Appealing to False Messiahs

The national-religious community of crocheted skullcup-wearers brought up to believe they were the incarnation of secular Zionist pioneers are now faced with a crashing identity.

The National Religious Party's decision to turn into a bit of overlapping excess within the National Union symbolizes the rift within the national-religious camp: Its 40-year lifetime enterprise is being destroyed and it cannot find within it the emotional strength to deal with the loss. In desperation, it grasps on to a messianic movement led by Benny Alon and Effi Eitam in the hopes of finding salvation there.

Since 1967, the crocheted skullcap-wearers of the national-religious community have been brought up to believe they are the incarnation of the secular Zionists who founded the state. Unlike the ultra-Orthodox community, whose main concern is to ensure its own interests, the Mizrahi and Hapoel Mizrahi movements (that engendered the NRP) saw themselves as entirely congruent with the institutions of the Israeli state. Their enterprises - including the state-religious education system, the chief rabbinate, the religious kibbutz movement and the Bnei Akiva movement - were accepted components of the Zionist and Israeli landscape.

This approach was also at the foundation of the settlement fever that infected this community after the 1967 War. Members of Gush Emunim saw themselves as the messengers who walked before the camp. Rather than correcting them, the state encouraged them. And now, their world has come crashing down: The evacuation of the Gaza Strip and the demolition of the houses at Amona are the harbinger of the ills to come. The settlement enterprise has been sentenced to extinction. The way in which the knitted-skullcap public responds to the terrible tidings shows how critical and urgent it is to help it out of its crisis and give it a new reason to live.

Religious Zionism is experiencing a time of loss that can be compared with the crisis experienced by individuals (in mourning) or by communities (in migration, for example). Coping with the loss is a complex process composed of several stages: anger, depression, processing the components of the disaster, adaptation and acceptance. The response of the crocheted-skullcap crowd to the disengagement and to the evacuation of Amona show that they are at the first station: They express desperation, as well as enormous anger at the state and alienation from it. They direct their frustration at the army, the police and the courts. They espouse a rebellious position that puts them in opposition with Israeli society, and they declare their willingness to violate its laws, or, alternatively, deny the possibility of continuing to be a part of it. The state, and the people in its political center, have an interest in helping to pull, as quickly as possible, the national-religious community out of the whirlpool in which it is trapped.

On the face of it, the most effective way to do this is to appeal to the leadership. Religious Zionism is a hierarchical society in which the rabbis have a key role. If it were possible to persuade the knitted-kippa rabbis to accept the decision to evacuate, it would be easier to reach a conciliation with the entire national-religious community. The spiritual leadership of this community, however, is the hardest nut to crack: Most of its leadership is not open to psychological insights and is fundamentally dogmatic in its religious attitudes and inflexible in its understanding of the commandment to settle the Land of Israel.

Nevertheless, an effort should be made to speak with these rabbis and at the same time to appeal to their flocks: to make them realize that the fate of the settlements has been cast, to speak to them in terms of accepting the sentence, and of the rightness of the sentence; to present to them the achievements of religious Zionism within Israel's pre-1967 borders and the rich scope for activity open to them within Israeli society; to remind them that the state is withdrawing to its permanent borders and in this way is realizing the Zionist vision.

There is one ray of light in this complicated challenge: We are not talking about a sudden trauma; since the beginning the state has been undergoing a process leading to territorial concessions. The religious Zionist community, which sees itself as a victim of this process, has sufficient time to prepare emotionally and to come to terms with this sentence.