Bye-bye Tommy

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Not often do Torah Jews find much cause for rejoicing in the headlines. The recent implosion of the virulently anti-religious Shinui and the public humiliation of its acid-tongued leader Tommy Lapid, however, is a happy exception to the general rule.

In the Shinui internal elections to select its Knesset slate for the upcoming elections, Lapid won an embarrassingly close victory for top spot on the list over a virtual unknown. Next, his faithful sidekick and the man responsible for bringing him into the party in the first place, Avraham Poraz, was defeated for the second spot on the list by Ron Lowenthal, a Shinui member of the Tel Aviv City Council.

Lapid spun his narrow victory as testimony to the vigor of Shinui’s democracy. But when Poraz lost, even after Lapid had threatened, “People must understand that if Avraham is not elected, they won’t have a party,” Lapid lost his enthusiasm for Shinui’s vaunted democracy. He and Poraz and most of Shinui’s MKs promptly announced that they were taking their bat and ball and going home. (They are still figuring out how to get their hands on the millions of dollars in Shinui’s coffers.)

The columnists have not stopped laughing at Lapid since.

Even by the standards of previous Israeli “centrist” parties, the speed of Shinui’s precipitous crash was unprecedented. Shinui won 15 seats in the 2002 elections, which made it the third largest party in the Knesset, just behind Labor. On the strength of that showing, the party claimed two of the most powerful ministries – Justice for Lapid and Interior for Poraz – and a number of smaller ones.

All current polls show Shinui failing to cross the electoral threshold for the next Knesset.

True, we are not supposed to rejoice in the downfall of our enemies. But as the late Mirrer Ros Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz points out in his famous shmuess on nekama (Divine Vengeance), there is another principle as well: “A righteous man rejoices when he witnesses vengeance . . .” (Tehillim 58:11). Nekama, Rabbi Shmulevitz explains, is a righting of an imbalance in the world, and refers equally to the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the righteous.

Those who witness clear examples of nekama – e.g., Haman hung on the fifty cubit gallows he had so elaborately prepared for Mordechai – rejoice because their belief in Divine Justice is thereby reinforced. And so too when Lapid, who frequently contrasted Shinui’s internal democracy to the way the Knesset slate of United Torah Judaism is selected, finds himself hoisted on his own petard. His concept of democracy, it turns out, matched Hosni Mubarak’s – the right to ratify his hand-picked candidates.

Of course, the fall of Lapid does not exactly signal the deliverance of the Jews, as in Megillas Esther. Even before Lapid’s humiliation, polls showed the party winning no more than three seats in the upcoming elections. Most voters had concluded that Prime Minister Sharon’s new Kadima Party would be a far more effective vehicle for enacting large chunks of Shinui’s agenda – civil marriage, a written constitution, electoral reform. In their opinion, Shinui had proven itself not serious when it decamped from Sharon’s government rather than sit with the chareidim.

But if Kadima is only a more effective Shinui, is there anything positive about Shinui’s disappearance? I believe there is.

Shinui, under Lapid, defined itself by its hatred and contempt for anything identifiably Jewish. Shinui was the party of young, upperwardly mobile Ashkenazim. As Lapid disdainfully put it, Shinui was not for “Mazal in Dimona.” [Mazal is a women’s name in the Sephardic community.]

“Sometimes its o.k. to be anti-Semitic,” Poraz once told the cabinet. He meant that a Jew has a right to express his contempt for the religious practices that have always defined our people. Accordingly, Shinui introduced a bill to allow stores to open on Yom Kippur. And when Poraz, as Interior Minister, refused to enforce the law against the display of chametz, Lapid derisively proclaimed, “This year bread, not matzah, is the symbol of our freedom.” Lapid’s attacks on hechsherim as a tax on consumers could have been lifted directly from any number of neo-Nazi sites.

Kadima makes no such visceral appeal to contempt for all things Jewish. Its electoral appeal is primarily based on having forged a third path between the illusions of the Left in a peace-seeking Palestinian populace and the Right’s dreams of Greater Israel, not on hatred of chareidim or contempt for our past.

(It does, however, give some pause that Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has chosen to play tough at the outset with the Jews of Hebron rather than those launching missiles from Gaza. The possibility remains that he will next bid to win popularity at the expense of chareidi Jews.)

Most Israelis have awakened to the fact that we face, at the very least, another generation of conflict with the Palestinians. And they recognize that national morale will be a key determinant in the outcome of that struggle. In such a situation, to lose all connection with whom we are and where we come from could prove fatal. Only a shared sense of Jewish identity can provide the necessary national unity and purpose.

Two years ago, Aharon Appelfeld, one of Israel’s leading novelists, told Ha’aretz interviewer Ari Shavit, that the chief sickness of Israeli society is that Israelis have amputated their past and internalized the hatred of Jews. In the place of the “internal organs of the soul,” all that is left is a “black hole of identity.”

The phenomenal rise of Shinui was a symptom of the disease identified by Appelfeld. Even the rebels against the continued rule of Lapid and Poraz within Shinui broke with the latter over their unconcealed loathing for religious Jews and Jewish religion.

At one level, then, the self-destruction of Shinui signals a widespread recognition that Israel cannot afford to destroy its sources of self-identity and strength. With that recognition, the healing can begin.

Published in Mishpacha, January 25, 2006

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1 Response

  1. JZ says:

    What is Tommy going to do now? That’s easy. He can mock internet bans in Lakewood and the teaching Intelligent Design in schools. He can defend distasteful advertising in the New York Times, and he’ll feel right at home . . . here on Cross-Currents Comments.