Tova Herzl

Beware the plans of Israel’s messianic right

This may be the final call to religious Zionists, to plead that they speak up against dangerous trends which are bubbling, and threaten to engulf us all, yet are all but ignored. I am appealing to adherents of classic Religious Zionism, in Israel and abroad, not to the racist political party that appropriated the name.

Identifying those trends does not require a sophisticated intelligence system – social media and brochures distributed in Israeli synagogues every Shabbat will suffice. A key concept is revenge. Given the horrors of Simchat Tora, that sentiment is natural, but sentiment is not necessarily a good policy advisor. To revenge are added Naqba 2 (catastrophe, used by Arabs to describe Israel’s War of Independence in 1948), expulsion, conquest, eliminating the Palestinian Authority, return to Gush Katif (Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip which were evacuated unilaterally in 2005), faith, commandments, and redemption.

Lest these are viewed as reflecting marginal elements, hilltop types, not worthy of attention, not worthy of a response – that is not the case. The idea that commandments which were given to our forefathers in the desert before entering Canaan, and subsequent events as described in the Book of Joshua, are a manual for running a country in the 21st century, is represented in the cabinet. It guides several of 64 of 120 members of Knesset, the coalition whose support the prime minister needs in order to remain in office, as he evidently plans to do.

Absence of doubt, belief that Divine Will is fully understood, confidence that redemption is imminent if only we function in a particular way – all these ignore demographics, international law, Israel’s relations with the world, Israeli majority opinion, and the challenges facing Jews in the Diaspora. “If only we will act as we were commanded, if only we will teach them a lesson, if only we show them who is the boss, only then will everything fall into place. They will be hewers of wood and drawers of water, and we, the lords of the land, will rebuild the Temple. Whoever remains silent helps entrench this discourse, and thus plays a role in facilitating ensuing results.”

How? The Spiral of Silence is a theory in political science and mass communications which, according to Wikipedia, explains that an individual’s perception of the distribution of public opinion influences that individual’s willingness to express his own opinions, and this in turn effects the perception and ultimately the willingness of others to express their opinions. In other words, even if at the outset a position was held by a vocal minority, increasing silence in response enables that position to take over the vacated space, thus becoming the majority opinion. Hence the urgent need to speak up, and not leave the religious Zionist arena to Messianists –

Several months ago, Orit Strook, Minister of Settlements and National Missions, said that we are in a process which will take time and will require sacrifices, but Gaza is part of the Land of Israel, and we will return. The Chairman of the Knesset Judiciary Committee, Simcha Rotman, stated that the current war will be considered a success if a Jewish child will be able to walk around unharmed in Gaza.

Given such sentiments, I will not be surprised if, should there be a lengthy Israeli military presence in Gaza, and there will be a request for something smallish, say Torah classes on the ruins of a synagogue, or a shabbat service and then another, followed by a hut to hold the books, and these will be backed by politicians, whose support is required to ensure the coalition’s survival and that of the prime minister, who will refuse? Lo! Behold a first step towards redemption!

That scenario may or may not materialize, but a developing reality is evident on the ground, in post-1967 territories. Since the inception of the current government last December, annexation and acts which will lead to it are openly promoted. in these circles, the war encourages territorial and other endeavors – reports of violent altercations between Jews and Arabs are rife. Publicized warnings by the head of SHABAK (the internal security services) to the prime minister on this matter were presumably preceded by private and harsher expressions of concern; never mind the resultant diversion of troops from the front.

To prevent these trends from becoming mainstream, it is vital to make it clear that the voices that view the tragedy that befell us as a call to action, to promote a messianic worldview, represent a dangerous minority. If there has been a significant counter-voice in religious Zionism, including of rabbis, I have not heard it. Silence can be construed as agreement, even as encouragement. Everyone who understands where the Messianists want to drag us, is duty bound to raise a strong and unequivocal voice, before it is too late.

About the Author
Tova Herzl served twice as congressional liaison in Washington DC, was Israel's first ambassador to the newly independent Baltic states, and took early retirement after a tumultuous ambassadorship in South Africa. She is the author of the book, Madame Ambassador; Behind The Scenes With A Candid Israeli Diplomat.