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Cablegate: A Political Map of the Orthodox Movement In

Published: Wed 8 Jun 2005 12:05 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 08 TEL AVIV 003539
SIPDIS
STATE FOR NEA/IPA DGREENE, NEA/PPD FOR JSMITH, DBENZE
STATE INFO FOR DRL/IRF
JERUSALEM PASS ICD DANIELS
SENSITIVE
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KIRF KPAO IS ISRAELI SOCIETY
SUBJECT: A Political Map of the Orthodox Movement in
Israel
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED - PLEASE HANDLE ACCORDINGLY
1. (U) Summary: The Jewish Orthodox sector in Israel
today is composed of an increasingly complex fabric,
from ultra-orthodox to "modern" or "liberal" orthodox.
Religious strands are represented by political parties
in the Knesset -- from Shas and Agudat Yisrael to the
National Religious Party (NRP) and its breakaway
"Hitchabrut" ("Re-engagement") faction, to the Labor-
affiliated Meimad party of Deputy Education Minister
Rabbi Michael Melchior. Comprised of people with
diverging religious and political worldviews, the
orthodox movement includes men and women of vastly
differing political ideologies as well as slightly
diverging theologies. Moreover, the degree of a
person's religious orthodoxy or level of religious
observance does not always -- or predictably --
correspond with the degree to which the person can be
defined as right or left-wing on critical social and
political issues facing Israel's democracy today.
Religiously right can include the politically left, and
religiously left/secular can include the most hawkish
of political views. Understanding the religious sector
in Israel is critical because Israel's coalition
politics often give small parties, including the
religious parties, influence far exceeding their
electoral weight. End Summary.
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The Spectrum of Religious Belief: Defining Terms
--------------------------------------------- ---
2. (SBU) Demographic figures in Israel isolating Jewish
religious belief and observance vary widely and are
therefore difficult to pin down with any precision.
Most observers agree that the Jewish ultra-orthodox
sector in Israel makes up some six to eight percent of
Israel's Jewish population. The National Religious, or
Religious Zionist community (referred to as "dati
leumi" in Hebrew), meanwhile, makes up some 17 percent
of Israel's Jewish population. Taken together,
therefore, the orthodox constitute about 25 percent of
Israel's Jewish population and about 20 percent of
Israel's population overall.
3. (SBU) Using widely accepted definitions, the ultra-
orthodox (called "haredim" in Israel, meaning ones who
tremble or fear God), are the distinctively garbed Jews
for whom religious studies and sheltered religious life
are of primary importance. Their black clothing and
head coverings are based on the 18th and 19th century
apparel of European Jewry, and today they wear it to
set themselves apart from the general population.
Religious Zionists, meanwhile, according to the late
Professor Daniel Elazar, founder of the Jerusalem
Center for Public Affairs, "are similar to the modern
or centrist orthodox Jews in the Diaspora, partaking of
most of the aspects of modern civilization except that
they maintain orthodox observance of Jewish religious
law and tradition."
4. (SBU) Therefore, the word "religious" ("dati") is
somewhat synonymous with the American usage of the term
modern orthodox, depending on the context, while
"haredi" refers to ultra-orthodox. Most Jews who define
themselves as "religious" or "observant" in Israel are
orthodox. Reform, Conservative-Masorti,
Reconstructionist, and other religious movements, which
encompass a large segment of the Jewishly affiliated
population in the U.S. and elsewhere in the Diaspora,
do not yet have a large foothold in Israel, though they
continue to expand their reach. Most American Jews who
would define themselves as Reform or even
Conservative/Masorti would be considered by the ultra-
orthodox in Israel as "secular" in the Israeli context.
The term "traditional" in Israel has widely varying
meanings depending on the speaker's perspective.
Elazar places some 55 percent of Israelis in this
category - Jews who "value traditional Jewish life, but
who are prepared to modify Jewish practices required by
Jewish religious law in those cases where they believe
it to be personally necessary or attractive to do so."
As a result of such an expansive definition of
traditional, Elazar categorizes only 20 percent of
Israelis as "secular." If, instead of that approach,
one defines as "secular" all those who are not orthodox
(whether haredim or religious Zionist versions of
orthodox), the percentage of secular Jews could go up
to 70-80 percent of Israel's Jewish population. In
short, when referring to groups in Israel, one must
consider the source before interpreting terms such as
"religious," "traditional" and "secular," which may
seem unambiguous at first.
5. (SBU) Given the strong religious component in
Israeli society, one would expect to find strong
religious parties influencing Israeli policy. However,
even religious Israelis do not always determine their
party affiliation via the religious-secular prism, and,
except for the ultra-orthodox, they do not necessarily
vote for religious parties. National Religious-
Religious Zionist Israelis, for example, mostly voted
for the National Religious Party in the early decades
of the State, but today they can be found in the Likud
and in other, often right-of-center, non-religiously
affiliated parties. Furthermore, the religious parties
often cannot encompass for long the multiplicity of
views and positions within them, resulting in sub-
groups and splits that then re-form, consolidate, and
often fracture again.
--------------------------------------------- -------
Religious Parties: Background, Voters, Key Positions
--------------------------------------------- -------
6. (SBU) The political parties representing the
orthodox religious sector in Israel divide on their
relations with the State of Israel, the disengagement
plan, on army service, and on countless social and
economic issues. Outside the political arena
altogether is the small Neturei Karta group (Guardians
of the City), ultra-orthodox anti-Zionists who reject
the State and often side with its most virulent
critics. Satmar hassids and a tiny minority group
within Chabad Lubavitch hassids also reject the State.
7. (SBU) Within the accepted political sphere,
religious parties differ over the importance of the
"State of Israel" vs. the "land of Israel," over the
religious significance of the establishment of the
State, and their degree of involvement in the society
and the broader life of the country. At one end of the
spectrum, some ultra-orthodox groups see
political/nationalist Zionism as taboo, with the
epithet "Zionist" having a pejorative connotation.
Other groups, particularly within the Religious Zionist
camp, see the State as the ultimate good, an almost
messianic achievement, while others in the same camp
place "the land of Israel" above the "State of Israel"
in religious significance. The following paragraphs
take a closer look at each of the religious parties and
review their background and key positions.
---------------------------------
Ultra-Orthodox ("Haredi") Parties
---------------------------------
8. (SBU) A diverse movement that encompasses different
strands, the ultra-orthodox include both Sephardi and
Ashkenazi groupings, with cross cutting and
distinguishable differences in liturgy, styles of
observance, and manners of dress. In Israel's pre-
state history, members of this movement were by and
large anti-Zionist. They believed that only God could
establish Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel.
Certain pre-conditions had to be met, primarily the
coming of the messiah. Also, a state under Jewish
sovereignty would be governed by Jewish law (halacha).
Since the aggressively secularist "political Zionism"
of the founders of the State did not meet these
conditions, the haredi view was that there should not
yet be Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel. But
as Tel Aviv University Professor Menachem Friedman
explained, "The Holocaust in Europe changed things.
Many ultra-orthodox dropped their active opposition to
Zionism and became non-Zionists instead of anti-
Zionists, because the Jewish people had to go
somewhere, and the gates to the rest of the world were
locked. So they came to Israel."
9. (SBU) Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben
Gurion, reached a "status quo" agreement with the ultra-
orthodox that convinced some of them to join the
Israeli government -- or at least not to oppose it --
in return for the government's agreeing to carve out
certain areas which would allow the ultra-orthodox to
feel at home in Israel. The agreement provided for
some Jewish religious observance in the Israeli public
space: recognition of the Jewish Sabbath as the
official day of rest; observance of kosher dietary laws
in government kitchens; provision for a system of
orthodox religious education; exemption from the draft
of young men studying in yeshivas, as well as young
religiously observant women; application of Jewish
religious law to issues of personal status - marriage,
divorce, and conversion. The "status quo" agreement
allowed the ultra-orthodox to live in Israeli society,
and participate politically, but still remain slightly
apart. Attempts over the years by the predominantly
secular political establishment of Israel to change the
"status quo," and thereby increase the separation
between church (or synagogue, in this case) and state,
have so far largely failed.
--------------------------------------------- ---------
Ashkenazi Ultra-Orthodox: Agudat Yisrael/Degel HaTorah
--------------------------------------------- ---------
10. (SBU) Background: The State of Israel was founded
by secular leftists who fled the Eastern European world
of the shtetl and yeshiva and sought to create a state
based on Jewish national identity, not religious
orthodoxy. Orthodox parties such as Agudat Yisrael were
anti-Zionist from formation in Europe in 1912 until the
late 1930s, and later became non-Zionist, still not
recognizing the legitimacy of founding the Jewish State
of Israel on the land of Israel, but nevertheless
coming to an understanding with Ben Gurion via the
"status quo" agreement. Under the status quo
arrangement, Agudat Yisrael joined the government from
1949 to 1953. In 1953, the United Religious Front, an
amalgam of all the religious parties at that time,
split, with the pro-Zionist Mizrachi element staying in
and Agudat Yisrael moving out of government. In the 50
years since, the ultra-orthodox have been in and out of
government, sometimes in temporary alliances such as
United Torah Judaism (UTJ). When the aggressively
secularist "Shinui" ("Change") party, headed by Yosef
Lapid, scored major gains in the 2003 Knesset
elections, it formed a coalition with Sharon's Likud on
the condition that no ultra-orthodox parties would be
in the government.
11. (SBU) Prime Objectives: The Ashkenazi ultra-
orthodox community's main goal is to preserve Torah
study and to have its community live according to
Jewish law. Its parties, therefore, are mainly
concerned with securing funding for yeshivas and
educational institutions. Because many haredi men
study full time and cannot support themselves and their
families from donations and charity alone, they require
state funding, best secured by their parties being
represented within the governing coalition. In January
of 2005, therefore, UTJ (composed of Agudat Yisrael
with three Knesset members and Degel HaTorah with two
Knesset members) joined the coalition and saved Prime
Minister Sharon's majority, which was threatened when
Shinui and the National Religious Party left. Shinui
had quit over funding for ultra-orthodox parties, and
the remnants of the NRP left the coalition over
opposition to the disengagement policy. UTJ faction
chief Rabbi Avraham Ravitz told Israel's Army Radio
that his party was joining the coalition only to secure
new concessions on some of the key issues on its
agenda, principally more state funding for ultra-
orthodox Jewish schools. It should be noted that
shortly after joining Sharon's coalition, the UTJ
split, with Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah once again
becoming separate parties.
12. (SBU) Core voters: The Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox
community. A higher value is placed on Torah study
than on earning a living. With few exceptions,
adherents do not serve in the army and have resisted
many parliamentary efforts to draft them into army
service.
13. (SBU) Disengagement. The leadership generally opposes
disengagement. The issue is not central, though, to
the ultra-orthodox community, which does not have a
constituency in the Gaza settlements. (There are three
ultra-orthodox settlements, all in the West Bank.)
Most rabbis in the ultra-orthodox community have not
been outspoken on the issue of whether soldiers should
refuse orders to participate in the evacuation of
settlements.
14. (SBU) The State of Israel. Agudat Yisrael does not
regard the State as having any religious significance.
As noted above, many condemn the establishment of the
State as an act of rebellion against Divine providence,
arguing that Jews should have waited for God to set up
a place of refuge in Israel rather than doing it for
themselves. For this reason, Agudat Yisrael's
politicians do not accept posts as ministers, but serve
only as deputy ministers and chairmen of Knesset
committees. (For example, Yaacov Litzman of Agudat
Yisrael is currently Chair of the Knesset Finance
Committee.) Some in the younger generation are showing
signs of coming to terms with the existence of the
Jewish state, though they still deny it religious
legitimacy. In this group, some vote for Likud rather
than ultra-orthodox or orthodox parties, seeing in the
Likud a right-wing agenda combined with respect for
religion and greater opportunities for influence on the
State from within a non-religious party.
-----------------------------
Sephardi Ultra-Orthodox: Shas
-----------------------------
15. (SBU) Background: Established in 1983, the Sephardi
ultra-orthodox party Shas is both a religious haredi
party parallel to Ashkenazi Agudat Yisrael and an
ethnic party for Jews who emigrated to Israel mostly
from North Africa, known as Sephardim. As Professor
Friedman explained, "The origins of Shas as a movement
and as a political party were based on a reaction to
internal discrimination in the decades leading up to
1983, in which Sephardi children were educated in
Ashkenazi frameworks to `save' them from secularism."
With maturity, the Sephardi Jews "copied the Ashkenazi
model," according to Shas activist Rabbi Arie Smadja,
and established their own separate yeshivas and other
educational institutions separate from the dominant
Ashkenazi institutions. Rabbi Smadja explained that,
with these social developments, Shas also began to
develop a distinct political identity.
16. (SBU) Prime objectives. As with Agudat Yisrael,
Shas participates in government largely to assure
maximum funding for its religious institutions.
Professor Menachem Friedman points out that "Shas has
no life in the opposition," and therefore, it has
historically joined coalitions on both the right and
the left of the political spectrum. The presence of
the ideologically secular Shinui in the Sharon
government from early 2003 to late 2004 presented a
unique stumbling block to Shas' entry into the
governing coalition. Shas must have government funds
to support its separate Sephardi ultra-orthodox
educational institutions and social programs. The
party is a strong advocate of increased spending on
social welfare to assist its primarily blue-collar
voters, many of whom live in Israeli towns suffering
from high unemployment.
17. (SBU) Core voters: Shas voters are drawn from the
various Sephardi communities, including ultra-orthodox,
orthodox/dati and "traditional." More than is the case
with other religious parties, its voters also include a
large number of non-observant Jews, though these are
people who respect religious leaders and hold religion
in high regard. Unlike the average Ashkenazi ultra-
orthodox voter who is dedicated to full time study, the
average Shas voter works and serves in the army.
18. (SBU) Disengagement: The Shas leadership generally
opposes disengagement from the territories and
uprooting of settlements on both religious and national
security grounds, though spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia
Yosef accepts in principle that territories may be
evacuated, based on the primacy of saving Jewish life
over the sanctity of land. On a related issue, Rabbi
Yosef also opposes the refusal of orders by soldiers, a
position he first stated in 1995 and which he has not
changed since. Rabbi Arie Smadja notes that Shas, like
Agudat Yisrael, has no firm ideology on the greater
land of Israel. The ultra-orthodox position, he
argues, is that the "Jewishness of Jews" -- their
ability to live as observant Jews wherever they might
be -- is of supreme importance, not the sanctity of the
land.
19. (SBU) The State of Israel. Shas supports the State
and, when in the government, its politicians serve as
ministers. It regards the State as having religious
significance, but does not subscribe to the more
messianic views of some of the national
religious/religious Zionist groups.
--------------------------------------------- --
Modern Orthodox: National Religious Party (NRP)
--------------------------------------------- --
20. (SBU) Background: The NRP was founded in 1956 to
apply spiritual values to governing a modern nation-
state. Journalist/commentator Yair Sheleg has said
that the religious Zionists have an "ideological and
psychological need not to be isolated from the secular
world and general society." Religious Zionists saw
their role as improving the spirit of the people and
looked to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate for their
spiritual guidance. Until 1967, the NRP was a junior
member in coalition governments and successfully
established the state religious educational
institutions and flagship yeshiva high schools. After
1967, with what many young religious Israelis saw as
the miraculous, messianic return to the biblical lands
of Israel, the NRP became almost synonymous with the
settler movement, and, more recently, with resistance
to withdrawal from any settlements whether in the West
Bank or Gaza.
21. (U) Former NRP MK Yehuda Ben Meir notes that
"between 1974 and today, Israel's national religious
population has undergone far-reaching social, cultural,
educational, demographic and ideological changes." The
more strongly ideological part of that population has
influenced the educational system and the youth
organizations of the national religious population,
and, Ben Meir argues, has "moved mainstream religious
Zionism to the right, to the point that religious
Zionism as a whole came to symbolize the right wing of
Israeli politics. It spawned some extreme and
uncontrolled offshoots, such as `noar hagvaot' (the
hilltop youth) and movements along the lines of Kach,
the outlawed extremist political party."
22. (SBU) Prime objectives. In its first twenty years,
the NRP leadership and voters' primary interest was in
education, combining a religious lifestyle with a full
contribution to the wider society, and in fulfilling a
"bridging" role between the religious and secular in
Israel. The maintenance and expansion of settlements
has been its main issue since 1967. In the wake of its
defeat in the political fight to stop the
disengagement, many NRP politicians are returning to
stress issues that were its core objectives before,
including the maintenance of its educational system,
its advocacy of integrating the values of work and
religious observance, and improving the Jewish
character of the State of Israel.
23. (SBU) Core voters: The national religious (sometimes
called by the shorthand "knitted kippa") community.
Its adherents are schooled in the state's religious
school system, parallel to the secular system. They
participate fully in the economy, and serve in the
army, including in increasingly significant numbers in
the officer corps.
24. (SBU) Disengagement. This party has the most complex
relationship to the disengagement issue. Most settlers
are identified with the religious nationalist movement,
even though today the majority of settlers vote for
parties further to the right of the NRP. They moved to
the territories both because of political nationalist
ideology and out of religious fervor with the 1967
capture of biblically significant sites. The
settlements issue has divided the party between hard-
liners and those who identify more closely with the
overall social/economic agenda of the NRP. Hard-line
MKs more closely associated with the "Hardal" (haredi
dati leumi, the ultra-orthodox nationalist/Zionist
movement), including Rabbi Yitzhak Levy and Effie
Eitam, finally split from the NRP and formed the
"Hitchabrut" ("Re-engagement") party, due to their
opposition to the disengagement and the NRP's decision
at that time to stay in Sharon's coalition.
25. (SBU) Other NRP MKs, who have since also left
Sharon's coalition, are trying to restore the balance
in the party and return it to its traditional wider
interests. NRP MK Gila Finkelstein - the first woman
NRP member to be elected to the Knesset in over two
decades - told us that the NRP's position on
disengagement is based on both religious and national
security considerations. Finkelstein also explained,
"the NRP's interests are really broad-spectrum, giving
equal emphasis to education, social issues, religion,
and the land of Israel. Each of these flags is raised
to the same level. We consult the rabbis on key
issues, but, unlike the ultra-orthodox parties, the
rabbis do not decide. The decisions are made by the
members." This is another issue on which the NRP and
its "Hardal" members divide. The "Hardalniks," largely
composed of the children of the traditional national
religious public, are more inclined to listen to rabbis
of yeshivas where they study, or other charismatic
religious leaders, than to the more mainstream,
accepted rabbinical authorities. Finkelstein, an
educator and principal for many years at a Tel Aviv
area national religious high school, told us that she
was among those who fought hard, ultimately without
success, to keep the NRP in Sharon's governing
coalition, because she wanted to fight disengagement
and pursue the NRP's wider secular-religious bridging
agenda from within.
26. (SBU) Another emotional and divisive issue for the
national religious movement is the issue of refusal of
soldiers to obey orders. Highly regarded national
religious rabbis have spoken out on both sides of the
issue. Notably, the head of the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva
in Jerusalem's Old City, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, a hard-
liner on many issues, and contradicting his own mentor,
former Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira, is vehemently
against the refusal to obey orders. Aviner issued a
ruling in March 2005 that states: "Do not say: the
state is finished, I have finished with the state. We
have not finished with the state. We have not finished
with anything - not with the people, not with the
state, and not with the army. We have only just begun.
We are now in a great test.... I hereby declare: I love
Gush Katif [Jewish settlement area in Gaza] and I love
Northern Samaria, but I love my people above all."
Aviner's neighbor and fellow Chief Rabbi of the West
Bank settlement of Beit El, Rabbi Zalman Melamed, on
the other hand, has publicly and repeatedly called on
soldiers not to take part in anything related to the
disengagement. Another prominent West Bank religious
figure, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat, has warned of the
dangers to Israeli society of rabbis encouraging
soldiers to disobey orders. He wrote in the Jerusalem
Post this winter, "I am unalterably opposed to those
rabbinic voices which call upon the soldiers of the IDF
to refuse to obey orders of evacuation claiming that
such orders are against absolute Torah law."
27. (SBU) Despite calls from some rabbis for religious
soldiers to disobey orders, the vast majority of the
religious nationalist population is expected to obey
military orders and to continue to be an integral part
of Israeli society.
28. (SBU) The State of Israel. Yair Sheleg notes that
religious Zionists see the sanctity of the State as the
realization of religious prophecy. Many of the
movement's rabbis regard the State as the precursor of
the Messiah. In the last few years, some NRP members
whose religious observance is ultra-orthodox
("Hardalniks") have become estranged and alienated from
the State, which they see as having failed in its
mission. Others have stayed loyal and see disengagement
as a temporary setback that must be endured. Those
members see continued political involvement in the
State as necessary.
----------------------------
Orthodox Center/Left: Meimad
----------------------------
29. (U) Background: In the mid-1980s, Meimad was
founded as an NRP breakaway party with more liberal
political and religious views than the NRP. It failed
to reach the threshold percentage of votes to enter the
Knesset, though it gained some seats in Jerusalem
municipal elections. It now exists as a semi-
independent one-man faction within the Labor Party,
represented by Deputy Minister of Education, MK Rabbi
Michael Melchior.
30. (U) Prime Objectives: Meimad members favor
territorial compromise; rabbinical leaders are active
in interfaith activities, and, while orthodox, are more
liberal in religious practices. Some are open, for
example, to giving women greater participation in
prayer services. They stand at the extreme political
left of religious Zionism. Aligned now with the Labor
Party, some say Labor uses Meimad's presence to ward
off accusations that it is an anti-religious party like
Shinui.
31. (U) Core Voters: Meimad voters are liberal in religious
and political outlook. Their current voting numbers
are unknown, but Meimad supporters almost certainly
form less than 10 percent of the Jewish orthodox
religious vote.
32. (U) Disengagement: Like its Labor Party partner, Meimad
favors the disengagement plan.
33. (U) State of Israel: Meimad members, like the NRP from
which many of its members split, are integrally
involved in Israeli society and the broader life of the
State. They do not see the State in purely messianic
terms.
--------------------------------------------- ------
Secular/Religious partnership: National Union Party
--------------------------------------------- ------
34. (SBU) Background: The National Union party was
formed for the 1999 elections, and combined three right-
wing parties (Herut, Tekuma, and Moledet) that banded
together to try to increase their voter appeal and
parliamentary effectiveness. They were later joined by
the "Yisrael Beteinu" ("Israel: Our Home") party.
35. (SBU) Prime objectives. National Union supports the
maintenance and expansion of Israeli settlements in the
West Bank and Gaza and opposes the emergence of a
Palestinian state west of the river Jordan. Some of
their members are also in favor of the voluntary
transfer of Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza to other
Arab countries.
36. (SBU) Core voters: National Union voters include a
heterogeneous mix of right-wing nationalists, both
religious and secular.
37. (SBU) Disengagement: This party is bitterly opposed to
disengagement from any of the West Bank and Gaza, on
both religious and security grounds. It broke from the
current Sharon government before the NRP did. Some of
its secular members have grown uneasy at the overtly
religious tone of protests against disengagement.
38. (SBU) The State of Israel. The National Union fully
supports the State, but is not as messianist as the
NRP.
------------------------
Israel's Chief Rabbinate
------------------------
39. (SBU) The Israeli Chief Rabbinate, which is led by
one Ashkenazi and one Sephardi Chief Rabbi, is the
State of Israel's official religious authority. The
current Chief Rabbis, Yona Metzger (Ashkenazi) and
Shlomo Amar (Sephardi), while wielding some influence,
are less charismatic and carry less influence than some
of their predecessors. They both spoke out in Passover
2005 interviews against soldiers' refusal to obey
orders, even though they oppose the disengagement on
religious grounds. It is unclear at this point which
religious groups adhere to the rulings of the Chief
Rabbinate, but it is clear that two previous Chief
Rabbis, Avraham Shapira (the head of Israel's most
influential modern orthodox yeshiva, Jerusalem's Mercaz
Harav) and Mordechai Eliyahu, are more influential than
the current incumbents. Both Shapira and Eliyahu have
spoken out repeatedly for soldiers to refuse to obey
orders to evacuate settlements.
-----------
Conclusions
-----------
40. (SBU) Polls show that the Israeli public in general
is divided on the disengagement issue, with a clear
majority favoring the plan. For Israel's religious
public, the internal debates and conflicts are often
more intense, fanned by divisions on the basic issues
of the State of Israel vs. the land of Israel; on the
source of authority for religious soldiers -- their
commanding officers or their religious leaders; and on
the relationship of religion and politics in Israel
more broadly.
41. (SBU) Orthodoxy in Israel includes a wide spectrum
of religious belief and practice. Across Israel's
orthodox spectrum, the majority of voices are against
Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and settlements in the
West Bank. There is wide variance, though, in the
degree of resistance that leading orthodox figures are
advocating or supporting and in the degree of
resistance likely to be offered by those at the
grassroots level. It is not the first time the
religious parties will split and re-form into new
coalitions, nor the first time many religious voters
will find it more advantageous to vote for secular
right-wing parties or religious-secular coalition
parties like the National Union. What is new since the
disengagement debate started in late 2003 is the
resurgence in -- not the emergence of -- the level and
intensity of those voices rejecting the legitimacy of
the State and its elected structures based on perceived
betrayal of the land of Israel and violations of Jewish
law. For those who hope to understand the factors
determining policy positions held by Israel's religious
population and to understand the influence of the
religious community on the State and society at large,
the political positions and behavior of all these
diverse strands within the orthodox movement merit
continued attention as the disengagement process moves
forward.
KURTZER
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