Akiva Eldar
Haaretz (Opinion)
December 19, 2011 - 1:00am

What's easier for a secular person to hate than an ultra-Orthodox Jew who sets fire to an Israeli flag on the holiday of Lag Ba'omer? The answer is a religious West Bank Jewish settler who torches a mosque on any old day.

The shared revulsion of those thugs who have acquired the nickname "hilltop youth" and whose hate crimes have euphemistically come to be called "price tag" attacks assuages the consciences of those who consider themselves secular liberals.

Like this summer's wave of protests for social justice, the recent attacks on Israel Defense Force soldiers have created a national consensus, bringing together cheeseburger eaters and skullcap wearers. All of us are for equality, tolerance and love of humanity. All of us are against the band of rabbis who called for Jews not to rent to Arabs in Safed. All of us are against the fundamentalist rabbis from the settlement of Yitzhar whose students throw stones at army officers.

True, the young Jewish terrorists can usually be seen in the traditional side curls and tzitzit, the ritual fringes worn by religious Jewish males. And in the initial years after the Six-Day War, it was in fact the religious Gush Emunim movement that spread the settlement plague, but there is no wall separating the religious from the secular. Jewish ethnocentrism - and the desire to erase the collective identity of the Palestinians and take control of their land - have been a thread linking religious and secular over the past 44 years.

The late settlement movement leader Hanan Porat resettled the Gush Etzion bloc after the Six-Day War with the blessing of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol of the Labor Alignment. Yigal Alon, the deputy prime minister and a kibbutznik, visited Rabbi Moshe Levinger in his settlement outpost in Hebron. The orders issued by Labor's Shimon Peres, who was defense minister at time, to arrest Gush Emunim activists on their way to the illegal Sebastia settlement "were either given half-heartedly or were negligently carried out," as the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin wrote. And Ariel Sharon, who was the settlers' king of kings (until he withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 ) was a known fan of shellfish, hardly an item to be found in a kosher kitchen.

The most racist legislative proposals have been the product of Knesset members such as Avigdor Lieberman, Avi Dichter, Danny Danon, Yariv Levin, Faina Kirshenbaum and Anastassia Michaeli, none of whom have religious motives. In their holy writ - that is, opinion poll results - it is said that most of the Jewish population supports limiting the right to vote, allowing only those who swear allegiance to the Jewish state to have a say in who gets elected to run the country.

According to a 2010 poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, most of the Jewish population also believes that Jews should be allocated more resources than Israeli Arabs. And the most important and sensitive resources are in fact being allocated, both from a legal and a practical perspective, by the Israel Lands Administration and the Jewish National Fund. It is these mainstream institutions, not the ultra-Orthodox Council of Torah Sages or the Yesha Council of settlements, that are implementing the worldview reflected in the poll. What is the difference between preventing rentals to non-Jews and banning the sale of land to the goyim?

In a courageous article in the most recent issue of the Shalom Hartman Institute journal Dorsheni, Prof. Ishay Rosen-Zvi writes that although arrogance and discrimination vis-a-vis non-Jews may be deeply rooted in the concept of chosen peoplehood, it is the state, guided by the national interest, that decides what the extent of Jewish nationhood is and what special rights derive from it.

"It was not religious people who coined the phrase 'demographic problem'; it was not they who legislated the Law of Return [giving Jews abroad the right to immigrate to Israel]; it was not they who founded the Jewish National Fund; not they who declared the policy to make the Negev and Galilee more Jewish," he writes.

Rosen-Zvi notes that the decision to expel the children of migrant workers was made by a government with a clear secular majority that provided a secular reason: the desire to maintain Israel's Jewish majority. In the name of democracy, discriminatory ethnic laws of return are the equivalent here of naturalization laws in democratic Western countries. The laws here also grant special rights to relatives of Jews who are not themselves Jewish according to religious law.

At the end of a meeting held last week with rabbis and settlement leaders, President Shimon Peres said: "There is one thing that unites us all: not abandoning this country to a group of people who constitute a major danger to the existence of the state."

Mr. President, it is not a marginalized "group of people" that constitutes the major danger to the existence of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state, rather than a racist and Jewish one. The seeds of lawlessness were sowed by good secular people like you.


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