It is not often, to say the least, that I agree with the political views espoused by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, one of the rabbis of Beit El in the West Bank and, more significantly, the head of the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem. One of the leading spiritual mentors in the world of religious Zionism, Aviner has been at the forefront of the settlement movement ever since its inception back in the early 1970s when, as a young rabbi at Kibbutz Lavi and followed by a spell as rabbi of the Keshet community in the Golan Heights, he rose to prominence as one of the new, younger, generation of post-1967 leaders within the Religious Zionist world.
In addition to his official rabbinical roles, Aviner has, for a number of years, conducted an open question-and-answer program on one of the religious radio stations. Although known for his tough line on the issue of a Greater Israel and his staunch opposition to any form of territorial withdrawal from land which, for him and his fellow believers, was promised to the Jewish people through the biblical narratives and which was liberated, not occupied or conquered, in the Six Day War, Aviner espouses a nonconfrontational stance when it comes to physically opposing the state. He sees the state and its government as part of the redemption process, views the army as being "holy" and encourages his followers and students to undertake army service as a religious imperative. Although he strongly opposes the forced evacuation of settlements, he has remained silent on the issue of religious soldiers refusing to obey orders in this respect, at a time when many of his colleagues have publicly supported this stance.
Like many other religious leaders, he writes a short social and political commentary in Ma'ayenei Hayeshua, one of the many weekly magazines which appear in the country's synagogues every Shabbat and in which he addresses the religious dimensions of contemporary issues facing Israel and the Jewish people. In line with most of his colleagues, his politics are right of center, not only with regard to issues of territory and peace, but also regarding what he and his colleagues see as a loss of religious, spiritual and family values.
As a means of following contemporary trends and changes within the world of Religious Zionism, I religiously read Aviner's column every week. Having been a student of his many years ago while on Hachshara of the Bnei Akiva movement at Kibbutz Lavi back in the mid-1970s, I suppose I have a soft spot for him despite strongly disagreeing with his political positions. Unlike many of the other political commentaries of the rabbis vying for attention in these weekly missives, - often read by the congregants during an over-lengthy sermon or prayer service - Aviner displays a reasonable knowledge of what is happening in the world, beyond the narrow confines of religious Zionism and even beyond the borders of Israel itself.
IT WAS therefore with an unexpected surprise that this past Friday evening I found myself agreeing with everything he wrote. Aviner came out in a strong attack of the unholy alliance which has developed in recent years by some groups on the radical Right of Israeli politics and the Christian Fundamentalist and Evangelical movements in North America. Aviner noted the fact that some years ago he had refused, point blank, to accept donations from these movements for his yeshiva, resulting in a potential loss of many millions of dollars for his institutions. Given the fact that the ultimate aim of the Christian Evangelical movements is to bring about conversion to Christianity and that their own messianic ideology views the end of days as belonging to the Christian messiah who will ultimately vanquish all other religions or messianic movements, there was no way that he would agree to enter an alliance with them. For a true ideologue such as Aviner, this negates the messianic worldview of Gush Emunim and those who believe that the State of Israel is, along the lines espoused by Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, his mentor, a sure sign of the coming redemption.
This is strongly contrasted with the position taken on by a fellow spiritual leader of the religious Zionist world, former minister and Knesset member Rabbi Benny Elon (the elder brother of Rabbi Motti Elon who grabbed most of last week's headlines within the religious Zionist world).
Elon, a political opportunist as compared with Aviner, has always been in favor of enlisting the support of the Christian Evangelical movements and travels often to North America to meet with their leaders, to encourage political lobbying by them on behalf of the settler movement, to raise donations for right-wing and messianic causes, and to arrange for groups of them to visit Israel and be conducted on tours of the Old City and the West Bank by right-wing and settler leaders.
The fact that the values of these Evangelical movements do not correspond with those of a liberal, democratic, open society goes without saying. Liberal Jewish America, from where Israel's most important source of support - political and financial - is derived, does not view this connection in a very positive light, although it remains largely silent given the fact that it is so difficult to enlist the support of new friends these days.
But it is even more surprising that it is the right-wing religious
groups in Israel, those for whom the redemption process is part of
their daily being, who cultivate the support of the Evangelist
movements. No short-term gains in cultivating artificial relationships
can hide the long-term objectives and contrasting religious ideologies
as espoused by the Evangelical movements which, if implemented, which
would lead to head-on confrontation between these two groups.
The fact that these Evangelical movements support a variety of
right-wing causes in Israel, causes which are close to the hearts of
Aviner and his colleagues, is not sufficient reason. Nor the fact that
they march down the streets of Jerusalem, waving Israeli flags and
singing "Heveinu Shalom Aleichem." Aviner, a leading ideologue and
spiritual mentor of the religious Zionist world, has come out strongly
against this unholy alliance, and rightly so.The writer is professor of Political Geography at Ben-Gurion
University and editor of the
International Journal of Geopolitics.