Most Israelis seek some form of national reconciliation after the trauma of the Gaza withdrawal. That was reflected in the largely sympathetic media coverage of those evicted from their homes. Novelist David Grossman viewed the Gaza settlement project as madness from the inception. But that did not keep him from describing the evacuation as "days of mourning for all Israelis," or warning against treating the settlers as "political and religious arguments rather than human beings."
Not everyone, however, is so eager to mend the tear in Israeli society. Yossi Sarid for one seems disappointed that the feared civil war with the settlers did not take place. In the months leading up to withdrawal, a number of respected figures on the Left, from columnist Yoel Marcus to former Labor Minister Ephraim Sneh, celebrated the potential purgative effects of civil war.
Writing last week in Ha'aretz, Sarid could not contain his contempt for those "whose specialty is mending broken hearts, the professional conciliators" and other seekers of grounds for national consensus. Before there can be reconciliation, Sarid argues, Israeli society must first make a basic decision: What source of authority will prevail -- democracy or halacha?
Sarid would have us believe that Israel is faced with the choice between democracy or theocracy. "Should we be like Iran?" he titles his piece.
Leaving aside the fact that the "peace camp" has always been far more concerned with winning than with whether the means of doing so conform to the niceties of democratic theory, Sarid's styling of the issue is nonsense.There are no theocrats in Israel today. Not the haredim, who relate to the state of Israel as they have always related to the sovereign, i.e., according to the halachic principle of dina d'malchuta dina – the civil law of the land is the law. And not the national religious either, despite the large role played by rabbis in the opposition to disengagement.
The small number of soldiers who ultimately refused orders and the largely passive response of the Gaza settlers attest to the national religious community's loyalty to the state. Whether Israel Harel is correct that an all-out effort by the national religious world could have prevented disengagement, it is clear that its leaders made a conscious decision not to mount such an assault. They recognized at a certain point that if disengagement failed because of mass refusal by religious soldiers, the response would be equally large-scale refusal by secular soldiers to serve in the territories. And that would signal the end of the IDF and Israel – something far worse than the uprooting from Gaza, no matter how painful.
SARID'S REAL TARGET is not, as he pretends, an impending theocracy, but the participation of those motivated by religious beliefs in the democratic process. True, deep religious belief generates its own inherent tension with sovereign power. But that tension need not undermine democracy as long as the rules of the game are honored and those who refuse to obey laws that require them to violate their deepest religious beliefs are prepared to accept the legal consequences.
Nor is the tension necessarily a bad thing. The essential Jewish political teaching, argues Yoram Hazony, is: "the state has no right to rule if it rules unjustly, [and] conscience and not the state must be the ultimate arbiter of the actions of every man." Had those basic principles not come to be generally accepted by the Western world, he notes, the Nuremberg Trials would have been unthinkable.
Not even democracy is immune to the moral challenge of conscience, religious or otherwise. Hitler's Nuremberg Laws and the Jim Crow laws against which Martin Luther King, Jr. marched were enacted by democratically elected legislatures.
In modern Western society, the impulse to classify religiously based arguments as somehow less morally informed than other bases for legislation runs very strong. In his book The Culture of Disbelief, Yale Law Professor Stephen Carter describes the preference for religion "as something without political significance, less an independent moral force than a quietly irrelevant moralizer, never heard, rarely seen." In that vein, Sarid writes, "With all due respect to God, the proper place for Him is the heart . . . ."
The trivialization of religious devotion need not even rest on any deep-seated animus to religion. A recent Jerusalem Post editorial longs wistfully for the old days when the rabbis pronounced the state "holy" and did not make a fuss. The editorialist laments that former Chief Rabbi Shapira did not choose one of the "multiple interpretations [of halacha]" available to him more in keeping with the writer's political views.
The proper way to counter Rabbi Shapira is either on halachic grounds, as Rabbi Ahron Lichtenstein has forcefully done, or on the basis of secular political values. It is not to deny him the right to be heard because he is a rabbi. Moral intuitions are not less valid because they are based on religious tradition.
WHAT TERRIFIES SARID is religious Jews and their influence on Israeli public life – an influence which demography suggests can only grow over time. That is even clearer in the post-disengagement writing of his predecessor as Meretz Party chairman, Shulamit Aloni, who was even freer with her venom against settlers. Their actions, she wrote in Yediot Aharonot, are the greatest embarrassment to the Jewish people in all its long history.
Aloni legitimately blasts the appropriation of Holocaust symbols by settlers and those who called soldiers and police "Nazis." She is, however, an unlikely avatar for Holocaust Remembrance or the IDF. She too has been free with Holocaust analogies, once calling Binyamin Netanyahu "a good student of Goebbels." She nominated for an Israeli Prize, Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who described IDF soldiers as "Judeo-Nazis" and counseled draft refusal. Within days of the outbreak of the so-called Al Aksa intifada, Aloni accused Israel of war crimes in Le Monde.
As Education Minister, she sought to stop trips of high school students to Auschwitz, lest they foster nationalistic identity. And her favorite lesson from the Holocaust is the same as that heard constantly in Europe today: Jews too can act like Nazis. Hatred of settlers, whom she accuses of living on stolen land, not affection for the IDF or sensitivity to the Holocaust, inspires Aloni's invective.
The last thing Israel needs today is such championship caliber haters.