The Advantages of Clarity

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Hamas surprise victory in last week’s elections for the Palestinian Authority parliament has sent policy makers in Jerusalem, Brussels, and Washington D.C. into a tizzy. Diplomats prefer dealing with a known quantity, however noxious, and have no experience with Hamas, which is officially listed as a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European community.

Unquestionably Hamas’ ascendance poses new dangers for Israel. Chief among those is the close ties between Hamas and the mullahs in Iran. Hamas leaders say that they expect Iran to make up Western funding lost by the Palestinian Authority because of Hamas’ victory. Hizbullah already has thousands of katushyas aimed at Israel’s North, and similar missiles entering the West Bank would place the vast majority of Israel’s population within range of missiles in the hands of Iranian proxies.

Yet there is a silver lining to Hamas’ victory. It clarifies Israel’s situation to both ourselves and the world community. Hamas’ charter calls explicitly for the destruction Israel, and its candidates reiterated that stance at every opportunity. On Palestinian TV on January 17, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar declared, “We do not recognize the Israeli enemy, . . . nor his ownership of a single inch of land. . . . Palestine is the land of the Islamic trust, which cannot be given up.” In Hamas’ view, no Moslem can ever cede one inch of land that was once under Moslem control. End of story.

That position has now been endorsed by the Palestinian population, which gave Hamas, and even more radical Islamic parties, over 60% of the seats in the PA parliament.

It is true that a more corrupt group than the current Fatah leaders would be hard to find. Over the last four years, the international community has funded the Palestinian Authority at a level unprecedented in history — $300 per person per annum – with nothing to show for it other than expensive villas for Fatah leaders and hundreds of millions in Arafat’s bank accounts.

Yet the vote for Hamas was equally an expression of support for Hamas’s strategy of armed struggle, which in the Palestinian view brought about the Gaza withdrawal. Had the Palestinians only wanted clean government, they could have voted for the previous PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, a former high official with the International Monetary Fund.

By clarifying the Palestinian position, Hamas’ electoral victory performed much the same function as the recent call of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to “wipe Israel of the map.” That single statement focused the attention of the international community on the danger of a nuclear Iran to a degree not seen during the preceding two years of on-again off-again negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

The truth is that many Iranian mullahs, including Ahmadinejad’s “moderate” predecessor, Ayatollah Mohammed Khatami, had themselves made similar remarks in the past about Iran’s ability to survive a nuclear exchange with Israel. But Ahmadinejad’s blatant threat removed all deniability of the Iranian menace.

SO, ONE OF MY WISE SONS ASKED ME, if clarifying the intentions of the Palestinians and Iranians is such a good thing, is it not also possible that Israel’s chareidi population was much better off with an openly anti-Jewish party like Shinui.

That would be true, I answered, if Kadima were nothing but Shinui without Tommy Lapid’s bluster. But the analogy to Hamas and Fatah is far from clear.

There is no difference in ultimate goals between Fatah and Hamas. Hamas, until now, has committed itself exclusively to an armed struggle against Israel while Fatah has been willing, since 1990, to complement its terrorist activity with diplomatic and political maneuvering. But both seek the destruction of Israel.

It was the Fatah-controlled Palestinian media that glorified jihad and promoted a cult of martyrdom in suicide actions against Israel, and Yaser Arafat who instigated the second intifada rather than accept a two-state solution.

No such identity of intentions between Kadima and Shinui can be demonstrated. True, Kadima’s platform includes many planks that will adversely affect the chareidi community and Jewish life in Israel. But one cannot always infer negative intentions from adverse impact.

Electoral reform, for instance, might well reduce chareidi representation in the Knesset. Yet many strong arguments can be advanced in favor of a system (in whole or part) of single-member districts. The current Knesset is dysfunctional, and has watched its power gradually erode in favor of the executive and judicial branches. Part of the reason for the Knesset’s decline is the lack of stature of MKs who are answerable only to party central committees comprised of party hacks and job seekers and not to any particular constituents.

Similarly, once Israel admitted half a million non-Jews under the Law of Return, the pressure for some form of civil marriage was bound to become overwhelming. No modern democracy can permanently ban so many citizens from marrying. Civil marriage would be vastly preferable to curing the bar to marriage through mass-produced “conversions.”

Even the drastic cuts in child allowances, which have thrust many chareidi families to the brink of starvation, do not necessarily reflect a hatred of Jewish religion or even religious Jews. (Israeli Arabs are by far the largest beneficiaries of child support payments.) Virtually any leading economist whom Binyamin Netanyahu had consulted in 2002 would have advised him to slash Israel’s public sector and cut support payments in favor of work incentives, even if he had never heard of chareidim.

The severity and swiftness of those cuts reflect an indifference to the suffering of tens of thousands of chareidi families. That lack of sympathy results, in part, from the residential separation of the chareidi population, as a consequence of which secular Israelis never have to confront what the cuts mean in human terms. Indifference, however, is not the same thing as a desire to destroy chareidi society or all vestiges of Judaism.

We know with every fibre of our being that the merit of Torah study is the greatest possible guarantor of Israel’s security. Observance of the mitzvos, the Ramban writes (Shabbos 88a), is an absolute condition to our possession of the Land. Our task is to bring secular Jews closer to our understanding, or failing that, to an appreciation of the sincerity of our own belief that the mesirus nefesh of the tens of thousands of bnei Torah learning day and night benefits every single Jew in Eretz Yisrael. Neither task is made easier by assuming that secular Jews are motivated exclusively by animus and self-hatred.

Published in Mishpacha, February 1, 2006

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2 Responses

  1. Dov W says:

    Jonathan,
    You are a clear thinker and yet on this one you seem to miss the point entirely.

    We may be better off with a PA lead by Hamas rather than Fatah but that’s only because the PA is a militarily inferior and external enemy under whose jurisdiction we don’t have to live.

    If G-d forbid the theoretical choice facing Israeli citizens were between an Israeli government controlled by Hamas or one controlled by Fatah we would have to be insane to choose Hamas.

    Same with Kadimah and Shinui, if it were given that both were to remain in opposition we could arguably be better off with Shinui. But as far as who we prefer in government the choice is clear. Clarity is only good among our enemies as long as they don’t run the show.

  2. mycroft says:

    Excellebt post-especially two sentences ” But one cannot always infer negative intentions from adverse impact.” and
    ” Indifference, however, is not the same thing as a desire to destroy chareidi society or all vestiges of Judaism.”
    Sometimes-especially among the young Chareidi I hear words similar to comparing an Israeli government to Nazis or Arabs are no worse. I never heard that type talk from Chareidi Rosh Yeshiva-Israel may not be what we waited almost 1900 years for-but certainly it has always let in Jews of all persuasions in to escape persecution.
    Zionism may have become an “avodah zarah”=among a few-but in general it has been a very positive force. During the 2nd beis Hamikdah most governments treated “frum” Jews much worse than any current Israeli government-but Chazal were certa
    upset about the loss of soveriegnty. The debate-machlokes-about whether there was a fast of Tisha Bav in the time of the \2nd Beis Hamikdash probably reflects on the issue of the importance of Jewish sovereignty. It is not the ikkar-Torah is is but still a value-if nothing else for the ability to save Jewish lives. Reason for Mizrachi support of Uganda plan -a century ago.
    Great post..