In the service of morality or in the service of politics?
Op-ed: If a protest in favor of morality and stateliness is deemed ‘dangerous,’ and if discussing incorruption is forbidden by rabbis for the sake of supporting the leader, let’s hold a different debate—about what it means to be right-wing in Israel.
At the age of 15, I was impressed (and sometimes a bit scared) by his special image. For him, everything was mixed: The Land of Israel, the people of Israel the Torah of Israel and Israeli protests. Everything was mixed for us students too.
Last Saturday, after political messengers were sent over to him from an important bureau, the rabbi announced in a public letter that it is forbidden to protest in Jerusalem for stateliness and morality. Why? Because it’s political. And in general, it could lead to another Oslo Agreement and harm the world of Torah.
Twenty-four hours earlier, a rabbi from Safed declared that whoever shows up at Zion Square is stupid, and mentioned Yuval Cherlow as one of the rabbis who plans to attend the protest, claiming that he only represents himself. As we all know, a rabbi’s job is to call other people names so that they don’t go out to protest for morality and to disparage other rabbis.
I feel required to address this issue after Netanyahu urgently invited a number of prominent rabbis from the Religious Zionism movement to his office and asked for their support in light of the expected police recommendations against him.
Speaking in favor of the presumption of innocence is permitted and desirable, but we can’t expect rabbis to urge the public to turn a blind eye, regardless of the nature of the recommendations. What is the meaning of “we mustn’t allow the toppling of a prime minister, God forbid,” as one of the rabbis wrote on the eve of the protest? How does this fit in with the term “Torat Chaim” (the Torah of life—our truths and values)?
And if, like those who wrongly deemed a protest in favor of morality and stateliness “dangerous,” the honorable rabbis wrongly turn a debate on incorruption into something that is forbidden by the Torah for the sake of supporting the leader, I would ask them to hold a different debate—to demonstrate the absurdity: A real debate—hoping it is permitted and isn’t seen as a threat to the government and to the Torah—about what it means to be right-wing in Israel.
Because despite my concerns, US President Donald Trump has turned out to be a unique opportunity to implement a serious Israeli policy concerning the Judea and Samaria settlements. He has recognized Jerusalem to be Israel's capital, and Guatemala is following in his footsteps and will move its embassy there (and we thank them for that). But what is happening in practice? What is the right-wing vision as an alternative to a dangerous agreement within the 1967 borders?
Are we allowed to discuss, let’s say, the fact that all the promises to build thousands of housing units haven’t been implemented? Are we allowed to ask how is it possible that Gush Etzion has celebrated 50 years since the liberation, but that in official Israel it is still defined as an “administered territory”? And what about the fact that we are afraid to build military colleges on Mount Scopus because it used to be a demilitarized area? On Mount Scopus, our own flesh and blood, near the Mount of Olives, a national consensus—above the Old City. Are you familiar with any another capital where the state is afraid to build an officers’ college?
And while we’re on the subject of the Right, what about slogans against judicial activism? Has anything changed since the Right rose to power? Are the coalition members commentators or a political echelon with an influence on what is happening? And if they are, where’s the influence? Or is this government maneuvering diplomatically, and very successfully in my opinion, but only maneuvering? Neither more nor less, and not for the sake of a vision or for the sake of a supreme goal.
Take the Bennett plan, for example—the most reasonable idea I am familiar with in the right-wing discourse as a basis for a discussion. Has anyone held a cabinet meeting about it? Forget about Bennett. What about other plans? And if the right-wing government is only maneuvering, what is the great threat the rabbis see in “washing the dirty linen in public”—discussing the odd attitude towards the law enforcement authorities and the limitations of power?
And in general, does a history of releasing some 1,000 terrorists in the Shalit deal, voting in favor of the disengagement from Gaza (three times), freezing construction and the Bar-Ilan speech make someone a more devout rightist than others? Does that authorize him to accuse others of “leftism?” Does that exempt him from a discussion of his morality?
Not to judge, not to sentence—just to think. And to talk. Gifts received by the prime minister, corruption, stateliness, policy and vision. There are enough brave rabbis. And if they don’t talk, will it disappear? And most importantly, what is the job of intellectuals and religious leaders: To educate the public or to secretly discuss the number of Knesset seats here or there?