On Tuesday night, I spoke at Yeshivat Shala’avim to the American students on the level of Jewish identity in Israel today. After concluding a fairly depressing survey, I then inquired as to the potential for the two major Torah communities – the chareidim and the national religious – to draw secular Israeli Jews closer to their roots. With respect to the national religious camp, I predicted a long series of increasingly violent confrontations between the settler community and the IDF, which will result in the national religious world’s increasing marginalization in Israeli society and a corresponding decrease in its ability to positively influence secular Israelis. (My conclusions about the prospective impact of the chareidi world were not much more optimistic, but I’ll leave that subject to another day.)
Unfortunately, my prediction came all to true yesterday at Amona, where hundreds of protesters and policemen were injured. An early report on the Jerusalem Post website had a border policeman in critical condition allegedly as the result of a cement block hurled down upon him. A 15-year-old settler was later reported to be in critical condition after his skull was cracked by a police baton. (He has since regained consciousness, and his life is no longer considered in danger. As for the injured border policeman, it appears from the fact that the media is no longer playing up his situation that the first reports were exaggerated.)
The settler youth sought a confrontation to remove the stain of the relative ease with which the Gaza evacuation was executed, and the police gave them what they wanted and more. Amona will only be the first of many such confrontations over the coming months and years.
The national religious movement appears to be caught in a tragic and seemingly insoluable bind. On the one hand, the best efforts of that community have been focused on settlement activity for the past three decades. It cannot simply acquiesce in further territorial withdrawals without sacrificing much of its identity.
At the same time, the implications of continuing violent confrontations for the status of the national religious community are very grave. Beating up settlers has proven popular. At least in the short-run, Ehud Olmert’s calculation that shows of strength vis-à-vis the settlers would prove easier and more popular than confronting Palestinians shooting Kassams into Israel has proven correct.
The long-term damage to youth who may spend most of their teenage years in violent battles with the state cannot be underestimated. But the damage will not be limited to them. Every wearer of a kippah seruga, wherever they find themselves – in the army, university – will be tarred by the association. Just as American Jewish students who identify with Israel find themselves in an uncomfortable position on many elite campuses – and often rush to declare that they too oppose the “occupation” and the like — so will the kippah on the head become a source of discomfort for many national religious young people.
How can the national religious community navigate between its attachment to the Land of Israel and its commitment to the people of Israel? How can it keep the former from cutting it off from the latter?
No easy answer presents itself. Leaders who show any willingness to compromise on the Land to preserve the relationship to the larger society will be automatically dismissed by a segment of the community as Uncle Toms, and thereby lose their credibility. The settler youth at Amona reviled the YESHA leadership, which they blame for having allowed the Gaza evacuation to take place so peacefully.
When crucial communal values conflict, as they do in this case, leadership is required. But there are no leaders who command a following across the wide spectrum of the national religious community.