Read Josephus. It's relevant.
The most recent rampage of religious nationalist extremists has brought forth statements from a wide range of Israeli leaders that they have gone too far. They have crossed a "red line." They will be dealt with by means of all the tools at the disposal of the military and the police. One proposal is that they be classified as "terrorists," and thus allow the application of the most severe sanctions available to law enforcement.
The reality is that several groups of young people broke into an IDF installation in the Jordan Valley, spray painted equipment, occupied for a brief period an empty facility close to the Jordanian border and declared their intention of settlling the Land of Israel east of the Jordan, attacked the army car of a senior officer with a large stone and wounded his aide.
So far the typical response of authorities to settler violence is repeating itself. Some of the young people have been detained, and some of those already released. They are treated more as naughty children who create a tolerable nuisance than as a serious threat to public order. There was no deadly force used against those attacking the officer's car or breaking into the army base.
Such acts by Palestinians would have produced long prison terms if the perpetrators were fortunate enough to survive the army's initial response.
Political and military figures are declaring a severe toughening of their responses to Jewish terror, and some rabbis are adding their voice to those decrying attacks against the IDF. However, settler figures are saying that the real problem is the government's intention to remove Jews from the Land of Israel. Rabbis are stuttering between condemnation of those who exaggerated and an understanding of the young people who act in defense of their values.
Meanwhile, on other fronts of our religious wars, the ultra-Orthodox of Mea She'arim used baby strollers (occupied with their infants) to block a main street against buses carrying women who dared sit in the men's section. Contending groups of ultra-Orthodox men hit, kicked, and threw stones at one another in their continuing conflict over the occupation of a building. And male Orthodox students at the Technion demanded the exit of women from the university fitness center so they could use the facilities. (The Hebrew University swimming pools have long had an hour a day reserved for men only and an hour a day reserved for women only. The Technion will now have to impose the same options at its fitness facility.)
I've defined the problem. Don't look to me for solutions.
We wanted a state for Jews. We got Jews.
The large majority of us are not part of these extremes, and will likely remain outside of the squabbles. We may become a minority in several decades if recent demographic projections produce a substantial increase in the ultra-Orthodox population.
Demographers since Malthus have often been wrong about their projections, and we can hope that economic realities will reduce the ultra-Orthodox fascination with having lots of children to be supported by those of us who pay taxes, and protected by those of us who serve in the army.
There is an anti-religious feeling among Israeli Jews, but it has not been enough to penetrate the major political parties. For some time the anti-Haredi party Shinui was able to maintain a middling presence in the Knesset and a role in the government, but it collapsed due to shananigans of a leading figure and then a clumsy effort to take over the party leadership.
In the current situation of a morbid left, religious politicians of the Orthodox Religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox varieties have a substantial say in the government. Secular politicians can moan and shout about extremism, and promise action against those who insult women or violate the IDF, but significant action is a step so far not taken.
It is difficult to expect the resurgence of the left on the basis of religion. Also on their agenda, and working against their resurgence, is the issue of Palestine. The flaccid leadership of Fatah, the ascendance of Hamas, instability verging on chaos in important Muslim countries, the heating up of the Iranian front (those mysterious explosions and the Iranian threat to close the Straits of Hormuz) reduce Israel's capacity to solve the problems of the Middle East with a gesture toward the Palestinians.
The social agenda of Israel's left may have more life in it than its Palestinian agenda. Last summer's protests left the headlines with the start of the academic year and the removal of the protesters' tents. Discussions continue about the proposals of the committee appointed by the government. No surprise that opposition of those who stand to lose from reform may be weakening the resolves heard earlier from the prime minister and the minister of finance. Economic problems coming from Europe and the United States are lessening the resources available for reform, and regional instability is weakening resolve to reduce defense expenditures for the sake of social programs.
Even if social issues help the left whenever there is a national election, there is no indication that a left or centrist coalition can govern without religious parties. Or that leftist or centrist politicians will choose to tackle religious issues as a matter of high priority.
Things change in politics, sometimes quickly. However, there is nothing clearly on the horizon to encourage the secular left and center that there will be a quick end to discomforts associated with extremists among the ultra-Orthodox and Religious Zionists.
If someone out there has a way for Jews to deal with Jews, I'm waiting for your help..
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at December 13, 2011 11:39 PM