Labor leader Avi Gabbay's comment that “the Left has forgotten what it means to be Jewish” isn’t a comment about Judaism, nor about religion or a return to religion. It’s a comment about security. Twenty years ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu whispered this sentence in Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri’s hearing-impaired ears, but that was only the first half of the sentence. The second half was: “They think if they give the Arabs weapons, the Arabs will protect us.”
To win elections in Israel, there’s no need to become religious or turn to the Right. All you have to do is to provide a sense of security. The emphasis is on a sense, not on security. Sometimes, “Mr. Security” is a disguise, and the disguise must be convincing, of course.
Examine the election campaigns of the past 40 years, and you’ll see that the more “security-affiliated” candidate always won: Menachem Begin beat Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Shamir beat Peres, Yitzhak Rabin beat Shamir, Netanyahu beat Peres, Ehud Barak beat Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon beat Barak, and Netanyahu beat Isaac Herzog. Ehud Olmert, who sat down in the driver's seat of Sharon’s car, is an unusual case.
Israeli society isn’t religious. It’s more military than civil. It hasn’t become more religious. Rather, it has grown weaker, and it’s terrified.
Late Prime Minister Golda Meir once made a more “Jewish” comment than Netanyahu's. Golda said, “Yes, there is justice, but there is Jewish justice.” That comment was also made in a security-related, rather than religious, context—it was said about the return of the Ikrit and Biram refugees.
In his book "Der Judenstaat” (The Jewish State), Theodor Herzl wrote that we won’t let the religious people rear their heads, we’ll keep them in the synagogues, we’ll have a lot of respect for them, but we won’t allow them to intervene in the state’s affairs. Herzl wasn’t forced to practice what he preached, because he didn’t have to form a coalition. Herzl wanted to tell a story, not to be prime minister.
After the state’s establishment, our life was handed over to the religious people, from birth to burial. The Rabbinical Courts Jurisdiction Law imposes halachic marriage and divorce on secular Jews; there is no public transportation on Shabbat; the corrupt kashrut systems make our food more expensive and raise the cost of living.
In the past, people spoke about religious coercion. Today, they call it “religionization.” They were exaggerating then, and they are exaggerating now. The main problem, I believe, isn’t religion’s takeover of the state, but religion’s takeover of the foreign and defense policy, which is reflected in the slogan “fathers’ graves come before sons’ lives.” The purpose of the State of Israel was the national revival of the Jewish people, not a religious revival, and a national revival must take into account international, demographic, economic and military considerations.
The arrogance of religious supremacy was reflected in the famous meeting between Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz (the Chazon Ish), in which the rabbi boasted that religious people had a full wagon while seculars had an empty one.
Another old story, a more basic one, is about a meeting between youth from a religious kibbutz and youth from a Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz, in which they discussed the question: Is there a god? They sat in a circle and argued fervently: There is a god, there isn’t a god. After a heated debate, they said a friendly goodbye. The guys from the religious kibbutz went home in the same state they arrived in, confident there is a God. The Hashomer Hatzair guys said to themselves: There’s definitely no god, definitely, but if there is a god—we’re screwed.
The Left hasn’t forgotten what it means to be Jewish, but it has forgotten what it means to win elections. In Israel, you win elections with the help of security, not with the help of God.
There were two candidates for prime minister in the last elections. One is married to his third wife, his second wife was a gentile who underwent a Reform conversion, he confessed on live television that he had cheated on his current wife, he doesn’t observe Shabbat and he eats seafood in non-kosher restaurants. The other candidate is the grandson of Israel’s first chief rabbi, he observes Shabbat, he goes to synagogue every Saturday, he leads a remarkable Jewish family life and he only eats kosher food. Well, who won?
Amnon Abramovich is an Israel Television News Company commentator.