The threat of a Jewish army

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Over the past two weeks, the Israeli media have renewed their witch hunt against religious Zionists in the IDF. These assaults have become seasonal affairs. Usually there is a proximate cause, such as anticipation of a deal with the Palestinians, to spur their attacks. But sometimes the assaults on religious soldiers come on more like a twitch, or a flexing of muscles.


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.

Originally published in The Jewish Press. 


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  • marcel cousineau 10/31/2008 at 1:32

    What is so perplexing about the israeli leftist is their total lack of humility or shame.
    After such a long period of failure starting with the Oslo debacle in 1993 i would thing that they would hang their head low and place their tail between their legs and head out the back door in shame.
    Instead the arrogance grows and grows,reaching into the heavens.
    The weakness and impotence of the right in bringing down the party of failure is just as astounding.
    The only ray of hope is that the Holy One of Israel will have the last word with these sons of darkness,His enemies filled with the pride of hell who do not hide their hate for Him.
    May He speak to them soon in His anger.
    Pride goes before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
    Proverbs 16:18

  • Ron Grandinetti 10/31/2008 at 5:01

    The threat of a Jewish army.
    Why not?
    To those on the left, don’t look now but all the wars you have been fighting are religious. Israel is a religious country, not secular that respects the rights of all people regardless of their faith.
    Make no mistake your enemies want to wipe you off the map for the mere fact you are Jews.
    You are fighting for your rights, heritage and faith in God.
    I see it as a plus that the military men and women be given lessons on their Jewish values and traditions. Thank God for the Rabbi who accompanied the troops in the combat zone.
    Besides, growing up in a Catholic school I was taught by the nuns that those who have a faith in their God generally make better citizens.
    Israel is not the aggressor, only a defender of its rights. I am sure you will all agree that the best defense is a very strong offense. Therefore there are and will be times when you need to flex your muscles to let the enemy know t hat under no circumstance will you buckle under their threats.
    I vote for a Jewish army any day.

  • Marc Handelsman, USA 10/31/2008 at 5:08

    The danger Israel faces is a Moslem barrage of weapons of mass destruction. The political and cultural divisions will continue to loosen the ties that bind the nation. Zionism is the catalyst that made Israel great. Neo-liberals have taken their freedom for granted, and threaten to destabilize the country. Israeli neo-libs, like their American counterparts, have forgotten the expensive price that was paid for their freedom. The radical left needs to be grateful for their gift of free expression that was paid with the blood of the IDF.

  • Scott 10/31/2008 at 9:45

    Ms.Glick…perhaps these so called religious Jews should take up arms and defend Zion and forgo their handouts
    CBG responds: Religious Zionists are different from Hareidim. They don’t take handouts. They work.

  • Scott 10/31/2008 at 11:48

    Well,we are misinformed here in the USA,Ms.Glick..why does not every Jew take up arms for Judea and Samaria?

  • Scott 10/31/2008 at 12:02

    Sorry you are mad at me,Caroline..I may have a scoop tomorrow…meet the 2nd most famous woman in the world..Tzipi Livni

  • Scott 10/31/2008 at 12:57

    Caroline…What should I ask Mrs Livni if I have a chance?

  • Elissa fuchs 10/31/2008 at 20:46

    I am sorry to find out that self-hating Jews (the radical left) have any power in Israel. If Obama gets elected I planned on moving to Israel. Like Reagan stated “I would rather die standing up for what I believe in than on my knees”. The conservatives in America understand what is at stake here and are supporting McCain.The radical left here has steadily gained power since the 60’s and have only undermined this country.The economic crisis in this country was caused by socialist programs that gave mortgages to people who had no money!!The democrat controlled congress is going to cut our military.
    I hope Israel will not make the mistakes we are.

  • radiantstreams 10/31/2008 at 21:56

    The L*rd specifically states that His people Israel are not allowed to behave as the rest of the nations, I read it last night in Ezekiel. The only thing the left is accomplishing here, is to weaken her own. If she thinks that becoming like the rest of the craven squalor in the world is a good thing, she needs to reassess.

  • Jay 11/05/2008 at 8:07

    The Religious Zionists will eventually take over command at senior levels in the IDF and within 15-20 years you will see them gain important political positions – eventually leading to the first Kippah (sruga) wearing Shomer Shabbat Prime Minister.then we will have a compassionate, tolerant,uniter, who is a strong and especially wise leader
    caroline your words like water on a stone have a great effect – keep up the brilliant observations.

  • Ben-Yehudah 11/08/2008 at 19:12

    Too bad the “rabbis” aren’t teaching the troops to know the difference between halacha and Israeli law, and which takes precedence when there’s a conflict.
    The mamlachti “rabbanim tze’irim” were louder than Rav Shapia ztz”l and Rav Lior, thus the tragedy of Azza was allowed to happen.
    Will we allow them to repeat the same mistake? Or will we remain in our state of numbness and “learned helplessness.”
    Who are those “rabbis” serving anyway? HaShem or the Almighty {lehavdil} State?
    Remember the “rabbinic” appointees by the Tsar? Sound familiar?


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