I started my week on Sunday morning with Facebook and Twitter alerts notifying me that controversial French journalist Charles Enderlin was on my case. After reading an interview I gave to Le Figaro, Enderlin accused me of “scandalous propaganda” for saying that “Israeli society, like every society, has extremists from both right and left.” According to Enderlin, extremists from the right must be singled out because only they commit murder (he listed as examples the stabbing at the Jerusalem gay pride parade, the criminal arson of the Dawabshe family’s home, the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, and the mass-killing of Muslim worshipers in Hebron by Baruch Goldstein).
While the list of victims of left-wing terrorism is long (think of Action Directe, Baader-Meinhof or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), it is true that political murders have not been committed by Jewish Israeli left-wing radicals. Many, however, have collaborated with terrorist organizations or foreign countries that target Jewish civilians. Among them are Udi Adiv, an Israeli communist who was convicted for handing military information to Syria; Tali Fahima, an Israeli convert to Islam who was jailed for collaborating with the chief of the Al-Aqsa’s Martyrs’ Brigades; and Azmi Bishara, a Marxist and former Member of Knesset who fled Israel after being accused of providing military information to Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon war.
But is it intellectually honest to categorize Baruch Goldstein, Yigal Amir (the murderer of Yitzhak Rabin) and Yishai Shlissel (who stabbed gay pride parade participants and killed one of them) as right-wingers? Shlissel, an ultra-orthodox Jew who declared in court that he does not recognize the state prosecuting him, is hardly a nationalist. As for Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir, their belief in the sanctity of the biblical land of Israel is what labels them “right-wing” in Israel’s political parlance. When I moved to Israel as a student, I was told that the right-left debate here revolves around territory. I couldn’t understand why, and still can’t.
The ideological divide between right and left in open societies started before Israel took over territories in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and it is unrelated to Israel’s territorial stomachaches. This divide stems from two conflicting and mostly unprovable assumptions about human nature and about man’s ability to shape reality. The “state of nature” is heaven to Rousseau and hell to Hobbes because the former thinks that “man is born free and everywhere he is in chains” while the latter claims that man in by nature “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Rousseau believed not only in man’s inner goodness but also in his ability to subdue reality to his will. He was rebuked after the French Revolution by Edmund Burke, who claimed that no functioning social order could be designed from scratch.
The double controversy about human nature and about the malleability of reality is the source of conflicting policies in economics, in foreign policy, and in social issues. Kant’s “perpetual peace” relies on the goodness of man and on his ability to design a peaceful international order. Clausewitz’s aphorism that “war is the continuation of politics by other means,” by contrast, is the motto of political realism. Being a realist, or a right-winger, is therefore unrelated to the integrity of the biblical land of Israel. A realist would undoubtedly be skeptical about the intentions of Israel’s neighbors, but he would also assess Israel’s territorial policy based on interest – not ideology.
What Baruch Goldstein, Yigal Amir and Yishai Shlissel have in common is religious fundamentalism. While the fundamentalism of Shlissel denies the very legitimacy of the State of Israel, that of Goldstein and Amir makes this legitimacy conditional: the State of Israel is legitimate only as long as it faithfully behaves as the Messiah’s donkey (the aphorism used by Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, in his attempt to reconcile Orthodox Judaism with Zionism). Yet, as Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz would point out in his conversations with Rabbi Kook, the “Messiah’s donkey” allegory inevitably turns secular nationalism into a divine design. Leibowitz, himself a Zionist and a strictly observant Jew, warned against such linkage and claimed that only by emptying Zionism of any religious meaning would the Jews be preserved from fundamentalist temptation.
Blaming conservative Israelis for the crimes of religious fundamentalists is manipulative and dishonest, but that is no excuse for religious Zionists not to face the fact that relating to the State of Israel as the Messiah’s donkey can have lethal consequences.