The Two Crises of the Third Jewish Commonwealth

By Sultan Knish

As the seventh and penultimate day of Chanukah arrives, the candles are once again lit, wispy cotton wicks floating in pools of golden oil, touched by a burst of white flame. In Israel the spreading fire that killed 42 people and consumed 4 million has finally abated. And the freeze that Obama attempted to impose on hundreds of thousands of Israelis also melted in the light. And after a severe drought, rain has begun to fall upon the land. But the worst is not over. Not by far.

Much like the Jewish commonwealth of the second temple era, the present day State of Israel suffers from two interlinked crises, a crisis of sovereignty and a crisis of unity. Both these crises manifest themselves in problem after problem– and if they are not resolved, they will bring down Dayan’s ‘third temple’, as they brought down the second temple.

A united nation determined to protect its independence can only be broken through terrible force. But that description cannot be applied to Israel today. Like the Maccabee kings, its prime ministers have learned to come when Rome calls. And they have also come to believe that if they do not do what they are told, then Rome will remove them or take away their sovereignty as a nation. Its politicians and power brokers care more about their own ends, than the survival of the State of Israel. Which is why they are more willing to listen to Washington or Moscow, than to their own citizens. Or to plan for their country’s future, rather than for their own.

The news is not nearly as bad on the ‘street level’ where despite housing numerous quarreling communities, from the religious to the secular, and the imported cultures of a hundred countries from the East to the West, most Israelis agree on the survival of the State of Israel and the need to fight terror. But the country’s political system makes it virtually impossible to implement them or to maintain a stable government. And like Western cultural elites, the Israeli cultural elite is a self-destructive leftist mess that is doing everything possible to destroy its own country.

Netanyahu is one of the best and worst Israeli Prime Ministers, because he combines economic reforms with a spineless foreign policy. And that he is to be preferred, because the only alternative is a Kadima drone or a Labor leftist who would give away everything without having to be asked twice, shows just how bad the crisis of sovereignty is.

Meanwhile on the left Barak and Livni are showing off Israel’s crisis of unity by strongly hinting to Washington D.C. that if Netanyahu’s government were to fall, then they would be much more reasonable about the country’s sovereignty and its borders. And the Beltway establishment has responded by trying to pressure Netanyahu into tossing out two immigrant parties, one of Middle Eastern Jews and one of Russian Jews, and replace them with Livni’s Kadima party. A party that is left wing not because it believes in anything, but because that’s what Obama wants.

The Israeli right has failed to produce leaders. Begin is a well-loved failure who began the process of turning over Israeli territory in exchange for pieces of paper and presided over the disastrous Lebanon War. Shamir proved too weak to do anything but hold the course. And Netanyahu turned out to be even weaker. The illusion of Labor leadership died after the Yom Kippur War. And the Likud is overstaffed with ‘princes’ like Olmert, Netanyahu and Livni who are where they are because of the role their parents played in the party. Meanwhile the Knesset is padded out with ethnic and religious parties who only exist to take a set amount of money out of the budget and pass it on to their supporters, while nurturing their grievances against the country and all the other ethnic and religious parties competing for those same Shekels.

Begin’s worst failure was his refusal to attack the culture of government bureaucracy that his Labor predecessors had installed as a reward for their own party members. That bureaucracy has since become a Praetorian Guard, investigating and removing Prime Ministers and Presidents on corruption charges when the right strings are pulled. The false rape charges against President Katzav, manufactured in order to allow Peres to replace him, showed that the “Guard” was willing to drag Israel’s reputation through the mud just to reward one of their own failed ex-PM’s with a ceremonial position at the top.

And Netanyahu is well aware that his own time may come, when the constant investigations that serve as warning shots will suddenly bear fruit. Then the headlines will suddenly be full of stories more damaging than revelations about a bed installed in his plane, and parliamentarians who live the high life because they were given a number on a party list while children in the working class towns of Israel go hungry, will put on the mantles of justice and the press will call for his head.

That is not what the government of a sovereign nation looks like or acts like. And it’s not how a nation united behaves. These two crises are interconnected. The erosion of Israel’s sovereignty also erodes its unity, a unity that depends on the perception of Israel as a country with a future. Only such a unity can give leaders the sense that they need to commit to a country, rather than to their own positions. If you don’t have an independent country, then you’re less likely to act like a leader, and more like an appointee serving at the beck and call of a powerful patron. And ever since Shamir, that is exactly how Israel’s PM’s have acted. And that attitude has filtered on down. There are a great many Israeli politicians who are loyal to Brussels or Washington or Moscow, many more who owe them to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, various Rabbis or the Histadrut, but a decreasing number who owe their allegiance to Israel.

A similar situation led to the fall of the Maccabee dynasty, a civil war and eventually a full-fledged Roman takeover. The miracle of Chanukah eventually drowned in power plays between warring factions. The light that burned for eight days could not withstand the unwillingness of powerful men to stand by a Jewish state, rather than sell out to foreign tyrants.

Israel was rebuilt based on a consensus of mingled history, idealism and survival. That consensus maintained a fragile unity, in the face of conflicts and contradictions– but as the years have worn on, that consensus has begun to fall apart. The country has come a long way from the Kibbutz and the agricultural ideal is now mostly vested in Religious Zionists, not the old Socialists who long for the bright lights of Paris, not the privatized communal farms of today. And they are the only people who are still invested in the land. The left has moved on. The right has faded away into memorials and commemorations, which their sons and daughters cynically attend before going back to selling off the country to the highest bidder.

The old socialists have had their vision of Israel broken apart before their eyes, and they’ve turned on the country as a whole. They are willing to give away the land, because they have no use for it anymore. An Israel that is based on free enterprise and is not run by their comrades is not a country they want to be part of. They know that they can’t turn the clock back, and so they’ve turned on Israel instead. It has failed to live out their 19th century vision of agrarian socialism and so they want to turn it over to a politically correct minority, that is also the regional majority.

The right has also lost its vision for the land. The dwindling Israel at the mercy of great powers is not what they envisioned, but it happened on their watch. And they have no way to reverse the process. To turn Israel back into a confident and strong nation. Unlike the left, they have failed to pass on their legacy to a new generation. While the left has radicalized, the right has become more moderate. Its horizons have shrunk. It can talk about Trumpledor or Avraham Stern, but not about the future. Because it no longer sees the future.

The only people who still have a vision for Israel’s future that doesn’t depend on its dissolution, are Religious Zionists who have not lost hope, because they still have faith in a divine plan. They have worse setbacks than the left or the right, but those have still not broken them, because their vision is religious, rather than idealistic, and much less dependent on the realization of a linear program. But even they can be broken. And the political authorities are doing everything to break them. Because if their vision for the land has fallen apart, no one else may fulfill theirs.

A situation in which hope has vanished from Jerusalem and resides among the hillsides, all too closely echoes the events of the original Chanukah. And not for the first time in the history of the land either. Chanukah temporarily bought time, but did not stop the clock. The same fault lines that led to the events of Chanukah brought down the country not long after.

In that era, Israel’s lack of sovereignty was often caused by its lack of unity. The fall of the First Temple, the return from exile and the impact of the Greeks upon the region raised questions as to what Israel was. Was it a nationalist monarchy, a convenient port for the Mediterranean trade or just a place where the Torah was studied. The inability to answer that question in a way that the majority could get behind destroyed the country. And variations of those same questions are being asked today again. To reclaim its sovereignty, they must urgently be answered.

The signing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence left many of those fundamental questions unanswered. And that is only natural. Countries develop their identity and ideals over time. But Israel is tearing itself apart, its morale is in decline and it is undergoing dramatic changes. Its survival is on the line, not just in the face of terror or war, but of its internal tensions and its interaction with Europe and America. To be sovereign, Israel must be united. Not under one political party, but a consensus of what the country is. What it should be. Not in every detail, but enough to command the loyalty of its people and the commitment of its leaders.

As Chanukah winds down and parents distribute ‘Chanukah gelt’, chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil, to the children– they are commemorating the restoration of a Hebrew currency after the defeat of the Seleucid Empire which had banned such a Jewish nationalist symbol. These shining candies are symbols of ancient Israeli sovereignty minted in defiance of an empire. They remind us of one of the things that the Maccabees fought for. Sovereignty. As the light of another Chanukah’s menorah goes out, these symbols of freedom remind us of what it is we are still fighting for.

December 8, 2010 | 12 Comments »

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12 Comments / 12 Comments

  1. Fistel:

    Religious Zionists = Judaism

    I believe in perfect faith:
    1. HaShem created the universe from nothing.
    2. He created man and gave him free will and a type of soul which distinguishes him from animals.
    3. He chose the Jews as his “special” people (ahm segula), with a unique relationship with Him.
    4. He gave the Torah to the Jewish People on Mount Sinai as his “rules for Jewish life”.
    5. He designated the Land of Israel as the special homeland of the Jewish People, and gave it to them as an irrevokable heritage.
    6. Eventually, He indicated that a permanent dwelling should be built for Him in Yerushalayim.

    To me, there is such a thing as a “Real Jew”, and the above helps define it.

    Fistel: leonard Cohen said it best. If you had one poetic cell in your body you will understand

    “Everybody Knows”

    Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
    Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
    Everybody knows that the war is over
    Everybody knows the good guys lost
    Everybody knows the fight was fixed
    The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
    That’s how it goes
    Everybody knows
    Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
    Everybody knows that the captain lied
    Everybody got this broken feeling
    Like their father or their dog just died

    Everybody talking to their pockets
    Everybody wants a box of chocolates
    And a long stem rose
    Everybody knows.

  2. And furthermore BlandOatmeal if you actually READ what I wrote I said that MOST antisemites that I KNOW. Do I KNOW YOU? It sounds to me like you have some sort of guilt complex.

  3. Religious Zionists = Judaism

    I believe in perfect faith:
    1. HaShem created the universe from nothing.
    2. He created man and gave him free will and a type of soul which distinguishes him from animals.
    3. He chose the Jews as his “special” people (ahm segula), with a unique relationship with Him.
    4. He gave the Torah to the Jewish People on Mount Sinai as his “rules for Jewish life”.
    5. He designated the Land of Israel as the special homeland of the Jewish People, and gave it to them as an irrevokable heritage.
    6. Eventually, He indicated that a permanent dwelling should be built for Him in Yerushalayim.

    To me, there is such a thing as a “Real Jew”, and the above helps define it.

  4. Mer says:
    December 9, 2010 at 4:35 am

    Good post. Defines things in a nutshell. Most antisemites I know define a Jew by their race. Most of them havent got a clue as to what Judaism is. That is largely due to the fact that Jews dont proseletize.

    Mer, I don’t know if you were responding to me, or to the opening piece. I know that my first posting was delayed, probably by the “bot” because I used the word “Mes_ah” (See how cleverly I avoided another delay?), so it’s very possible that your post had nothing to do with mine.

    If you were responding tome,

    1. I am not an antisemite. I support the Jews, and their efforts to secure a homeland in Israel.

    2. I am informed about what Judaism is, having participated in a conversion program for about a year. Judaism is a mixture of race and religion, that is totally incomprehensible to most people. People sit on boards of synagogues, and even serve as Presidents of the same, who are witches and atheists. This does not stop them from being called “Jews”; and halacha recognizes them as such. On the other hand, many people are completely observant but are not called “Jews” because their mothers were not Jewish.

    I don’t see any reference to these things in the opening piece, so have answered you as though they were directed at me.

    I did mention that “Religious” was one of the directions into which Israel is divided. I often see posters lumping the “Religious” in with the “Nationalist/ Zionist” camp. They are not the same: The three religious parties (Shas, the Hareidi party and the Modern Orthodox party, by whatever names they’ve lately adopted) Have a record of putting their own private agendas ahead of National interests. The NU seems to be an effort to combine the two political streams; but they tend to be so extreme, they are of little political effectiveness.

    Lieberman’s party is Zionist and Secular, being supported largely by ex-Soviet Jews (by the Law of Return definition) — many of them non-halachic and even Christian. Together with Likud and Kadima, they garnered the vast majority of votes in the last election; and collectively they represent the “heartland” of Israel. Labor is split: The Barak faction is centrist enough to be able to work with the ruling coalition (along with Shas and the religious), but nonetheless on the Socialist end of the four-dimensional spectrum. Out-group Labor and Meretz are also Socialist, of course, considering themselves “Redder than thou”. The Arabs, of course, have their own parties.

    Running a government coalition in Israel has been a great balancing act, since at least the 1973 war. It must therefore needs be led by a compromiser like Netanyahu. I saw this same sort of balancing act going on in the synagogue where I was in the conversion program: The rabbi was Zionist, but the Board President was not. People of every manner of belief were in the congregation, and the Friday night services were a completely different crowd from the Saturday services. Our congregation itself was a split from another congregation — the oldest in the city, the main body of which had voted to become a more liberal sect. Besides being very learned and zealous, our rabbi had to be a veritable ringmaster in order to keep the minyon going. When I see the way the Knesset works, it reminds me of that congregation.

    As I said, I have no solution for this predicament. Asking Jews to agree with one another, is like asking them to abandon Judaism (HOWEVER they personally define it). It’s hard to lead a people who are tugging in three different directions, each group thinking that the way to unity is to tug harder.

    Messiah has his work cut out for him.

  5. Good post. Defines things in a nutshell. Most antisemites I know define a Jew by their race. Most of them havent got a clue as to what Judaism is. That is largely due to the fact that Jews dont proseletize.

  6. Knish, you said,

    “The Israeli right has failed to produce leaders.”

    Saying that Israel’s “Right” has NO leaders, is obvious hyperbole.

    Good leaders in Israel:

    1. Binyamin Netanyahu. A consumate diplomat and compromiser, he has kept Israel on an even keel despite deep divisions at home and severe threats from abroad. Moreover, his tour as Finance Minister under Sharon paved the way to Israel’s current stellar financial performance.

    2. Avigdor Lieberman. Speaks out plainly and forcefully on behalf of the Jews of Israel. Popular at home, and feared abroad. He’s the “bad cop” to Bibi’s “good cop” in dealings with enemies such as Barack Obama.

    3. Natan Scharansky. Has more guts than 99% of Jews. Stood up to the Soviet Union, in the height of its power. Popular at home and abroad, and an articulate spokesman for Israel.

    As an American, obviously, I cannot see all the leaders on Israel’s political scene. The above are leaders who would do well as Presidents of the United States, much more of a tiny country like Israel. Perhaps they’re not “Right-wing” enough for you. If that’s the case, there’s really nothing ANY leader could ever do to satisfy you: The real problem, in this case, is that the leaders of the FAR Right, be they good, bad, or indifferent, could never effectively lead because they do not represent the vast majority of Israelis.

    Israel has some problems, which cause its leaders, however talented, to fail:

    1. The Israeli people are deeply divided, in FOUR major directions (Religious, Zionist, Socialist and Arab Nationalist), with large numbers of citizens in the extreme parties.

    2. Israel’s political system ENCOURAGES division, inertia, sycophancy and corruption.

    I guess that about does it. Israel seems to devour nationalist leaders, once they come to power. If Messiah were to be elected to the knesset, he would be giving away parts of Israel to the Devil after 18 months. I don’t know how to change this situation, and I don’t know anyone who does.