For a writer, outrage is always flattering. Usually, it means you’ve touched a nerve, told an uncomfortable truth, and set off an explosion of angry emotion on the part of those who are quite resolutely set against hearing that truth.
Such was the case with an article I wrote in The Algemeiner criticizing Zehut party head Moshe Feiglin. In it, I argued that despite his pretensions to libertarianism, Feiglin is, in fact, a far-right religious fanatic whose beliefs are racist, theocratic, and totalitarian in nature. Due to his immense skill at hypocrisy, however, he has succeeded in dissimulating about what he really believes, at least in the media.
What does not dissimulate is Zehut’s platform, which I employed in order to outline precisely what Feiglin and his party really believe. It appears I succeeded in doing so, given Zehut devotee Lisa Liel’s titanic screed against me.
To go paragraph by paragraph, as she does, would be a bit of a bore, so I will confine myself to the most important points in my defense.
Before I do, however, I think it necessary to say a few words about libertarianism. Libertarianism is the belief that the freedom of the individual is sacrosanct, and maintaining it is the first duty of a society. So long as an individual does not harm another individual, he should be free to do essentially as he wishes, and develop his talents and abilities without hindrance, in particular from the state.
Feiglin and his party do not in any way support such an ideology. In fact, quite the opposite. Their ideology is one that would see the individual crushed beneath a religious and racial tyranny that would inherently require an oppressive and coercive state to institute and maintain it. Zehut’s libertarianism is, in other words, a lie, and a very conscious one.
In regard to Liel’s specific arguments:
First, she accuses me of mistranslating the Zehut platform. This is quite false, as I did not have to translate anything. I used Zehut’s official English-language version of its platform, which is readily available on its website.
Second, most of what Liel writes is not an argument at all, but simply abuse. She asks, for example, if I am “Silly? Dishonest? Neurotic? Pathetic?” claims I am “demonstrating either incompetence or dishonesty,” makes a cryptic remark about “prophecy being given to fools and children,” and calls me a liar a host of times.
Abuse, regrettably, is par for the course in Israeli debate, so I take none of it personally. I would note, however, that abuse is not an argument. It is, in fact, a confession. It is what one resorts to when there is no case to make. In other words, it is an admission that what I wrote is true.
Third, Liel says, “Basically, Kerstein asserts that any reference whatsoever to God in a political context is necessarily theocratic. In other words, only a purely secular state can be said to be other than racist, theocratic, and totalitarian.”
I never said any such thing. I said that when religious law is given the same authority as civil law, as Feiglin explicitly proposes — “Zehut will act to define Jewish civil law as the parallel civil law recognized in Israel” — then it has become coercive and “necessarily theocratic.”
Fourth, she asserts that Feiglin is not inspired by Christian Dominianism or indeed “Christian any-ism,” as she rather awkwardly puts it. I did not say that he necessarily was. I said that Feiglin’s ideology strongly resembles Dominionism and is possibly inspired by it. Given that many other parts of Zehut’s platform show strong American influences, such as from the men’s rights movement, I do not think this is by any means impossible.
Fifth, she accuses me of making a “wild jump” by accusing Feiglin of believing “liberal democracy is un-Jewish.” In a pattern of consistently denying that Zehut says precisely what it says, she simply erases the clause in the Zehut platform (which I quoted) that states liberal democracy is “a concept foreign to the Jewish People, its Torah and its culture” and “a complete distortion, and not truly possible, because it has no basis in reality.”
Sixth, she claims I misrepresent Zehut’s view that a military order “requiring the violation of the Sabbath for no operational reason would be considered a patently illegal order, justifying disobedience to the law,” because this is already established and codified in IDF law. As far as I have been able to ascertain (and readers are free to correct me if they have better information) IDF military law allows the refusal of orders only in extreme cases in which an order violates either international laws of war or IDF law itself. On issues of halacha, commanders are usually lenient, but refusal of orders remains de jure forbidden. By making such orders “patently illegal” because they violate Jewish law, we see that Feiglin again puts the authority of Jewish law above that of the state and even its army.
Seventh, Liel blatantly misrepresents Feiglin’s racism as merely saying “intermarriage is bad.” The platform’s section on marriage is somewhat convoluted and badly written, and in some ways appears to advocate two contradictory ideas simultaneously, though in such cases it is usually safe to assume that the more radical argument is also the more sincere.
Nonetheless, while intermarriage may be a problem in the sense that it can make passing on a sense of Jewish identity more difficult, this is not Feiglin’s objection. Instead, the Zehut platform works itself into a frenzy over Israeli Jews who fail to meet halachic requirements because they “blur the identity of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People.”
This “blurring of boundaries between Jews and non-Jews from the CIS is liable to bring about, for the first time, a serious rupture between the Israeli identity and the Jewish one, which will be anchored in a familial reality of mixed marriages on a national scale,” in which a “large number of disqualified Jews would make it impossible for observant Jews to marry Jews whose lineage is not fully traceable.”
Simultaneously, the platform states, “Zehut’s proposal will lead primarily to a simple return to the classic reality of marriage among the People of Israel.” This, of course, also means total rejection of intermarriage. As the platform emphasizes in regard to the offspring of mixed marriages (or, it is implied, civil marriage in general), “In the absence of the parents’ marriage contracts, a process of clarifying Jewishness will take place, which upon successful conclusion will not be a barrier to performing the marriage.”
To be fair, there is a semi-caveat added: “On the other hand, a Jew who chooses to marry another Jew without a wedding ceremony will not cause his children to be illegitimate at all, but will simply cause them to have to prove their Jewishness when they choose to marry according to Jewish law.”
It seems clear, then, that despite the attempt at dilution, the ultimate determinate is the so called “blurring” of Jewish identity — which is Zehut’s primary obsession, as its name suggests — by the lack of Jewish “lineage.” The issue, then, is not continuity of culture or “identity” in the common sense of the word, but rather a terror of Jews whose “lineage,” i.e. their genetic makeup is not traceable. This is both a bitter insult to many Israelis of Jewish ancestry that fails to be matrilineal enough for Feiglin, and a self-evidently racialist ideology, whose nature is, one regrets to say, quite painfully familiar to the Jewish people. To see it expressed by one of our own is, if possible, even more painful, and alone ought to disqualify Feiglin and his party from political office.
Eighth, Liel is either in denial or willfully disingenuous in regard to Feiglin’s plans to dismantle the Israel Land Authority and hand over national real estate to the free market. Namely, she appears to believe that Feiglin’s pledge to ban sales to “hostile elements” does not mean what it clearly does mean, namely Arabs. There is, in fact, no one else it could possibly refer to, since the only group generally “hostile” to Israel who are in close enough proximity to purchase large amounts of Israeli land is the Arabs. In any event, anyone who knows anything about the Israeli political gutter knows a dog whistle when they hear it, and one presumes Feiglin is quite well aware of this himself.
Ninth, Liel is terrifyingly indifferent to Feiglin’s disastrous plans to annex the West Bank and what he then intends to do to the Palestinians living there: buy them off or put them under an apartheid system while dangling before them an essentially impossible path to citizenship. Bizarrely, she calls Zehut’s offer of financial benefits to Palestinians who choose to take the money and emigrate “the right thing to do.” There was once a time in Israel when the prospect of occupation, annexation, and transfer was considered even by its advocates to be a necessary evil. Now, we have a political party that regards it as a positive good. To them, inducing an unwanted ethnic group to leave is the moral thing to do. There’s little one can say about such an attitude. It goes beyond good and evil into the realm of pure nihilism.
Liel also denies that annexation would inherently involve a horrific war that would completely crush the Palestinian Authority and any subsidiary militants, and likely claim many Israeli lives as well. She points, for some reason, to the First Lebanon War as a counterexample, even though this was precisely what I described — a horrific war that inflicted a crushing defeat on the PLO, while consuming many Israeli lives then and for almost two decades after. Ironically, this is likely precisely what Feiglin wants for the West Bank, though both he and his acolyte lack the honesty to say so.
Finally, Liel completely and terrifyingly whitewashes Mr. Feiglin’s own viciously anti-democratic and racist statements. In particular, she rather awkwardly says, “Kerstein repeats the racism accusations, and dips his feet in the 2004 New Yorker article yet again.” She conceals, of course, precisely what I was quoting, and for a very good reason — it is the real Feiglin:
You can’t teach a monkey to speak and you can’t teach an Arab to be democratic. You’re dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers. Muhammad, their prophet, was a robber and a killer and a liar. The Arab destroys everything he touches.
This quote, any thinking person can see, speaks for itself. And that is precisely the reason Liel refused to quote it.
Perhaps most tellingly, Liel then makes light of the fact that Feiglin is at the very least an admirer of Meir Kahane, with whose ideology he shares a certain kinship. Indeed, he admitted as much at a recent Times of Israel event. “I can definitely say that the slogan ‘Kahane tzadak — Kahane was right’ has proven itself many times,” as Feiglin once told The Jewish Press.
Liel simply asks, “Does anyone seriously dispute this?” And this is unquestionably the giveaway. Despite all her claims that Zehut is not racist, that it is not theocratic, that it does not advocate expulsion and apartheid, she like her fearless leader finally tells the truth: “Kahane tzadak — Kahane was right.” In other words, a racist theocrat who wanted Israel ruled by Torah law and its Arab population expelled was right.
So, it seems, was I.