Israel’s New Religious Right
Column blames left for radicalizing the ultra-Orthodox
Left-wing Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy has a phenomenally provocative essay that is a must-read for all those interested in Israel’s domestic political situation, and specifically how it has ended up with, in Levy’s (uncontroversial) words, “the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.” His answer? It’s actually the left’s fault!
For years, as Levy tells it, there were two political groups of religious Israelis: The nationalists, who helped spearhead the settlement movement and have always been fundamentally opposed to the left; and the Haredim—the ultra-Orthodox—whose politics essentially consisted of securing government benefits for their unique social needs. The nationalists wear knitted kippot; the Haredi, black ones. When the nationalists moved their families to the West Bank and voted in governments that supported them, they did so to fulfill the ideological dream of Greater Israel; when the Haredim moved their families to the West Bank, they did so to save money, which they could do because of economic subsidies put in place by the former group for exactly this purpose. Then, the left decided to pick on the Haredim, who should have been its natural bedfellows:
Settlers who invaded Palestinian neighborhoods in the territories and Arab neighborhoods in Israel never experienced ugly persecution and denunciations of the kind endured by Haredim who “invaded” Ramat Aviv. Settlers who shot children in the territories were never condemned the way Haredim who open Chabad kindergartens in Tel Aviv are. … Those who extorted government funding for yeshivas were described in almost anti-Semitic terms, while those who extorted far more lavish and scandalous budgets for the settlements were met with indifference, acceptance and sometimes even respect and admiration. Money given to yeshiva students actually smelled worse to the left than money given to land thieves.
The result? The Haredi parties, including Shas—now one of several extreme-right elements in the current governing coalition—turned hardcore into the nationalist, anti-Arab morass, and found common cause with the nationalists (as well as with the newly powerful Russians). “Everyone now wears a single skullcap,” Levy sighs, “the skullcap of racism.”
His solution is equally provocative: A conscious strategy, on the part of the left, of divide-and-conquer (or, really re-divide-and-conquer). But, truly, read the whole thing.