When I first heard about the decision by the Tel Aviv municipality to cancel school trips to Jerusalem, citing security concerns, I must admit my reaction was one of borderline derision. Indeed, those who are actually acquainted with the reality on the ground inside Jerusalem know that – while some areas are genuinely dangerous if you are a Jew – canceling a trip to the Kotel or even Ammunition Hill is something of an overreaction to say the least.
So at first, I was willing to dismiss it as yet another illustration of how some residents of secular Tel Aviv are just as insulated from the rest of Israel as many of their hareidi counterparts in Meah Shearim.
But then, first impressions can be deceiving, and one particularly astute analysis by MK Moshe Feiglin provoked me to reconsider.
“We need to understand – the British Mandate is over. We are no longer in the days of ‘tower and stockade,” he wrote Sunday morning, referring to the strategy of the early Zionist pioneers, in his defense of the municipality’s decision.
“Today we have a state and its central task is to provide security. That is why there is a state, an army and a police force. The leadership cannot evade responsibility for the security of its citizens and turn the responsibility onto the citizens with patriotic arguments from the past… if the government, the army and the police choose to ‘manage the conflict’ as if they were a Limited Corporation and not a sovereign state, then it is certainly possible to understand the decision of the citizens of Nahal Oz or the parents council of Tel Aviv, who are not interested in taking part in the games of these ‘leaders’ and to endanger their children in order to allow the state to avoid its responsibilities.”
And herein lies a theme which, as I have previously noted, underscores almost every major policy decision (and many minor ones) by the current ruling establishment – whether “left-wing” Labor or “right-wing” Likud (sadly, the same Likud to which Feiglin still clings): a total inability to shift from the paradigm of exile to one of freedom; a shameful lack of courage to take the next step in Jewish history, preferring either intoxicating fantasies of “two states for two peoples” in the case of the former, or a neurotic pursuit of the “status-quo” at all costs in the case of the latter.
So if there are brave pioneers still willing to put themselves at risk to secure the Jewish homeland regardless of government ineptitude, that is merely a reflection of just how badly the nation is being let down by those who are meant to lead it.
What is it that holds the security apparatus back from crushing the violent disorder in Jerusalem, opting instead to “manage” the situation – as if kindergartens being attacked and three-month-old babies being slaughtered, in what some residents are dubbing a “silent intifada,” is a “manageable” situation.
It is an Israeli establishment riven with insecurities, for whom the bogeyman of “delegitimization” is, inexplicably, almost as frightening as an Iranian nuclear bomb. So, “manageable” (for whom?) violence against Jews is a price worth paying if the alternative would be – shock horror – international condemnation.
The reaction of a responsible government after months of anti-Semitic violence would be to quell it using whatever means necessary, and to deal with self-righteous condemnations by a thoroughly discredited US State Department, or sad attempts to relive colonialist pasts by European powers, later. The same goes for the obscene situation whereby Jews are prevented by Islamist thuggery from praying on our holiest site, the Temple Mount.
But even beyond that, even if things return to “normal” one way or another in Jerusalem, it is clear that the political establishment has essentially accepted the notion that the Israeli people will just have to “get used to” one flare-up after another, and that our brave servicemen and women will always be condemned to the role of firefighters – putting out one blaze after another with remarkable courage but never given the mandate to secure a decisive victory.
The time has come for answers, instead of excuses. If Bibi (rightly) thinks that giving away the Jewish heartland of Judea-Samaria and ethnically-cleansing it of its Jewish population, as demanded by the Left, is not only immoral but downright suicidal given the current regional upheaval and foreboding precedent of the Gaza “Disengagement”, then let him present an alternative solution. If he cannot, then the Israeli electorate must find the courage and intellect to look elsewhere for a political alternative – for after all, every country gets the leadership it deserves.
The crossroads at which the people of Israel finds itself today is, in many ways, akin to the choice faced by the eved Ivri, or Hebrew slave, as recounted in Shemot (Exodus) 21. In Jewish law, a Jew can only become a slave under a specific set of circumstances: if he stole from a fellow Jew and is unable to repay his debt, he must work it off as his victim’s servant. But no matter how much he stole, he is free to leave with the advent of the shmitta year – the 7th year of the Biblical agricultural cycle.
However, he is not obligated to leave servitude right away:
“If the slave shall say ‘I love my master, my wife and my children – I will not go free!’ Then his master shall bring him to the judges, and he shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him forever [actually, until the next Jubilee year – ed.]”
Why on earth would someone voluntarily opt to remain a slave instead of reclaiming his freedom? The answer is simple: it is so much easier to be a slave, to surrender responsibility for existential decisions to one’s “master”, than it is to go free. Truer still if we are talking about an impoverished man who was sentenced to slavery to work off a debt he incurred after stealing to feed his family – and is now provided for by a master with far superior financial means who is obligated by Torah law to make sure his servant lives comfortably and is not mistreated. Or, in our own reality: if we are a talking about a long-persecuted and embattled nation, which has finally found some degree of respite in the bosom of a relatively friendly (usually) superpower, with far greater means than its own. If selling out our freedom and dignity is the price to pay for that respite then so be it. Right?
Grasping freedom sometimes means standing alone, and for those for whom two millennia of running and hiding has psychologically manifested itself in a debilitating fear of standing exposed once again – even for the noble cause of freedom in our homeland – being alone again just isn’t an option. That may be “understandable” in an academic sense, but it certainly isn’t a recipe for national leadership.
But the Jubilee year inevitably comes; as we see even today, even “friendly” nations are guided by their own perceptions (accurate or not) of their national interest – and when those interests conflict with ours even “our greatest friends” will sell us down the river.
With his chronic indecision and addiction to the status-quo to nowhere Bibi and his cohorts are not just freezing building in Judea and Samaria – they are freeze-framing Jewish history, digging us in to a sort of purgatory somewhere between full independence and freedom, and surrendering our fate to the interests and whims of other nations.
Unrest in Jerusalem is just a symptom of where we are: camped out in a wilderness of our own making, wandering from one crisis to another. And if the political elite is just trying to survive another day, they can’t expect parents in Tel Aviv (many of whom are not acquainted with Jerusalem at all, and see it only in the headlines) to be braver than them.
Whether or not the mutterings of new elections materialize any time soon, hopefully this shmitta year will usher in a new direction for the people of Israel. We just need to choose.
The writer is the Managing Editor of Arutz Sheva/Israel National News. He was born in London, UK, and prior to his Aliyah to Israel in 2013 was active in a variety of pro-Israel and anti-extremism organizations. Today, he lives in the ancient Jewish town of Shiloh in Samaria, Israel.