When Israelis Drive Out Jews

Like a giant matza ball swimming around in a bowl of chicken soup, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sloshed around in the admiration of Jewish community activists during his visit to the United States.

Like a giant matza ball swimming around in a bowl of chicken soup, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sloshed around in the admiration of Jewish community activists during his visit to the United States. It was a successful reality-dodging trip of which Sharon is so fond, tiptoeing around every sort of difficulty and dilemma. Here was a trip to America that never brought him face to face with the man in the White House, and spared him a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas to boot. An added bonus was the opportunity to wallow in hedonistic pleasure among "good Jews" - the type that gleefully falls for every shtick this veteran stand-up artist pulls out of his bag.

Only a cry of protest from a Gush Katif resident who managed to sneak into the hall and the street-corner demonstrations of Chabad and other messianists put a slight damper on the festivities. In a kind of spin-off of Israeli affairs, the pro-disengagement Jews silenced the anti-disengagement Jews with whistles, boos and security guards, so that Sharon could signal "V for victory" and add the American Jewish community to a checklist that includes the Knesset, the government, the public and the press. The bottom line is that American Jewry is also for disengagement (come what may).

But why did Sharon have to fly all the way to America to deliver a speech that was more detailed and programmatic (not to mention hawkish and pessimistic) than any of his speeches in Israel (which are rare to begin with)? Maybe it's because Sharon, like the prime ministers before him, sees himself as a kind of CEO, whose job it is to report to the board of directors on the state of their Zionist shares. He feels no obligation to submit a similar report to the company employees, i.e., the citizens of Israel.

The way things are today, Sharon can't afford to skip that echelon known rhetorically as "American Jewry." He has been forced to play by the rules of the game established by the settlers - the opponents of disengagement. This sector has managed to turn a domestic debate over evacuating settlements, which touches on concrete issues of security, economy and politics, into kind of religious war revolving around the very definition of Judaism. If the settlers insist on playing the role of the Jews versus the Israelis in this game, is it any wonder that Sharon is forced to import other Jews to strengthen his own camp?

The more tangible disengagement becomes, the more it is accompanied by hallmarks of the secular, materialistic side of Israel life - a tug of war over financial compensation, the inept attempts to resettle the evacuees and so on. But we cannot allow this Israeli tackiness to put us to sleep and distract us from the messianic-religious dimension that has crept in, swelling by the day and sucking air into itself.

"A Jew doesn't drive out a Jew," the settlers cry, in what has become the chief mantra of this battle, a mantra designed to bypass Israeliness and accentuate a sense of community. But one gets the feeling that the "Jewishness" of these demonstrators is defined and fueled not so much by their love for the hothouses and lawns of Gush Katif as by their struggle against some kind of goyish, heretical Israeliness that they are prepared to fight as if they were fighting a foreign invader. They will resort, if need be, to "mass prayer services in jail," as if they were prisoners of Zion in Zion.

The settlers and their supporters can call themselves the only authentic Jews if they want to, and use the Stanislavsky method to play the part. But that doesn't mean that everyone else has to follow their script. "Judaism" is not the property of the settlers. It belongs to all of us. "Our unfettered essence - that is our Judaism, if you insist on using that word," wrote the famous Hebrew writer Yosef Haim Brenner. Judaism is far too vast and rich to be grotesquely reduced to a belief that the holy of holies lies in clinging for dear life to the Gaza Strip.

And besides, Israelis (yes, "Israelis") do have the right to drive out other Israelis if they don't obey Israeli law. When all is said and done, isn't that one of the reasons for establishing a state?