-Orthodox religious Zionism. Thus was born the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. That was a “halakhic” murder. A murder to sanctify God’s name. An almost religious murder.

Even with all due respect for the enormous skill at incitement demonstrated by the right, by Benjamin Netanyahu and by all the rabble, assassin Yigal Amir wasn’t their foot soldier. It wasn’t them he obeyed, but only the rabbis and the “din rodef” they issued – a ruling under Jewish law that permits killing someone who is coming to kill another.

Amir’s followers in the Knesset are indeed a disgrace. Yet the real danger lies not in the people who follow his lead, but in the people who steered him down his path – his teachers, his “spiritual” shepherds, the evil rabbis of the settlement movement.

And these, shamefully, are still free as a bird. Not a hair on their heads has been harmed. Unhindered, they continue to foul their mouths with racist abominations, disseminate their poison, abuse the remnants of sanity and enlightenment and raise more and more pious, benighted racists devoured by hatred.

Had Ben-Gurion “finished the job in 1948” and properly separated religion from state, Israel would be a different place today. It would be a country with some chance at normalcy. It would be a democracy with no religious parties, public transportation seven days a week, and in which Smotrich, MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, the venomous rabbis and all their ilk would either be outlawed or behind bars.

But Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job, and that is how we got to where we are today. Next time, let’s be more careful.

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