Sunday, July 24, 2005

'Breaking religious Zionism is the goal'

I read the Ha'aretz interview with Rav Meidan, one of the next heads of Gush, with real sorrow and concern. It showed a man -- and by extension, segment of society -- whose entire world view was in tremendous upheaval, and who is in extreme distress. The money quotes:

Do you truly believe the secular elite has risen up against you in order to destroy you?
So from your point of view the disengagement is not a strategic move - justified or not - but a deliberate attempt to break the religious Zionist movement?
"I must be accurate: for part of the secular elites breaking religious Zionism is the goal. For others, breaking us is not the goal, but a price they are willing to pay. And to pay easily. When someone rises up against you, it is a pain of a particular kind. When someone does not care at all whether you are broken and does not care where you will wallow after being broken, that is pain of a different kind."........
Did you draw operative conclusions?
"Yes. In order to forge an alliance with the secular elites, we neglected our more natural alliance with the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] public. Today I think that was a mistake. In the future we will behave differently. In the past, with all the disagreements, I thought there was also something we could learn from the secular elite. After I saw the secular elite stick a knife in my back and turn away from its own values - democracy and human rights - I have no more to learn from them. After all, from the standpoint of democracy, what happened here is a disgrace; and what happened here from the viewpoint of the judicial system's protection of human rights is a shame. The courts, the press, the research institutes - no one heard us. No one heard our outcry. But it is not just us. The democratic elite did not remain loyal to the values in the name of which it spoke all these years. Therefore there are no positive values I can get from them. I have a serious problem with them."
Rav Meidan is not the only national religious leader to be voicing a desire to turn away from the secular world, but if he's saying it, there is true cause for concern. The national religious sector's openness towards and integration with the secular state is one of its defining characteristics -- the 'national' part of 'national religious' -- and to lose this would be a true tragedy for both parties. I hope the secular 'elites,' as R. Meidan calls them -- who do have something to answer for in this regard -- are listening and will do what they can to salvage this relationship; I also hope the national religious realize that what's happening over disengagement does not signal that they must close themselves off from the world.
Because to a certain extent, I'm afraid to say, this is a crisis of their own making. The fact is that the majority of the national religious rabbis made a fatal error by allowing themselves to be overtaken by a messianic dream that was futile from the beginning. They allowed one idea and one goal, that of keeping the shtachim, to dominate their movement entirely, to the extent that it came to define them, neglecting completely other values (such as social justice) which should have been at the top of their concerns.
This one idea became so central, so crucial to the national-religious identity that now the dream is collapsing, the national-religious camp is in a serious existential crisis -- according to R. Meidan, the destruction of this particular dream is perceived as the attempted destruction of their community. The idea of settling the territories has also become so essential to the idea of Zionism that without it, according to this school of thought, Zionism collapses: "The alternative is not to protest the destruction of the major tenets of Zionism," says R. Meidan. "That is impossible from our point of view. It would mean a donkey's burial for Zionism."
But the national religious managed to live perfectly well without this dream before 1967 and no one ever suggested they weren't Zionists or good Jews; the modern orthodox community in the Diaspora doesn't have this as its central tenet, and yet no one is suggesting they're not good Jews or Zionists either; does anyone really believe that secular (or for that matter, religious) Israelis who don't support keeping the territories are not Zionists???????
There was, in short, another way.
I don't really fault the national leaders for following their beliefs and supporting building up the shtachim. Where I do fault them is for letting it reach a situation where their identity rose or fell on this idea; and for not beginning to prepare their followers once it became clear that the dream was going to fail. I see no beginning of cheshbon nefesh here in R. Meidan's words, or in the words of most national-religious rabbis (there are a couple of exceptions), at all. I think some is in order.

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