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Yaron London  

 

Between Tahrir and Zion squares

Op-ed: There's no major difference between visions of ultra-Orthodox parties and Muslim Brotherhood

Published: 07.09.13, 11:24 / Israel Opinion

As we follow the dramatic developments in Egypt, we should ask ourselves in what ways we are similar to the Egyptians and how we differ from them. Those who object to the comparison will say: What does one thing have to do with the other? Our political tradition, they'll say, is democratic and our ancient culture excels in verbal disputes, not blandishing swords.

 

I disagree. I believe a cautious comparison is the main benefit from the analysis of the reasons behind the events in Egypt. There are crucial differences between us and the Egyptians, but historic processes occur when slight changes pile up like straw on a camel's back. The exhausted camel suddenly collapses. It always happens suddenly.

 

The threat to us lies in the relationship between theocracy and democracy. The literal meaning of theocracy is the rule of god, but the lord needs mediators – priests - who claim to know what he wants. It is forbidden to question their interpretation, so the rule of god is actually nothing more than the despotic rule of his authorized interpreters.

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Following the revolt against Hosni Mubarak's regime, the citizens of Egypt were given an opportunity to live a life of liberty, but they chose slavery. The choice sealed their fate, because democratic elections which result in the rise to power of a theocracy are the last democratic elections.

 

The tyranny of the interpreters of the religious laws can only be subdued by different kind of despots – the generals. Are we so far away from a situation where a theocracy will take over our damaged democracy with the help of democratic procedures?

 

Here is an example of theocratic "straw" being piled gently onto the camel's back: The commanders of the haredi battalion "Netzah Yehuda" were replaced with religious commanders because the division commander wanted to prevent tension between commanders and their subordinates. Sensitivity, an excellent trait in and of itself, formed a military unit whose soldiers will be confused as to who has authority over them when it will matter most.

 

The paradox: A democratic party with secular characteristics is the main proponent of the expansion of this dangerous gamble, assuming army service will integrate the haredim into general Israeli society and instill in them modern and democratic worldviews. I suppose the result will be unfavorable: The theocratic core will expand and will obtain not only political power, but weapons as well.

 

There are those who say that most people who vote for haredi factions are more moderate than their political representatives. This is also what is said of the Palestinian population in Gaza and the Egyptians who supported the Muslim Brotherhood. "The people," the pundits claim, did not want the results of their actions. "The people" were angry at the corrupt regime. "The people" merely wanted to live in peace and have enough bread. "The people" are not ideological. Perhaps, but this explanation has little value, because once the ballot is cast it cannot be pulled out from the ballot box.

 

Among the 3.8 million citizens who voted in the elections for the 19th Knesset, 528,000 supported Shas and United Torah Judaism, parties which take orders from rabbis who despite democracy and are longing for the day when the halacha will replace the laws being enacted by the people through their elected representatives. There is no significant difference between the vision of these parties and the Muslim Brotherhood's vision.

 

In the last elections some 346,000 supported Habayit Hayehudi, a party which hails democracy. However, half of the MKs on its roster declare their subordination to rabbis and favor the supremacy of "Judaism" over democracy.

 

Among Likud's supporters there are also those who are in favor of a regime that is guided by the halacha. They are not conservatives like the Christian parties that rule some countries in Europe. Rather, they are messianic religious Jews (Moshe Feiglin is the most eloquent of this lot) who are certain the people will eventually hand over to them the reins of government peacefully. Is this not what happened in Egypt?

 

 

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