The new Israeli government is sworn at the Knesset, The Israeli Parliament. I have a rule: never to show any political personal option or preference. In the course of the past years and months, I got into contact with many representatives of the Israeli society as a whole. As an Eastern Orthodox priest in Israel, in the State of the Jews, I abstain by nature from getting involved or fenced in any kind of partisanship. We love framing each other into small ghettos, niches, segments. No, for me, being an Israeli priest – a born Yiddish-speaker and Talmudist in the “Church as One and a whole” – there cannot be any frontiers; let’s say that facing the borders is the job, faith deals with the absence of bias against anybody and this is seemingly impossible.
This is quite a challenge for different reasons: everything sounds and looks “political” in the Middle-East. The Israeli and the Arab Palestinian societies are weird with politics. I was quietly at Jaffa Gate when the Hamas won the last Palestinian elections. There was some foggy atmosphere of people stumbling between “we can it – we did it” and “Teach yourself now” how to manage a situation that seemed improbable. It was the most normal outcome of these elections and this was the free choice of the Arab community. A few days later, I saw on the television that the major Christian clergymen were sitting in the Palestinian Parliament. This is a pending official attitude and nobody would understand that they would not participate in the sessions.
I do understand this attitude and habit that consists in including clergy in political bodies. It is definitely not my way or choice, but it makes sense in the area, in the Arab society. Whatever behavior or relationships concerned, I feel deeply connected with the incredible situation of the Rum Orthodox (Greek) Patriarch of Jerusalem, at the present Theophilos III. He has to face an unbelievable situation. The problem is not related to the fact that he is a Greek citizen, born in Greece. He arrived in Israel (in fact in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate that is a sort of autonomous entity) to be a monk and a priest in the Holy Land. Daniel Rossing said with much insights: the position of the patriarch can eventually be compared with a chess player challenged in some six dimensional game… The situation is special. Some people would think that his main point is to tactically keep everyone happy or to maintain a sort of balanced connection between the parties. This context does not help to develop the spiritual assistance to the local faithful of all denominations. As time passes and the war goes on, spirituality and political, strategical, multi-social and cultural influences are getting mixed up. This does not help but this is a reality that ought to be taken into consideration.
Time did pass. There is nothing common with the first Israeli Knesset/Parliamentary relationships to the non-Jewish denominations. Or we can say that things did evolve in the course of time, in particular after 1967. The point is that the State of Israel definitely wants to act with much legacy towards all the non-Jewish institutions. This statement is usually contradicted, neglected or denied. Indeed, both the Jewish rabbinic laws and the civilian Supreme Court and other bodies are willing to protect all the pending properties. On the other hand, the religious non-Jewish entities have not reached to the point where they would truly and freely admit the existence of the State of Israel as being the State of the Jews. This may lead to heavy and recurrent misunderstandings between all the parties.
At this point, the continuous and constant process of rejection of the recognition of the Jewish society in Eretz Israel and of the State of Israel imperils the stability of the Churches and various other denominations. On the other hand, clergy people would not get involved in parliamentary life of the State of Israel. The separation is clear and the barrier real between the Christian local and traditional denominations and Israeli political life.
The new Netanyahu government shows a wide scope of participants. As most of human beings, my heart is on the left side of my body. I saw some exceptions in hospitals, very few, but it is a fact that Israel was created by people who could definitely be considered as “leftists” according to the pattern defined by the Western “capitalistic system”. It is evident that such a statement is rather controversial. Nonetheless, it is known that Israel is deeply rooted in “socialism” and that many aspects of the society developed from some “communist-like/linked” line of quality and equality of rights and duties. True, Israeli society was and is still based on the basis of morals, ethics and/or Mitzvot and righteousness as provided by the Jewish traditions transmitted by the many cultures that arrived in the new-old country to build the State. Tel Aviv is turning 100 years! Good, but it is the Hebrew title of “Alt-neu Staat – ancient and new state = a State that is new as spring (avivאביב ) and ancient/old like a telתל (archeological site). This is why, in the present development of opinions, tendencies, reflections and morals/behavior of Israeli society, “leftists” and “rightists”, socialists, capitalists and all this kind of stuff do not make any sense. It is a kind of mess for the international observers. It tends to tempt the inhabitants of the State, the possible two-state/three-state if not more communities.
It should be noted that this is the first time that a former Soviet citizen comes to power with the portfolio of a Foreign Minister. He comes from Moldova i. e. from a border-like Bessarabia, a frontier region between Romania, Ukraine, Turkish Gagauze, Tatars. The region that was highly influenced by Judaism and the Jewish communities, intertwined relationships between Eastern Orthodoxy and Jewish Orthodoxy, Hasidism, Yiddish which is recognized as an official language. The Jews have been present there from the most ancient days, much before Christianity showed with Apostle Andrew. The local inhabitants often served in the Roman imperial army and were soldiers in the Holy Land by the time of the Early Church.
It is clear that Avigdor Lieberman has developed and decided to defend strong national Jewish and Israeli priorities. Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud always intervened in contexts that are rather similar to the present situation as they are considered from a Jewish point of view. The context is not the same as when Nathan Charansky was called to be a member of the government. Avigdor Lieberman maybe considered by the observers as a “folk, populist, rightist, extremist, xenophobic, separatist” personality, full of contradictions. He apparently developed unusual contacts. A so-called “anti-Arab” and “stubborn settler of his own” with his wife and children in Nokdim, a famous settlement.
I do not want to get into the many moral and financial problems that caused the new Foreign Minister to be interrogated again and again by the Police. It is a constantly pending problem in Israel and politicians of all parties, religious, secular or others as well have been facing similar procedures in the past decades. This note has nothing to do with this aspect of the Foreign Minister. Avigdor Lieberman is “new brand” compared to, inter alia, Yuli Yoel Edelstein. He is at the present in charge of the Diaspora, but has been for years a member of the government as a specialist of absorption, immigration. He is the Jewish son of an Orthodox priest who is in Moscow. The former Soviet aliyah/immigration interrogates Israeli society with numerous specificities that lines from culture, faith, Judaism-Christendom, ways of living, high tech and money. This corresponds to any “circulation of living seeds”.
An observer declared that there is now a “government of settlers”… It depends how this can reflect a multi-faceted kaleidoscopic Israeli point of view. This is a face-mirroring process. Israelis do mirror the way they perceive themselves through the measures used by the non-Jewish and foreign States. They are intrigued by the way “foreign societies, people and governments” relate to the existence or absence of recognition of Israel. This can be an open door if not a full range of gates open to fancy and irrational anxieties, bipolarity and “Unbehagen in der Kultur – unrest/uneasiness in the civilization” (S. Freud).
Israelis – especially those born in the country – are definitely and quietly convinced of the clear evidence that the State of the Jews does exist and will endure; the threatening news that the Jews would be deported and nuked cannot really persuade Israelis. On the contrary, the country does exist, does develop rare economic structures and dynamics all over the world. It is very sad that the foreign press and media as also the diplomatic and political milieus hardly can get to the heart of this substantial societal tendency.
In a sort of counter-point, there is a big tendency shown at the present among the Arabs: they ask for their Israeli ID cards and they get it! On the other hand, the “formal racist” attitude of Avigdor Lieberman should be softened with regard to his own cultural background, Jewish experience in the former USSR (this in Moldavia/Moldova). Both tendencies curiously match in modern Israel that tries to walk ahead of an incredible sociocultural melting-pot. There is a full liberalism that may, at times, combine their reflections, actions and know-how in the context of the development a wide industrial and entrepreneurship.
Indeed, the “wide kaleidoscope” of such a government is “easy-to-crash or to break” or even to function. It is the first government, since Ariel Sharon, that encompasses so many “seemingly incompatible” movements and opinions. Moreover, Tzipi Livni, who won the elections, refused to participate in the government. She maintains that she would not attack the new structure “except if it works against the interests of the nation”. She got angered as many people in the country by the first declarations made by FM. Avigdor Liebermann.
The tendency that he brings forth is very important in Israel at present. It does not mean that it is the natural development of Israeli society new trends. I meet a lot of Israeli of various backgrounds who seem to be scared by the changes that affect the country. This mainly deals with morals, ethics, and most of all the hope for “cleanness, purity” that abides the Jewish soul. Many people have a real dream: Israel can only be pure, only pure and essentially pure. This corresponds to some ritual that can be compared to the “bedikat chametzבדיקת חמץ = search and cleaning of all leaven” before Passover/Pesach or “taherטהר = purify” during Yom HaKippurim, the Day of Atonement.
This feeling that the country and the Jewish State have to be clean and pure is real. As time passes a lot of people have openly declared that Israeli society can be corrupt, “sliding down on a moral point of view”. I think late Rabbi Yeshayahu Leibowitz had the nerve and could often vehemently interrogate the Jews in Israel. He did regret, on a visit for a lecture in an Arab village where all the youths spoke fluent Hebrew, that he had no Arabic! But he used to yell at both the Jews and the Christian (a rough and ruthless monologue” supposedly shared with late Fr. Marcel Dubois o.p. Other groups do question the society about wrongdoings in the Palestinian Territories, Gaza.
B’Tzelemבצלם is one of the many Israeli organization to survey the development of human rights; it is famous in its statements, inquiries. This is important and it does show that Israel generates her own networks in order to control how the inhabitants, citizens and the State do comply with the morals and rules governing a respectful attitude of the human rights. It is more than important for us to know that this organization constantly checks the actions of the institutional bodies.
On the other hand, it should be useful to underscore some aspects of the Israeli context in the present. There are different tendencies without the groups of newcomers that arrived in Israel, in particular after the full collapse of the communist regime. Israel has very strong and apparently cultural, linguistic ties with the Western ways of living and the “Anglo” civilization. This could work to the full and still deeply influence the societal enhancement of Israeli society.
Israel was built upon special cultural segments: in the years 1920s, the German aliyah (immigration) allowed a very significant development of the legal and juridical system in use in Israel. The State has relied and continues to profoundly depend on the “Slavic” Jewish heritage that was also shared in the East European countries – the system is based the many lifestyles that showed in the Yiddishkayt: shtetl/ghetto or village religious or prophetic movements, social assistance within the communities, union and splits among the different communities. Survival and upgrading of moral toward the system of the Mitzvot were reinvigorated on a very wide-open scope from total left to total right and “beyond”. “Beyond” is the word because political views in the Jewish Israeli society do not mean anything at the moment if compared with the the political patterns in use in most of the other States or nations.
The “Soviet” newcomers essentially constitute a multicultural and heavily “Marx and Engels – Lenin-Trotsky and post-Stalin” influenced body with Russian backgrounds and other ethnic predominant educational and socializing systems. On the other hand, Israel vigorously reconnected with a civilization that was at the very core of her revival. Thus, it appears that a lot of so-called “Anglo’s”, were directly linked to the Oriental Ashkenazi realm that disappeared in the pogroms, the second world war and the communist pogroms.
All the Slavs, in particular the Ukrainians and Russians – consequently the Jews – got used to the recurrent threat of Asian invaders that came from Mongolia and the borders of China. The Poles, the Lithuanians and the Russian Orthodox as the local Jews have been constantly attacked from the Far East, while the Slavic Rus’ and related ethnics were fighting over the ages. Each ethnicity and their religious traditions combated and this is still prolonged by a sharp ongoing though rampant on the European historical “battlefield of powerful influences” .
The famous “international friendship systematization – druzhba/дружба – that wad top-heroes glorifying reference during the communist era has been replaced by weird and bizarre savageness and wild struggle for hate and strangulations of the “foreigners” to the Russian new empire. I have been twice invited to lecture in Moscow about the return of a heavy local sociocultural tendency called “zlobost’ / злобость – wickedness”. Defiance and suspicion has been a ruling unwritten law of lawlessness in the immense empire dominated by full emotions of love or, on the contrary, of threatening irrational hatred or enmity.
The Russian tzarist empire had backed the local Arabs by translating the Eastern Orthodox Prayers and assisting the needy. The communist regime provided funds and money: many local Arabs went to East European and Soviet universities and this why many do speak Russian or some Slavic tongue at Jaffa Gate or in other parts of Israel and the Palestinian Territories. It is still evident that the time of “friendship” is over. Many former Soviets arrived in Israel as “non-Jews” according to the Halachah/Jewish religious law. Many could hardly adapt to a society that requires a high sense of self-control, responsibility and personal dynamics. Many Eastern Orthodox also imported a sort of real anti-Judaism that was torn into authentic anti-Semitism and could not be “controlled at least shortly corrected” for a lot of reasons. Thus, some people feel a connection with the Arab inhabitants, both Christians and Muslims.
On the other hand, many former Soviets became totally supportive of the Israeli State. Indeed, they finally reached a kind of “free state” in which they could make their ways; they also could feel true Jews for the first time without fear, threats and beats. This aspect is scarcely understood by many people inside of the country as abroad. Without any partisanship, people like Avigdor Lieberman want to make their way through Israeli society. They brought their skills and techniques, their cultural wealth in theater, medicine. Many started new lives in a very hard and exhausting context of work conditions compared to the competences. This is also what Israel has always proposed to newcomers. Living in the State often presupposes that people accept any job.
On the other hand, in the terribly and even incredibly anti-Jewish/Israeli etc. context that reigned for centuries in the Russian empire, the Jews got used to survive in totally segmented cities and country-side areas. They could be killed by any foreigner. They could be raped, raptured for the army, forcibly assimilated and converted. They could be the victims of the local populations and of the invaders that came from the East. Consequently, they developed the same symptoms of terrible suspicion towards those who are openly shouting they require the eradication of the Jewish State.
This note only aims to describe a process. It is clear that suspicion exists and may not in depths be understood by the “others”, i.e. the non-Russian-speakers of those who never left a Slavic cultural environment. When the newcomers read the international press, see that most of the nations of the world did betray and continue to cheat Israel in many ways, they are scared. Many left a prison and they could not fully understand what had happened in the after-War II period in the Western society. They discovered a supposedly wealthy cultural and economic Western system; they also got to the lacks of justice and profound imbalance of a society that also had murdered those they have joined in Eretz Israel. Normal Soviet people would basically consider that the USSR had sacrificed more than 20 million citizens. It took time for many to make the specific project that aimed to exterminate the Jews just because they are Jews. Soviets were communists, Gypsies, Slavs, inter alia, all these being condemned by the Nazi rule and Hitler.
This is why somunderstand and to e members of the Israeli Knesset and acting ministers are so strict about their own acculturation and human survival. They are both “mild” and “wild”, ready to give or to take over the local bad habits. On the other hand, they can also recall the real and essential fundamentals that allowed until now the growth of Israeli society.
Indeed, the purpose is “beyond” any political views. If we limit our opinions to some attitudes or choices made at the present, we are mistaken. It will disappear rather quickly. It maybe replaced by other frames or patterns. The priority is that for these strict people – maybe only strict with regard to the State – they hand over a wide experience that allowed them to survive in a deadly breathless environment.
Freedom is the most difficult reality to reach and substantiate, making it true and the highest principle.
av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]
April 23/10, 2009 – 29 deNisan 5769 – כ”ט דניסן תשס”ט