Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

Theological Thuggery

The following mission statement (in Hebrew), together with a photograph of the (orthodox) politician behind it, appeared in large letters on the front cover of the weekend edition of the Hebrew newspaper, Haaretz, last week. It is unusual for text to be featured on the front cover, but in this instance the editor obviously felt it was sufficiently important (and horrifying) to be brought to the forefront of the reader’s attention. Below is my translation of the text:

“Our banner is one of unambiguous war on progress. The status-quo has to be changed, ensuring that Judaism is acknowledged in every corner of the life of the State. Israel will be a country that observes the Sabbath in public, homosexual families will not be given recognition, and women will not serve in the army; their contribution will be to marry and produce a family. We will not be like countries that are for all their citizens. Heaven forfend. The values of Judaism supersede all individual rights. Look, I’m getting tools and budgets, I’m here to work, and we will clean up the public systems. Watch me, I’m patient, this is just the beginning of the beginning.”

The minister behind this statement is a newly-elected member of the Knesset, representing a tiny party, Noam, which adheres to the orthodox version of the Jewish religion and seeks to impose those views on the entire country. The remit he has taken on himself is to impose the teaching of Jewish subjects in all schools, whether they belong to the religious stream or not.

In order to form a firm coalition which will be able to drive through the various legal and policy changes he plans to introduce (and keep his ongoing trial for corruption at bay), Binyamin Netanyahu has gathered together an assortment of politicians representing parties on the extreme right of the spectrum as well as others who adhere to the fundamentalist version of Judaism. Some of them combine both aspects into a single ideology, making for a toxic mix of individuals who adhere to concepts, values and mores that are based on texts and ideas dating back to ancient times.

But the fact of the matter is that the majority of Israelis are not orthodox Jews. Most Israelis are happy to use electricity on the Sabbath, or drive their car to go to the sea or enjoy a picnic in the countryside. Most Israelis are equally happy to celebrate the various religious festivals that mark the year, each family or individual doing it in their own way, adhering to some form of tradition (focusing mainly on food) but not feeling bound to observe all the niceties of orthodox observance. The general atmosphere in the country at the time of such festivals as Sukkot, Pesach (Passover) or the High Holidays, is one of unity in awareness and celebration but not of strict adherence to the rules and regulations with which orthodox Jews (within which category there are also many variations) choose to mark those events.

As Netanyahu’s government seeks to proceed with its attempt to radically change the face of Israeli society, introducing drastic changes in the legal system and imposing laws which undermine the basic principles of equality and decency laid down in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, a growing backlash is beginning to emerge, with mass demonstrations throughout the country. It remains to be seen if anyone in the government will pay attention to the growing groundswell of opposition to the theological thuggery that is rearing its ugly head.

About the Author
I was born and brought up in England. I am a graduate of the LSE and the Hebrew University. I have lived in Israel since 1964. I am an experienced translator, editor and writer.