Prepare for the Inevitable Clash of Civilizations in Israel


Andrew Silow-Carroll

A news service in the Middle East is posting photos of "more than 100 violent" Israeli riot police "to enable those attacked to file complaints."

It urges young women who feel they were "victimized, traumatized, or are going through an emotional crisis as a result of what they experienced" at the hands of Israeli security personnel to call a sexual-abuse hotline. You can also read an essay by a young man who "was hit with a baton by an Israeli policeman," and who saw a house "crushed under the bulldozers of the Jewish army."

Al Jazeera? Al-Arabiya? Radio Hamas, perhaps? Actually, all three items appeared on the Web site of Arutz Sheva, an Israeli news service closely aligned with the settler movement.

The items were posted as part of a drumbeat of protest against what many settlers and their supporters describe as a "police riot" during the evacuation of the illegal outpost of Amona. They are demanding a state investigation of the incident, which left 200 protesters and police injured. And it's all led to some anguished rhetoric, like that of an American-born Jew, quoted at Arutz Sheva: "Though I will continue to identify as a member of the Jewish people, I can no longer side with the 'Israelis.' This is an evil state and an evil society, and I will not volunteer to continue to be a part of it."

Perhaps more so than the Gaza withdrawal, the incident at Amona – coupled with indications that more evacuations might take place – has flushed out a sort of settler vanguard. It's hard to settle on words to describe them. Radical? Extreme? Not to their supporters. They see those who stake a claim to every hilltop in the West Bank as the true embodiments of the Zionist enterprise. To them, it is Olmert who is extreme, negating the Bible in the interest of a "capitulation" to make the West Bank Judenrein.

Let's call them "Every Inchers," as they believe every bit of land between the Jordan and Mediterranean should be under Jewish control. It describes an agenda without casting judgment.

I've been hearing their rhetoric for weeks now, and am amazed at the inversion that it represents. Once it was considered "radical" for a Jew in the Diaspora to criticize the Israeli government, even if it meant only repeating the words of an Israeli oppostion leader or reporting the findings of a government inquiry.

Now, I am hearing from readers who demand a front-page investigation of the "Gestapo tactics" of the Israeli police, and the "Chamberlain-like behavior" of Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon. It wasn't long ago that criticizing Israel could get you branded a "lefty." Now, if you don't criticize Israel, you get branded – a lefty.

By whom? That's the key question.

Most of the polls and commentary in Israel indicate that the majority accepts a two-state solution, combined with a tactical withdrawal from isolated West Bank settlements, and a consolidation of cities and suburbs that straddle the green line.

But a distinction needs to be made between settlers who prescribe a more confrontational approach with Israeli authorities and those who would prefer to work within the political system.

To be fair, Arutz Sheva also reports on settler leaders like Otniel Schneller, a former head of the Yesha council of settlers, who has joined the Kadima Party, and is angling for political compromises that will cut settlers as extensive a deal as possible. If he is successful, it will represent a victory for those who believe democracy and Judaism are compatible in Israel.

These are the stakes in the "clash of civilizations," a cliché that has gained currency in the wake of the Danish cartoon frenzy. And the essence of the clash is this: Can voters and politicians in a democracy chart a future for themselves that respects, but is not beholden to, tradition – or will victory go to those who assert their interpretations of holy writ over compromise and accommodation?

The "Every Inchers" need to appreciate the democracy that is Israel. It provides them with the right of redress. It allows them to call for the investigation and prosecution of those police, if any, who went overboard at Amona. Those who support the new Israeli consensus, meanwhile, need to make their voices heard – to match the passionate intensity of the "Every Inchers."

Andrew Silow-Carroll is editor of the New Jersey Jewish News.



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