A reader of J-Wire commented to me that it was left-wing socialists who had settled and developed what was then Ottoman-ruled and later British Mandated Palestine.
This indisputable fact set me thinking about the similarities and contrasts in today’s Israel insofar as left-wing socialists are concerned.
At the same time, I confirmed something which should be common knowledge but, unfortunately, is still not. That is, the enduring delegitimisations of any Jewish presence here by those endlessly touted as our only hope as “peace partners.”
It has also led me to compare what was then and what is now concerning some of our religious leadership.
The vast majority of chalutzim (pioneers) who made aliyah at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century were dedicated nationalists and socialists escaping from the pogroms of Eastern Europe. Some were communists, and the rest spanned the left-wing spectrum, including social democrats. What they all had in common, however, was a burning desire to re-establish the Jewish homeland and establish a society based on social equality and a haven from Jew hate.
Subsequent waves of aliyah from the putrid pogroms of Europe increased the number of socialist settlers. Their establishment of collective and communal villages, draining of malarial swamps and rejuvenating a barren landscape undoubtedly contributed to the solid foundation for the State in waiting.
A couple of very important factors are generally overlooked.
A very large number of these Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and other Eastern European olim had been educated in religious schools with some of them even having attended Yeshivot. Although they may have rejected or dropped out of any sort of religious observances, they nevertheless were keenly aware of and knowledgeable about Judaism and Jewish history. The likes of Chaim Weizmann, David Ben Gurion, Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Zalman Shazar and countless others not only had a solid grounding in Jewish subjects but also had a great understanding of the vital role that tradition must play in the future independent nation.
At the same time, perhaps as a result of experiences in their “old countries”, these socialist leaders harboured an intolerant attitude to anyone who did not join their left-wing political cause. Thus, when Mapai (the forerunner of today’s Labour Party) and its left-wing allies constituted the ruling coalitions from 1948, official discrimination, unacceptable by today’s standards, was enforced. If you were not a paid-up socialist, you were not permitted to join the Histadrut, which in turn meant that you were unable to obtain gainful employment. That also meant that you could not join the socialist-dominated health fund.
Israel’s first socialist Prime Minister refused to allow the reburial of Ze’ev Jabotinsky in the country because he represented in the view of the leftwing everything that was evil and fascistic. Every time that Menachem Begin, the Leader of the non-socialist Opposition stood up to speak in the Knesset, Ben Gurion walked out of the chamber. The disdain that the European-dominated elitist socialist parties had for olim from Sephardic and Arab communities eventually resulted in the victory of the non-socialist left parties in 1977.
The howls of outrage and predictions of imminent doom which poured forth on the accession of Begin and his nationalist right-wing allies are reminiscent of what we are currently experiencing. It is ironic that the self-proclaimed standard bearers of democracy and liberal values still seem unable to accept the validity of anyone but themselves as being rightfully elected by the voters.
The biggest contrast is that, unlike their predecessors of a bygone era, today’s left-wing leadership and many of their followers appear bereft of any meaningful knowledge of Judaism, tradition and history. Large numbers have also become infected with the post-Zionist virus so beloved by current international leftwing groups. Like the Jewish Communist lemmings who continued to slavishly venerate Stalin long after his crimes were exposed, our current crop of leftist devotees continue to fantasise about the doves of peace supposedly hovering over Ramallah and Gaza. Ha’aretz, the flagship newspaper of the left hosts post and anti-Zionist contributors and recently dismissed an op-ed writer who dared to express a right-wing contrary opinion.
Shades of the dubious totalitarian socialist past now prevail.
One of the worst aspects of leftist amnesia is the inability and refusal to recognise raw hate even when it is thrown in their face. The old-time moderate socialists of Mapai at least knew what they were up against. They had no illusions and acted against Arab terror whenever necessary. Their partners on the extreme left at the time either fantasised about an illusory brotherhood of man, a messianic vision of a Communist Garden of Eden or as in the case of Reform Rabbi Magnus and his followers, a binational State.
Unfortunately, many of the present adherents of the left have drifted so far from the Zionist vision of a Jewish State which inevitably leads to the denial of the PLO agenda to eliminate our presence.
In November 1919, the Arab newspaper Al-Istiqlal al-Arabi, based in Damascus, editorialised that “our country is Arab, Palestine is Arab, and Palestine must remain Arab.”
In 1920 the 3rd. Arab Congress rejected the Balfour Declaration as “a violation of international law and of the rights of the indigenous population.” A prominent Arab nationalist proclaimed: “the Balfour Declaration was made by an English foreigner who had no claim to Palestine. It was addressed to a foreign Jew (Lord Rothschild) who had no right to Palestine.”
In 2023 the international community’s paragon of peace and tolerance, President for life Abbas, proclaimed: “Britain’s 1917 Balfour Declaration was aimed at getting rid of the Jews in Europe and establishing the so-called Jewish National Home in Palestine.”
Only those whose ideology is totally detached from reality would still embrace this purveyor of lies and inciter par excellence. Yet unbelievably, they continue to advocate pies in the sky, which, if ever enacted, would spell our demise and doom.
Surveying the religious leadership landscape, one is also left with a sense of frustration when comparing the situation of yesteryear with that prevailing today.
Rav Avraham Kook was the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of pre-State Israel and is generally considered to be the father of religious Zionism. He was Charedi, but this did not stop him from reaching out to non-religious and even anti-religious individuals. He had no problems visiting the most extreme socialist and secular Kibbutzim and having a dialogue with them. He stated that these pioneers were engaged in holy work restoring the Holy Land. Despite strong criticism from ultra-religious groups, he continued his outreach. His legacy can still be felt today.
Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog, in addition to his rabbinical qualifications, also studied at the Sorbonne and London University where he received his doctorate. His dissertation was on the origin of “techelet”, the Biblical blue dye. Having served as Chief Rabbi of Ireland and being instrumental in rescuing Jewish orphans after the Shoah, he had the skills to communicate and deal with modern challenges.
Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren was a Religious Zionist Rabbi and Talmudic scholar who was considered a foremost authority on Jewish Law. He founded and served as the first head of the Military Rabbinate of the Israel Defence Forces. As such, he was able to communicate and dialogue with soldiers from all sectors of society.
These three are just a small sample of the type of leadership which is missing today. The Chief Rabbinate may be led by very learned individuals, but their lack of secular exposure and an inability to interact with those whose outlook is different means that the extremists prevail. Instead of asserting strong moderation and slapping down outrageous behaviour, they remain mute and stuck in a time warp.
Two recent examples demonstrate the dire situation.
The Shas religious party in the Knesset tried to introduce a law that would have fined and jailed women who were, in their eyes, “immodestly” dressed at the Kotel. After a public uproar, this attempt was slapped down by the PM. Interestingly, a leading Charedi newspaper also ridiculed the idea, which indicates how ludicrous and out of touch it was in the first place.
The Chief Rabbi of Safed stated that the recent devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria “was a divine judgment.” Once again, this completely unhinged assertion attracted an avalanche of condemnation.
Although there have been numerous critical comments by moderate Rabbis, I have yet to read any such reactions from the Chief Rabbinate. This highlights the cataclysmic contrast between our top religious leadership of former years with those of today.
Two Talmudic pearls of wisdom succinctly sum up the pathetic state of those who mouth inanities.
“Just as you are obligated to speak when your words will be heeded, you must remain silent when you know your words will be ignored.”
“Silence is beautiful for wise people; it is all the more beautiful for fools.”