What’s the Solution?

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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.

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19 Responses

  1. Tzvi Mordechai Cohen says:

    If all the religous Jews would get together (read Ahavas Chinam) thses things wouldn’t be happening. And if all the religous Jews in the knesset would unite (parties and religious Jews in other parties) they would have the largest bloc of votes and Sharon. Pers, olmert, etc. wouldn’t be able to force Jews out of parts of Eretz Yisrael and this wouldn’t be happening.
    And if the dati, frum and unlabeled religous Jews would make Aliya, this wouln’t be happening.
    Remember, Avrohom, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe etc. were all TRUE Tziyonim!

  2. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    Yaakov Menken recently wrote that the Hamas victory had a silver lining. Similarly, the traumatic events in Amona have yielded some real benefit. A different Mencken, HL, once said that real change comes when the victim is goaded into a fight. Thank you, riot police, for inciting the change from resolve to defiance. Politicians making cost/benefit analyses of withdrawals now know that they are not going to be herding sheep.

  3. Josh R. says:

    Menachem, I agree with everything you wrote in #14, and I still stand by what I said. There’s no contradiction. NK and the average Israeli Jew stand worlds apart but for all their differences they have come to a certain growing commonality. I still say the latter have actively assisted the terrorists to a greater degree, even if their goal in their minds was never not to bring the downfall of the entire country but only a portion of it, thereby making the rest stronger. I agree that the government is supported by the people, which I thought I made clear. It just makes the whole thing worse, and that much harder to deal with. As Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.” A country can vote to persecute a minority (examples should come to mind without me needing to mention any), can elect a dictator (same here), and can even choose to destroy itself. Technically it’s all democratic, but democracy, remember, is not an end in itself but a means. If it begins to serve the wrong end it loses its worth. Philosphically that makes sense and is very important; practically I agree there are serious problems. Everyone believes they themselves are correct, and if every group revolted when its views weren’t carried out, no state would last long. That still doesn’t mean the majority is always right, just that it’s hard to know when to revolt (when other avenues fail) and when to sit quiet. And I agree that the there’s not much of an alternative to the current Israeli system. But if the current system is not viable either, what’s the difference? It’s a lose-lose situation. And what happened at Amona was a chilul Hashem, but I think it was also a chilul Hashem when Jews let themselves be led out of Gaza like sheep, weeping and sniffling, and the government/army/policy came out looking and feeling like the ultimate power, unbreakable and irresistable. Again, it’s lose-lose. If you’re listening, Moshiach, this would be a good time to show up!

  4. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Generalizations about class differences are clean and nice on paper and they help us resolve our cognitive dissonance in seeing the images from Amona. However, they do little to explain the fact that many of those high-class, well-educated, Ashkenazi protesters came to Amona prepared to violently resist. Nor does it explain these quotes from today’s Jerusalem Post about a police officer, Alon Madar, who almost lost an eye when he was hit with a piece of glass while tending to a couple of injured fellow officers.

    From Madar’s father:

    “I don’t hate them. Even after something like this. Even the person who threw (the glass),” he said. “Hatred is something very strong. I don’t think I am supposed to hate anybody.”

    “He (Alon) thinks, like me… that the settlers have rights. It’s impossible to deprive them of their rights. That’s clear to everybody,”

    The entire article can be read here: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1138622548960&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

    Certainly puts the lie to the assertion that, “The police…don’t have a drop of sympathy for them.” Maybe Alon is the only police officer to have such sensitivity. Maybe he’s even Ashkenazi and not some “dreg”-like Russian or Moroccan Jew. Or maybe things are not quite as simple as some would like us to think. And maybe we’ll just have to live with our cognitive dissonance and find more constructive ways to solve these problems.

  5. Shira Schmidt says:

    motzei Shabbat 7 b Shvat
    In your comment Toby (see #7) you are correct in your observation (though I wouldn’t use the word dregs) when you wrote, “I know enough about the Israeli police—who are often drawn from the dregs of Israeli society—and about the NY Times, to make a pretty good guess about who is really the guilty party here, or the more-guilty party, anyway. BTW there were press comments today along the line that there was more violence today than in the Gaza evacuation, but I haven’t seen mention made of the fact that in Amona today it was police doing the dirty work, while in Gaza it was soldiers. Soldiers come from all strata of Israeli society and many of them are quite human. That makes a big difference.”

    In Friday’s Haaretz (see Haaretz.com “Week’s End”)Amos Harel wrote a perceptive analysis “No Sorrow,No Pity” of the sad Amona episode and he substantiates your point, Toby. He wrote:”It is possible to see the reciprocal hatred as a result of prior clashes, but it seems that there is another explanation: The ethnic and status gap between the evacuators and the evacuees in Amona was deeper and more obvious than in Gush Katif. At the disengagement in Gush Katif many of the police felt sorrow and pity for the settlers, who were uprooted from homes they had nurtured for years. Many of the inhabitants of the Gush came from families that had immigrated to Israel from North Africa and had previously lived in the peripheral towns and moshavim of the western Negev. Among the religious settlers in the West Bank (and at Amona hardly any secular demonstrators were visible) there was a definite Ashkenazi majority. The police – Druze, Bedouin, immigrants from Russia and people of Moroccan origin – did not have a drop of sympathy for them, in addition to the fact that they perceived the entire confrontation as duplicitous and inflated. After all, it was a matter of demolishing empty houses, in which no one lived.”

  6. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Josh,

    NK believe that we are going against the will of G-d by establishing a medina here. They actively work with terrorists to help bring the downfall of this country. This makes them no better than the terrorists and I pray that G-d treats them accordingly. The greater Israeli society is not looking to destroy the country and hand it over to the Palestinians. That many people think that this will be the result of the current policies does not make it so.

    I find it odd how many people who disagree with the policies of the government refer to it as some sort of nebulous entity. We live in a democratic society, and while many here many bellyache about how the current government acted “undemocratically”, the government is still a manifestation of the will of the people. The government is us. In a few weeks we’re going to go to vote again. If current poles hold, Kadima will get between 40 and 50 seats in the Knesset. Thus if the “government” is the enemy then we are the enemy. If they are hurting then we are hurting ourselves. And if we’re going to fight with anyone we’re going to fight with ourselves. The people who “think” they’re right in not giving up an inch of land are a small minority. Maybe they’re right, but unless they can figure out some way to overpower the majority will and the armed forces they will only succeed in hurting themselves and making a colossal Chilul Hashem.

    In democracies we “fight” with words on the battlefield of ideas with the goal of persuasion. Civil disobedience is a tool to be used, but it must be civil to be effective. Physically attacking armed forces is a prelude to revolution. The only logical goal of revolution is the overthrow of a government. Assuming this small minority of people who “know” they’re right (doesn’t everyone?) could succeed in overthrowing the government they’d be left with the unenviable position of creating a new government where the will of a small minority would be imposed on the majority. It certainly would not be a democracy. It would be interesting to see how this minority could maintain civilization and defense forces to the extent necessary to protect the very land they overthrew the government to retain.

    This is a complicated issue. It’s not going to be solved by a bunch of vigilantly hoodlums or rogue cops. (Toby, take note. Most of the time the truth lies between the extremes.) Persuasion, peaceful demonstration, and tefillah are all called for. I am equally pained by the site of Jewish cops beating Jewish kids as I am by Jewish kids trying to harm Jewish cops.

  7. Ellen says:

    As a newcomer to Israel, and therefore mostly a (frustrated) bystander, I would however agree that in many cases individual parents can get more involved in keeping their kids out of it. A neighbor’s teenager went to one Gaza demonstration, and when he excitedly told his mother he was going to another one she told him, “If you get arrested this time I’m not bailing you out. I agree with your feelings but don’t be stupid.” He didn’t go.

  8. Benjamin Fleischer says:

    Doesn’t living in a democracy necessitate either abiding it’s decisions or demonstrating against them legally and peacefully? Protecting an illegal settlement with violence against a state evacuation order cannot be justified, no matter how many times the Torah lays out boundaries. dina demalchuta dina.

  9. Gershon Seif says:

    Comment #3 doubts what happened at Amona is really representation of the Dati Leumi (National Religious) community in Israel actually believes. Just for my own understanding, living at the other side of the world, is israelnational news representative of the DL community?

  10. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that the analysis set forth is flawed. Olmert, since assuming a national role, has made it quite clear that he will use whatever means that he
    deems necessary against Torah observant Jews-Charedi or DL/RZ. One wonders why they don’t form an alliance against Olemert, who is their common threat.

  11. Howard says:

    The behaviour of the israeli police forces in the video is so painful. so disgraceful. At 9 years old (1973) I used to look at the little map of Israel on the back of these little JNF booklets we got in hebrew school. I so loved Israel. To Cast a Giant Shadow shaped my view of the wonderful miracle of our cause. 20 years ago I was blessed to go to Jerusalem and walk in the land of giants. Today, I watch billy club swinging bullies in black uniforms beating the best of our people, and I almost cry. I almost hate. I do despair. May Hashem bless us all before we destroy ourselves. Sinat Hinam – hating jews with no mercy, for no reason.

  12. Josh R. says:

    Menachem, I recognize that the Neturei Karta and the general Israeli public have very different lifestyles, outlooks, and motivations. But they have both come to the same conclusion – that Jews must give the Arabs what they want.

    Think about what the govt. has done. It has granted legitimacy to the idea of a “Palestinian people” and to their cause and their leaders, given them money, given them weapons, set terrorists free, displaced thousands of Jews, given Jewish property to them (land and otherwise), and shown them that the more Jews they kill the more they will get. If that’s not aiding and abetting the enemy, I don’t know what is. What has NK done that can measure up?

    If any other group was harming us the way the Israeli govt. is, there wouldn’t be any question of resisting and fighting. Because the “enemy” is our own brothers, should we act differently? Should we do nothing and let the govt. destroy the country? (Even if you don’t think it’s quite that grave, then think of it theoretically – how far should people let things go?) At the end of the day it doesn’t make a difference if the motivations of the govt. and its supports are as pure and noble as can be – our true enemies are still amassing strength and drive while we grow weaker.

    Aside from using children, getting dirty and fighting (when necessary) is not something to be ashamed of even if one’s enemies do it too. And I think “hasbara” and how we look on CNN are highly overrated. It’s not CNN viewers or UN peacekeepers who signed the Oslo accords or who forced Jews out of Gaza. It was Israeli Jews, I’m sorry to say, and though they were pressured, they were not forced. We all face pressures in life, but we are still responsible for our own actions. If we had only said “NO” loudly enough, these things would not have happened. And anyway, perhaps if we didn’t act and speak so cowardly and submissively (=”civilized”), other nations would not feel as entitled to bully us around.

  13. Toby Katz says:

    I read two different reports about the Amona incident today, one sent by a friend in Israel, one in the NY Times.

    In the first report, brutal and wild police waded into peaceful crowds of unarmed demonstrators and wantonly beat helpless kids with batons, sending many to the hospital with broken bones and bloodied heads.

    In the NY Times version, helpless police were hard put to defend themselves from vicious demonstrators who threw concrete blocks and stones at them, injuring many policemen in the process.

    I wasn’t there and don’t know who really committed the first violent act, but I do know two things:

    1. Many chareidim have been beaten by police over the years, some for just walking down a street in their own neighborhoods at the wrong time, unaware that an impromptu street demonstration has just been started. It has often happened that a few chareidi teenagers start a demonstration about something or other and within a few minutes the police are there in force, beating anyone in the area who is wearing a beard and peyos (“They all look alike to me.”)

    2. How come the NY Times is, all of a sudden, so sympathetic to the Israeli police? Since when have they EVER considered self-defense a legitimate police excuse for fighting back when teenagers throw bricks and stones!? Try to imagine how the NY Times would have reported the incident if the teens had been Arabs rather than religious Jews.

    I know enough about the Israeli police — who are often drawn from the dregs of Israeli society — and about the NY Times, to make a pretty good guess about who is really the guilty party here, or the more-guilty party, anyway. BTW there were press comments today along the line that there was more violence today than in the Gaza evacuation, but I haven’t seen mention made of the fact that in Amona today it was police doing the dirty work, while in Gaza it was soldiers. Soldiers come from all strata of Israeli society and many of them are quite human. That makes a big difference.

    Harry Maryles — who is a good friend of mine, and should know better — totally surprised me by taking at face value a report in the Chicago Tribune, which can no more be trusted than can the NY Times. Harry, watch your back, they hate YOU too, you bloody Jew. No Jew who wears a yarmulka should ever let down his guard when reading the morning paper.

  14. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Josh,

    You’re all over the place. There is nothing in common between Neteurei Karta and secular Israelis. NK are a small fringe of insane lunatics. In addition they are rodfim as they aid and abet enemies of the Jewish people.

    “Secular” Israelis and the government, quite a broad characterization, do not in general have loyalties to the Arabs. Whether one agrees or not, there is logic to the idea of trying to separate ourselves from the Arabs in order to create a more manageable strategic situation and to maintain and strengthen the Jewish majority of what remains. The government, and specifically Sharon, did believe it was acting in the best interest of the Jewish people. Whether it actually is or not is debatable, but it cannot be dismissed out of hand.

    I vehemently disagree that the type of “resistance” we witnessed in Amona yesterday is debatably acceptable. It is horrendous. It is a chilul Hashem. It is not the way civilized people act. And worst of all it brings us down to the level of our enemies. The footage of masked Jewish kids throwing rocks at Israeli forces is indistinguishable from images we’ve seen hundreds of times of Palestinian kids doing the same thing. Our Hasbara is bad enough, this has set us back years.

    What is happening is deplorable. On the one hand you have Olmart, a Sharon wannabe, trying to make himself look tough be picking on a bunch of kids. On the other hand you have a handful of messianic fanatics (and a lot of irresponsible parents) fomenting a bunch of hormonal teens to unacceptable levels violent resistance. In a sense, both side are “mugging” for the cameras. Olmart wants pictures of his heavy handed police subduing the law-breaking settler fanatics and the fringe settlers want violently bloody images to act as a deterrent to further such evictions. The sad irony is that cooler heads, most likely representing majorities of both sides, worked out a compromise that would have prevented these confrontations.

    Jonathan’s assertion that these problems are the result of a leadership vacuum is specious. There are wonderful and respected leaders in the NR camp. But sometimes that’s just not enough. His Chareidi world also has some great leaders, yet that is often not enough to prevent chareidi lunatics from behaving in much the same way. Almost by definition, those on the fringe do not subject themselves the cooler and wiser voices of mainstream leadership.

  15. Josh R. says:

    I can’t really add anything to what Jonathan Rosenblum has said. It’s very sad to see the situation come to this.

    I’m extremely offended by the first comment though. The comparison is completely off. The Neturei Karta’s prime loyalty is to Arabs rather than Jews, and the secular Israeli public and government have joined them on that path. The haredim are the ones who have never respected the government, and now the NR are seeing that the haredim may have been right all along. The NR at Amona didn’t hate the govt. any more than the rest of the NR or the haredim, they were just more frustrated and decided that active resistance was better than passivity.

    And remember that they were not acting only for their own community – these continuing capitulations to our enemies are literally, if indirectly, killing Israelis of all types. When a government ceases to act in its own people’s best interest and instead begins to act out the policies of their enemies, should people ignore it? This is not just houses, it’s a matter of life and death! Whether this is the best way to resist is debatable, but it’s not so crazy. And it’s very easy to come down on the NR now, but we haven’t yet seen how secular or haredi Jews would react if faced with the same evictions, mistreatment, and hatred. Why don’t you wait till then to make your judgments?

  16. Moshe says:

    Harry Myles-

    To beging with, from what I understand, you don’t live in Israel – and you have no idea what the heck is going on here. For you to sit in Chicago, IL, and call what these youths did a “chillul hashem” shows extreme arrogance on your part.

    To begin with – these youths have the FULL backing of the Religious Zionists here in Israel. There were over 4,000 people there – with many more who wanted to go but did not because they knew they will be beaten up by the police. That is not some radical fringe.

    Secondly – I presume that you did not see the evacuation taking place on live TV. I did. The police came on horses, and charged into unarmed protesters, who were linking arms trying to prevent the police from getting through. At first, the police used whips to whip the crowd, then they started using batons – hitting indiscriminately. When they started doing this, people started throwing stones at the horses in order to prevent them from continuing. This succeeded partially – the horses had to pull back. However, it is impossible to throw stones forever, and sooner rather than later, they came back. Next came the stormtroopers – dressed in black, wearing helmets and hitting with batons indiscriminately. Obviously, unarmed civilians can’t do anything against such violence – they poured paint, sand, water and threw “paint bombs” at them – others threw stones as well. There is a fantastic video showing the stormtroopers inside one of the houses – all of the children were sitting on the floor, and the stormtroopers were indiscriminately hitting them. Defenseless kids – sitting on the floor – and a stormtrooper was hitting them with a club. Here’s the link – http://news.walla.co.il/?w=//852618 – skip to minte 2:18. I’ll continue posting soon – I need to go for a couple of minutes now.

  17. mkop says:

    I doubt what happened at Amona is really representation of the Dati Leumi (National
    Religious) community in Israel actually believes. I think most of the National Religious
    Community stands behind the Yesha Council, and need to stand up and unequivocally denounce
    the far right – basically marginalizing the far right to prevent the entire community from
    being marginalized in Israeli society.

  18. Bob Miller says:

    This heartbreaking spectacle of broken heads and broken bodies had better stop, but it’s not
    only the State that has to change its ways.

    Are the “settler youth” self-motivated and self-organized, or are they propelled into these
    confrontations by some of their elders? Either way, I sense that some parents have become
    very irresponsible despite their altruistic motives and have let their kids get into
    harm’s way to score political points.

    Now that so many other Israelis are glad to see the authorities beat these kids up, the
    tactical use of the youth has become totally pointless from any perspective but one,
    which is…

    …when radicals want to start a revolution, they try to do whatever it takes to increase the
    disaffection of the potential revolutionaries, convincing them that working within the system
    on any level is impossible. Anyone aiming to go down THAT road is no friend of our People or
    our Land.

  19. Harry Maryles says:

    From this morning Chicago Tribune:
    Police in riot gear, some of them on horseback, came under a hail of rocks as they drove back crowds gathered around the nine houses and then broke through shutters and windows to remove people inside.

    I cannot tell you how much it pains me to see Jew fighting Jew; and Jews hating the government so much. These people are to Religious Zionism as Neturei Karta is to Charedim. They both think the Israeli government is evil and do not recognize its legitimacy.
    What happened here is a Chilul HaShem of major proportions.

    I wrote a lengthy piece about this on my blog Emes Ve-Emunah at http:// haemtza.blogspot.com/