The piece that follows is shocking in its smugness, in its arrogance, in its elitism, in its hatred – even for Haaretz. I present it in the entirety, as an aid to understanding what is right and what is wrong with Israel today.
This cannot be an easy time for the fanatically secular in Israel. A new survey shows that 80% of Israelis believe in G-d. In the midst of all the disagreement – even between contributors to Cross-Currents – about the role and responses of the charedi community, this factoid should be a source of great hope, promise and challenge for the future.
The effete snobs of Haaretz are not happy with this finding, and even less happy to learn that 70% of Israelis believe that Jews are the Chosen People. Gideon Levy has an epiphany. He discovers the reason for all that is wrong with Israel. This belief (and the attendant belief in the Bible itself, from which it derives) is the spring from which all kinds of ugliness and toxicity flow: the occupation, the racism, the ability to go it alone against the global community. He announces to whomever will listen: “The enemy is not religious coercion. Worse than coercion is genuine belief in all this silliness! We are all Haredim! We are all Sikrikim!”
I wish I were exaggerating. Read and weep. Cry that there are Jews who are far more offended by Jewish particularism than are non-Jews. Cry that the rest of us have done so poor of a job in personifying the true meaning of chosenness – an assumption upon ourselves to live lives of sanctity and responsibility that makes belief in Hashem appealing and inviting. Cry that people have no inkling that being the Am Nivchar can and must mean that we have greater concern for the Other, not lesser; that we become more sensitive to pain and suffering of any tzelem Elokim, not more insulated and unfeeling. Cry that they are oblivious to the fact that there has been no shortage of Jews who demonstrated this again and again. Cry that Jews can become so contemptuous of their own heritage that they become the leaders of the movement to destroy the Jewish State, and authors of the worst anti-Semitic literature up for sale.
Take heed that those who are most certain that belief in Hashem and His Torah is a certain sign of barbaric primitivism are those most willing to commit their brothers and sisters into the hands of Hamas.
R. Akiva’s admission of his attitude to the Torah sage when he was an ignorant shepherd – “I will bite him like a donkey” – seems tame opposite the self-immolation of Gideon Levy in his fiery hatred of Judaism.
By Gideon Levy
G-d exists. Eighty percent of Israeli Jews can’t be wrong. And it is precisely for that reason we must say: G-d protect us from the results of the poll (conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute’s Guttman Center for Surveys and the Avi Chai Foundation ). While it is conceivably possible to deal with that burning, wholesale belief in the divine, what do we do with the “You chose us” part? Seventy percent of respondents said they also believed Jews are the Chosen People – and that frightening parameter is only on the rise.
You have to give it to the pollsters. They let the cat out of the bag. To paraphrase the Haaretz advertising slogan from the 1990s – Israel: Not what you thought. Not what the world thought, not what Israelis imagine themselves to think. Israeli society isn’t secular, it isn’t liberal and it isn’t enlightened. Were they permitted to respond freely, it’s doubtful that 80 percent of Iranians would say they believed in G-d; it’s doubtful there is any other free nation on the planet, with the possible exception of the Americans, that would produce the same results. But there surely is no other nation on the planet that is so secure in its arrogant certainty that it was selected from all the other nations and raised above them.
The findings of this powerful poll are the most important key to understanding Israeli society and the conduct of its governments. It is the only prism through which it is possible to comprehend the occupation, the racism, the Haredization and the capitulation to the settlers. In our hearts, we think: This is our destiny. If in any enlightened society settlers and the ultra-Orthodox would be treated as marginal, eccentric, messianic groups, the attitude toward them in Israel comes from a very deep place within the “secular” society. If in any enlightened society the occupation stirs protest and revulsion, the attitude to it here is based in a religious belief that justifies all its iniquities.
The survey proves that we are all “hilltop youth,” and that most of us are Sicarii. Expressions of racism toward Arabs and foreigners, Israel’s arrogant attitude toward international opinion – these too can be explained by the benighted, primeval belief of the majority of Israelis (70 percent ) that we enjoy complete license because You chose us. Even the religious character of the state, which is much less secular than we tend to think – no buses or El Al flights during Shabbat, no civil marriage, no unkosher hotels, a mezuzah on the doorjamb of nearly every home and a rising number of people who kiss it each time they enter or exit – all this can be explained by the survey data.
There is much less religious coercion than it would appear, much more willing dedication to the caprices of Jewish fundamentalism. From now on, it can no longer be claimed that the secular majority has acquiesced to the religious minority; there is no secular majority, only a negligible minority.
In contrast to most European states today, in Israel “atheist” is a derogatory term that few people even dare to say, much less use to identify themselves. In such a country, it is impossible to speak seriously about secularism. We should admit the truth, which is that we are an almost religious society and a state that is almost based on religious law. There’s no need to keep counting the number of people wearing kippot, headscarves or shtreimels. Bareheaded people are in the same camp: They accept the character of their state, where the religion is the state and the state is the religion, all mixed together. There’s no need to keep being shocked by religious extremism – being religious, whether moderate or extreme, is all the same, and it’s the majority here.
From Jenin to Hebron, we are in the West Bank above all because the majority of Israelis believe that it is not only the land of the patriarchs, but that this fact gives us a patrimonial right to sovereignty, to cruelty, to abuse and to occupation – and to hell with the position of the international community and the principles of international law, because, after all, we were chosen from among all other peoples. From Bnei Brak to Mea She’arim, these Haredim are, to a large extent, us, just with different dress and languages – more extreme versions of the same belief.
Perhaps it was inevitable. A state that arose on a certain territory and conquered another territory and has remained there nearly forever, all on the basis of Bible stories; a population that never decided whether it was a nation or a religion; and a state that purports to be a “Jewish state,” even if no one has any idea what that means. All these cannot exist with no foundation – a chosen people that believes in its G-d. That is Israel, circa 2012. G-d have mercy on us.