Israel’s protests cross sacred red lines
The battle is existential and reflects a similar struggle in the west
Israel’s three-month-old protest movement, which has repeatedly brought tens of thousands into the streets, is now crossing an increasing number of red lines.
There are serious anxieties that protests will disrupt next week’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Independence Day ceremonies.
At a Holocaust Remembrance Day synagogue service this week, anti-government participants forced Likud MK Boaz Bismuth to leave after they shouted at him to get out and started to become physically violent.
The leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid, announced that because the government had “divided society” he would boycott the traditional torch-lighting ceremony that ends Memorial Day and opens Independence Day.
It was hitherto unthinkable that Israelis could desecrate those three sacred days. It was similarly unthinkable for soldiers of the IDF to refuse to serve their country, as did a group of elite Air Force pilots in protest against the government.
Even the memory of the Shoah is being traduced. On an El Al flight from Tel Aviv to New York on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the pilot announced: “Things like [the] Holocaust are potentially carried [out] in a dictatorship, and we are fighting in Israel to remain a democratic country.”
On the same day, in another obscene equivalence, a ceremony at the Mateh Asher Regional Council displayed pictures from the Holocaust alongside photographs from the protests.
It should be apparent to rational observers that this has gone way beyond the issue of judicial reform. That particular agenda is now all but dead in the water. The government has retreated. Yet the protests are not only continuing but are becoming increasingly disturbing.
This is because judicial reform is a flashpoint for profound divisions that have previously escaped attention but have now erupted.
The Israeli protests are being fed by several different agendas. Some people oppose the judicial reforms because they believe the judiciary provides the only check on political power. Some want to bring down Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Some are frightened by religious or nationalist extremists in the government.
The deeper reason, one that connects all of the above, is secular Israel’s onslaught against Jewish religiosity in the public square.
For this, religious leaders bear significant responsibility. The reformist Orthodox Rabbi David Stav has warned that the extremism of the religious Zionist bloc has caused a dangerous rift in Judaism and Israeli society.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “some of our leaders, elected officials and rabbis speak in a tone that frightens many people in Israeli society — and rightfully so”.
However, secular Israelis are intolerant of all Orthodox religious observance. When a Jewish prayer service was held in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square to celebrate Passover, the city’s Deputy Mayor Reuven Ladyansky attacked it as a “scandal” and demanded that “the organisers be fined in the most severe way possible” because they had separated men from women.
In Tablet, Liel Liebovitz reported that one of Tel Aviv’s protest organisers told him: “We’re here because we want this to be a normal state, you understand? Just like the United States or France or Germany. We don’t want this country to be taken over by those fanatics with their beards and their religion.”
As Rabbi Stav observed, many religious Israelis are now afraid to wear their kippah at their workplace because the “forceful and violent” rhetoric from secular Israelis has made the atmosphere so toxic.
Obviously, this tumult reflects the ambiguity over national identity that’s remained unresolved since Israel’s rebirth in 1948. Was the new Jewish state to be a recovery of Judaism’s ancient religious calling, or would the “new Jews” who replaced religion with secular values repudiate that calling?
These secular Israeli “New Jews” view themselves and their country as no different from other peoples or countries. That’s why they sign up to the universalist principles promoted by the “human rights”-driven judiciary. The erosion of the judiciary’s power is therefore intolerable.
But Judaism, the most particularist of creeds, stands in direct opposition to universalism.
Judaism created the nation-state that universalism seeks to destroy. Jewish human rights are created from the network of duties that form a civilised community and nation. Modern, secular “human rights” have no such prior network of duties and instead divide people into groups warring for power.
Jews can never be the same as other peoples. Israel, like the Jewish people, is unique. If it tore up its ancient identity, it would tear up the reason for its existence as a Jewish state.
In America, liberal Jews have embraced secular ideologies inimical to Judaism. As a result, Jewish identification is dwindling and America’s Jewish community is being inexorably reduced to a small rump of the truly observant.
A similar process is happening more broadly in the west. For decades, it has been subjected to a sustained onslaught on its cultural inheritance of laws, morality and traditions based on the Hebrew Bible, in an attempt to replace them with supposedly universal principles intended to bring about the brotherhood of man.
This has both eroded the west’s internal cohesion and undermined its defences against the enemies of civilisation. Western liberals deem these enemies victims of the powerful, and thus excuse their violence and other misdeeds.
These liberals believe that if they are nice to their enemies, their enemies will lay down their weapons and chant “kumbaya”. That’s why US Democrats grovel to the genocidal fanatics of Iran and pressure Israel to kowtow to the Palestinian Arabs, incentivising their agenda of exterminating the Jewish state.
This attitude also dominates Israel’s military and official classes, among whom the “Oslo” mindset — which held that the Palestinian Arabs will end their aggression if offered a state of their own — still endures despite the destruction of that fantasy.
Of course, when rockets start flying from Gaza or Lebanon the IDF responds appropriately. But in the daily war of attrition by Palestinian Arabs in the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria, Israeli soldiers are told to enforce “normal life” for the Arab residents.
So instead of doing everything possible to save the lives of Israeli citizens, the soldiers refrain as far as possible from any action that may disrupt normal Arab life.
Unless soldiers endorse this mindset, they come up against a promotional glass ceiling. That’s an important reason why so many senior officers have such liberal views.
This amounts to the same unadmitted but devastating cultural pressure that exists in western universities and other cultural institutions and ensures that anyone who dissents from prevailing liberal shibboleths is pushed out.
It is impossible to understand the tumult in Israel without understanding that it is a rerun of a battle that goes back to the earliest days of the Jewish people — the titanic struggle between paganism and Jewish monotheism; between universalism and Jewish particularism; between Jewish Hellenists and those desperately defending Mosaic law against the manifold seductions of Greek culture.
The battle over Greek Hellenism fatally undermined the Jews’ defence against their enemies and led to their expulsion from ancient Israel. A direct line can be traced from today’s western progressives through the 18th century Enlightenment all the way back to the ancient Greeks.
The current onslaught against biblical values and their replacement by secular and even pagan ideologies is sacrificing the west on the altar of identity politics, moral relativism and the retreat of reason.
Israeli secularists are prepared to bring Israel to its knees in order to be like the west — at the precise point that the west is going down the tubes.
It’s often said that the Jewish community is the canary in the cultural coal mine. What’s happening in Israel is that the canary is now fighting off an adder it hadn’t noticed was coiled up inside its cage.
The fate of the Jewish canary should be of acute concern to the west, to which that adder belongs.
My most recent exclusive post for my premium subscribers argues that the west’s tsunami of Jew-hatred is swelled by currents from a more barbaric age. This is how the piece begins:
And you can read my most recent post that’s available to everyone, suggesting that US President Joe Biden’s Irish tour demonstrates yet more US arrogance, hubris and magical thinking, by clicking here.
One more thing…
This is how my website works.
It has two subscription levels: my free service and the premium service.
Anyone can sign up to the free service on this website. You can of course unsubscribe at any time by clicking “unsubscribe” at the foot of each email.
Everyone on the free list will receive the full text of pieces I write for outlets such as the Jewish News Syndicate and the Jewish Chronicle, as well as other posts and links to my broadcasting work.
But why not subscribe to my premium service? For that you’ll also receive pieces that I write specially for my premium subscribers. Those articles will not be published elsewhere. They’ll arrive in your inbox as soon as I have written them.
There is a monthly fee of $6.99 for the premium service, or $70 for an annual subscription. Although the fee is charged in US dollars, you can sign up with any credit card. Just click on the “subscribe now” button below to see the available options for subscribing either to the premium or the free service.
A note on subscriptions
If you purchase a subscription to my site, you will be authorising a payment to my company Dirah Associates. In the past, that is the name that may have appeared on your credit card statement. In future, though, the charge should appear instead as Melanie Phillips.
And thank you for following my work.