Rabbi Yehuda Gilad
An Edah Editorial
Rabbi Yehuda Gilad is the rabbi of Kibbutz Lavi and one of the heads of the
Religious Kibbutz movement's yeshiva at Maale Gilboa. Rav Gilad is also
a former member of Knesset and one of the leaders of the new movement "Tafnit".
An Edah op-ed.
Democracy and Jewish Identity after the Disengagement
The disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria
initiated by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon exposed and exacerbated a deep schism
in Israeli society. Nonetheless, if each side of this argument can employ the
necessary responsibility and fairness to confront the heart of its own argument
in the eye of the storm, and draw the necessary conclusions, there may be hope
yet for renewed unity in Israel.
The disengagement plan sprung from the realization that the
two elemental concepts touted by the Israeli right and left wing for the past
few decades no longer hold water. The left thought that the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict could be solved in our generation through a land-for-peace deal. At
the same time, the Israeli rights conviction that the popular Palestinian uprising
could be suppressed by employing just a little more force, thereby enabling
Israel to continue to rule over Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, was also proven incorrect.
In order to maintain over time a Jewish, democratic state as
defined in Israels Basic Laws, the country cannot practically or morally rule
over more than three million Palestinians. If Israel grants voting rights to
all Palestinian residents, the country will quickly turn into a
bi-national state and lose its Jewish character. On the other hand, if those
rights are denied the Palestinians, Israel compromises its
democratic principles, and becomes essentially an apartheid society.
Some political trauma was inevitable: its hard to find a precedent
in human history, particularly among democratic societies, for a unilateral,
sovereign decision by a state to destroy civilian settlements in which thousands
of its own citizens legally reside. But the political process
involved has intensified divisions rather than initiating healing.
The manner in which the decision was made is extremely problematic
moral and public policy grounds. While the plan is clearly legal from a
formal democratic standpoint, as both the Knesset and the government
approved it, opponents of the disengagement legitimately believe that the
process was not fair and not truly democratic. Ariel Sharon was elected
on the basis of his strident opposition to unilateral withdrawal from
Gaza. His 180 degree turnaround, coupled with his strong opposition to
allowing a plebiscite or referendum to decide the issue, and the
widespread belief that his Knesset and government majorities were achieved
with the help of pressure and manipulation, have badly shaken many
citizens faith in the state and its institutions.
Nonetheless, the rift within the population is more significant
rift with the state, and must be solved for the political process to be
rehabilitated. The most biting disagreement in Israeli society is between
the secular majority, made up of the left and the pragmatic right led by
Sharon, and the large minority on the right, made up primarily of members
of the religious Zionist community. The former see the state as secular
and democratic; the latter, Modern Orthodox Jews who are completely
involved in the secular state, believe that the State of Israel is the
first flowering of the redemption promised by God through His prophets.
Their disagreement about the disengagement can be seen as flowing
naturally and inevitably from first principles.
Paradoxically, however, each side has built its position on
usually serve the other camp. The religious Zionist community, which
assiduously strives to influence the Jewish nature of the country, has
chosen to steer clear almost entirely of the following question: How can
Israel remain a Jewish state in the future while ruling over 3.5 million
Religious Zionist opposition to the disengagement has centered
on flaws in
the democratic process without providing a serious assessment of the
implications of continued occupation for the Jewishness of the Israeli state.
On the other hand, Israels secular majority, which usually
debate concerning the states Jewish identity, and focuses instead on
Israels character as a democratic, Western society, has chosen to ignore
the deficiencies in the democratic process used by the Prime Minister to
wrangle approval for the disengagement plan.
The secular majority justifies the disengagement primarily
because of the
demographic issue. If Israel wants to remain a Jewish, democratic state,
they claim, there is no recourse but to end our rule of the Palestinian
The apparent paradox of each side using the others arguments
an opportunity for reconciliation and rebuilding. The challenge we are
faced with is to make use of the basic elements of the schism dividing us
to cultivate new common ground for Israeli society as a whole. If we
accept this challenge, there is hope for renewed unity in Israel.
The national religious community must internalize democratic
and the importance of the humanistic values that lay at the foundation of
the democratic world view. They must learn to balance between redemptive
religious vision as a source of inspiration and aspiration, and the
realistic, pragmatic policy determined by democratic decision-making and
Secular Israelis, on the other hand, must stop leaving Jewish
to the religious public. They must finally address the issue of Israels
Jewish identity, and identify the Jewish national, cultural, and spiritual
content they would use to shape the character of Israel as a Jewish and
Processes such as these would contribute much to a new dialogue
This dialogue could create a core agreement in the Israeli Jewish community, and help to identify joint social and cultural challenges
toward combining democracy and Jewish identity. Addressing those
challenges appropriately could present new and promising horizons for