Only Religious Nationalism Can Prop Up Israel's Colonial Principle

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An Israeli flag hangs on the wall of a building that was taken over by Israeli settlers after Palestinian families were evicted in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan.
An Israeli flag hangs on the wall of a building that was taken over by Israeli settlers after Palestinian families were evicted in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan.Credit: AP

Once upon a time in 1997, the censor deleted from briefings by IDF officers in Lebanon all sorts of grumbling to military correspondents about the failures that led in the end to withdrawal. For example, during the war between our army and 300 Hezbollah partisans, soldiers at outposts “in the field” had a habit of ordering pizza via cellphone from a food truck in Kiryat Shmona, which would deliver it to the border. Soldiers selflessly braved the threatening darkness to collect the cartons of pizza for their buddies back at the post. During the day, reservists called their portfolio managers to put orders in to buy and sell stocks. This is no way to run an empire!

For a country to truly devastate its environs with consistency, it needs drones that kill indiscriminately, without feelings of remorse, and a Spartanism that only nationalist religion can provide – from Gush Emunim through the hesder yeshiva fighters who leapt into the fire in the Lebanon War when others preferred living a little longer, to the battalion commander in Operation Protective Edge who gave battle orders to his soldiers in the name of G-d. Yair Lapid, Ofer Shelah and their militaristic draft of the haredim are lagging behind like a parody.

And the truth? Simply to write against the religious, and shy away from analyzing the deep structure of the ruling ideology. Ideology is a sublime object. It is holy, even if we don’t follow its orders. Therefore, you won’t find any irony in Yesh Atid about the military record of its leader, who is eager to incite and to draft; nor will many Likud members be shocked at the prospect of a religious state, despite their leader’s taste for shrimp. Even if some of them enjoy weekend travels in Tuscany, or to Mt. Hermon, the future is promising: We will all be combat soldiers, we will keep kosher and observe Shabbat, and we will marry in the name of family sanctity. Conservatism is Israeli society’s core characteristic. The religious nationalists are its unequivocal voice, and its comfortably representative image.

It wasn’t any kind of feminism that brought Yinon Magal down, but rather “family values,” which are sanctified by religious nationalists like challah wrapped in silk. Here too they are proud of their conservatism while others stutter, but the Israeli family and its high birthrate, even among the middle class, is a central ideological institution. Once again, religious nationalists are the leaders in exalting its status.

To understand just how conservative our literature and arts are, not to mention our theater, it’s worth taking a look at “the national religious hardcore,” of all places. For example, the culture section of “Makor Rishon” has changed radically. PR representatives of publishing houses were asked to stop sending it books that included “problematic scenes” for review. And take Naftali Bennett at his word: Reading material keeps him busy. There is no reading public bigger than the religious nationalists. It’s enough to go to the library on a Thursday evening to see religious children piling up books ahead of another television-free weekend. Publishers will testify: The greatest number of books are bought in national religious regions. So Bennett’s party wants to control the content. Pluralism is dangerous. Anyone who reads “moderate” Dalia Ravikovitch in a religious girls’ school will end up reading “obscene” Yona Wallach, too, may God have mercy on them.

But the main thing is that only religious nationalism can give intellectual coherence to the subjugation of another people, only it can prop up the colonial principle: God promised us this land. The bluff of the “temporary occupation” is over, and what’s needed now is messianic gloating: “It’s ours forever.” Bezalel Smotrich and Tzipi Hotovely are an example. Only religion can cancel out the Declaration of the Rights of Man. And indeed, national religious Jews are leading the camp, with chutzpah in the full Talmudic sense of the term.

That’s how we find ourselves with Bennett, with Miri Regev and with Lapid, inciting against Breaking the Silence, competing in their various fashions over the exalted definition of the petit bourgeois life, and over the purification of its spirit: The flag. The state. The army. Family. Loyalty. Settlements. Culture. A holy war against the sanctification of the democratic minority’s profane way of life.

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