The quest for unity

History would seem to teach us that 'unity and Jews' is an oxymoron, like 'Jerusalem, the city of peace.'

The forcible removal of 1,700 settler families from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria was undoubtedly extremely traumatic to those settlers. The media, which in general supported that policy, however, fell into the trap of the settler movement, whose spokesmen at times predicted a "civil war" if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon insisted on carrying it out. Now that disengagement has been carried out with a minimum of violent confrontation, it should be obvious that rolling back those settlements did not in itself provide a satisfactory explanation for the intense Sturm und Drang which was forced upon the entire country for a number of months and whose aftermath still threatens our political stability. Reading through numerous press clippings from that period, I believe the explanation lies in the not-so-veiled hopes of many rabbinic and political leaders of the national religious camp that an unimpeded continuation of the largely religious settlement drive would eventually lead to that movement taking over the reins of government and shaping the country in its own image. The intensity of this group's mourning is a reflection of the dashing of that dream. In an extraordinary mea culpa which appeared in Ma'ariv and The Jerusalem Post in August, Bambi Sheleg, editor of the national religious Eretz Aheret, reviewed the exhilarating achievements of that camp in the 30 years following the Yom Kippur War. She noted, "All this was done consciously by the leadership out of an internal sense that our people were worthy of replacing the old and corrupt elites in power, who lacked the true values that we held." Under the headline, "Embarrassing as it is to admit, we fell in love with ourselves," she noted that "the combination of an internal sense of power, of knowing the way, and the hatred we felt from the old elites... caused many of us to stop dealing with the weighty questions on our doorstep." During the months which led up to disengagement, the impression the sensation-hungry media created was that the entire national religious leadership was united in its opposition and in support of "heresies" such as advising soldiers to disobey orders and prospective recruits not to serve in an "anti-religious and anti-settlement" army. Only now are we beginning to hear more moderate, opposing views from some rabbis and academic leaders who are ready to go out on a limb and excoriate those "extremist" rabbis as "dangerously false messiahs." In an interview with Post editor David Horovitz on August 12, Bar-Ilan University President Moshe Kaveh claimed that those extremist rabbis were a small and irresponsible minority and had imposed a traumatic dilemma on the young soldiers whom they were guiding. In a more recent interview Kaveh goes even further, saying that "if the extremist, dogmatic camp does take over the national religious movement, which I do not believe will happen, that will be the end of that movement." Similar sentiments have been expressed recently by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat and somewhat more hesitantly by some other moderate rabbis. A common denominator in these statements is that the dominant national religious approach had often been marked by an arrogant attitude to the rest of Israeli Jewry. What is sorely needed today, they urge, is the fostering of a sense of unity between the national religious and broad segments of the non-religious population. Unity is to Jewish leaders what motherhood and apple pie used to be to American politicians. But history would seem to teach us that "unity and (highly educated and opinionated) Jews" is an oxymoron, like "Jerusalem, the city of peace." The call for Jewish unity is often accompanied by exhortations to national religious Zionist Jews not to segregate themselves in self-imposed ghettoes, but to confront the need to live with, influence and be influenced by non-religious Jews. Such self-ghettoization was a tragic mistake and must be reversed, they assert. In recent years, national religious schoolchildren have been hermetically ghettoized from the majority of their secular peers, up to university. There are today four experimental schools in which Jewish and Arab children study together. I would challenge those national religious rabbinical, academic and political leaders who are calling for Jewish unity to begin with an equal number of such mixed religious-secular schools. In his interview in Haaretz, Kaveh said that self-confident national religious families should be willing to live intermixed with other Jews, in secular Tel Aviv, for example, and educate their children with other children. If they do not learn to do that, with all the attendant dangers, "then religious Zionism will have failed." He told his secular interviewer: "It may be that my grandchild will be secular and yours religious. We both have to accept that there is a cost to such social communication." National religious triumphalism began in the 1977 Knesset elections in which the National Religious Party switched sides and made possible the first Likud coalition government, putting an end to 29 years of Labor-NRP coalitions. Today's ongoing political realignment may make it possible for the national religious to join a new coalition which would address itself to problems that have been neglected for the past three decades due to the single-minded concentration on the settlements.