Is Rise of Jewish Fundamentalism Endangering Israeli Democracy?

Authors See Conflict Between Haredim and Secular World

Clear and Present Danger: Yuval Elizur and Lawrence Malkin predict dire consequences as a result of the struggle for power between the sectarian and the secular.
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Clear and Present Danger: Yuval Elizur and Lawrence Malkin predict dire consequences as a result of the struggle for power between the sectarian and the secular.

By Jerome Chanes

Published April 22, 2013, issue of April 26, 2013.
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A substantial chunk of the sectarian/Haredi problem is the fact that the rabbanut — the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel — has in recent years been under the thumb of a few sectarian rabbis, and has become morally, politically and religiously bankrupt. This issue, not addressed by Elizur and Malkin, is especially rueful for those who recall the Religious Zionism, represented by the centrist, responsible, Mizrachi/National Religious Party of decades past, before the “Religious” got pinched by the sectarians and the “Zionism” got pinched by the settler movement.

At bottom, Elizur and Malkin assert, it’s all about politics and purse: Israel’s parliamentary system has often insisted that Haredi support is key when building a governing coalition; the sectarian influence has all too often forced the majority to kowtow to the Haredim.

There is occasional factual confusion in “The War Within.” “Many” Haredim did not fight in the pre-State Etzel (Irgun Zvai Leumi) — the underground Zionist-Revisionist Irgun, which regarded partition of Palestine as an unsatisfactory compromise. It was Lehi (Lohamei Herut Yisrael) — the so-called Stern Group, far more radical than the Irgun — that contained, remarkably, Haredi fighters together with units from Agudat Yisrael and even the far-left Hashomer Hatzair. The Irgun was all about political ideology; Lehi was united in one goal: Get the British out of Eretz Yisrael — Palestine. The point: ideological divisions informed the pre-State Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine), and continued to do so in the early years of the state. Remnants of ideological struggles inhere in the religious warfare of 2013.

And on the basic question of when, indeed, did “the war within” begin, the authors assign the origins of the struggle to many decades in the past. In reality, while there were always conflicts, there was yet a permeability in the boundaries between those then known as Haredim, Agudat Yisrael and the more centrist Mizrachi Orthodox. The true beginnings of the “war” are more recent, when those boundaries solidified.

And it is a mistake to conflate, as do Elizur and Malkin, the entirely sectarian Satmar group with the rejectionist Neturei Karta, which celebrated the Palestine Liberation Organization and meets with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Satmar stance on Zionism is not messianic, but rather based on the idea that Jews ought not premise their identity and continuity on contemporary “isms,” including Zionism, but on normative Halacha. The authors confuse various groups; the reality is that sectarian Haredism is hardly monolithic.


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