I can't countenance a perversion of Judaism which attempts to turn our faith into a cult of intolerance.
By MICHAEL MELCHIOR
In recent weeks, we have recoiled from the photograph of the black eye on the face of Lt.-Col. Benny Shick who was attacked while dismantling an illegal outpost near Elon Moreh. We were horrified by the assault on OC Manpower Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern, while he was praying at the Western Wall. We've seen other public figures branded as "Nazis."
But these were not new images, they were all reminiscent of the period leading up to the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin ten years ago.
The murder of the prime minister in the name of the Torah by a kippa-wearing Jew from the mainstream of society should have alarmed us all and moved us to think deeply about the way we run our state. But it did not. Although in the immediate aftermath of the murder, there were expressions of regret and pronouncements of the need for reflection, the sense of shock soon evaporated and we quickly returned to the old obscene patterns of behavior.
Rabin's assassination did not occur in a vacuum. It was the direct result of years of rabble-rousing, delegitimizing of alternate opinions and demonizing of those who held them. One would have hoped that Israelis would have learned the lessons, but sadly some of our leaders still labor under the misapprehension that a sort eternal guarantee will maintain our state as a flourishing democracy, even as party leaders are silenced, opposition members are verbally abused, and those with different viewpoints are ostracized.
I have witnessed with horror the way that so much of our religious Zionist community has disengaged from its vision for the whole country and caters only for a small minority with its strident messianic declarations. Those who were once considered fanatics on the fringes of society have become spokesmen. They dress their political ambitions in the language of Halacha. They parade their personal opinions as absolute Jewish dogma and they present their political views as the infallible word of God.
This hijacking of the religious Zionist arena leaves no room for other opinions and ravages the culture of questioning and debate which are the hallmarks of Judaism.
THE BOOK of Proverbs says that the ways of the Torah are pleasant, and all of its paths are peaceful. The Midrash expresses the idea that peace is the greatest blessing of all. There is plenty of room for debate over how to achieve peace, and mine is not the only way. I welcome alternate opinions and constructive criticism which sharpen the national debate and increase the chances of reaching the best possible conclusions. But there must be parameters to the debate. I cannot countenance a perversion of Judaism which attempts to turn our faith into a warmongering cult of intolerance, racism and incitement.
YET, AMIDST these depressing images, there are encouraging signs of change in Israeli society. In the aftermath of the Rabin assassination, many Orthodox and secular Jews understood that the time had come to mend their rifts. They began to broaden their horizons and to learn from one another recognizing that the idea of democracy being the sole possession of one sector of society while Torah was the exclusive property of another was a corruption of Jewish ideals.
It is uplifting to see how many secular Jews have returned to the sources to rediscover their Jewish heritage. In schools, seminars and halls of Torah study, tens of thousands of secular Jews are familiarizing themselves with Jewish tradition. Often they do so in partnership with observant Jews.
We can also draw strength from the many services held in community centers over the High Holy Days in which secular Jews felt welcomed without fear that they would be coerced into religious observance or made to feel uncomfortable about their chosen lifestyle.
All these people reject a Judaism based on jingoistic slogans, but feel at home when values such as "Love the stranger," "Seek peace and pursue it" and "Justice, through just means pursue" take center stage.
I am particularly proud of those people who resolutely declare the need to connect with the whole of the Jewish people, not only those who share their beliefs, practices or socioeconomic standing. I salute those who acknowledge the need for a strong and secure Israel, but at the same time recognize that only through mutual recognition, understanding and dialogue with our Arab minority can we build a future for all our children.
I identify with those who care about the huge number of adults and children living below the poverty line, the many elderly people who cannot afford to buy the medicines on which their lives depend and the foreign workers who are constantly abused and humiliated. These values which so many of us share are drawn from the Torah and they are fundamental to our heritage.
With the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, we mourn not only the loss of a great leader and a hero of Israel, but also the devastation of fundamental Jewish values of decency, mutual respect and democracy. We are joined in our mourning by the Torah, which grieves over the desecration of its most basic values, and by God who weeps for the desecration of his name.
The poet Yehuda Amichai wrote that Jews are not a people of history, nor of geography, nor even of nationalism. We are a people of geology, a people full of cracks. The murder of our war hero, peace maker and prime minister created great rifts in Israeli society which until now have proven difficult to mend. But from that great pain, we can reflect on the lessons of the past to correct our mistakes for the sake of our future.
The writer is deputy minister for social and Diaspora affairs.