Return of the Zealots and Siccari

With the help of rabbis, self-appointed spokesmen for the Holy One, the French Le Pen option is accelerating right under the nose of a nation that thinks it can't happen here.

Gideon Samet


Cheshvan 6, 2004

The prime minister's one and only political plan is stuck - not because he doesn't want to carry it out, not because he doesn't have a public majority, not because it isn't vital. The disengagement plan is stuck because Israeli politics, in a drawn-out and destructive process, is deteriorating rightward. A quarter of the Knesset is extreme right. With the help of rabbis, self-appointed spokesmen for the Holy One, the French Le Pen option is accelerating right under the nose of a nation that thinks it can't happen here. Attempt to pass the plan is therefore in itself a critical test case to find out if the country has gone crazy.

If the plan is defeated, or its implementation is shelved, nothing afterward will stop Israel collapsing into the very worst condition. This would be a resounding victory for extremism and nationalist demagoguery, for messianism and xenophobia, which would destroy any chance of dealing with the war with the Palestinians.

That quarter of the Knesset that wants the conflict to last forever could swamp parliament, because outside the gates there are more political barbarians. More rebels from the ruling party will join the Likud rebels, the NRP, Yisrael B'Aliyah, and the National Union, as will the pliant reeds of Shas and United Torah Judaism. They will be more than a third of the parliament - and new elections might strengthen them.

In the last elections many people refused to see the very same thing the Europeans recognize among themselves as the rise of a quasi-fascist, separatist process, one that hates everything it sees, from damage to nationalist holy sites all the way to homosexuality. That process is capturing positions even without elections. The meeting point between Israeli fundamentalism, dressed up as sacrosanct patriotism, and its Muslim twin is a great national threat that meets the strangest apathy here.

The details of the ultimate disaster are well-known. More blood. Lots of blood. Becoming an international pariah, as predicted in the Foreign Ministry's own report. Don't let the false prophets of the nationalist and religious Le Penism spread tall tales - it is not disengagement that is threatening to destroy the Third Commonwealth. A horrifying national crisis has already taken root because of the rising influence of the Zealots and Siccari of our time.

Sharon woke up and is doing something against this trend, almost as best as he can, and with partial success. Those betraying his mission is the number two behind him in the popularity race to lead the state after him. How long will Benjamin Netanyahu play that despicable game of doing what he can to avoid announcing loudly and clearly his unequivocal support for the disengagement?

How long will he go on with his transparent trick of putting an end to the disengagement with a referendum? His status as the Likud's heir is surely guaranteed. But someone as ambitious as he must understand that if he does not immediately and forcibly identify with the disengagement, something he knows very well how to do, the country and the economy will be swept - into a black hole along with his career.

He has characteristics that could make him a worthy political leader - were it not for some fundamental flaws. With neo-conservative pessimism he likes to quote Kant about how impossible it is to get anything straight out of "the crooked timber of humanity." And is it possible to get anything straight out of himself in these days of national danger?

Netanyahu's economic programs have made life difficult for hundreds of thousands of families. He justifies the measures as necessary to avoid disaster. For their sake, he is ready to break strikes, make tens of thousands miserable, recycle nice explanations with tables and hand-waving.

What makes the settler minority more worthy in his eyes than all the Israelis who pay the heavy price of pressure from every side? Is it only because Netanyahu wants to protect his political base in his party, even if the settlers' passions, on their way to an historic error, ruin the economy he is trying to rehabilitate?

It is in such critical terms, and no less, that he and the witnesses to this depressing national vision must view the heirs to Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza now fighting their fateful battle in Jerusalem.