Borderline Views: Israel Prize for Druckman

There is no one more worthy of receiving the prestigious Israel Prize for lifetime achievement than Rabbi Druckman.

Rabbi Haim Druckman 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Rabbi Haim Druckman 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Readers of this column will know that my own politics and those of Rabbi Haim Druckman, one of the undisputed leaders of Religious Zionism, are vastly different. Druckman, the head of the Bnei Akiva Yeshivot, one of the founders of the Gush Emunim settlement movement, believes in the concept of a Greater Israel, given to the Jewish people by God, liberated (not occupied) in the Six Day War, and never to be relinquished to any non-Jewish control or sovereignty. For my part, I believe that for Israel ever to achieve some form of political stability in this region it is going to sooner or later have to relinquish control of the West Bank, evacuate settlements and allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state, living alongside a fully sovereign and secure State of Israel.
In political terms our positions could not be more vastly different, located on the Right and Left of the diverse political spectrum which characterizes this country. While we both believe inherently in the cause of political Zionism and the right of the Jewish people to its own independent and sovereign homeland, our respective road maps are vastly different. We represent two totally different perspectives in terms of what will be better for Israel in the long term and what, if anything, will finally guarantee some stability and security for Israel in this highly volatile region.
Yet there is no one in this country more worthy of being the recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize for lifetime achievement than Druckman. The prize, awarded annually by the president and prime minister at the closing ceremony of Independence Day is, for its recipients, the culmination of a lifetime of work in the fields of science, arts, voluntarism or contribution to state and society. It seemed somehow appropriate that the announcement of the award came during the same week Druckman and his colleagues were commemorating the thirtieth yartzheit (anniversary of the death) of their religious and political mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook. His teachings, loosely based on the writings of his illustrious father, Rabbi Abraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook, provide the basis for the political developments and the emergence of religio-political leaders within the world of Religious Zionism during the past four decades.
During the interim 40 years, Druckman has been at the forefront of most of the major political events to have encompassed the world of Religious Zionism. In addition to the growth and expansion of his own impressive educational institutions at Merkaz Sappir (Or Etzion), he served as an MK for the National Religious Party and, for the breakaway pro-settlement Matzad faction, along with Hanan Porat who passed away just recently.
During the past decade he served as head of the State Conversion Authority, which arranged the conversions of tens of thousands of Russian immigrants. He was faced with heavy criticism and abuse on the part of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world for being too lenient. But he stood his ground and in the process made a major contribution to the state.
And while he has been one of the major figures responsible for taking Israel in a rightward direction, he has, along with Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, and unlike some of his more radical colleagues within the religious Zionist world in recent years, always insisted on the supremacy of the state (mamlachtiut), which he views as an essential religious construct. As a Holocaust survivor, arriving without family at the age of 12 to a newly-established Israel, he understands that without the framework of the state, with which his religious and halachic positions are often in conflict, the situation of the Jewish people would be much worse.
In some senses he is a victim of his own success. The world of Religious Zionism has undergone many changes and internal splits – some moving in an extreme right-wing “hardal” (haredi leumi) direction, others breaking off to form more moderate groups of young adults seeking alternative, more pluralistic religious lifestyles. There is no longer a single or effective National Religious or Mafdal party, precisely because most religious Zionists feel comfortable enough to move about within the wider circles of Israeli society – be it as senior officers in the army, or as politicians within those parties who have traditionally been seen as secular and distant from any form of religion.
One only has to see the people surrounding the present prime minister, the number of kippot on their heads, to understand that young people combining values of religion and modernity today feel fully integrated into society, no longer requiring specifically religious political institutions through which to identify.
It is precisely this integration which threatens the Left and the peace camp in Israel. They have nothing similar today in terms of the younger generation. They lack charismatic leaders like Druckman who can continually provide them with a challenge and a battle cry and an inherent belief that what they are doing, even when it is clashes with wider public opinion, is the right way forward. What we urgently need on the Left is the leadership of someone like Druckman, to rally the troops and make a clear statement on behalf of tens of thousands of young, unattached and unaffiliated youths and young adults. A guru figure who is both idealistic and stately at the same time.
I recall the charisma of Druckman from my own teenage years in the Bnei Akiva movement – as an emissary to seminars taking place in Europe, and as a teacher of the many who came to Israel for a year of Hachshara (preparation) on a religious Kibbutz and as a student to his Or Etzion institutions. And despite having moved in a vastly different political direction, I see what this world of Religious Zionism has offered to my family and acquaintances of old.
I envy the world of Religious Zionism for the zeal of its leaders, as they promote a political vision of the state which is vastly different to that which I hold true. I await the day when an Israel Prize will be awarded to a left-wing equivalent of Druckman. Someone who has served to transform a yearning for peace into a concrete reality through personal charisma and a life-long commitment to the cause of a more rational and compromising version of Zionism, to which I believe the majority of the Israeli public still hold.
The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben- Gurion University. The comments expressed are his alone.