With the Olmert-Livni-Barak government on its way out and no agreement with the Palestinians on the horizon, this latest assault is of the muscle-flexing variety. It began with a three-page spread in Yediot Aharonot's Simchat Torah supplement. Under the headline, "After Me, God Willing," the paper's military commentator, Alex Fishman, set out the ominous details of the narrative: Religious Zionists today make up about seven percent of the total population of the country. But their sons comprise twenty percent of IDF combat soldiers, nearly a quarter of the IDF's junior officer corps, and fifty percent of its company commanders.
The growing prominence of religious Zionists in all combat arms of the IDF is a consequence of a now two-decade trend among religious Zionists in Israel to serve in combat units – the more elite, the better. A contrary trend among upper middle class secular youth not to serve in the IDF at all renders the contribution of the religious youth all the more noticeable to the general public and all the more crucial for the IDF.
That latter trend has found a sympathetic audience in Yediot's pages. Just last month the paper ran a cover story in its weekend magazine showcasing the daughter of the deputy head of the Mossad. The young woman is now anticipating prison in the wake of her refusal to serve in the army due to her anti-Zionist ideological beliefs.
These countervailing social currents of increased religious participation and decreased secular participation in fighting units was brought to the public's attention in a graphic manner during the Second Lebanon War. In the course of the war, only one soldier from Tel Aviv was killed in battle while over a dozen soldiers from religious communities were killed in combat.
Fishman wrote darkly of the steps the IDF has taken to adapt to its growing religious population. It has built synagogues. It allows rabbis to visit troops. It has introduced lessons on Jewish values in command courses. Cadets in Officer Training School are now required to pass a test on Jewish values to receive their 2nd lieutenant bars.
In his penultimate paragraph, Fishman cut to the chase. With all these religious Jews in the army, how will the Left be able to inculcate soldiers with its post-Zionist values? Or, as he asked rhetorically, "Is the dominance of the religious Zionist sector in command positions – for now in the junior echelons, but in time, in more senior levels – a problem? Is there a danger that the IDF will be mobilized one day to serve a specific ideology? Is there liable to be a problem someday with giving the army certain duties, if they don't suit the religious Zionist ideology and the values of most of the chain of command?"
Fishman's article was not directed against anyone in particular. It served merely as a warning shot across the bow. The direct assault on a specific scapegoat came a week later in Haaretz. Based on allegations by one unnamed "senior officer," Haaretz's military commentator, Amos Harel, accused the IDF Rabbinate of "brainwashing soldiers" by "exposing troops to Jewish heritage and ties to the Land of Israel."
The main villain for Haaretz is IDF Chief Rabbi Brig. Gen. Avichai Ronski. Haaretz attacked Rabbi Ronski for the "crime" of bringing Jewish values and religion into fighting units through the IDF Rabbinate's Jewish Consciousness Department.
The department's motto is "Jewish consciousness for a victorious IDF." It offers programs about historical battles of the IDF and the biblical geography of the Land of Israel. It has published pamphlets for commanders and troops about combat from a Jewish viewpoint. The pamphlets use "motivations and understandings gleaned from the Bible and the heritage of Israel to enhance the army's ability to achieve victory." It also offers units weekend trips to Jerusalem that include visits to the City of David.
Like Yediot, Haaretz considers the rabbinate's activities geared toward providing Jewish soldiers in the army of the Jewish state information about their heritage and their connection to the land they defend an assault on its atheist, post-Zionist value system. Last Friday, Haaretz published an editorial denouncing the IDF Rabbinate for all these activities.
Under the title "Without a Lord of (Military) Hosts," the paper demanded that IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi "put the military rabbinate in its place" and force it to limit its activities to ensuring that IDF grub is kosher and that religious soldiers have what they need to observe religious laws. Haaretz further insisted that the position of chief rabbi be cancelled and that the position of "chief religious services officer" be created in its place. As the editorial put it, "The injection of a religious dimension into the Israel Defense Forces' goals constitutes a serious internal threat."
The real question is, who feels threatened? The Haaretz editorial claimed that Israel "has a secular majority, which would be outraged if anyone tried to change its way of life through religious coercion." But this is untrue and Haaretz's editors know it.
They know it because last November Haaretz published the results of a survey conducted by the Israeli Democracy Institute regarding how Israeli Jews self-identify on the secular-religious spectrum. The results of that survey showed that only twenty percent of Israelis classify themselves as secular. Eighty percent of Israelis view themselves as either religious or traditional.
Rabbi Ronski himself is the most beloved and charismatic IDF chief rabbi since Rabbi Shmuel Goren, who served as chief rabbi during the Six-Day War. Rabbi Ronski, 56, regularly risks his life by accompanying combat units on missions. He doesn't simply show up. The soldiers ask him to join them.
The popularity of leaders like Rabbi Ronski is an unbearable affront to the Israeli Left. The enthusiasm with which young Israelis embrace their Jewish heritage is a direct assault on the Left's demand for cultural supremacy. But what the Left refuses to acknowledge is the simple fact that Israeli society has never accepted their views of what Israel is supposed to be.
Until the mid-1970s, most of today's leftists were Labor Zionists. They believed Israeli society followed them both for their Zionism and for their socialism. But Israeli society never bought into the Left's utopian social theories. Labor Zionists were the cultural avant-garde because they were Zionists.
When, in the late 1970s, the Labor Zionist movement began disavowing Zionism, it became increasingly estranged from the general public. Religious Zionists like Rabbi Ronski are followed while the leftist cultural elites are ignored because religious Zionists today are the most outspoken advocates of values shared by the vast majority of Israelis.
The Left's vision of Israel as an atheistic, multicultural, morally relativist society holds little attraction for most Israelis. So to reassert their cultural superiority, leftists have increasingly taken to bullying and intimidating the rest of the country to toe their line. The seasonal assaults on religious soldiers are simply one aspect of th
eir larger culture war against Israeli society as a whole.