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Peace Now: A Response to My Critics
Eliezer Berkovits (Sh'ma 10/189, March 7, 1980)
The thing that impresses me most in the responses to my short article in Sh'ma (10/1 83) is the richness of personal innuendo. I am accused of demagoguery. I cannot but recognize the creative originality of such an accusation. My supposed opinion of what constitutes "anti-Jewishness" is seen as an "example of the intolerance of Israeli Orthodoxy." The truth, of course, is that for many years now I have been one of the most outspoken critics of Israeli Orthodoxy among Orthodox rabbis. It is also implied that I am one of those who "call themselves 'Torah-true' Jews." The truth is that I have never called myself a "Torah-true" Jew, that "Torah-true" is one of those epithets that I utterly dislike. My father, z"l, a great talmid hakham (scholar) was a much more Torah-true Jew than I am; yet he thought that his father was, perhaps, a Torah-true Jew. It is also suggested that my interpretation of Judaism renders "rock throwing and other forms of vigilantism Jewish." The truth is that "rock throwing and other forms of vigilantism" are nothing new in Israel. Already in the Fifties I published an article against it (I believe in Congress Weekly) under the not insignificant title "Betrayal of the Spirit." What surprised me most in the responses was that these and other innuendos were produced by people who accused me of emotionally beclouding the issues and demanded that I better argue ad rem and not ad hominem. In all these matters I can well let my record of many years speak for itself. However, I cannot hide my disappointment with Yitz Greenberg. Of all people, he ought to know to what extent I have exposed myself personally in the cause of Jewish sanity across all ideological differences, and that I am probably the only Orthodox rabbi in this generation who in his writings has given philosophical as well as halakhic validation of such striving for unity. How does it happen then, that in this discussion of my position he deems it proper to suggest that "it is time to create an atmosphere of trust, love and common search between all groups?"
The Real Question is "Peace, How?"
The most disappointing aspect of the responses to my article is the fact that their authors were unable to understand what I wrote. Let me deal with some relevant examples. AU of them in their responses attach Gush Emunim to me. But nowhere in my article have I propagated the ideology of, or defended Gush Emunim. On the contrary, I stated clearly that I was not one of its supporters. I was objecting to the hatred with which especially Shalom Achshav, Peace Now, refers to Gush Emunim. It is in this connection that I draw the dividing line between Peace Now and the American peace movement during the Vietnam War. The fact is that while Shalom Achshav speaks all the time about peace with the Arabs, it has never spoken a peaceful word internally. The more determined the opposition to their ideas, the greater their intolerance and hatred.
Since I called the policies of Peace Now rather naive, it is thrown back at me that "trust in military might to solve complex problems is childishly naive." But where have I suggested that the problem of Arab-Israel relationships is to be solved militarily?
The, identification of my disagreement with Peace Now as "trust in military might" is the kind of intellectual intolerance that has its Israeli counter-part in the social intolerance that I mentioned earlier. In fact, I made it quite clear that we all want peace. 'The question is not "Peace, yes or no?" but "Peace, How?" One disagrees with Peace Now not because it wants peace but because of its political immaturity, because one is of the opinion that it is the way to disaster.
Where on earth have I equated "dovish views" with "anti-Jewishness?" I did use the phrase "anti-Jewish," but in what context? I wrote "…the most serious problem of Israeli society is its anti-Jewishness." I elaborated the point by describing the alienation of the Israeli intelligentsia from Judaism and its self-removal from the stream of Jewish historic existence. This is my understanding of the Israeli scene today. In itself it has nothing to do with my evaluation of the policies of Shalom Achshav, nor is it based on Shalom Achshav calling the Gush Emunim "the Cossacks of the Almighty."
Israeli Anti-Jewishness Poses Threat
No matter what the policies of Israeli society may be vis-à-vis the Arabs, this society's "anti-Jewishness" in the sense of which I used the term, represents the problem of problems of our survival. Israeli society derides all Jewish ideology, it laughs at the prophet's admonition that without vision a nation perishes, it sees in Jewish messianism nothing but the mysticism of religious fanatics and ultranationalists. And in this kind of realpolitik, Shalom Achshav, notwithstanding some religious following, has its full share.
It was against this background that I heard, the main speaker at a major Peace Now demonstration, refer to Gush Emunim as "the cossacks of the Almighty." One need not be a musmah (ordained) of the Novaradeker Musar Yeshivah in order to be familiar with the phrase Gott's kozaken. It is a folksy formulation steeped in juicy Yiddish humor. But when that phrase is used in Hebrew in a crowd of young Israelis who do not understand Yiddish, and who are part of the secular majority which is alienated from Judaism, then one cannot but hear the contempt and the hatred uttered with it. One's moral sensitivities were outraged by the vicious feeding of such social poison to a vast crowd of young people that was swallowing it with innocent delight.
So we have arrived at the issue of realpolitik. One of my critics asks very eloquently how can I doubt that our miraculous survival "is based on a realpolitik grounded in a tradition whose wisdom advises it to transcend the realpolitik of the nations." Now let us see what it was I wrote on this point. I was saying of the Israeli intelligentsia that it was living "without a sense of national identity, without a national purpose, in whose eyes ideology, vision, messianism are dirty words, who is enamored with 'rationalism' and realpolilik a la Bismarck etc." This should be sufficient for an answer. What amazes me most in this entire discussion, is the inability of intelligent people to read a short article intelligently. Obviously, I was treading on dangerous ground. I dared question the sanctity of some sacred cows.
I cannot judge Peace Now by what some of their representatives tell Yitz Greenberg in New York or in Israel. I can only judge them by their public declarations and behavior. Since the publication of my article, some more information has reached us on this latter point from the activities of some leading personalities in America and Europe. These people are traveling from country to country criticizing and attacking their own government, whereas it is the accepted norm in all civilized societies that one does not attack one's government in foreign lands. I did not suggest that Peace Now deserves no hearing, nor that the questions they raise ought not to be considered. I said it quite clearly that Jews in America who espouse its cause are "playing with the life of others." Nor do I apply a double standard in this matter. I wrote: "Anyone in the state of Israel who opts for Peace Now or against it, stakes his own life and the life of his children on his option. That gives one's choice its moral validation." In other words, unless you stake your life on your choice of policy, whether for Peace Now or against it, your choice is immoral. I stand by this.
Let Us Be Moral And Practical But As Jews
But what of the moral issue? How can we Jews of all people desire to rule over other people? What about the ideals of fraternity, equality, justice? It is not my intention to discuss here the distortions and the lies of the enemy propaganda, repeated ad nauseam by a morally bankrupt United Nations. Enough to point out that the average Arab in Israel, including all the territories, enjoys more civic freedom than his brothers have in all the other Arab countries. (In Jerusalem alone, there are three Arab dailies that are free to criticize the policies of the Israeli government and actually do so.) The Arab in Israel is certainly more free than is the average citizen in Soviet Russia or in any other communist country. This, of course, is no solution to the major moral responsibility of peaceful and fraternal co-existence between nations. Unfortunately, in the life of nations and states, the great humanitarian ideals are not realizable in one-sided undertakings and certainly not by boy scout-enthusiasm.
Nor may we overlook the world in which Israel still has to fight for its very existence. It is not surprising at all that the international community that was silent during the extermination of six million Jews, that since then has tolerated numerous crimes of genocide, that at this moment ignores the legitimate rights of the Kurds, that is silent about the oppression of numerous nationalities in the Soviet Union, should suddenly evince such intense concern about the legitimate rights of the Palestinians and about peace in the Middle East. What is at stake is not human rights or peace, but oil supplies for the Western world. It is the well-known international game of misusing humanitarian ideals for the purpose of safe-guarding self-seeking interests. That the nations are worried about their dwindling energy resources and are looking for remedies is their right. But let our starry-eyed humanitarian Jews beware lest they become handmaidens to the Machiavellian degradation of human ideals in the service of egoistic power politics.
We have to seek peace with our Arab neighbors. It must be a just peace, based not only on the legitimate rights of the Palestinian Arabs but also on the legitimate rights of the Jewish people. It can only be done from a position of ethical security regarding our right to Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel). Nor must the legitimate rights of the Arabs in Eretz Yisrael be defined and determined by the international oil lobby. Israel is under ruthless international pressure. Therefore there are many Jews who believe that since ultimately we shall have to give in and give up, let us make the best of it now; let us be practical. But what it means to be practical depends on who you are. In the mundane sense of the word, we Jews have never been practical, and have survived because we were not practical in that sense. Let us be practical? Yes! But first of all, let us be Jews. Let us be the authentic new generation of Israel of the ages. Let us know our place in the history of mankind; let us understand what we represent on this earth. We shall then meet the problems of the day, balancing practicality, with our messianic destiny by the faith of which we have survived to this day and have arrived again in Zion and Jerusalem. Nothing else can help us.
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