There’s a cancer in the religious Zionist camp which must be eradicated. The writer is co-chairman of the governing board of the World Jewish Congress and president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
A cancer has invaded the religious Zionist camp. Unless the patient himself can surgically remove the infected areas from his body, the condition is terminal. In that event, the knitted kippa once considered a proud symbol of all that is beautiful in Judaism and Zionism will be regarded as a mark of Cain.
I grew up in a family steeped in the traditions of Mizrachi and Torah combined with worldly ways. In those days, the National Religious movement represented one of the most constructive facets of Jewish society in the Diaspora and in Israel. It harmonized Torah and Zion, acted as a bridge between religious and secular, and was renowned for its tolerance and moderation in religious practice and political outlook.
Today, the Likud is being blamed for having tolerated an environment of xenophobia. However, responsibility for the polarization of Israeli society does not lie with the opposition alone. Supporters of the government, including cabinet ministers, also indulged in inflammatory attacks on religious groups and settlers without distinguishing between extremists and moderates.
But the ultimate responsibility rests elsewhere. Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin was not a solitary lunatic. Nor did his ideological roots lie with the Likud. Alas, he was primarily a product of the perversion of the National Religious movement.
The murderer saw himself as fulfilling “a scared duty” and acting on “God’s instructions.” He grew up in a middle-class, religious, Yemenite household, served in the elite Golani Brigade, was educated in a hesder yeshiva, worked as a volunteer teaching Judaism in Russia and, when he committed the crime, was a law student at Bar-Ilan University and was enrolled in its kollel.
THE SEEDS were there for all to see as far back as the 1980s, when the so-called Jewish underground’s murder of Arabs, and subsequently Baruch Goldstein’s killings, were justified in God’s name.
When leaders of Israel were called “traitors” and “Nazis,” when Rabin himself was demonized as a “murderer,” a “traitor,” a moser and a rodef, the national religious camp occasionally made appropriate noises. But due to expediency or cowardice, or both, the National Religious Party failed to effectively eradicate the monsters from its midst. By default, its leaders must bear a major share of the responsibility for the disaster.
I accuse and hold primarily responsible those zealous rabbis and leaders of the National Religious camp who tolerated, and in some cases encouraged, impressionable young people to believe that Halacha sanctions acts beyond the law and is incompatible with democracy. Indeed, some yeshivot encouraged their students to see themselves as soldiers of the Almighty, following a designed path. Using this logic, the assassin concluded that those who “opposed God’s will” were haters of Israel and that such “traitors” deserved death.
Those rabbis who issued the infamous ruling inciting soldiers to reject army orders and created the atmosphere of potential civil war in the name of a “higher law” are guilty of a terrible sin. They should surely look deeply into their souls and beat their breasts for their contribution to fraternal hatred and remind themselves of the repercussions of those who behaved similarly 2,000 years ago.
There is a need for more than soul-searching in religious Zionist circles. What is required is a radical purge from all positions of responsibility of rabbis and leaders unwilling to reassert the true values of Judaism. If Torah is to come from Zion, those who desecrate the basic Jewish approach of love of all Jews must be expelled. Religious Zionism must return to its roots of tolerance and act as a unifying element for the Jewish people, as it did before the religious fanatics hijacked the movement.
We must also urge government supporters not to indulge in witch-hunts, or seek vengeance. We should all unite and endeavor to cooperate with the vast majority of decent Jews in a healing process in which Israelis and Diaspora Jews learn to disagree with one another without resorting to violence and extremism, and where legitimate debate is not silenced with the barrel of a gun.
I pray that the day will soon come when I and my children can again wear a knitted kippa with a sense of pride.