Pullout Seen Really as West Bank Issue

The Gaza withdrawal in itself plays only a small part in the current face-off between settlers and the Israeli government. Three other and more basic issues are at stake, and they go to the core of what the Jewish state will become, according to Arie Nadler.

Nadler, a professor of social psychology at Tel Aviv University, is a noted authority on conflict resolution, as well as on the impact of massive social trauma on individuals and groups. He meets frequently with both Palestinian and settler leaders, and will lead a weekend seminar in Irvine Aug. 19-21. he will discuss the Gaza disengagament from the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives and its likely aftermath.

The crux of the present confrontation is not Gaza, but whether Israel will eventually abandon the West Bank and, in essence, return to the pre-1967 borders, Nadler said in a telephone interview from Tel Aviv.

“The settlers are trying to make the Gaza withdrawal so traumatic that no future Israeli government will even consider evacuating [the settlement of] Ariel on the West Bank,” he said.

On a second, deeper level, the confrontation is about “the meaning of democracy in Israeli society,” whether its members are willing to accept majority decisions and play by the same political rules.

The most fundamental and important aspect of the Gaza disengagement goes to the seemingly intractable secular vs. religious divide in Israel.

“We face the question as to the ultimate source of authority in the state,” Nadler said. “Is it democratic rule or Torah?”

From his discussions with settler leaders, Nadler is cautiously optimistic that the evacuation of Gaza will proceed without large-scale violence.

“The political leadership of the religious Zionist settlers has an intuitive sense of the fragility of the ties that bind us as a people,” Nadler observed. “Just as in the Sinai Peninsula withdrawal in 1982, the majority of settlers will approach the red line, but they will not cross it.”

This relatively hopeful scenario could change instantly if Palestinians decide to use the changeover to launch large-scale terrorist attacks, he warned.

Nadler, who describes himself as a political centrist, showed considerable sympathy for the emotional pain of the Gaza settlers.

“In a way, the settlers were the pampered children of both the Likud [right-wing] and Labor [left-wing] parties,” he said. “They were told that they were the true Zionist pioneers. They saw themselves on a higher moral plane, and suddenly they are told to go away.”

To help heal the settlers’ trauma, it is vital for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to assign some deeper meaning, such as the welfare and survival of Israel, to the painful disengagement, Nadler believes.

In the aftermath of the withdrawal, the relocated Gaza settlers will go in two different directions, Nadler thinks.

“A minority will disengage itself from Israeli society and secular democracy,” he said. “The majority, after overcoming a psychological crisis, will perhaps re-examine its assumptions and tactics, and ultimately move closer to the political center.”

Nadler will be the scholar-in-residence at the seminar sponsored by Ameinu, formerly the Labor Zionist Alliance, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Irvine. Also on the program will be political scientist Raphael Sonnenshein, will who speak on “California in Ferment.”

For seminar reservations until Aug. 16 call (323) 655-2842, or e-mail LZinLA@aol.com.


Have We Lost Respect for Each Other?

From my own experience and from the reports in The Jewish Journal, it is evident that it has become more and more difficult to plan for a dialogue between fellow Jews on the subject of Israel — much easier to organize a discussion between Christian and Jewish leadership or even between Islamic and Jewish representatives.

On the matter of Israel, the Jewish dialogue is transformed into acrimonious diatribe, denigrating motivations ascribed to the “other.” Even when opened to the floor for questions and answers, the questions must be written down and sorted by the moderator, because they are filled with shouted, acrid accusations.

The “other” turns into an adversary, worse, an enemy — the rhetoric is raised to shouting decibels and elicits hissing and shouting.

Should we cancel the dialogue in order to avoid ugly confrontation? Still, to mute the dialogue is to admit that Jews can no longer talk with each other civilly.

When dialogue ends, the alternative is either angry silence or open hostility. If we cancel Israel forums, the character of community breaks into smaller and smaller ideological cults.

Have we then lost our Jewish sensibilities? Have we abandoned our civility? Have we lost our sense of respect for each other?

“Respect” is derived from the Latin rescire, which means to look back, to look a second time. Respect is indispensable for a mature and wise people. In Hebrew the word for respect is kavod, which connotes the seriousness and weight of gravity.

The breakdown of genuine dialogue among us is deeply worrisome. Our rabbinic sages have taught us that the Temple in Jerusalem was not destroyed because of the superiority of external foes but from the internal, causeless hatred among us. They judged that the sin of causeless hatred is more serious than major transgressions of murder, idolatry and harlotry (Talmud Yevamoth 62b).

The acrimonious debate and ad hominum vilification affects our youth. They learn from us. They are victims of our de facto intellectual apartheid.

Our youth groups — United Synagogue Youth, National Council of Synagogue Youth, North American Federation of Temple Youth — do not play, pray or debate together. Have they learned this insulation from the parent generation?

We are together in the Diaspora and not on the front lines of the wars of the intifada terrorists, but our bombast against each other can be as threatening as suicide bombers. With our anger we inflict painful wounds upon our people — we bring causeless shame upon us.

The Midrash says: “The Divine Presence does not dwell among a people with a divided heart” (Numbers Rabbah 15:14). The verse does not speak of divided minds. We need not agree on strategy or military policy, but the heart must be whole and must not be divided.

This calls upon each and every one of us to exhibit in our gatherings the civility and sensitivity of our heritage. We need not imitate the paid partisans of television sensationalists who entertain us at crossfire and relish insult and assassination of the “other's” character.

We are Jews who love Zion, our people and our oneness. That is the consequential meaning of the great “Echad,” the oneness of God about which we pray at morning, noon and night.

In the pew and on the dais, in our preachment and dialogues, we must manifest respect for each other, which is respect for ourselves. This respect is not to inhibit question, is not to stifle the blessedness of our inquiry, but it is an appeal to inhibit our anger and our deprecation of the person who is as dedicated and as concerned as we are.  

Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis is the senior rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom.