Israel Harel, Zionist Strategist

The latest phase of the neoconservative assault on Israeli human rights groups, is being led, in addition to Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor, by Israel Harel, Chairman of the Institute for Zionist Strategies.

Harel is a founder of the Gush Emunim settler movement. The Library of Congress Country Studies series describes Gush Emunim as

a right-wing ultranationalist, religio-political revitalization movement…The major activity of Gush Emunim has been to initiate Jewish settlements in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

Coincidentally, in this morning’s Yediot, Israeli author and academic Gadi Taub, a frequent critic of post-Zionism, had this to say about what this movement’s strategy has done to Zionism and Judaism (full translation after the jump)

The original argument that was presented by the settlers themselves was eschatological in nature, as the founding manifesto of Gush Emunim explicitly states…

[But] Israel was not convinced. That is why the redemptive argument was replaced by what initially was merely a public relations ploy, a means of persuading the non-believers: the security argument…

Reducing Judaism to the commandment to settle the Land of Israel (which isn’t even one of the 613 commandments cited by Maimonides) has turned the settlers’ Judaism into an armed Sparta, which has replaced the spiritual with the material and all of the prophets of Israel with the sword of Joshua Bin-Nun. The settlers’ Zionism is an express route to the loss of the Zionist achievement (the Jewish state), and to accept their interpretation of Judaism is an express route to reducing Jewish ethics to clumps of soil…

The time has come for us to challenge the settlers’ pretension as if they represent the Israeli, Jewish and Zionist legacy all in one.

On a related note, another acclaimed strategist, Lieutenant General (ret.) Moshe Yaalon, is listed as a fellow in Harel’s operation. Yaalon, IDF Chief of Staff during the first years of the second Intifada, is best known for the “searing the consciousness” strategy for defeating the Palestinians. It proved to be very effective in destroying the fabric of Palestinian society and was instrumental in the rise of Hamas.

His post-IDF career has also been characterized by a series of strategic gems. In August 2009 he publicly called Peace Now and “the Israeli elites” a “virus.” This followed “Israel must free itself from the two state paradigm” and  “Israel will not accept US dictates on settlements,” in May 2009.

These statements, by the way, were made after Yaalon’s appointment as Vice Premier and Minister of Strategic Affairs in Netanyahu’s government and were not very helpful in maintaining the strategic US-Israeli relationship. In this context, the fact that Yaalon is, at the same time, both a fellow at the Institute for Zionist Strategies and a senior minister should help put to rest any doubts about government complicity in the NGO suppression campaign.


Joshua’s sword

Op-ed, Gadi Taub, Yediot, November 29 2009

The din of the argument with the Americans over a freeze on construction in the settlements has distracted us from the question of why is there still anyone who thinks that it is worth our while to be building in them. The answer to that question has a long and convoluted history.

The original argument that was presented by the settlers themselves was eschatological in nature, as the founding manifesto of Gush Emunim explicitly states. Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook also taught that settlement was “divine politics that no mundane politics is capable of [defeating].” As Menahem Felix once explained to the High Court of Justice, the security argument “neither adds nor detracts” [from the imperative to settle]. At issue is a commandment.

Israel was not convinced. That is why the redemptive argument was replaced by what initially was merely a public relations ploy, a means of persuading the non-believers: the security argument. That argument has also undergone profound changes. As long as the IDF’s nightmare scenario involved Iraqi tanks rolling towards Israel via Jordan, there was some credence to the argument that maintaining our hold on the mountaintops was crucial to stymieing an invasion. But the first Gulf War wiped that argument off the agenda, and raised the question of missiles instead. It became unclear why settlement was necessary to defend us from missiles, since the mountaintops did not stop the Scud missiles.

And then the Oslo process was begun, and the security argument was revised. It was no longer about an invasion or about the mountaintops, but our ability to prevent terrorism by means of our control on the ground, and then the ability to prevent Kassam rockets. As the right wing predicted, instead of peace we indeed did receive terrorism in return for Oslo, and then—and the right wing anticipated this as well—Hamastan and rockets in return for our unilateral withdrawal.

But in the meantime Israel has found a way of coping with those threats with great success. As soon as Hamastan was formed in the south and as soon as Hizbullah evolved from being a guerrilla organization to a partner in sovereignty—succinctly, as soon as a central government was formed—it became evident that Israel could exact from it a price for terrorism and missiles.

When things calm down and we look back at the period from 2006 up until today, we will discover that despite the noise, Israel conducted two very successful wars: the northern border is quiet. The barrages of Kassam rockets out of Gaza have been stopped, and those who nevertheless manage to fire off a rocket here or there are hunted down by Hamas with a vengeance. We exacted a heavy price from both Lebanon and Gaza, and that price was higher than all the gain that might be reaped from the Kassam and Katyusha rockets by their owners.

But beyond all that, neither terrorism nor rockets constitute an existential threat. The loss of the Jewish majority and the danger of a bi-national state towards which the settlements are dragging us, alternatively, are major existential threats.

That is why the one stable argument that the settlement enterprise still has is tradition: that settlement preserves Jewish tradition and the historic tie to the Land of Israel. And that is an argument that we need to cope with courageously. Because the connection to the Land of Israel is part of Judaism and Zionism. Nevertheless, it is a mistake to think that Judaism is on their side, whereas it is “Americanism” that is on the side of those who support dividing the land.

Reducing Judaism to the commandment to settle the Land of Israel (which isn’t even one of the 613 commandments cited by Maimonides) has turned the settlers’ Judaism into an armed Sparta, which has replaced the spiritual with the material and all of the prophets of Israel with the sword of Joshua Bin-Nun. The settlers’ Zionism is an express route to the loss of the Zionist achievement (the Jewish state), and to accept their interpretation of Judaism is an express route to reducing Jewish ethics to clumps of soil.

With all due respect to the importance of the Land of Israel, the center of Zionism and Judaism was always spiritual and not material. That is why Zionism spoke about a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. In… not on its entirety.

The time has come for us to challenge the settlers’ pretension as if they represent the Israeli, Jewish and Zionist legacy all in one.

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