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Israel’s New Religious Right

Column blames left for radicalizing the ultra-Orthodox

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Religious nationalists rally in Jerusalem Monday.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images/)

Left-wing Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy has a phenomenally provocative essay that is a must-read for all those interested in Israel’s domestic political situation, and specifically how it has ended up with, in Levy’s (uncontroversial) words, “the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.” His answer? It’s actually the left’s fault!

For years, as Levy tells it, there were two political groups of religious Israelis: The nationalists, who helped spearhead the settlement movement and have always been fundamentally opposed to the left; and the Haredim—the ultra-Orthodox—whose politics essentially consisted of securing government benefits for their unique social needs. The nationalists wear knitted kippot; the Haredi, black ones. When the nationalists moved their families to the West Bank and voted in governments that supported them, they did so to fulfill the ideological dream of Greater Israel; when the Haredim moved their families to the West Bank, they did so to save money, which they could do because of economic subsidies put in place by the former group for exactly this purpose. Then, the left decided to pick on the Haredim, who should have been its natural bedfellows:

Settlers who invaded Palestinian neighborhoods in the territories and Arab neighborhoods in Israel never experienced ugly persecution and denunciations of the kind endured by Haredim who “invaded” Ramat Aviv. Settlers who shot children in the territories were never condemned the way Haredim who open Chabad kindergartens in Tel Aviv are. … Those who extorted government funding for yeshivas were described in almost anti-Semitic terms, while those who extorted far more lavish and scandalous budgets for the settlements were met with indifference, acceptance and sometimes even respect and admiration. Money given to yeshiva students actually smelled worse to the left than money given to land thieves.

The result? The Haredi parties, including Shas—now one of several extreme-right elements in the current governing coalition—turned hardcore into the nationalist, anti-Arab morass, and found common cause with the nationalists (as well as with the newly powerful Russians). “Everyone now wears a single skullcap,” Levy sighs, “the skullcap of racism.”

His solution is equally provocative: A conscious strategy, on the part of the left, of divide-and-conquer (or, really re-divide-and-conquer). But, truly, read the whole thing.

The Left Has Always Persecuted Orthodox Jews [Haaretz]

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Barry says:

I think the Islamic suicide bombing campaign – and the way that the left cheerleaded the bombers – had a lot more to do with it.

Dave says:

That’s something. Lament the persecution of the Haredim and, in the same breath, label them all racists.

Lansing Reed says:

Seriously, Marc, why are you posting this? Levy’s rant is unhinged and irrational (and factually wrong, but that’s another issue entirely). Honestly, someone who writes “Settlers who shot children in the territories were never condemned the way Haredim who open Chabad kindergartens in Tel Aviv are…” may be psychotic.

Furthermore, Levy’s command of English is really poor. The Haredim and national religious who don’t like Arabs are not “racists” – Arabs and Muslims are not a “race” in any sense of the word. The word Levy should have used is most likely “bigoted” (or, some might say, “realistic,” “empirically grounded”, and “clear-eyed”, depending on the context and situation). Why is Tablet enabling poor Mr. Levy? Based on this article, I believe he needs help (and a good editor), not access to a virtual streetcorner where he can rave on.

Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

First of all, very few people in Israel take Gideon Levy seriously, even those journalists who still maintain civil relations with him. One of the more intellectually honest Israeli journalists, Ari Shavit (with whom I often disagree but still respect him) has taken to blasting Levy publicly for his distortions & fabrications (ask Jeffrey Goldberg). Even the NYT’s Ethan Bronner has publicly criticized Levy for slanting his reporting to fit his ideology. He is even less reliable than Roger Cohen of the NYT.

The only ones who take him seriously (outside of MT & presumably LL & probably others at Tablet) are Israel-hating “progressives” and assorted Finklers like Peter Beinart.

Not commonly known outside of Israel is that even though the Pals are his beat, Levy does not know Arabic & depends to a large degree on Pal “fixers”, which leaves him open to their manipulation. Levy cares nothing about facts. So when presented with the evidence that Mohammed al-Dura could not have shot by Israel and that there is a very high likelihood that the whole “shooting” was staged responded that it didn’t make a difference, Israel was still guilty.

In his current piece he reveals his usual ignorance about Hareidim in general and Shas in particular. But what he (and MT & LL) refuse to recognize is that what pushed the general Israeli electorate to the Center-Right was Pals refusal to accept or at least counter-propose the far reaching offers made by Barak to Arafat & Olmert to Abu Mazen. Instead we were dealt terror wars & concerted efforts at delegitimization. Increasingly skeptical Israelis soured on Oslo & the pollyannish promises of the left and voted accordingly. Labor, Meretz & the Oslo Accordians have little street cred among Israelis thanks to the Pals.

If your main source of info on Israel is Haaretz, Israeli ex-pats of an extreme left-wing ilk, & assorted Finklers, then you would not understand the change in Israel since Oslo. ‘Tis time to broaden your horizons.


Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

Ummmm Lansing Reed, I am the last one to defend Levy (see my post above) but do not complain about his English. The column is written in Hebrew and translated for the English edition of Haaretz. In case you are not aware Haaretz is a Hebrew language paper that puts out an English edition (both in print and on the web) which is overwhelmingly a translation of the Hebrew edition (with some terminology changes & translation shadings to insure political correctness).

If you are interested in following news in Israel but can’t handle the Hebrew (as seems to be the case with MT) I suggest you check out the Jerusalem Post (; centrist), Ynet news in English (; moderate left, but hates Bibi), and the latest addition, Yisrael Hayom’s English web site (center-right, The Post is an English language paper, while the other two are translations of their Hebrew language sites.

But to really know what is going on, you have to listen to the Hebrew language electronic media (IBA broadcasting etc.) which is heavily based on LIVE interviews of politicians & public figures.

Efrata / Jerusalem

Lansing Reed says:

Thanks, hg – I was not aware. BTW, do you happen to know what the Hebrew word was that is translated in the piece as “racist”?

Carrie says:

Levy has it totally wrong. It was during the intifadah, when Haredi areas- specifically -were bombed by the Palestinians, that the Haredim started to side with the right & center, since the left always defended and made excuses for the Palestinian’s murderous behavior.

Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

The word Levy uses is גזעני & also גזע (giz’ani & geza) & variations thereof, which technically do translate to racist and race, but are also used to mean “bias” & “bigoted”. These latter two words don’t really have Hebrew equivalents & so giz’ani is used to mean bias, racist and bigoted. Geza means race.

Levy did mean to call them all racist as he labels a racist anyone to the right of him (which includes 99.9% of Jewish Israelis; Arabs are never racist).

Carrie is correct in saying that the Oslo Accords War opened most Israelis’ eyes. When Labor & Meretz could not bring themselves to admit that they were snookered by Arafat & his minions but (as Carrie noted) made excuses for the Pals, they lost electoral credibility which they have never regained and may never regain. Historically, the Israeli left has had chronic problem admitting they were wrong, this going back to the Stalinist purges & show trials of the 1950s. By way of example, as recently as the late ’90s (if not more recently) Shimon Peres (who is really a Laborite in Kadima clothing) was insisting that Begin erred in bombing the Iraqi reactor.

But this was not limited to the Hareidim. We all were equal targets. It’s just that some of the most ultra of the Hareidi neighborhoods border Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem which made them easier and more identifiable targets. But there were plenty of bombings & other attacks in Tel Aviv & other secular strongholds as well.


Abbi says:

Well, I’ll just chime in with the other and say that GL is a bellwether only of the criminally insane in Israel. You will learn nothing about what is actually happening in Israel and the territories by reading his column.

Marc, you seem to have good intentions and want to know more about what is really happening in Israel. It would behoove you to spend at least six months here, living day to day life and building a network of real Israelis who will show you what is really going on and how we really feel about it (right, left, religious and secular). Linking to GL and calling it a “must read” shows your naivete and inexperience. As a religious American who’s lived here for 11 years, typical, moderate “middle Israeli” who just wants peace and security for my children, I’m astounded sometimes by the things you link to without question.

Carl says:

Where to start with the factual errors and distortions. How about just one? Shas is not a right wing party. There are non-religious parties that are to the right of Shas. As to the Haredim, people don’t like them because they live off the dole, don’t serve in the army and try to tell other people how to live their lives. As for Israel electing a more conservative government; how about the fact that the policies of the more left wing governments have brought thousands of civilian deaths loss of territory and more international isolation. People aren’t stupid.

H/Ramat-Gan/Israel says:

Marc Tracy, the man who never met an anti-zionist he didn’t like

Maayan says:

I read this article in yesterday’s paper in Hebrew. If it’s true that the left made a tactical political error in picking more on the Haredim than on the religious right, that’s too bad. But, it is not the main problem we face now. The main problem is this: a radicalized religious right, which disregards the law with impunity, and controls the entire national agenda; a religious right which follows racist rabbis and their own transcendental version of Judaism in an uncritical and often violent manner; a religious right which is so crazed to retain hold of “judea and samaria” that incitement to violence and murder by their most important leaders is simply a matter of course. This religious right can no longer really be called zionist at all – they hold the state’s institutions in utter contempt.

It is more than clear that the Goldstein massacre, the Rabin assassination, and other crimes were not acts of individual unhinged gunmen. These crimes were seeded nurtured by the very rabbis making headlines this week. We in Israel are heading toward difficult times – it seems that the religious right will not go quietly when it is time for them to leave. And the real zionists left among us will have to take up arms and fight for our homeland once again.

Maayan, what about the government institutions that applies the law selectively e.g targetting rabbis for supposed incitement, and ignoring left-wing Israelis and Arabs that actually do incite – such as GL’s article, or your own comments and recommendations. You claim that the religious right control the entire national agenda, but how can this be so if they cannot even gain approval to build extensions to their homes in their communities in judea and samara?

H/Ramat-Gan/Israel says:

Maayan, there is no “real zionists” among the left anymore, all of you now sailing in the same boat that inhabitants also the PLO and Hamas. In the end the “real zionists” like you will pack their suitcases draw their foreign passports and leave Israel.

Ezekiel says:

This is the usual Gideon Levy garbage. The almighty “Left” is now responsible for pushing the Mizrahi Hareding into the National camp, and all that because Tzipi Livni didn’t want to join the coalition with Shas. What uninhibited nonsense (stupidity, to be more exact). Shas is moving to the Right because their voters are moving the Right. There are many reasons to that, but in general it’s a part of the Israeli public at large disillusionment with the prospect of a deal with the Palestinians – and shift to the Right.
The only racist thing here is Levi’s contention that the Mizrahi Haredim turn to racism because the Ashkenazim mistreated them back in the day when they were still docile. What incredible arrogance. Reading this one doesn’t know whether to laugh or to puke.

Maayan says:

There are real Zionists remaining on the left. Yes, many have taken the easier road to cynicism, or, to ‘post-zionist’ apologetics. But there is an ideological, Zionist left remaining – I have life proof of it around me. The reconstituting Labour Movement, the Green Movement, people affiliated with the (now defunct) Meimad, and yes, the progressive Meretz and even many of the young people of the “state of tel-aviv” may be capable of generating a real political force if we do it together. The left is battered, weak, and denuded from both sides right now. But there isn’t a real reason why that cannot change again. The public that consistently voted for Labour and leftward still exists, and now they need to come home. Here’s hoping they will. If not, this country will gradually degenerate into an overtly racist anti-democratic renegade state run by religious law, with the active encouragement of the cowardly and morally bankrupt ‘mainstream’ right. This is not a prediction: it is already happening now, and I tell you it’s scary.

B”H What is most likely true is that the Chareideim find the Nationalists amusing and tend towards their cultural enjoyment of Yiddishkeit, as we find those whom originated from Sephadic Arabian Jewish communities has moved towards the cultural restriction of the Chareideim. being only one kippa they were torn asunder under the repressive tactics of the totalitarian reign but can no longer be overlooked as a governing autocracy unto itself.

“Left-wing Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy has a phenomenally provocative essay that is a must-read for all those interested in Israel’s domestic political situation, and specifically how it has ended up with, in Levy’s (uncontroversial) words, “the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.””

Ok. First this is difficult to take seriously an article that starts by saying that “Gideon Levy is a must-read”. GL is a lunatic left-wing extremist that absolutely nobody in Israel takes seriously – not even himself. The guy admitted on tv and with pride that he was telling lies for the “cause”.

Second – this is not the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. This is just nuts. A government with the Labour (and now “Independance”) and not the far-right Ihud HaLeumi ?

Shamir’s government of 1990-92 was more right-wing – it had moledet a party running on the transfer of Arabs. The first Bibi government was more right-wing in 96-99. Sharon’s first or second government were more right-wing in the first half of the 2000s.

This government is basically the same as the previous “left-wing” one with just the Likud in the place of Kadima (whose members are mostly from the Likud).

Israel Beytenu, the horrible fascist party, has been in the government almost all the time since 2001. And for many Israelis, this is a left-wing party, not a right-wing party: they support a Palestinian State, they support lands swap – but just want them to include Arab cities – just the continuation of the left policy to separate Jews and Arabs and preserve “Israel jewish majority” by leaving the territories.


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Israel’s New Religious Right

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