Israel Needs an Upheaval

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Eli Yishai, left, and Aryeh Deri.Credit: Michal Fattal

The heart aches at the sight of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef being tossed about by his “handlers.” The decline in his status reveals what should have been known long ago – that those leaders who speak in his name cynically exploit the public’s admiration of him. But just as the exposure of the way Avigdor Lieberman’s party does business doesn’t assure that it won’t continue unless there is a major upheaval, so exposing the system of using rabbis and misusing their authority doesn’t assure the end of extremism. On the contrary.

This pattern is not exclusive to Shas. Yinon Magal revealed that he had smoked drugs until recently, though from his perspective “What happens in Goa, stays in Goa.” That didn’t stop him from joining Habayit Hayehudi and inciting against Tel Aviv – which is consistently portrayed as drugged, hedonistic, empty, and apologetic – and supporting the holiness of the Jewish Sabbath whose Torah portion he doesn’t even know. So it is with the secular Ronen Shoval, who promises to hoist the Israeli flag on the Temple Mount on behalf of Habayit Hayehudi, which would spark a religious war that will turn the whole region into a slaughterhouse that sanctifies its victims.

That’s the whole story: Even when Rabbi Dov Lior is seen as moving away from Habayit Hayehudi toward the Haredi-nationalist Eli Yishai, not only are his MKs, led by Uri Ariel, remaining there, but the messianic and racist spirit is being strengthened among the Jewish brothers, and the secularization this racist messianism is undergoing is turning it into a hard drug that threatens to become widespread.

Eli Yishai, who is drifting toward the far right, has revealed with his actions truths that the pseudo-professionals tried to hide: That the winds of racist nationalism and messianism have immense power in the Haredi world as well. They have such power, it seems perfectly natural to hook up with Lior, of “The King’s Torah, Laws of Killing Non-Jews” fame, who considers Baruch Goldstein, perpetrator of the massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.

Why shouldn’t it seem natural, when Ovadia Yosef’s son, together with Lior, wrote approbations for “The King’s Torah” and both were questioned by police in its failed investigation? These winds have such power that with the help of racist, messianic Haredim, Yishai’s strength in the polls – running alone and with no real budget – is equal to that of all of Shas.

This latest discrediting of Aryeh Deri is related to the Lieberman affair; that’s the price you pay for not banning from politics those who incite and those convicted in court – whether of bribery or of hitting a child. Unfortunately, both Yosef, in the video, and Yishai were right. Yosef indeed preferred Yishai, who listened to him, over Deri, who used him. But while Yishai may be honest and fair, his honesty has merely swept him to the extreme right, since he accurately expresses the nationalist-racist-mystical-messianic world view that dominates Shas’ educational and rabbinic environment.

Even in the non-religious world the shattering of authority does not guarantee change. When some of those who personally dislike Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu think the solution lies in the antidemocratic party triangle of Lieberman-Moshe Kahlon-Yair Lapid – who have each assured themselves numerous terms of the Deri-like arbitrary appointment and removal of people – they are simply perpetuating Netanyahu’s non-democracy.

Faced with increasing extremism, racism, forced Judaization, the arrogant “Israeli Shabbat” project, radical capitalism, the misuse of rabbis, leaders who high-handedly control their parties, policies that promote social gaps and the trampling of democracy, Israel doesn’t need some minor adjustments – Israel needs an upheaval. And an upheaval must have an historic, democratic and equitable foundation. Therefore, there is no current alternative to Isaac Herzog and those to his left, including the Arab parties that are subject to the exclusionary racism that is the root of all the evil.

Even those who want to heal religious Jewry have no other choice. Continuing to bounce between the “heirs” of Rabbi Yosef – Naftali Bennett-Ronen Shoval-Yinon Magal – and Lior’s people will lead to Israeli sinking into a morass of messianism, racism, personality cults, greed, and radical capitalism – everything that contravenes the morality of the prophets. Israel, those who live here, and Judaism need an upheaval. Without it there won’t even be a battle for rabbis’ memories.