I know, I know, I’ll be accused again of hating settlers, blah blah blah.

But this is an interesting opinion piece originally printed in Eretz Acheret, then Maariv and now reprinted by the Jerusalem Post.

The writer, Bambi (I kid you not) Sheleg, is the editor of Eretz Acheret, a serious magazine trying to address social issues in Israel. The current issue includes a couple of articles by strong Leftists, so it seems the magazine is disposed in that direction. It is funded, in part, by the Avi Chai foundation. Bambi seems to come from a religious Zionist background and apparently lives in the territories (I glean this from the article but would welcome more specific info if anybody has it). The article is well worth reading. Here are some choice excerpts:

In the years following the Yom Kippur War we came to believe, with true sincerity, that we were the flag-bearers of the Jewish people. After all, we had not forgotten the Torah of Israel and its values; we knew from whence we came and where we were going; we had more humility, we were imbued with faith.

The Yom Kippur War had not badly shaken our world of beliefs, as it did with the leading strata of Israeli society up until then. Just the opposite. That war actually strengthened us. The more mature among us discerned a leadership and ideological vacuum, the need for a new ideal to “uplift the people’s spirit” – then at an ebb in wake of the war’s tragedy – and charged toward the new and exciting goal: settling Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Thus the great internal disengagement of religious Zionism began.

This disengagement had many and varied aspects: On the one hand, it strengthened our branch of Israeli society in a truly amazing fashion. We built extraordinary communities and large families. Our people grew strong and became part of all facets of society: academia, the media, the army and politics.

The economic situation of many of us improved unrecognizably. Our various educational networks, the state-religious and the national-haredi schools, became more powerful, both because of the fact that they were given more money than the regular state schools, and because many of us give education the highest priority and devote their lives to it.

DEAR FRIENDS, this is so difficult for me to write: We were wrong, and we misled our society. On the way to redeeming the land of our forefathers, we forgot our people. We looked out for ourselves and our children very well, and we forgot so many children of other people.

While we were busy with the Land of Israel and settling and fostering our ostensibly ideological identity, so isolated from those of other people, awful things took place. There are a million and a half impoverished people in Israeli society, and the overwhelming majority of them are not among our ranks.

We looked out for ourselves, did we not? The beautiful settlements we built, the huge and ostentatious houses in so many of them, we thought this was something we deserved by right. While our schools flourished – and we made sure our children received more and more hours of schooling – there was no one to look out for the other children.

We strengthened our own small and prestigious state religious schools and national haredi schools and neglected, even when we held the Education Ministry portfolio, all the other school systems. We acted like any self-interested sector, not as a worthy leadership.

We have no interest in the rights of workers, which are gradually being eroded – not of Jewish workers and certainly not of foreign workers; we have nothing to say about Israel being a world leader in the trading of women, and we of course have nothing to say about the Palestinian issue.

Except for a very few in our society, we don’t even notice their existence. The Palestinians are invisible. They are a phenomenon of nature. We only see them when they strike at us.

And to all this it must be added that the institution closest to us, the one our people still control, the rabbinical courts, function like the legal system of a third world country, and we do almost nothing to change this disgrace.

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  • Very true. Chessed is at the heart of all Jewish communities, not speaking Lashon Harah should be further encouraged.

  • I’ve read some of Bambi’s stuff before.
    She does not represent the people she claims to represent.

    I’ll just comment on this article as opposed to adding old baggage she carries with her:

    -it is utter slander and she is full of sh1t.

    Make no mistake, she does not represent the religious at all, even though she might claim to be one.

    She claims:
    -the religious/settlers forgot the rest of the country,
    -the religious/settlers forgot about the impoverished: (conveniently ignoring a) that the religious/settlers are at the forefront of chesed/charity organizations, and
    b) The vast majority of them are ultra-orthodox or Arab which for inherent reasons will always have the lowest incomes (and the pursuit of wealth just isn’t an important ‘ideal’ like the rest of western society). She doesn’t seem to have visited too many settlements. Even if you look at the seemingly beautiful cottages about to be handed over to terrorists, don’t assume all the people are ‘rich’.
    -making a generalization that the settlers cared about their own schools is proof that she has no clue what she is talking about and does not know anything about the school system in the territories and it’s problems,
    – workers and women ignored? Please remind her of Emunah and Hadassah-Wizo.

    This evil decree that fell on us, like all bad things, is definitely an opportunity to do soul searching / cheshbon nefesh. Obviously, things were done wrong, I am certainly not in denial, but Bambi’s claims can be said about the entire Israeli society, why is she blaming the settlers/religious for all of Israel’s problems?

    Most criticism is valid if kept within context. If she had kept this article within the community [she claims to represent], it might be discussed seriously, but when she allows it to be published widespread in the general public, then I can only assume her intentions are self-righteous and self-centred.

    A word of advice, (I’m not perfect, and fudge sometimes as well, but try to be careful as much as possible) anytime you ‘criticize’ a certain sector of your ‘people’ in front of others (outsiders), you might think that you are distancing yourself from them, or looking good for the self-criticism, but in effect, your image is not improved at all and you take yourself down too.

  • I don’t know, Josh. I’ve also seen many beautiful homes in the settlements (no, not when they are launched, but within years they crop up), and certainly you get much more home and land for your money than within the Green Line.

    We all know that over the decades, religious parties have been able to leverage the quirks of Israel’s democracy to ensure greater spending per capita on their students and schools.

    I also don’t see any fault in a writer using the forum of a publication she edits to write a piece. That Maariv and J Post have picked it up does not reflect evil machinations on her part but rather the resonance of this piece with many people.

    She writes, in her piece, that the rabbis in the movement focus on unrealistic and inward-looking ideas. How can you deny this? Is the hubris of calling the IDF and the government Nazis not sufficient to show you how far apart and how insular the world view of many has become? How many times have we discussed, on Jewlicious, what Israel can do to survive with the rest of the world arrayed against it, not to mention the demographic issue of the growing Palestinian population, only to have some of our visitors who belong to the movement to which she refers essentially dismiss those problems? Of course, the dismissal is representative of an inward looking culture that is blind to the realities around them.

    I will be the first to admit that there are many, many exceptions to the rule, but why don’t you admit the truths of some of what she says? Don’t you recognize the arrogant confidence about which she writes where other Israelis are not as good; the government never does enough; the group are not fryerim (suckers) and secured great funding for schools; the Palestinians do not belong on this land, it is our land; besmirching and defaming of politicians who disagree with the politics of the group (these days both Peres and Sharon are traitors, not to mention Mofaz, Barak, Rabin, Olmert, et al); etc., etc.

    Come on Josh, I was hoping for a serious discussion and not for a sweeping of the matter under a rug. Oh, and don’t worry about your image in the public’s eye, it contains both good and bad. You don’t seem to have a problem when your leaders undermine the authority of the state and its leadership in public. Why do you have a problem when somebody says that you have created an insular culture that removes you from klal Israel? (Now be honest, didn’t you just think to yourself, “How dare he, we are klal Israel!”)

  • But you do hate settlers, don’t you, Middle? Or, at least the vision of Zionism they represent, right? You’ve made that pretty clear, it seems to me.

  • “You have created an insular culture that removes you from klal Israel”.

    Don’t hate the settlers, huh?


  • Okay,
    no hate – contempt. Does that make you feel better now?

    I already said, what might be valid criticism is sometimes not worth commenting when it’s taken out of context like the dirty laundry hung out to dry.

    And especially so soon while the tears are still dripping down our faces.

    I had a blog argument recently with a religious lefty who claimed to be from Tel Aviv but later admitted he was from Arsuf (ultra-exclusive Malibu type illegal settlement near Herziliah). Anyway, he continually tried to blame the settlers from ‘disengaging’ from ‘klal yisrael’ but I managed to understand that he was really in spite of all the religious who abandonned Tel Aviv to the suburbs. He had no answer when I asked if the religious of Modiin are guilty of disengaging from Tel Aviv.

  • I just read this article and as a religious Zionist living in J-m for the last five years I couldn’t agree more.

    Josh- even your comment about valid criticism and laundry speaks volumes about how you view the religious zionist community in relation to the rest of Israel. Clearly, even you acknowledge that there is a huge rift if Jpost and Ma’ariv are forums that are “too public” for your taste to discuss these issues. Why is it a problem to do the cheshbon hanefesh with the country you’re supposed to be a part of? Because it’s embarrassing? That’s the whole point.

    As for the issues she raises- the tzedaka that religious communities perform are for the most part for their own communities- the haredi forms are extreme examples, but even the RZ are not reaching out to the extent they can.

    Sheleg’s comments about the school system and the settlements are spot on.

    The larger question really is whether rz people whose sole focus was the settlements are able to refocus their zeal and fervor on things that really help the country as a whole. The zealots who could and cannot see the demography and security problems with staying in Gaza are going to have a serous problem with this. I think that was the larger message of Sheleg’s article and I hope that people like Josh can really start to hear it.

  • qtavitali wrote: The zealots who could and cannot see the demography and security problems with staying in Gaza are going to have a serous problem with this.

    Maybe if they had better math classes at school? 9000

  • qtavitali,
    sorry if my writing skills are not great, but if I might use another analogy – talking to your boy/girlfriend/spouse in front of your whole family. Is that fair?

    I’m not worried the issue of public soul-searching, but rather the issue that when religious start talking, the ignorant media, who’s responsible for ‘reporting’, time and time again have shown that they will take the juicy things out of context and making those the enitre issues – see Rav Ovadia and shabbat nose picking and Rav Eliyahu eating sesame seeds.

    This is not cheshbon nefesh with the rest of klal yisrael, this is letting the klal yisrael point the blame on someone else because he himself is not doing cheshbon nefesh and wants to avoid it

    I don’t know where you get you assumption that Religious Zionists aren’t reaching out to the extent they can. Are you talking about yourself? I know that until this day, I (religious settler josh) have given the majority of my tzedakah to non-religious, non-settler organizations and people.

    If you want criticism, then I was under the impression that many RZ’s weren’t that intrested/centred/infatuated on yesha as you think. Please think back longer than the typical attention span, before the ‘disengagement’ plan was publicized over a year ago, and certainly before the Oslo war broke out in Sept2000, Yesha was not in the intrest of too many people at all. I hope you are not blaming RZ’s for getting too involved in this ‘disengagement’. Someone else I spoke to accused all religious of ignoring everything else besides the settlements. This is blatant slander and a lie.

  • sorry, forgot to add two cents on the security problems of staying in Gaza.

    But don’t ask me about the extreme danger of retreating from Gush Katif and North Shomron, is there any point in rehashing the severe warnings of immediate past-chief of staff and immediate past-shabak head? It’s one of the reason’s they were fired by Sharon.

    When all this is over though. I’ll still be wrong. When the next round of fighting starts, it won’t be blamed on us leaving Gush Katif and North Shomron, it will be blamed on us still being in Yesha.

  • Sheleg’s article would be more convincing if it were not part of a continuum of work from her in the “let’s beat our own breasts” line. Sheleg is a star in the self-flagellating-religious-person genre, which has assured that her slapdash articles get highlighted on the pages of the best center-left Israeli papers.

    It’s convenient to forget the background of inequality, predujice, and second-class citizenship against which the religious zionist movement built itself up:

    Locked out of socialized industry and some universities, they built Bar-Ilan – now one of Israel’s largest univesities – and crashed the gates of Israel’s establishment.

    Faced with an army that viewed “re-education” of religious Jews as part of its mandate, they instituted the Hesder program, pressed for change while engaging the larger society – and now Orthodox Jews are more than 1/2 the lower and middle officers corps, far beyond their numbers.

    It’s nice to ignore WIZO and Emunah – religious Zionist organizations that are bulwarks of Israel’s daycare and medical services, to say nothing of the many other charitable, educational, and outreach organizations.

    Sheleg is typical of a certain type of religious person who strikes the leftist’s pose of disdain – ignoring the fact that the religious Zionists have largely taken up the mantle of Zionism that an increasingly decadent secular elite has cast off – the clearest examples being their displacing the secular kibbutzniks as the most motivated soldiers, and their taking up the challenge of settlement.

    After all the PC bullshit and hand-waving, there is no real legal or political difference between the secular settlement of “territories” captured in 1948 and the religious settlement after 1967. The only difference is the disdain of the secular elite – the spiteful, bitter reaction of those whose own ideals and movements have died.

    Sheleg is typical of a wanna-be religious person who badmouths her own community to score points with the secular elite, or to show what an intellectual she is.

    One of the most positive results of this summer’s events is that many in the religious Zionist movement who have always pegged their success to winning secular approval have now renounced that inferiority complex, and are talking about standing on their own feet and articulating their own vision of an Israeli identity that is thoroughly modern, democratic (we now see clearly that the left hasn’t a democratic bone in their body) – yet with a live connection to Judaism.

    The last election results, the rising tide of return to Judaism, the dissolution of secular idealism, and the positive response to outreach movements in many cities indicates that the silent majority of Israelis is open and sympathetic to this world view.

    I am a settler – but as an adult American oleh, I was not steeped in the ideology. Yes, some of my neighbors are a little self-important. But at work and elsewhere in “normal” Israel, I can’t recall experiencing much of the resentment that Sheleg implies exists. The elitism has most consistently come from leftists and liberals.

    We are now at a juncture in which secular Zionism is dissolving into apathy and – like the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, socialism, Western liberalism, and other post-Enlightenment substitutes for covenantal Judaism – can no longer justify the Jewish presence in the modern world. Israel has the tools and strength to defend itself, but for over a decade lacks the will.

    The religious Zionist vision is crucial to the survival of Israel. From being marginalized and disenfranchised just a generations ago, the religious Zionist now can articulate a modern, Jewish rationale for Israel’s existence, a basis for Israeli identity that the vast majority of Israeli Jews can connect to – AND they can field a full team of professionally qualified people for all the posts of government. Sheleg and others are reflecting/projecting the bitter hatred of a secular elite that (rightly) views this group as the major challenge to their decadent hegemony.

  • Wow, after reading the comments here, except for our new commenter from Jersualem, I have to say that Bambi is right on target.

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