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Forgotten dissenters

Reader comment on item: Who Supports Israel[, Jews or Conservatives]?

Submitted by Enoch Wisner (United States), Sep 4, 2003 at 10:23

Mr. Pipes' analysis of the demographics of Israel's supporters and opponants was, by and large, correct. One constituent of the universe opposed to the State of Israel escaped mention, however.

From the beginning of Jewish nationalism's formal organization in the late 19th century, the leadership of Europe's orthodox communities were its vehement opponants. There are 13 fundamental tenets of faith in the Jewish belief structure (enunciated in Maimonides' "Ani ma'amim b'emuna sh'leimoh"), denial, rejection or failure in regard to any one or more of which renders one a heretic and beyond inclusion among the Jewish people. The re-establishment of Israel as a sovereign nation consequent of the advent of the Messiah (as understood in Jewish tradition) is one of these tenets. The establishment of a nominally Jewish State by means other than the advent of the Messiah was almost universally deemed heretical among the orthodox communities of Europe until after the modern State of Israel received its franchise from the UN. Advocacy for statehood on secular terms was nearly exclusive to socialists and communists of Jewish extraction.

Today, the fact of the State of Israel, enfranchised by the United Nations, is the cause of much debate in the orthodox community. While none of the streams of orthodoxy can accept the current State, as it exists, as a legitimately "Jewish" State, or endorse the premise of its franchise in the UN, some construe its existence as a "first step" toward the revelation of the long-awaited Messiah, and consider it a religious duty to work within its structure toward its perfection in a reisntituted, Davidic monarchy. This explains, for those familiar with Jewish tradition, the concentration of those the media call "ultra-nationalist" Jews on the Temple Mount, and the yearly attempts of one group among these to lay a new corner-stone for a new Temple on the site of the original two. Others among Jews of this stripe may be less organized, vocal or confrontational, but hold that the State, at least as a "fact on the ground," deserves and requires their support, hence the numerous "religious" political parties in Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

There remains, however, a large contingent of religious Jews -- and these, the most rigorously orthodox -- who persist in the notion that a State called "Israel," enfranchised by any human authority, is heretical. For the most part, Jews holding this view are those whose roots are in central Europe -- typically from Hungary and Romania -- and those for whom this expression of Jewish faith represents the standard toward which to strive. This view is also held, though among a much less populous universe, by Jews of Middle Eastern descent, but who represent this demographic's most rigorously orthodox segment, as well.

It was a significant oversight that these Jews were not included among the roll of those opposed to the State of Israel. The spectrum of Jewish observance, inside Israel and in the diaspora, has demonstrated a persistent movement toward polarity, the numbers of the most rigorously orthodox and the most secular soon to constitute the majority of all Jews. Because the orthodox increase their numbers more from their high birthrate, and the secular contingent from those of the liberal streams of Judaism falling way from religious observance altogether, every indication is that the only demographic with the potential for sustained growth is the orthodox. Already favoring a Palestinian State to the secular enfranchisement of a State of Jews -- and having claim to a voice in Israel's governance by virtue of its own "Law of Return" -- the orthodox community represents the same danger, if at a greater distance, to the secular State as the Palestinian refugees, which the nationalist politicians in Israel recognize as the death-knell of Israel's socialist-secular Jewish identity.

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