In today’s Israel, some say that the future no longer belongs to the Zionist. That dream, they say, is dead. They say our future belongs to the post-Zionist who would de-Judaize Israel. Others say that our future belongs rather to the religious Zionist—but only if he reinvents himself, to become more outspoken, more public.
Reinvent? Is that necessary? Yes, because we have reached a point where the silence of the religious could threaten the survival of religion in Israel. Look around. We already see the ingredients for a religious disaster: a sophisticated anti-religious minority, a silent religious majority and a fickle electorate. With that recipe, religion is at risk.
Yoram Hazony has written (The Jewish State, Basic Books, 2001) that, by 1965, a great generational divide had opened up between those ideologically committed Jews who had literally built Israel with a plough in one hand and a rifle in the other, and their children (p. xvi). By the late 1980’s, the symptoms of this divide seemed clear: many Jews in Israel were exhausted, confused and without direction (xvii). Israelis were still committed to fight for Israel, but they were tired. Many knew nothing about Jewish history in Israel and many seemed to have absolutely no connection to their religion—and they had therefore lost all interest in being ‘Jewish’. Hazony says that he never met anyone who actually called himself a ‘post-Zionist’, but this concept, while not spoken, appeared implicit in everything he saw (xviii). By 1994, articles by Israeli academicians declaring themselves to be post-Zionist had begun to appear. We are beyond Zionism, they argued, because the creation of the State of Israel had made Zionism moot. We must now move forward, past Jewish-ness to shape our State into a secularized, liberal and multi-cultural democracy; otherwise, they argued, Israel would not survive. To survive, we must forget religion and become ‘democratic’. This was and is prima facia evidence that without Jewishness, i.e., religious observance and the accompanying Jewish identity to strengthen it, Zionism as a secular entity alone could not be transmitted from generation to generation.
The Left wants our Jewishness to disappear. They want a multicultural liberal society with Arab culture and influence playing a far greater role than they do now. The Left has written extensively about a new Israel devoid of religion. They have a goal and they have a plan. If the religious ignore these efforts, we could end up with no religion. How could this happen? Given a marketing firm’s recent success selling Gilad Shalit’s return, we have learned that the Israeli electorate can be swayed by marketing. They can be persuaded. They can be manipulated. The selling of Shalit’s return has taught us that remaining silent for the religious is no longer an option.
Right now, the religious do not adequately address Leftist actions against religion. Worse, when the religious do speak, they often look extremist. Their words and deeds often do not resonate with voters. Religious leaders appear not to understand the public arena. When the religious speak, the electorate is not always impressed: while the Left’s message appears clear and attractive, the religious message often appears harsh and cruel. Indeed, the best argument for choosing Left is often the message of the religious. This is a very good deal for the anti-religious. It is not a good deal for the religious.
Today’s religious Zionist has also been silenced. When the world looks for information about Israel, they read our English-language dailies because English is the world’s ‘language-of-international-communication’. What that audience sees is, generally, Leftist. The religious are Fascists. Religion is oppressive. Judaism threatens democracy. Where are the religious? They have been locked out of the arena. Except for Arutz Sheva, the world sees Israel as struggling to become anti-religious.
The religious must get into the public arena. They cannot abandon stage-center. As the world turns increasingly anti-Jewish, the religious cannot remain mute. They must speak out—and must do so intelligently. Israelis will vote-- and their vote will be determined by what they hear. The religious cannot assume that Israeli voters listen to them. Our electorate is too fickle and marketing experts are too adept. Nor is it enough for the religious to back a"secular messiah" in the mistaken belief that they are capable of manipulating events "behind the scenes". That is a time-tested strategy of failure.
The current situation is a good deal for the anti-religious because they know they can influence Israelis. They saw that with Shalit and with the tent protest. In a country where 58% of the population say they are mildly-strongly religious, giving the anti-religious so much traction is not a good deal for our country. We could lose our religion because marketers are smart and the religious are silent.
The existential threat we face threatens not only Israel, but also religion in Israel. The Left cannot be ignored. They have built an infrastructure within the government. They still control much of the IDF. They ‘own’ most of the media and the activist Supreme Court as well. They pursue their goal with a religious zeal—de-Judaize. The religious may be a growing majority—but their silence is dangerous.
For religion to survive in Israel and give birth to 'Manhig Emuni" or faith-based leadership, the religious cannot be silent any longer.