Slouching Toward Pakistan

Gershom Gorenberg

My article in the print edition of The American Prospect is now up at TAP online. Here’s a taste:

The small compound on the green hillside has several identities. It is the Elisha pre-military academy, a government-funded training ground for the next generation of highly motivated Israeli soldiers and officers. It is an illegal settlement outpost, established by right-wing activists to prevent an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. And it is also a religious institute, headed by a charismatic rabbi who teaches his students an ultra-nationalist form of Judaism that believes Israel has a divine imperative to rule these hills.

To reach Elisha, I drove up the two-lane blacktop road that winds into the West Bank mountains east of Tel Aviv. The compound is just past the Palestinian village of Deir Nidham and the Israeli settlement of Neveh Tzuf. According to the academy’s dean, Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim, the spot was suggested by two veteran settlement leaders, Ze’ev Hever and Pinhas Wallerstein. The choice fit the wider pattern that they and others have followed in putting up illegal outposts since the 1990s. The outposts fill in spaces between existing settlements, creating Israeli-settled strips that fragment Palestinian territory and reduce the chance of an Israeli withdrawal. …


What makes Elisha unusual is that it is also a pre-military academy — part of both the outpost enterprise and another, less-noticed social shift. Israel has a universal draft at age 18. But with the army’s approval, high school graduates can defer service to spend a year or more at a privately run preparatory academy, combining physical training and studies intended to boost motivation to serve and to take leadership roles. At Orthodox academies — which are the majority — one goal is to strengthen faith so students can resist the peer pressure to give up religious practice. Another goal is to create a cadre of ideologically motivated Orthodox officers and soldiers. Elisha is listed on the Defense Ministry’s Web page of academies. “We’re under the auspices of the Defense Ministry. But the funding comes via the Education Ministry. We have a pair of parents,” Rabbi Nissim tells me in his tiny office in one of the mobile homes.

Read the full article here, and come back to South Jerusalem to comment.

10 thoughts on “Slouching Toward Pakistan”

  1. Although this article is informative and points out many interesting thing, the inflammatory title of this blog peace, comparing these religious pre-induction military acamedies to the situation in Pakistan is totally uncalled for.
    Islamic extremists believe that Islam is destined to control the whole world and many believe that violence can be used against Muslim “apostates” and non-believers. These future soldiers you talk about are educated in the spirit of Rav Kook which emphasizes BOTH love of the Jewish People AND love of mankind. That means even Jews who have different ideologies and levels of religious observance.
    Yes, they believe there is a divine mandate by the Jewish people to live in and control Eretz Israel. This doesn’t mean they are taught that the “ends justify the means” and that it is their goal to take over the state. They are not even really politically motivated, except on matters like settlement and security, taking a rather passive, Haredi attitude towards the state and what is going on in it on a day-to-day level.
    Your fear that because they are religiously motivated, this will lead them to become a law unto themselves is not warranted. After all , you Gershom are a religious Jew and you made aliyah to Eretz Israel, so does that make you a fanatic along the lines you are warning us about with these people? It must be remembered that neither Yigal Amir or Baruch Goldstein came from the ideological background that the students in these academies are picking up.
    Neither did the Palmach and Hagana people who drove thousands of Arabs out of their homes in the 1948 War, many of whom who were much more comfortable with the writings of Karl Marx than those of Rav Kook.
    Thus, I don’t view that there is any more grounds for worrying about the IDF turning into an ideological milita than there was decades ago when the kibbutnikim, who made up no more than 3% of the population comprised half the entire IDF officer corps.

  2. Your website is part of this American’s education. Excellent article. I’ve never been to Israel but I feel I got a clear mental snapshot of SOME of what is going on 1) at this academy and 2) in regards to the dynamics between the army and its citizens.

    Here is a nautical term you may never have heard before: bravo zulu. It means good job.


  3. “As defense minister, Labor Party leader Ehud Barak is responsible for law enforcement in occupied territory. So why doesn’t he simply evacuate outposts, by force if need be? One answer is fear of settler violence. ”

    Gershom, when Israeli left wing activist protest the wall, the army is not overly worried about curbing such protests with great violence (it is important to note that even the parts of the wall that were ruled illegal by Israel’s own supreme court are still being built.)

    The answer is neither a worry about settler violence or a breakdown in the army.

    The Israeli army for a long time now is primarily (if not solely) an army employed at the service of occupation, oppression and dispossession, as such the settlers are at best Israel’s useful idiots (such as the Gaza settlers) and at worst an entrenched part of the ruling elite.

    From the settler movement perspective, the Gaza pullout was the wakeup call to actively move from the first position to the second.

    Thus far Israel has not being too picky in forming alliances with fundamentalist ideologues, whether it is the settler movement or the Christian Zionists – very different ideologies all serving the same ignoble aims.

    As for Israel’s wounded democracy, I think it takes a flexible and generous definition of democracy to fit Israel in that category.

  4. i had never heard of the pakistan analogy before reading your article (i am a proud Prospect subscriber here in the States). definitely more profound than the usual south africa connection. the bond between army and settler is disturbing. i wonder what percentage of israelis living within the 48 borders is concerned about this.

  5. A really bad analogy. Since you and Haim are the only two righteous Jews left, perhaps you should follow the example of Elimelech and Naomi and migrate to Moab to escape “Pakistan”.

  6. First you call the Orthodox parasites for not serving in the army. Now you call them a threat to Israel. You are no different than classical anti-semites. Have you thought of migrating to Paris, where you can party with Ibrahim Burg, Suha Arafat, and Mohammed al Dura? There is only limited parnassah you can make here trashing Orthodox Jews while living in formerly Arab houses in Baqa

  7. I find some of these comments overly harsh. The point is not that Israel fits the Pakistan analogy, but that it could one day. For now, the settler movement serves a purpose and is presumed “controllable” by it’s state sponsors. One day this may not be the case, like the ditty

    “There was a young girl from Niger
    Who smiled as she rode on a tiger
    They came back from the ride
    With the lady inside
    and the smile on the face of the tiger.”

  8. The point is not that Israel fits the Pakistan analogy, but that it could one day… for the past 8 years, we have been hearing about how the US is becoming a fundamentalist autocracy, but it hasnt happened. The harsh comments are because of the rank hypocriacy of Mr Gorenberg and friends sitting in occupied Arab houses in South Jerusalem while making a living criticizing other Jews who live a few miles east of them for living where they do. It is the rank hypocracy of someone who professes to be a religious Jew making a living by criticizing other religious Jews for existing. It is the rank hypocracy of a person who wears a kippah but hates most others who wears a kippah. I dont think the comments are harsh at all. Since we are not Pakistan yet, I think that Mr Gorenberg should exercise the right to leave the country he hates and stop occupying Arab land. A win win for everyone

    “Those who are kind to the cruel eventually become cruel to the kind”

  9. These academies, it should be said, are also recruiting here in the US ( and probably elsewhere abroad).

    The Pakistan analogy is in the support of the madrassa.

    Mr Gorenberg was very reserved in this article; it is mostly descriptive. At the end he says

    And if fear of that confrontation is a consideration for politicians as they weigh the country’s direction — as it surely must be — then Israeli democracy has already been wounded.

    It’s total hypocrisy of Israel to be making demands at or prior to sitting down for an agreement while fearful of and/or without being able to fulfill one of the chief requirements of one. It’s not merely democracy that is wounded.

    What seems to be happening ( if a more aware leadership does not somehow gain control) is preparation for a terrible religious war. For that radical settlers can’t multiply fast enough to win. The state comes down with them. This is the existential threat– it’s not out there from Iran.

    Excellent report- it should awaken a few more- but it’s in the wrong venue for that.

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