Israeli Settlers Still Wary Leftist Bodies Stand Behind the Social Protest

Settler leaders understand levels of government construction in West Bank are controversial in wake of protests over lack of housing; Yeshiva Har Bracha head Rabbi says settlers wary of protests' socialist trends that will privilege 'a large and hostile Arab minority.'

To the credit of the settler leaders, they recognized quickly that they cannot beat this social protest - and that they'd better hasten to join it.

The leaders of the Yesha Council of settlements - "Yesha" is the acronym for Judea and Samaria, which means "salvation" - know it is only a question of time before Peace Now and its "agents" in the media remind people without homes of their own just how many housing units the Housing and Construction Ministry has built in the West Bank, compared to the extent of public construction in all other areas. In fact, anyone with access to the Internet can look up the statistics for themselves: According to the Central Bureau of Statistics site, nearly half the construction in the settlements between 1994 and 2009 was part of a government initiative. During that same period, the national average for government building (including Yesha ) was just more than one fifth of all construction (20.7 percent ).

cartoon - Amos Biderman - August 9 2011
Amos Biderman

The settler leaders also know it is no secret that riding a bus from the West Bank to Israel is a lot cheaper than riding a bus within the borders of the state.

Widespread public support for the plan to disengage from Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip taught them that most of the public had distanced themselves from them, and they embarked on a lively debate on the question of how to "settle in the hearts" of "the collective Israel." In an article published in the settler journal Nekuda in September 2004, Israel Harel, one of the founders of Gush Emunim, beat his breast over the sin of separatism and aloofness.

"Despite the declarations of our all-Israeliness anchored in the belief that indeed we are doing everything we are doing for the sake of the Jewish people," Harel wrote, "in fact we are doing it mainly for ourselves and for our communities." He called the settler leadership "an interest group that has done wonders in order to survive in its ghettos."

One of the many wonders wrought by the settlers, including Harel's son, was transforming a fake antenna - stuck into land privately owned by Palestinians at Migron Hill - into the mother of all outposts. At least through March 2012 (the deadline for evacuation determined by the High Court of Justice ), the Migron settlers will enjoy affordable housing, as they have during the past 10 years, on land owned by helpless people. Here you have social justice, Yesha-style.

In an article published in the online journal, Rabbi Azriel Ariel, a former resident of Gush Katif and rabbi of the Atarot settlement, lauds the settlers' deeds and their impressive social statement. In the rabbi's opinion, their weak point is their alienation from the general social discourse in the country.

"It is possible to speak very loftily about the concern for 'the collective Israel,' for 'the Jewish people throughout the generations' and even 'eternal Israel,' and in so doing to busy ourselves a lot with 'the superior qualities of Israel' and 'the love of Israel,'" wrote the settler rabbi, "but all this is liable to be hollow if it is not accompanied by care and concern for every 'individual Jew' who lives here, and not in the cosmic expanse, and who is living now, and not in eternity."

On the one hand, as Ariel says, the settlers see the protest movement as an opportunity to connect with "the general social discourse." The leaders of the protest have indeed declared publicly that, for them, the distress of the middle class crosses all lines, including the Green Line, the pre-Six Day War armistice line. On the other hand, it is hard for the settlers to believe that opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima ) isn't hiding behind Daphni Leef, and that Itzik Shmuli isn't a secret agent of Hadash.

In his most recent weekly column in the settler newspaper Basheva, Yeshiva Har Bracha head Rabbi Eliezer Melamed performs a socio-political analysis of the demonstrators: One group wants to topple the government and a second group supports communist positions. The third group, he argues, is made up of people who don't know exactly what they want.

Yet despite this problematic makeup, Melamed writes that if the situation were different, the settlers possibly would be leaning more towards the socialist direction; however, in the current national situation, it is necessary to favor a more limiting approach that places additional responsibility on the individual, their family and their friends.

And what is the "national situation" that is tipping the balance for the rabbi against "the socialist direction"?

"A situation in which we are compelled to deal with a large and hostile Arab minority, which naturally by any social criterion that is established will be the first to be entitled to any kind of benefit."

He is referring, of course, to the Arab citizens who live in Israel, and from whose tax money he benefits. Social justice, and justice in general, ends for him (and also for a considerable number of the demonstrators on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv ) at the outskirts of Umm al-Fahm. Never mind the gates of Nablus.

The reprimand season

Barak Ravid reported in these pages yesterday on the collective reprimand that the ambassadors of the European Union countries received from National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror because of Europe's strange refusal to support the settlements policy. Europe is not alone. In Latin America, too, treacherous countries are cropping up, one after another, and refusing to believe that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is looking toward the 1967 borders.

And indeed, last week, Honduras President Porfirio Lobo Sosa announced that his country will vote in favor of the Palestinians in the United Nations General Assembly. At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, they were furious; only two months ago, Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon flew all the way to El Salvador to persuade the heads of the Organization of American States to oppose the Palestinian move. According to a statement released at that time by the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the foreign ministers of four countries - among them, Honduras - "expressed sympathy and understanding" for Israel's position concerning the Palestinian move.

The Foreign Ministry has deviated from its usual custom and has made it public that the ambassador of Honduras in Israel has been summoned for "clarifications" - which is diplomatic-speak for a reprimand. China, you have been warned! Asia's turn is coming.