"The national-religious are dangerous. They are more dangerous than... Hezbollah.... The Arabs can be neutralized, they cannot. What do they want? To take control of the state and cleanse it of Arabs. If you ask, they deny. They know that it is too early to be so overt. Don’t believe their denials. Their religious nationalism is extreme chauvinism, wrapped in pious religiosity. It is seeping into the education system, is strengthening in the army and affecting the Supreme Court. They are already on their way to us, in another moment they will break through the door.”
This is the opening paragraph of an article by Haaretz columnist Yossi Klein that caused an outburst of outrage and disdain.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who himself is no fan of the religious nationalists, and would probably subscribe to many of Klein’s observations, called upon all Israelis to cancel their subscriptions to Haaretz – another excuse to attack the liberal daily that is a fierce critic of the government.
Let me be clear: I think Klein’s article was bloody awful (I have no other words to describe it). It should never have been written, and should not have been published as written. There is such a thing as an editorial policy regarding op-ed articles. I strongly dislike the editorial policy of Haaretz regarding op-eds, which allows excessively provocative and frequently demeaning pieces get through for the sake of “freedom of speech” – and not just against the radical Right. In an era of superfluous, blind hatred, adding tinder to the fire is a crime.
An acquaintance of mine who lives in Samaria, and whom I am extremely fond of due to her congeniality and menschlichkeit, said to me the other day: “So I am worse than Hezbollah, am I? What was Klein seeking? Attention?” No dear O. – you are not to be compared to Hezbollah in any way. And no, Klein was not seeking attention – he was expressing the uncontrollable rage that many of us liberal and social-democratic secular Israelis feel these days, not just toward the national- religious camp but also toward the Miri Regevs and David Bitans and all the others who pooh pooh democracy, toward our prime minister, who places his own political survival and hedonism above everything else – to mention but a few.
What was especially unfortunate about Klein’s article were the words he used to express his rage, and his allowing that rage to translate into libelous contempt.
Besides, putting enemies whose sole desire is to obliterate Israel from the face of the earth in the same category with fellow citizens and co-religionists, with whom we might not see eye to eye on what will ensure Israel’s survival, and what sort of state it should be, is not only unfair, but an act of malice.
Yes, we are deeply divided on many issues and principles. We differ in how we view our place in the world; on whether we are better than others, or just strive to be better; on whether the Arabs have the same basic rights that we do or are an inferior nuisance, at best to be tolerated if they “behave themselves”; on whether Israel should annex all the territories occupied (or liberated) in the Six Day War, thus not only denying the Palestinians their rights, but endangering the Jewish majority in the State of Israel; on whether God as a supreme moral force exists (despite the Holocaust whose six million victims we commemorated yesterday); on whether a Jewish state means a state based on the Orthodox religious law or whether a Jewish state is a state for all Jews, religious or secular, Orthodox, Reform or Conservative, gay or straight, black or white. In other words, a pluralistic state.
The seculars also have a long list of other concerns. For example the slow process of sneaking “religionization” (hadata in Hebrew) in the non-religious national education system. I am all in favor of secular children learning much more about Judaism – all its streams, not just the dominant Orthodox one – and Jewish history from an objective point of view, not just an Orthodox one. And yes, it is legitimate to be a secular Jew.
The struggle of the more extreme national- religious circles to exclude women from the army is another burning issue, even though a growing number of religious girls are serving in the IDF, in units that they consider appropriate. But it is not just about the IDF. Not long before I retired in 2010 a group of students from the notorious Eli hesder yeshiva who visited the Knesset refused to be addressed by the director of the Knesset Research and Information Center where I worked, because she happened to be a woman. Someone from Eli apologized, but it was a tactical apology. It had nothing to do with recognition of women’s equality.
And of course there is the question of whether Israel can survive as a Jewish and democratic state if Judea and Samaria are annexed, and its Palestinian inhabitants either given full rights including the right to vote (unlikely), or are granted “all” rights except the right to vote, the right to immigrate, the right to purchase land, etc.
But all of this does not make religious nationalists worse than the Hezbollah. It is part of a bitter yet legitimate political and ideological battle – part of the pluralistic reality, which means that just because I support human rights and the organizations that fight for it, the separation of religion and state, the two-state solution in principle, and believe that our insistence on remaining in the whole of Judea and Samaria endangers our existence does not turn me into an anti-Zionist and antisemitic traitor. Speaking of superfluous blind hatred....