A New Paradigm

    (This article was first published as an op-ed in this week’s Jewish Press.)

     The atrocity in Itamar, in which two parents and three young children were brutally murdered by believers in the “religion of peace,” has shocked and dismayed all civilized people. Blame is always ascribed to the perpetrators, whose inhumanity and animalistic instincts know no bounds. But it is foolhardy to ignore the effects of the Netanyahu policies that have facilitated both terror and the further deterioration of Israel’s strategic position.

     Certainly, the passion with which PM Netanyahu denounced the murderers and the PA was welcome, even if his “demands” on them were risible. For the umpteenth time in the last 18 years, angry Israeli spokesmen condemned the unchecked incitement emanating from official Palestinian organs – media, schools, etc. – and demanded its immediate cessation. Undoubtedly, the same Israelis will deplore the same incitement after the next terrorist attack, and the one after that as well. Perhaps it is too much to ask, but when will official Israel admit that “incitement” is not a Palestinian tactic or an aberration but a way of life and a genuine and natural expression of their intense hatred of Jews?

     If and when that happens, it can only come after official Israel admits that it is foolish and counterproductive to continue to “negotiate” with a Palestinian Authority that is both unauthorized and duplicitous. To even request that they begin “educating their people for peace” shows that Netanyahu participates in the charade. If he knows that the Arabs engage in double talk and that they are uninterested in negotiations leading to a peace treaty, then why would he even contemplate more concessions, including the rumored dramatic initiative of Israel’s acceptance of a Palestinian State of undefined borders? This returns us to the insanities of the last two decades.

     Did the removal of military checkpoints outside Shechem facilitate the monsters’ movements? Perhaps, but in any event, it is ludicrous to remove checkpoints during a war. As the scientist Gerald Schroeder pointed out in our shul on Shabbat, every American passes through several checkpoints on the way to an airplane. Those Americans who insist on the removal of Israeli checkpoints should demand first the removal of American checkpoints at airports.

      Nevertheless, PM Netanyahu is responsible for an ongoing failure, an epic blunder that both undercuts his leadership and sows the seeds for such heinous crimes as occurred in Itamar.

     Simply put, Netanyahu may not be able to influence events on the ground in Israel’s turbulent neighborhood, but he should be able to capitalize on them in order to advance Israel’s strategic interests. Instead, he is locked into an old paradigm that has been discredited. Apparently, Netanyahu remains committed to the “land for peace” formula that has never worked and is still unworkable. To plan for new territorial concessions to more unstable despots when the previous ones have brought instability and mayhem is folly. So why would an MIT graduate like Netanyahu do that?

    The answer is an incapacity to look at the conflict through anything but secular lenses. He is trapped in a rigid world-view in which Israel’s interests and narrative are dominated by “historical” claims and security concerns. Both have failed to capture the public mind, and have left Israelis wondering why their pain, the justice of their cause and their willingness to make concessions leave the world unmoved and indifferent to their plight. Israelis are also troubled that the world does not the world distinguish between Israel’s claims of 3500 years and the “claims” of the Palestinians, a “people” that is a 20th century invention concocted solely to thwart the nascent Jewish national movement.

    This disconnect exists because Israel itself doesn’t distinguish between the two narratives, but has embraced the “two peoples for one land” distortion of history. “History” cuts both ways. Jews historically resided in the land, but so did other nations, and Jews did not reside en masse in the land of Israel for centuries at a time. For a world with short memories, it makes no difference how old – or how valid – the claims are, as long as claims are made that pre-date its living memory. And the “security” argument is increasingly hollow. The Arab contention is superior to the Israeli one: “you stole my house. Give it back and we will not bother you.” To which the Israeli responds: “Well, give me proof that you won’t bother me.” And the Arab replies: “That is crazy. Get out of my house!”

     No wonder the world is deaf to Israel’s claims; they are as illogical as they are immoral. We don’t respond: “Wrong, this is our house!”

     Every concession that Israel makes or even entertains simply reinforces the Arab narrative. When Israel releases terrorists from prison as a good-will gesture, it sends the message that the terrorists were not justly imprisoned in the first place. When Israel removes security checkpoints, it sends the message that the checkpoints had no real security dimension but were simply a means to harass Arabs. When the government of Israel freezes construction in settlements, it sends the message that building in the heartland of Israel is illegal and unjustifiable. (Then it wonders why the UN wants to declare settlements illegal!) When Israel destroys outposts in Samaria, it broadcasts that the land of Israel does not belong to the people of Israel. When Israel allows building only in response to terror, it shouts that settlement is not a natural right but a vengeful tool. Those messages are received by audiences across the world.
     The cardinal sin of the Netanyahu tenure is that he and his minions repeatedly fail to utilize the only narrative that carries real substance and can transform the entire debate: that the Jewish people’s claim to the land of Israel is not based on history, security, or the Holocaust but on the biblical fact that the Creator of the Universe bequeathed it to our forefathers, and through them to us, as an “everlasting possession.” It should not require a great leap of imagination to embrace this concept; after all, it is the very reason why the idea of a return to Zion animated generations of Jews dwelling in far-flung exiles. It is the very reason why Jews sacrificed to return, build and defend the land of Israel. The problem is that Netanyahu, a secular person like almost all of his predecessors, does not believe it. It plays no role in his policy formulations.

    That itself is foolish and counterproductive because the world today is riveted by religious ideas that are in both ideological competition and armed conflict with each other. Radical Islam is at war with the Christian West and with Jewish Israel. These are fundamentally religious disputes, even if the seculars among us – Jews and Christians – abhor the notion and eschew its applicability. That is why radical Muslims regular threaten the “Crusaders and the Zionists” (i.e., Christians and Jews) and that is why Jews – not only Israelis – are targets of Islamic hatred throughout the world, and not only in Israel. And Israel’s keenest supporters in America today are the tens of millions of Bible-believing Christian evangelicals, who are often puzzled that they embrace the Biblical narrative far more enthusiastically than do Israel’s leaders. By adopting a religious perspective, at least we will have joined the debate instead of standing on the sidelines uttering irrelevancies.

     Israel has suffered enormously over the years because its leaders have been secular Jews who have shorn the history of Israel of its religious dimension, and who have rooted Israel’s right to existence in amorphous and unpersuasive arguments relating to the Holocaust and security matters. Israel deserves to have a believing Jew as its prime minister, and Israel’s large religious Jewish community needs to have the self-confidence that a Torah Jew can infuse policy with faith, and support such individuals as leaders (and not recycle other failed, secular leaders as has been the pattern for decades).

      The new paradigm would transform the debate overnight. Territorial concessions would be ruled out, because “this land is our land, given to us by G-d.” Building and development would take place throughout the land of Israel, as this is the Torah’s mandate as Ramban explained. “Settlements” would no longer be an excuse for terror but a natural part of nation-building. Non-Jews would be welcomed as residents of this land as long as they embraced basic norms of morality and acceded to the sovereignty of the Jewish people. Israel would not feel guilty about fighting and defeating a brutal and merciless enemy. It would no longer be on the defensive before international tribunals. Israel’s Prime Minister would no longer be the only world leader who bends to President Obama’s commands. Indeed, the word “concession” could be retired from Israel’s diplomatic lexicon.

     Imagine if an Israeli prime minister said: “World, we are here because the Almighty, in Whom we trust, gave us this land so that we should serve Him and observe His Torah therein. Without the promises of the Torah, we have no reason to be here. And we are here to stay, in the land of our history and our destiny.” Such would end the days of defensiveness, awkwardness, guilt and recriminations. World leaders (and many Jews) would be apoplectic – in the short term. But they would recover – and Israel’s case would be persuasive and winnable, and have the added advantage of being true and holy.

      It is about time that the people of Israel were governed by Jewish leaders steeped in Jewish history and values and faith. In a region that is being swept by less savory revolutions, that would be a revolution that would inspire our nation and perhaps even lead the world to a bright and peaceful era of untold good.   

7 responses to “A New Paradigm

  1. Amen! You take this stand and God will be standing right beside you. He has been waiting for a leader that remembers or believes the Bible.

  2. A lovely idea; however, one that is almost completely untenable, considering that:

    * Israel is a democracy
    * Religious Jews are a minority in the overall population
    * A large percentage of religious Jews consider the state in which they live to be irrelevant at best, evil at worst.
    * The religious politically active faction of the Israeli population is generally much more concerned with its own narrow interests (maintaining funding for its institutions and control over cultural activities) than in promoting a national sense of “Jewish history, values, and faith.”

    It’s not germane to your main thrust, but your statement that Biblical ties to the land are “the very reason why Jews sacrificed to return, build and defend the land of Israel” is hardly historically accurate. The religious Zionist movement was overwhelmingly opposed and maligned by the religous world pre-1948, and is doing only marginally better today.

    If you truly believe that the solution to Israel’s woes lies in a more popular acceptance of the religious value system, then your critique should be more properly directed at the religious communities who refuse to responsibly promulgate it, both in Israel and abroad.

  3. Beg to differ with every point.
    First, even the early secular Zionists were drawn to the land of Israel (and gave up on the Uganda initiative) for a certain reason.
    Second, the percentage of “religious Zionists” in Israel is irrelevant to my argument; as it is, most Israelis – likely 2/3 – believe that
    G-d gave the land to us through the Torah. It is an argument that both the Charedim and the traditional Sefardim easily embrace, and the rejection of Religious Zionism was not at all because the other religious Jews denied that basic premise of the Torah. Ben Gurion explicitly referenced it at the Peel Commission hearings in 1937, and Menachem Begin regularly proclaimed it. Your facts are just wrong.
    Third, my appeal was to common sense. Israel’s hasbara fails because it is not a coherent or an attractive message. Their policies present themselves as thieves only hoping to divest themselves of the stolen property in an orderly way to responsible people – hardly the prerogative of thieves. In a world increasingly drawn to religious ideas, this idea resonates far more than the horse-trading over land that does not come close to addressing the core of the dispute. And that is a message for all Jews, especially Israelis.

  4. As I said, the historical issue was more of a side point, but I’ll let it go for now. Even assuming that the early Zionists were moved more by the Biblical claim to the land of Israel than by European antisemitism, I don’t see where that emotion is widespread within the contemporary secular Israeli society.

    You said:

    Imagine if an Israeli prime minister said: “World, we are here because the Almighty, in Whom we trust, gave us this land so that we should serve Him and observe His Torah therein. Without the promises of the Torah, we have no reason to be here. And we are here to stay, in the land of our history and our destiny.”

    From what part of Israeli society do you see such a figure emerging? How would he be electable in the contemporary Israeli democracy? How widespread is this viewpoint even within the religious community? Does the modern charedi world believe this?

  5. Indeed. Obviously this requires a transformation of Israeli society to some degree, and just as well. My point is not to identify particular individuals but rather an ideological force that can create such a transformation – of hearts, minds and the public at large.
    Absent that, many seem to feel that the current State of Israel has a guaranteed lease on permanent life regardless of their conduct, policies or statecraft. I do not know from where that confidence emanates. I do know that Israel’s enemies are better organized, funded, represented and articulate, and more internationally popular and feared, whereas Israel’s leaders have preferred to kick the can down the road for another five or ten years. Eventually, that can is going to explode, and it might happen sooner than we think.
    I make no judgment as to how widespread this attitude is now, although certainly there are many people who embrace it. What I am saying is that if Israel does not embrace a narrative that is true, just and compelling, it will lose more than the PR war. Those are the great stakes ahead of us in the coming year or two.

  6. moshe issachar

    We Already Have the Paradigm

    Thank you for a powerful and necessary statement about the need for new Israeli leadership.

    I am deeply moved by what was said here, but am also sorely disappointed about what was omitted.

    “Imagine if an Israeli prime minister said: ‘World, we are here because the Almighty, in Whom we trust, gave us this land….'”

    Well, an Israeli politician has already said that (see URL below) and has been saying it throughout all the years of Oslo. His name is Moshe Feiglin and he heads the largest faction in the Likud party, Manhigut Yehudit. He is offering a style of leadership based on Jewish history, values, and faith — exactly what Rabbi Pruzansky is demanding here.

    It’s quite strange such a cogent article would omit his mention, considering that his name and his movement are now household words in Israel. Feiglin’s
    platform is gaining in popularity by leaps and bounds as citizens of all stripes are coming to the realization that the land-for-peace formula is dead.

    I think it’s time for those who aren’t yet supporting the Jewish Leadership movement in Likud to either state their objections — or get on board.

    Moshe Feiglin Responds to Obama’s Speech in Cairo