September 2005, right after the summer of the Gush Katif “disengagement.” As the summer vacation came to an end, we held a team meeting to mark our return to work. Management initiated a round of discussion. “How is everyone? How was your vacation?” The discussion proceeded in a routine manner, with everyone sharing their summer experiences. However, it took a dramatic turn when one of the employees, a religious settler, tried to explain exactly what kind of vacation she had experienced and broke down in tears. She was unable to speak and left the room in distress.
I realized that we had not really understood nor truly experienced the disengagement. Today, I recall this with a sense of guilt. It’s true that the Charedi public, for the most part, did not support the disengagement, but we were indifferent to the process
At that moment, I came to a profound realization. I realized that we had not really understood nor truly experienced the disengagement. Today, I recall this with a sense of guilt. It’s true that the Charedi public, for the most part, did not support the disengagement, yet we were indifferent to the process. While the settler community felt their world was collapsing and turned to prayers, pleas, and protests, many of us continued our routine summer vacation activities, clucked our tongues disapprovingly, and carried on. We failed to grasp the magnitude of the event, its far-reaching impact, and the impending disaster that would affect all of us due to that cursed disengagement. Today, albeit belatedly, I understand this truth, as do many others.
Everyone points to the misguided strategic concept at the core of the colossal system failure that befell us on Simchat Torah. However, conceptions do not emerge in a vacuum; they feed off a worldview. It is only fitting, even if to a limited extent, to examine the ideological background upon which decision-makers, policy shapers, security, and military personnel, and the Israeli electorate’s concept was built.
More than just dismantling a concept, there is a challenge to the worldview itself – a challenge to the liberal image of reality.
The crisis of the liberal worldview
On Simchat Torah morning, 5784, the liberal worldview experienced a significant crisis. For now, allow me to oversimplify and use platitudes to describe a complicated worldview. Reality sometimes seems clichéd. The liberal perception of the world has, for many years, conditioned us to see all people as equal and alike. We all want very similar things, they tell us – prosperity, security, and self-respect. At the same time, there are a range of different narratives, each representing its own version of reality as the truth.
According to this worldview, there are no inherently “better” or “worse” nations and peoples, only nations that are better and worse off. In the competition for resources, nations that are economically well-off tend to oppress others in pursuit of increasing their own prosperity, while nations that are worse off may resort to violence against those who are oppressing them. The path to global peace lies in improving the economic conditions of all nations and striving for greater equality and freedom for all humanity.
Even the staunchest believers on the Israeli left struggle to interpret Hamas’ actions as a Palestinian attempt to achieve freedom and economic prosperity
The barbaric and cruel acts committed on October 7th destroyed this worldview with bloodshed and torture. Even the staunchest believers on the Israeli left struggle to interpret Hamas’ actions as a Palestinian attempt to achieve freedom and economic prosperity. Hamas terrorists certainly didn’t entertain the thought that they could conquer Israel and its powerful military using mopeds, Kalashnikovs, and homemade rockets. They knew their actions would not improve the living conditions in Gaza but only bring greater suffering. The sole aspiration of those who embarked on this murderous mission was to kill Jews without any political benefit or rational consideration.
Such cruelty and deep hatred of Jews is not conceivable in the liberal incantation; it is simply beyond comprehension. After years of pleading with the Palestinians to ease their hostility towards us and rewarding them for even the slightest moments of calm with an abundance of economic benefits, they go out and attack us, shattering any hope for a liberal order based on economic prosperity, freedom, and equality.
Not only did Hamas break the hearts of the bewildered Israeli left, but the reaction of the enlightened world put the final nail in the coffin. For many years, we believed that even if there were diehard, extremist Islamic terrorists that were hard to handle, if we condemned the “occupation” and carried the banner of freedom and equality, the enlightened world would stand by our side. But despite the incomprehensible cruelty of Hamas, despite all the losses we suffered, and despite this war being forced upon us, a significant part of global public opinion, especially in universities and on the hard left, still turns against us.
In Britain, a bastion of liberal civilization, a demonstration of one hundred thousand people took place a couple of weeks back in support of suffering Gaza residents. The Palestinian slogan, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free,” was dominant. Or, in other words, destroy Israel.
The Voice of Tradition: Ishmael Hates Israel
In traditional Jewish thinking, an act of hatred such as the one we just experienced is accepted as a piece of a vast, multidimensional puzzle. Antisemitism is a fact of life, and expressions of antisemitism are the default rather than the exception. Open the standard prayer book, open the Pesach Haggadah or any book on a Jewish bookshelf – all of them prepare us for such moments.
For behold, Your foes are in uproar and those who hate you have raised their head. Against Your people they plot deviously, they take counsel against those sheltered by You. They said, “Come, let us cut them off from nationhood, so Israel’s name will not be remembered any longer.” For they take counsel together unanimously, they strike a covenant against You. The tents of Edom and Ishamelites; Moab and Hagrites; Gebal and Ammon, and Amalek; Philistia, with the inhabitants of Tyre. Even Assyria joined with them, they became the strong arm of Liot’s sons, Selah.
So said the Psalmist (83) millennia ago. And the Jews have never forgotten it. “In every generation, they rise against us to annihilate us,” we recite with intensity each Seder night. This is an evening filled with rituals etched into our consciousness. The same is true of the New Year. Nearly all the prayers recited over the symbolic foods during the Rosh Hashanah festive dinner – the first meal of the Jewish year – are directed toward enemies lurking in the shadows, waiting for the right moment.
We know that we are distinct, unique, and exceptional, and we are aware that many hate us for it. We do not believe that all nations are fundamentally similar. Absolutely not. There’s Israel, and there’s Yishmael. There’s Edom, and there’s Persia. Each nation has its own character and desires, and each of them has a complex and ancient relationship with the Jewish people. Yishmael despises the people of Israel. Yishmael is bloodthirsty, ruthless, and violent.
Ethnocentrism – applying one’s own culture as a frame of reference to judge other cultures and the attendant inability to accept the other’s perspective – is commonly attributed to religious and conservative communities. However, it appears that liberals, too, suffer from the phenomenon. They are afflicted by “liberalocentrism.”
They are convinced that the morals they are familiar with, values like democracy, human rights, equality, women’s status, and the distinction between good and evil, are absolute and universal
Though liberals speak the language of cultural relativism, this relativism is superficial alone. The forgiving and tolerant attitude towards different lifestyles is predicated on the assumption that all people are not really different from them and a conviction that familiar moral values like human rights, equality, women’s status, and the distinction between good and evil are absolute and universal. Those espousing liberal positions do not recognize an alternative viewpoint and, consequently, have a very hard time understanding other cultures and defending themselves against them.
In each of us, these two mindsets exist, the Jewish and the progressive, side-by-side, in varying proportions. A Charedi Jew living in Israel, regardless of whether he wishes to or not, is constantly exposed to a liberal outlook on life. And within each of us, the part of our consciousness that thinks progressive has suffered a serious blow.
Realizing just how different the “other” is from us clarifies the impossibility of negotiating with evil
Unfortunately, even right-wing governments are eminently susceptible to such notions. Netanyahu, with his well-known approach of “managing the conflict” and the long-term policy of sticks and carrots, brief military operations, and a rapid return to routine, was deeply influenced by this philosophy. Realizing just how different the “other” is from us clarifies the impossibility of negotiating with evil. Most tragic of all is that the naive attempt by policymakers to view Gaza residents as equal and similar-minded did not impact their behavior. We made the mistake of forgetting about Jewish exceptionalism and the vicious hatred directed towards Jews. Still worse, we disregarded the fact that our enemy is simply different from us. It’s painful, disturbing, and fundamentally changes our understanding of reality.
The cataclysmic events and the war in their wake that took us by surprise are, of course, a ringing failure on the part of the right-wing government. The current government, with Netanyahu at its helm, will be removed from office following the war. It must. A failure of such gargantuan proportions cannot wait for the results of a state commission of inquiry. It needs to get up, turn over the keys, and go home.
The current government, with Netanyahu at its helm, will be removed from office following the war. It must
However, alongside the practical failure of an entirely right-wing government, we also witnessed a painful victory for the traditional Jewish viewpoint. Right-wing governments that have governed here for so many years have not adopted a prudent Jewish ethos of responsibility and vigilance. No worldview is free from intellectual dogma and deep-seated errors, but it appears that only the Jewish voice of ancient tradition was able to read the regional map correctly. I say this with infinite regret. May Hashem give us wisdom and open our eyes to learn the lessons.
Picture: CC0, via Wikimedia Commons