Bambi Sheleg on Disengagement

Who disengaged first? A recent editorial by Bambi Sheleg - which was forwarded to me via e-mail - calls for some soul-searching on the part of the religious Zionist movement. I will quote a few excerpts:
... In the years following the Yom Kippur War we [religious Zionists] came to believe, with true sincerity, that we were the flag-bearers of the Jewish people. After all, we had not forgotten the Torah of Israel and its values; we knew from whence we came and where we were going; we had more humility, we were imbued with faith.

The Yom Kippur War had not badly shaken our world of beliefs, as it did with the leading strata of Israeli society up until then. Just the opposite. That war actually strengthened us. The more mature among us discerned a leadership and ideological vacuum, the need for a new ideal to "uplift the people's spirit" – then at an ebb in wake of the war's tragedy – and charged toward the new and exciting goal: settling Judea, Samaria [i.e., the West Bank] and Gaza. Thus the great internal disengagement of religious Zionism began.


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, the values that we held.

The combination of an internal sense of power, of knowing the way, and the hatred we felt from the old elites who fought against our dream of settling the entire land caused many of us to stop dealing with the weighty questions on our doorstep. For example: What would we do with three and a half million Palestinians lacking civil rights?

Very few among us related to this weighty question with the proper seriousness. This, perhaps, is the main reason that the helm of power has still not come close to being in religious-Zionist hands.

On the other hand, the seclusion, combined with a deep internal sense of being in the right without asking for or needing external confirmation, caused a deep blindness in many of us.

Embarrassing as it is to admit, we fell in love with ourselves. We have strong communities, good schools and devoted teachers. We have a path, we have a destiny. We know how things should progress, and if events don't move the way we think they should, we will volunteer to show reality the way.

DEAR FRIENDS, this is so difficult for me to write: We were wrong, and we misled our society. On the way to redeeming the land of our forefathers, we forgot our people. We looked out for ourselves and our children very well, and we forgot so many children of other people.

We tried to give new life to the Torah of Israel so it would suit the tasks of this generation, but the generation of rabbis that were born to us disappointed. Our Torah is not relevant to the real situation of the great majority of the Jewish people in this generation. Its language is cut off and its thoughts not directed to the simple and basic and existential troubles of our society.

We looked out for ourselves, did we not? The beautiful settlements we built, the huge and ostentatious houses in so many of them, we thought this was something we deserved by right. While our schools flourished – and we made sure our children received more and more hours of schooling – there was no one to look out for the other children.

We strengthened our own small and prestigious state religious schools and national haredi [Orthodox] schools and neglected, even when we held the Education Ministry portfolio, all the other school systems. We acted like any self-interested sector, not as a worthy leadership.

We have no interest in the rights of workers, which are gradually being eroded – not of Jewish workers and certainly not of foreign workers; we have nothing to say about Israel being a world leader in the trading of women, and we of course have nothing to say about the Palestinian issue.

Except for a very few in our society, we don't even notice their existence. The Palestinians are invisible. They are a phenomenon of nature. We only see them when they strike at us.

And to all this it must be added that the institution closest to us, the one our people still control, the rabbinical courts, function like the legal system of a third world country, and we do almost nothing to change this disgrace.

The behavior of so many of us in the last few months shows that we have lost our wits. The hysterical demonstrations, the tacit consent to sending children to block roads and clash with security forces, all this attests to a deep sense of insult – as if society had betrayed us, the best of its sons.

And yes, many of us are indeed the best of its sons; but we betrayed society first. Innocently. Out of genuine idealism. But also out of arrogance. We disengaged first.

I simply can't overstate how important I think Bambi Sheleg's article is - not just for religious Zionists, or for Jews, but for all of us. Not everyone is familiar with the various factional and ideological struggles within Jewish and Israeli society; but many of us have dreamed, in some fashion, of "creating a better world." This dream has its dangers.

"...we fell in love with ourselves. We have strong communities, good schools and devoted teachers. We have a path, we have a destiny. We know how things should progress, and if events don't move the way we think they should, we will volunteer to show reality the way."

For those of us who have been on the political and cultural Left in America for the last 30 years, this article is like looking into a mirror. THIS IS US.

Please read the full article at the link

Update: Imshin has translated portions of the article, with her comments. Also follow her link to the Hebrew original in Ma'ariv.

Update II: Welcome Imshin readers!

Update III: And Kesher Talk readers! Thanks, Judith.

Update IV: Welcome Michael Totten readers! Michael's post speaks for me: "The country has - correctly, in my opinion - quietly moved to the left on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That's because the intifada is no longer what it recently was. It has been beaten back, and history is moving on without some people."

A reader in Germany was skeptical of the analogy I drew between the religious Zionists and the American left, so I'll try to explain a little better - because I believe this is essential for our understanding of the political realities of today's world.

Like the religious Zionist movement, the American Left was the only segment of society that was strenghtened, not weakened, by the last war - in our case, Vietnam. Over the next three decades, the liberal movement - that is, the increasingly dogmatic ideology that called itself "liberalism" - consolidated its hold on our media, our educational and cultural institutions. Liberal communities like Berkeley and neighborhoods like, well, the one I live in, ensured that left-leaning Americans could live comfortably without having to rub elbows with "red-staters".

Liberal Americans, guided by a "deep internal sense of being in the right without asking for or needing external confirmation,", built and strengthened their own communities but rarely stopped to ask themselves what they might learn from their conservative neighbors, or how they might address the conservatives' legitimate concerns about social values and national security. Now that "the helm of power" is slipping farther and farther away from liberal-Democratic hands, many of them are losing their minds.

The settlers sought to compel the Israeli government to follow the religious-Zionist ideology in its foreign policy, by holding themselves and their children hostage in land that was not part of the State of Israel. In the end, they lost their bet; and rather than concede defeat gracefully, they forced the Israeli Defense Forces to expend valuable resources in forcibly repatriating them to Israel proper. They had to be dragged, literally, kicking and screaming.

American leftists, too, refused to accept political defeat. But then, the political process was never really the point for them, either. As Michael wrote at Tech Central Station, "they march for themselves". "They were their own audience. Everyone else was a prop. Everyone else's eyes were mere mirrors. If they had any practical effect on the ground it was the alienation of their moderate allies." Go read Michael's piece at TCS, and go back and read Bambi Sheleg again.

The extreme right-wing Israeli settlers and the extreme left-wing American liberals may not have much in common politically, but they share the same pathology. As a lifelong liberal, and also a person with personal ties to the Orthodox world, I have great respect for both communities. We must learn the difficult lessons that these difficult times come to teach us.