Counterpoint: What does the religious Right want?

Its views undermine the country's moral legitimacy as a Jewish state.

david forman 88 (photo credit:)
david forman 88
(photo credit: )
Israel has lived in a perpetual state of war and terror since its establishment 60 years ago. For two-thirds of its existence, it has occupied another people. It is an unnatural state of affairs for Jews, who have experienced so much pain and suffering at the hand of others, to find themselves in such a historically contradictory role. And yet, despite this difficult reality, throughout Israel's brief modern history, its accomplishments are awe-inspiring, not only in its successes on the battlefield, where it has fended off attempts by surrounding countries to destroy it, but primarily in its ability to build a democratic society in the midst of seemingly unending turmoil, where totalitarian regimes dominate the regional scene. One of the raisons d'etre for Israel's establishment was to serve as an "ingathering of exiles." Indeed, the country is a model of the absorption of immigrants from the most disparate backgrounds imaginable - ethnic, religious, cultural and economic. From 1948 to 1952, when Israel was moving from a provisional government to full-fledged sovereignty, when it was undergoing extreme economic hardships, when it was waging a defensive war against six Arab countries, it managed to absorb 600,000 Jewish refugees from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco to the ash heaps of Auschwitz. More recently, it absorbed more than 1 million Russian Jews alongside thousands of Ethiopian Jews. Israel has fashioned an independent judicial system that is one of the most admired in the world. It is a leader in technology, medicine and science; it has produced a disproportionate number of Nobel Prize winners given the size of its population; and it has managed to establish a thriving economy despite the turbulence from within and without. Most significantly, it has held onto its moral high ground when compared to other countries. While this may not provide solace to those of us who prefer not to use other countries to measure our behavior and actions, it does indicate that we struggle with questions of ethical conduct under the most difficult circumstance in ways that dwarf other nations. BUT ALL the above will be for naught if Israel were to follow the lead of those on the religious right of the political spectrum, who have created a dangerous unity between religion and nationalism. To be "religiously right" is not only an expression of ideology, but of morality. And, in the Jewish state, sadly, if Israelis were to adopt the views of those on the religious right, it would not only undo all the good works that the country has accomplished in its short lifetime, but it would undermine the country's moral legitimacy as a Jewish state. Is this a gross exaggeration? Let's look at one basic political concept that the religious right embraces: the annexation of the entire West Bank. Barring that possibility, it would simply opt to rule over the territories, not necessarily because of reasons of security, but because of matters of theology - a theology that clings to the biblical notion that occupying the greater land of Israel is a "divine promise." However, such a "divine promise" promises two things: 1) the continual oppression of Palestinians; and 2) a guarantee that Israel will never achieve peace. What troubles me most about the political stance of those on the religious right, especially those who comprise the settlement movement, is that their understanding of a "divine promise" disregards the "divine mandate" of liturgical texts, which are filled with supplications of peace, that are later expressions of Jeremiah's prayerful longing: "Cry peace, peace, when there is none" (6:14) and Aaron's priestly exhortation of peace (Numbers 6:24-26). DO NOT these Jews conclude their sacred benedictions three times daily, including on Shabbat and holidays, with a prayer for peace? Why do they discount the closing proclamation of the grace after meals: "The Lord will give strength to His people and bless His people with peace"? Do the final words of the Mourners' Kaddish, "He who makes peace in the heavens will make peace upon all of us and upon Israel," not resonate as a divine edict? The religious population should be at the forefront of the peace movement, turning over every stone in the pursuit of peace. Falling short of that, it must see its religious goal as easing the burden of occupation. B'tselem's latest report of Israel's activities in the territories is a serious indictment of the Jewish state's moral behavior: walls within walls that divide the territories into non-contiguous cantons; a system of separate roads; more than one hundred checkpoints and roadblocks; and unprovoked religious settler violence against Palestinians that contradicts the talmudic dictum that so poignantly clarifies the psalmist's yearning to "seek peace and pursue it" (34.15) to mean: "Seek peace in your own place and pursue it in others" (Yerushalmi: Peah A). Enlightened Jews must reject a parochial religious interpretation of Judaism that dooms the Jewish people to everlasting conflict. In the name of those Jewish texts, which dwarf Torah pronouncements of "land grabbing," we must actively "seek peace for those who are far off and for those who are near" (Isaiah 57:19); otherwise the Zionist enterprise that has witnessed such remarkable accomplishments will evaporate. Without peace, we will jeopardize our social welfare, economic stability, medical advancements, technological and scientific achievements. We will endanger our physical well-being as well as compromise our moral integrity, which must sustain any "divine promise" of a Jewish state. Worse, we could even assure that Israel becomes an episodic happenstance. A believing Jew should understand this, for "the future lies with the person of peace" (Psalm 37:37).