Shame on You, Zevulun Orlev

Gershom Gorenberg

Zevulun Orlev, I used to think, was the last nearly respectable man in the National Religious Party, or as it’s now renamed, Habayit Hayehudi. Like the rest of the party, he defended permanent Israeli rule over the Whole Land of Israel, without seeming to notice that it meant an apartheid system in the occupied territories. But that didn’t seem to be where his heart was. It was reflex, or lack of imagination. He worked across the aisle with Knesset members on the left for social legislation. He wanted the party to have a wider platform than ultra-nationalism.

So I was wrong, or Zevulun finally got tired of the dissonance between moderation and his party. He’s the author of a bill that would make it a criminal offense to call publicly “to negate Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state, where the content of such publication would have a reasonable possibility of causing an act of hatred, disdain or disloyalty.” Offenders could be punished by a year in prison. Today, the bill passed its first hurdle, when the Knesset voted 47-34 to send it to committee.

Zevulun, you must have studied Talmud. You must understand that some arguments contain their own refutation. According to the bill you authored, you and 46 other Knesset members could surely be charged with the criminal offense of denying both the democratic and Jewish nature of the state, most certainly arousing hatred, disdain and disloyalty. What could possibly be more undemocratic and more utterly, insanely un-Jewish than banning disagreement? What could cause greater disdain for the state?

By the provisions of your law, I would note, Knesset Member Alex Miller of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party would also be subject to prosecution and imprisonment, along with the members of the ministerial committee that this week gave its stamp of approval to a separate bill that Miller authored. Miller’s legislation would ban marking Nakba Day, the commemoration of the 1948 defeat and exodus of the Palestinians. Under Miller’s bill, memory itself would be a crime. Arguing about the meaning of history would be a crime. This is not only undemocratic, it is most profoundly un-Jewish.

I actually have no desire to charge Orlev, Miller or their parliamentary allies. I don’t believe in criminalizing thought. I have a very strong desire to see Israel awaken from its current nightmare and vote such politicians out of office, so that we can have a Jewish and democratic state.

17 thoughts on “Shame on You, Zevulun Orlev”

  1. Thank you Mr. Gorenberg,

    I think it was John Kenneth Galbraith who said:

    “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.”

    You are clearly NOT in the latter group, good upon you.

  2. Mr. Gorenberg – so sorry to have to bring this up again. The Israel you love may not be the Israel that is. If I recall, you did your best to put a good face on the recent elections and the resulting coalition. After all, the alternative would be to admit that the people have spoken – and got the government they wanted – and deserved. Sure they complain about it. That alone does not change why they voted the way they did.

    I still think you are sheltered from the truth of where the majority of your countrymen are moving. Noticed what majority was mastered in the knesset for that first reading? Can you imagine such a lopsided vote even 25 years ago? or 10? that is the truth you want to duck. And sometimes, as they say, if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck – why, it may just BE a duck.

    perhaps, in time, you’ll come to see just where your palestinian Ghandi theorem (or was it a wish? a projection?) collapses (I think poster alon said it best at the time…but hey, that’s just my preference). The realization, when it comes, won’t be fun, though….me just trying to immunize you a bit.

  3. Gershom, you have a lot of valuable things to say, and I’ve enjoyed reading your work. But this is, in my view, a consitent blind spot for you. You have mostly the right ideas, and you take trouble to refute the wrong ideas. But you continue to at least sort of believe that non-fascistic orthodox religiousity is both coherent in principle and is (or at least could be) part of the orthodox mainstream, instead of being confined to a tiny handful of congregations such as your own. This is why you seem surprised at an event that anyone else could have predicted: that someone on the supposedly moderate side of the NRP turned out to clearly be a fascist too.

    Leaving aside the question of whether there really is such a thing as a genuinely orthodox liberal (as opposed to just being a liberal who finds value in maintaining orthodox religious practice), is it not obvious that such people are utterly marginal and rejected in the contemporary orthodox world? You might say that this may change some day, and maybe you’re working towards that goal, and maybe it will even happen. But it seems to me that you are avoiding the conclusion that everyone who is not sentimentally attached to religiousity has already reached: contemporary jewish orthodox is a monstrosity. It is utterly illiberal in every way. It is the enemy.

  4. uh-hm. looks like dana’s right – it takes real isolation to think zevulun orlev is “respectable”, since he’s been proposing this bill, along with similar ones, for the past 10 years. only now, as the knesset and our country are increasingly being radicalized, are people waking up.

    for most people in this country, wearing a kippa and praying doesn’t carry anything close to the lofty principles mr. gorenberg holds dear. judaism is a synonym for morality only in a gradually narrowing circle.

  5. Straight talking, clear seeing, and accurate reading of the tea leaves. Many commenters here appear to be stumbling over definitions , interpretations, and merits of orthodox flavors of Judaism. I didn’t notice that kind of red-herring/distraction in message. Please keep reporting on the “current nightmare” and urging citizens to “vote such politicians out of office, so that we can have a Jewish and democratic state.”

  6. I , as a “right-wing, Orthodox/religious, pro-settlement” person, totally oppose these bills . I think if someone wants to peacefully try to get Israel to annul, its Jewish/Zionist nature, they should have every right to do so, as long as they obey the law. It is presposterous to force Arabs to outwardly show loyalty to symbols of a state they don’t identify with, and which represents their defeat (in other words, they don’t have to fly the flag, but they should not publicly desecrate it either).
    Having said this, we need to ask why suddenly someone like Orlev, who no doubt doesn’t really believe what he is saying, feels he has to jump on the bandwagon of silly ideas like these. I think this is a natural reaction of the increasing domination of post-Zionist thinking and propaganda in the years since the Left foised the Oslo Agreements disaster on Israel. The Arabs go around bragging about how they don’t recognize Israel, and the Israeli Left keeps agreeing with them. The Israeli Left is disorting (and, in fact, destroying) the educational system by inserting post-Zionist propaganda into the schools and even leaders like Olmert and Livni who came out of the supposedly “right-wing nationalist” Likud are saying that “Israel is doomed, Israel is an apartheid state, Israel is racist”, etc. They tell how they are going to take the holy city of Jerusalem, which was up until 1999 within the national concensus, and say they are going to turn it over to our enemies, in effect telling the country, that no Jewish symbols are important and worth struggling for. I think a majority of the Jewish population is sick and tired of this defeatist attitude the Leftist, now-Post-Zionist “Establishment” (which has always controlled the media and the national discourse no matter what party is in power) and it is reacting in this unfortunate way. It is time for responsible Zionist leaders in Israel to show that this legislation is not the way to react, but we should rather increase our Jewish/Zionist content of our education system, media, etc.

  7. Gershom, I think it is important to cut to the chase, to get to the core issues, because the politics of the situation is presenting people with more and more stark choices. The choices are between democracy and fascism. Judaism, Jewishness, the Jewish character of the state–these are just words. What they really mean depends on what people do. If the majority completely commit to democracy and human rights someday, through negotiation and reconciliation, then the Jewishness of that future, and all the necessary interpretations, will come also. But if if “Jewish” is increasingly becoming a pseudonym for apartheid or transfer or genocide, then that too will become apparent. You are just watching the natural outcome of anti-democracy in the hands of some, many of those who call themselves religious or Orthodox or Zionist. The choices are still clear. And they are clear for Palestinians too, no matter how religious or secular, no matter how much they want all of Palestine or want a portion, the fact is that their political direction will be determined by the moral parameters, the behavior parameters of democracy or anti-democracy, nonviolence or violence. The Jew and the Palestinian still face the same choices they faced over 100 years ago. And everyone is paying the consequences for their choices. Though I must say that it continues to astonish me and sadden me how much the trajectory of Jewish compulsions and illnesses emanate from elsewhere, from outside the tangled web of Jewish/Arab relations. One has just to look at Zionist documents from 1945 in the United States to see the complete absence of the Arab, as if they did not exist. The Jewish genocidal fears and the Jewish genocidal fantasies still stem mostly from our European catastrophe, our Nakba. And that is why the Palestinian does not exist.
    marcgopin.com

  8. hmmm. “…a criminal offense to call publicly “to negate Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state, where the content of such publication would have a reasonable possibility of causing an act of hatred, disdain or disloyalty.” Offenders could be punished by a year in prison. Today, the bill passed its first hurdle, when the Knesset voted 47-34 to send it to committee.”

    a) the bill received a democratic majority vote.

    b) we already have a Basic Law, The Knesset, 7a that reads: “Prevention of participation of candidates’ list
    7A. A candidates’ list shall not participate in elections to the Knesset if its objects or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following: (1) negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people;
    (2) negation of the democratic character of the State;”

    er, isn’t this a logical extension of an existing restriction? if someone as a candidate cannot do something, why should an ordinary citizen be permitted?

  9. mr. medad, your comment is so simple-minded and superficial that i suggest you examine your own logic. israeli reality, and society, are too complex and nunanced for your and your settler friends’ rigid nationalism. it is a loosing battle to explain this to you, though, because your religious/messianic obsessions, and your blindly self-destrutcting irredentism are the political defintion of rigidity.

    perhaps you’ve noticed, mr. medad, that arab parties have existed for many years in the knesset (i know you’d like to ban them)

    perhaps you’ve noticed, furthermore, that haredi parties are a major force in israeli politics, government, and society, and that they aren’t exactly the greatest fans of the “jewish state” (with the emphasis on state) and “democracy” either, behind their ever-so-thin facade of political opportunism?
    do you propose arresting every haredi who calls for “medinat halacha”?
    living amongst religious fanatics, i suggest you carry out a survey of your buddies on the hilltops, and ask them how many would like israel to eventually become “medinat halacha” — a theocracy, for all intents and purposes. ask the rabbis too, mr. medad. i doubt you’d be surprised by the reply you get.

  10. “even leaders like Olmert and Livni who came out of the supposedly “right-wing nationalist” Likud are saying that “Israel is doomed, Israel is an apartheid state, Israel is racist”, etc.”

    — Y. Ben-David

    Really? If you have a credible link that shows Olmert and Livni saying these things I’d be very interested to see it. Over to you!

  11. Alon, luv’, let’s keep logic and politics separate even though that might be too difficult for you. And ad hominem (that’s Latin if you’re going for a dictionary) attacks display your own ignorance or perhaps wishful thinking about me.

    Now, to your comment:

    “mr. medad, your comment is so simple-minded and superficial that i suggest you examine your own logic. israeli reality, and society, are too complex and nunanced for your and your settler friends’ rigid nationalism. it is a loosing battle to explain this to you, though, because your religious/messianic obsessions, and your blindly self-destrutcting irredentism are the political defintion of rigidity.”

    hmm. and Arab rigidity since 1920, including fanatic, tribal nationalism (and going along with you a bit for argument’s sake on this term) combined with zealous extremist theocratic religiosity in that the Mufti led the Pals. to kill Jews, make up propaganda claims and headed the political apparatus all-in-one, is the epitome of a movement with which we have to dialogue and compromise and come to terms? You concentrate so much on how bad we “settlers” – although I prefer revenants or residents – are that you box yourself into a corner, left with Hamas as a peace partner. That’s really helpful and nuanced and smart and clever.

    “perhaps you’ve noticed, mr. medad, that arab parties have existed for many years in the knesset (i know you’d like to ban them)”

    Actually, having worked in the Knesset for 12 years, I actually did notice. And a) I have worked with Arab MKs on joint projects; b) did try to get the Progressive List for Peace banned and the way Miari went, I was right (as for Peled and his daughter, I’ll refrain).

    “perhaps you’ve noticed, furthermore, that haredi parties are a major force in israeli politics, government, and society, and that they aren’t exactly the greatest fans of the “jewish state” (with the emphasis on state) and “democracy” either, behind their ever-so-thin facade of political opportunism?
    do you propose arresting every haredi who calls for “medinat halacha”?”

    now, now, Alon, let’s not reveal your stupidity. This is a high-class blog. Even you would prefer a Hareidi, okay, maybe not a Toldos Aharon zebra, to Haniyeh (I hope). And since you are such an astute observer of the Israel scene and are so nuanced, you do know that over the last decade, a major shift in Hareidi socialization has occurred including voting for Baruch Marzel, Nahal Haredi, joining Jerusalem Likud branch, etc. And the bottom line: even if they want Medinat Halacha and think they can achieve it, would they plant bombs on buses, act as suicide bombers to do so (even if they do burn garbage cans much too often)? So, you hate your fellow Jew more than your Arab enemy? That’s really being nuanced and complex rather than my supposed simple-mindedness.

    “living amongst religious fanatics, i suggest you carry out a survey of your buddies on the hilltops…”

    I am definitely not happy with the several hundred ill-disciplined, violent, self-defeating teenagers on the hilltops. But I don’t live among them and try to bring them back. But I’m upbeat and positive and not nearly as nasty as you.

  12. mr. medad – ad hominem attacks against someone like yourself, whose ideology is well-known (at least, or at most, in the backwaters of the media), and who is known to stand for and represent a major force in Israeli politics and society, is something that I believe can surely be considered ad rem.
    conversely, mr. medad, you just spit out your infantile regurgitations (ad nauseum) against someone whom you know nothing about, making false assumptions that reveal how deeply entrenched you are in your simple-minded view of reality.
    where, pray, mr. medad, did you see in my brief comment an embrace or even a preference for haniyeh, hamas, terrorism, arab nationalism? I can tell you precisely where — in your own stereotypical, black-and-white, childish picture of the world, in which a critique of the extremism of one side means absolving the other.
    no, mr. medad, I am most certainly against arab fanaticism. yet I feel no need to justify myself before a fanatic like yourself.
    haredim don’t plant bombs on busses, but they pose a danger to the future of democracy in Israel. it quite amusing, frankly, that you present as evidence of their great development that they are voting for baruch marzel, the great democrat who would have all arabs kicked out and a theocracy established.
    I believe that attests to your own character more than it does to mine, mr. medad. I believe that blindly ignoring thousands upon thousands of settlers who would establish a medinat halacha here, who espouse anti-democratic beliefs like your buddy orlev, and focusing on a “few hundred ill-disciplined youths” shows that you are tricking yourself.
    keep up the good job, mr. medad (of making a fool of yourself and ruining Israel’s future)

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