“Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
— George Orwell
As the State of Israel observes its Memorial Day for the fallen (Yom HaZikaron), followed immediately by its 75th birthday, Yom Ha’Atzmaut, commemorating the Declaration of Independence for the restored Jewish state after 2000 years of exile, on 5 Iyar (May 15, 1948), unfortunately it could anticipate an orgy of terrorist violence accompanied by domestic civil disobedience or worse, chas v’sholem. The reasons are complex but can be understood from reading the forthcoming book The Jewish State from Opposition to Opportunity by Rabbi Doron Perez, Executive Chairman of the Mizrachi World Movement (aka Religious Zionism), (For me, by reading Rabbi Perez’s introductory article and David M. Weinberg’s book review in the current issue of Mizrachi magazine, Volume 6, Number 1.)
Let’s start with the domestic strife and then go on to the external threat. Rabbi Perez begins by citing Netanel Ellinson, head of a pre-army academy in Israel, who noted that “…in both previous Jewish commonwealths, a crisis ensued as the nation neared its seventy-fifth year of independence.” The first time, “… seventy-three years after David’s coronation as king over all the tribes of Israel, the people of Israel tragically split into two separate kingdoms, Yehudah and Yisrael.” [As predicted by Moshe, “For when you will have children and your children will have children and you have long been in the Land, you will become corrupt.” (Deuteronomy/ Devarim 4:25) Similarly, in the seventy-third year of the Chashmonean kingdom, “… a deep division ensued between the two princes, Aristobulus and Hyrcanus. This became a family feud and a deep political divide with one brother enlisting the support of the rising Roman Empire, giving Rome a foothold in Judea and eventually leading to the decimation of the Hasmonean kingdom and the destruction of the Temple.” And there have been 12 civil wars in Jewish history. Adding still further to the division, the mainline liberal Jewish organizations now concentrate more on woke priorities than Jewish ones; for example, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) this year sent to its constituents a list of public priorities that emphasized support to Israel and communal security, only to backtrack in response to liberal Jewish pressure and add equal priorities for gun control, LGBTQ rights, and supporting Democratic Party bills designed to tilt the nation’s election laws in their favor.
In each case Ellinson observed a troubling trend over the first three generations of statehood: the first generation were the founders; the second generation were the builders, and the third were the ‘generation of the destroyers.’ This generation by and large do not know firsthand the challenges of the founders but reap the benefits of their sacrifice and investment. Apathy sets in, then discord, and finally tragic divisiveness. To be fair, other nations beside Israel have experienced what journalist Menachem Rahat calls “the curse of the eighth decade”: the US fought a bloody Civil War; Germany and Italy turned fascist in the eighth decade after their unification; the Soviet Union collapsed in its eighth decade.
Once again, in the third generation, Israel is deeply divided. The ostensible cause is the issue of judicial reform, by which the new Right-wing government seeks to roll back the seizure of power by the Leftist Supreme Court, power that goes beyond any other supreme court in the Western world. In the absence of a formal Constitution, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak not only assumed the power of judicial review of legislation passed by the Knesset, but power over ministry decisions, policies, even appointments, on the vague premise of whether they were “reasonable.” He even discarded the principle of “standing,” that is, only affected parties can appeal a statute or government action. Now any Leftist organization can appeal any government action. Moreover, the sitting Justices effectively select their own successors when their terms expire by majority vote, thus perpetuating the Leftist domination of the Court. Underlying the furor over judicial reform is the real issue: “juristocracy” [a term coined by Jonathan Tobin] is the means by which the Ashkenazi Left, who dominated the government from 1948 to 1977, have been able to continue ruling the country despite losing nearly every election to the rising, largely Sephardic/Mizrachi and charedi (so-called “ultra-Orthodox”) coalition. That conflict in turn arises from the question whether Israel should be a secular democracy or a Jewish state, as exemplified by the Leftist voter who said in an interview that he didn’t want religion crammed down his throat.
What makes this division sad, even tragic, is that the basis for bridging it exists. In the blogs at The Times of Israel, I found a fascinating article about the apparently little-known Gavison-Medan Covenant. Briefly, two decades ago, a secular attorney, the late Ruth Gavison, holder of the Haim Cohen Human Rights Chair at the Faculty of Law of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Rabbi Yaacov Medan, an Orthodox rabbi and educator at the Har-Etzion religious seminary and teacher at the Yaacov Herzog College in Alon Shvut, met over a period of three years to work out a compact for the relationship between State and Religion that both sides could live with. Remarkably, they reached agreement on every point but one, the registration of nationality. Their summary of the key principles:
- “Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. Israel will continue to respect the equal rights of all its citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish, along with freedom of religion and conscience.”
- “Principle of Return: Every ‘member of the Jewish people’ will be eligible to immigrate to Israel, including the child of a Jewish father and a person who has converted through a recognized procedure. Even someone who converted in a manner that diverges from the tradition of the “Shulhan Arukh” will be entitled to register himself as a Jew in the population registry.
- “Personal Status: The right to establish a family will be recognized. The law of the state will permit weddings conducted according to any ceremony the couple chooses, and the marriage will be recorded in the population registry. No individual in Israel will be allowed to marry who is not single both according to state law and according to a strict interpretation of the laws of his religion.”
- “The Sabbath: Saturday is the official day of rest in Israel. Persons will not be employed and will not be required to work in manufacturing, trade or services on the Sabbath. Cultural events, entertainment and a reduced schedule of public transportation will be permitted to meet demand.”
- “Principle of Non-Coercion: The elimination of any monopoly exercised by a particular group on overall arrangements; at the same time, the right of every group to preserve its own lifestyle according to its own conception and interpretation will be respected. The same will hold true in matters of burial, dietary laws, the Sabbath, religious services and prayer arrangements at the Western Wall.”
- “Legal Implementation: The covenant will be anchored in law such that it will be difficult to introduce partial and unilateral changes into its mechanisms. It is in the spirit of the covenant as a whole to give preference to mechanisms for negotiation and compromise over legislative and judicial decision-making. The courts, therefore, will not be granted the authority to invalidate laws concerning the covenant. The interpretation of the covenant, insofar as there is no court case involved, will be entrusted to an accepted representative public body, in order to encourage consensual interpretation without the need for recourse through the courts.”
This reads like a reasonable compromise. The problem is that the opposition leader refuses even to negotiate and has taken the highly unpatriotic steps of boycotting the 75th anniversary celebration, calling on local government, police, and the military not to obey orders from the new government, and encouraging massive demonstrations that threaten the economy, even after judicial reform was postponed. Who knew democracy came with a “sore loser” clause?
Equally as bad as the domestic unrest is the encouragement that this level of dissension gives to Israel’s external enemies, who are legion. As Tunisia’s late President Habib Bourguiba remarked, “The Arabs should not fight Israel; the Jews in their internal quarrels will destroy themselves.” Nevertheless, our enemies are pursuing their own challenges.
As taught by the Vilna Gaon, there are three types of historical anti-Semitism: “Moabite spiritual enmity (which expresses itself in opposition to Jewish values); Edomite physical destruction (opposition to Jewish nationality or race), and Philistine political denialism (opposition to Jewish governance and sovereignty in the Land of Israel)”. True to their name, the modern Palestinians (Philistines), led by Holocaust-denier Mahmoud Abbas, have chosen the third path, as delineated by Rabbi Doron Perez in his new book. As Rabbi Perez observes, the Palestinians’ hostility to Jewish self-determination has sparked a merger of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism into “… one mad malady of Jewish/Zionist demonization which has deeply infected Palestinian national culture and indeed some Western elites.” Consider these representative examples:
- The United Nations Human Rights Council has one standing item on its agenda: Israel’s alleged violations of Palestinians’ civil rights. The UN has a long history of distorting Israel’s record, seeking to promote global BDS. This year’s reports have been especially vile, as concocted by Francesca Albanese, who concealed her past history of anti-Semitism to secure appointment as UN special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories. She responded to two terrorist attacks on civilians with a tweet commenting, “The loss of life in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel is devastating, especially at a time that should be of peace for all, Christians, Jews, Muslims,” then added that “Israel has a right to defend itself, but can’t claim it when it comes to the people it oppresses,” whose “lands it colonises.” Albanese has not mentioned the recent rocket barrages or a terror attack that killed two sisters and their mother in the West Bank last Friday, but has called for an International Criminal Court investigation into Israel.” Her remarks sparked widespread calls for firing her.
- A highly biased UN Commission investigating the war between Gaza and Israel in 2021, chaired by Navi Pillay, issued a report pronouncing Israel’s occupation of Judea and Samaria illegal. All three commissioners had a history of anti-Semitism; one of them, Miloon Kothari, even opined that Israel didn’t belong in the UN.
- One of the many UN agencies dedicated to the Palestinians, the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, is holding a Nakba Day, which mourns the creation of the State of Israel, pursuant to a General Assembly resolution that passed overwhelmingly.
- This year’s United States State Department annual report on human rights has almost 24,000 words about Israel, including complaints of human rights violations. These largely fabricated claims are supported by NGO’s such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that share the Palestinian agenda. And the present Administration has filled the upper echelons of the State Department with anti-Zionist veterans of the first Obama-Biden administration.
- Opposition to Israel is surfacing in Congress among “progressives.” Fourteen Democratic members of Congress, led by Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), urged U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on April 13 to condition U.S. aid to Israel on not being used to support “gross violations of human rights, including by strengthening end-use monitoring and financial tracking,” wrote the lawmakers. None of the 14 signatories responded to a query from JNS about whether they would support conditioning U.S. aid to Palestinians on the latter’s respect for Israeli and Jewish civil rights.
- Anti-Semitism on college campuses is reaching a fever pitch, as exemplified by Yale University’s inviting a virulently anti-Israel activist, French-Algerian Houria Bouteldja, to speak on April 6, to speak on the second (Seder) night of Passover, making it virtually impossible for Jewish students to attend and raise objections.
So, anti-Semites, you must be feeling self-confident with all this worldwide support. Looking forward to the destruction of Israel? Don’t count on it. Hashem promised we will always be around as a nation, and He keeps His word. You don’t believe it? You’re in infamous company:
- Pharaoh enslaved and tortured the Children of Israel; Egypt was stricken with ten plagues and Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the Sea of Reeds (commonly called the Red Sea)
- Sancheiriv [Sennacherib], the king of Assyria, besieged Jerusalem with an army of 185,000 men. One night, a plague wiped out his army. Humiliated, Sancheiriv returned home, where he was murdered by his own sons.
- Haman, the grand vizier of Persia, planned to exterminate all the Jews because Mordechai wouldn’t bow down to him. In the end, he was hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordechai, as were his ten sons. Ironically, Haman’s grandchildren converted to Judaism and became Torah scholars.
- The Seleucid Greek Emperor Antiochus IV ordered the defilement of the Temple with objects of idolatry. A small band of ordinary Jews, with no military training, rose up under the leadership of the Maccabees and ultimately drove out the Greek army, which was the most powerful in the world at that time.
- The Roman general Titus defeated the Jewish Zealots in 70 CE and burned down the Second Temple. What happened to him? G-d sent a gnat through his ear into his brain which kept pecking on it, causing him great discomfort. At one point he passed a blacksmith’s shop, and the hammering noise caused the gnat to stop. “For thirty days they brought smiths to hammer in Titus’ presence. Then the gnat adjusted to the noise of the hammer, and continued pecking at Titus’ brain even when the hammers were struck.
“Rabbi Pinchas ben Arova said that when Titus died, examination of his bran found a gnat the size of a small bird!
“As Titus lay dying, he instructed his servants: “Burn me and scatter my ashes over the seven seas so that the G‑d of the Jews cannot find me and bring me to judgment.”
Titus died at the age of 41.
We can go on and on, but you get the idea. And should anyone raise the Holocaust as a counterexample, know that while Hashem protects individual Jews outside Israel, the promise of communal survival applies only in the Land.
So, what awaits you? Isaiah prophesied it in Chapter 66, the conclusion of his book of the Bible:
“66:15 For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.
66:16 For by fire and by his sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many.
66:17 They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine’s flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the LORD.
66:18 For I know their works and their thoughts: it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory.
66:19 And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles.
66:20 And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the LORD out of all nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the LORD, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the LORD.
66:21 And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the LORD.
66:22 For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain.
66:23 And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD.
66:24 And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.”
[Sources: Portions copyright © 1997 by Benyamin Pilant, All Rights Reserved
JPS Electronic Edition Copyright © 1998 by Larry Nelson, All Rights Reserved]