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Will religious extremists bring Israel down again?

TJI Pick
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Published: 25 July 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

This week is Tisha B’Av, which marks the end of an earlier period of Jewish sovereignty. ANITA SHAPIRA asks if Jewish history has failed to provide the cultural capacity for self-governance.

When Chaim Weizmann started to conduct negotiations with Lord Balfour, the British foreign secretary, over what would become known as the Balfour Declaration, his interlocutor asked him what he meant by a “Jewish state.” Weizmann replied: It will be a Jewish state the way England is English.

There is no separation between religion and state in England. The state church is Anglican. The national symbols are the British ones. But the state grants equality under the law to all its citizens, and legally there is no discrimination on grounds of religion, language or race. Equality before the law requires an independent judiciary. That was Israel’s situation until the present government rose up against it to eviscerate it. That is the meaning of “Jewish and democratic.”

Israel’s governments until the present one reflected the deep understanding that  to maintain a state, it’s necessary to preserve a balance between Israeli society’s different components. Now, for the first time, that understanding has been shattered. The extremist, messianic elements see in this government an opportunity to impose a theocratic and essentially fascist regime, one that will give the settlers in Judea and Samaria a free hand and that exploits the state’s coffers for the benefit of the settlers on the one hand, and the Haredim on the other.

The historian Josephus describes how the Zealots burned the storerooms of food during the Roman siege of Jerusalem. Are those correct who refer to the present coalition as the “government of the destruction of the ‘Third Temple’”? Have the Jews not developed the gene for statehood, the necessary wisdom to find the compromise, so that again we are watching the unfolding of a historic drama in which the extremists take over and annihilate everything their predecessors built?


Will religious extremists bring Israel down again? (Haaretz)  

 Photo: The Arch of Titus in Rome, celebrating the destruction of Jerusalem.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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