Sunday, July 03, 2005

Independently of my kibbitzing in the Knesset, I've been quite active in a particular radical political organization (RPO). Today I'll explain why I think that organization is important and what its prospects are.

While there always have been, and there still are, numerous organizations and parties devoted to infusing the notion of Jewish statehood with concrete meaning, most of these are of limited value because they have failed to understand the nature of Israel's problems and consequently have no hope of offering reasonable solutions.

Israel's problems are rooted in the fact that the self-appointing elite who run the country (police, army, prosecution, courts, press, academia etc.) suffer from a serious crisis of identity that leads to vindictive, destructive acts. I've discussed this in the past and won't go through the gory details again. (If you have the stomach, read Ozrad Lev's recent book about how Yossi Ginosar, a well-connected slimeball with huge financial interests in the Palestinian authority, was Ehud Barak's key negotiator and how the whole establishment was enlisted to let him get away with it.) The highest priority of anyone who cares about Israel's future is to throw the bums out and replace them with new leadership with a clear sense of Jewish identity. Unfortunately, among those playing the game here, RPO seems to be the only organization that has understood this basic truth.

Take the Mafdal. (Henny Youngman reference here.) The Mafdal has been through various phases. Initially, they were apologists and spear-carriers for the Labor party to the point of inventing a whole theology of self-debasement. They imitated every secular Zionist meshugas but only just after it had gone out of style. In more recent phases, they've taken to sitting on the sidelines like Statler and Waldorf making cynical comments and criticizing every initiative without ever doing anything constructive. (They're useful for little budgeting arguments or getting some of their own people appointed as dayanim.) What has remained unchanged throughout is their mindset: they are strictly backseat drivers. Sometimes they flatter the driver and sometimes they berate him but one thing they will never presume to do is to actually take over the wheel. Mafdalnikim may be hacks but they won't drive the cab.

RPO has at least rejected this Mafdalian attitude. It has defined its objective as replacing the current leadership. It's tactic of infiltrating the Likud, in an entirely open and forthright manner, is precisely the right tactic. This is why I am involved with RPO.

I'm not oblivious to the fact that presumptuousness alone does not qualify somebody for leadership. To lead, you need to know what you want and you need to know what you can get away with. Any shlepper -- even the Mafdal -- can criticize others without offering a better alternative. Any adolescent can engage in dangerous political fantasies while taking for granted that some grown-up will put his foot down when matters threaten to unravel. If you want to sit at the desk where the buck stops, you have no such luxuries.

So then, does RPO have what it takes? To be honest, I'm skeptical. But they are doing some very good work in the trenches and they've reframed the objective. How it will all play out is an open question. But here are some of the seismic fault lines that will determine RPO's path:

1. Protest or revolution? Most of those involved in acts of civil disobedience or refusal to follow military orders do not view such activity as a threat to the regime. They take the continued functioning of the state and its institutions, especially the army, entirely for granted. Chalk it up to youthful exuberance and naivete. The leaders of RPO, however, are actually aware that these activities can spin out of control and lead to total anarchy. This is what some of them are hoping for because they think that somehow a state of anarchy will facilitate their own rise to power. I'm aware that getting corrupt people out of power can't be achieved without breaking some of the rules they make, but this is very dangerous thinking and I worry where it might lead. Some will know when to exercise self-restraint but many will not.

2. Tactics or principle? In the last internal Likud elections, there were three factions: Omri Sharon's thugs, Yisrael Katz's makhers and Uzi Landau's people of principle. The RPO deal-makers swung a deal with Katz rather than Landau because Katz has the votes and Landau could be taken for granted. The foot soldiers were quite pissed off. This is going to happen a lot. One thing that should be borne in mind is that every radical organization will attract lots of out and out lunatics to its ranks and I can attest that RPO is no exception. Such people operate in permanent anger mode and have no interest in deals that require restraint now in order to reap a payoff later. (In this particular case, I think they were actually right because Katz's people are not trustworthy.)

3. Yiddishkeit or Eretz Yisrael? One rift within RPO regards the question of who are closer allies, those who are firm on territory but soft on religion or those who are firm on religion but soft on territory. ("Soft on territory" is a relative term. Here I don't refer to Oslo supporters but rather to those who think retrenchment is simply usually a dumb idea rather than a misalignment of the cosmos.)

4. Political reformation or building the Beis Hamikdash? Most of the time, the makhers in RPO speak in political terms but there are some who are more preoccupied with reviving malchus Beis Dovid. I've had some highly amusing public debates with a particular colleague who wished to eliminate internal votes in RPO's committees ("demokratya shmemokratya") since he felt we ought to set an example by granting our chairman privileges of royalty. (When he had a falling out with our royal chairman over item 3, I accused him of being mored bemalchus.) We have people starting sanhedrins, preparing klei mikdash, and I-don't-want-to-know what else. The main makhers seem to me to mostly be humoring these people but I'm not sure.

5. Ego, ego, ego. All the above is small potatos compared to potential rifts revolving around who decides what. So far it has held together remarkably well even if the rhetoric often slides into demagoguery (or, on occasion, megalomania). Given all the above, opportunities for self-assertion on the part of internal dissidents should prove to be plentiful.

Not a pretty picture, I know, but organizational politics never is pretty. In the final analysis, RPO has truly grasped something fundamental. If they manage to stay the course and avoid the temptations of dechikas ha-ketz, good things might happen.


Anonymous daat y said...

fascinating analysis.
Is RPO Feiglins group?

10:54 PM  
Anonymous mnuez said...

I'll tell ya, #3 was of the greatest concernm to me when I first met (and read the writings of) Moshe Feiglin. I consider his position closer to my own than any of the other political parties and therefore would be happy to work together with him to help him move closer to the front of the bus. But God help us all if he ever gets to sit behind the wheel.

He could not shut up about the Beis Hamikdash and all sorts of other eschatological matters. His POV was of the heavens and his religion of the 12th century. Frankly, I would not want to live in an Israel ruled by Moshe Feiglin.

Though I could be wrong.

I only heard him speak a few times and only read a few of his articles. He may actually be far more normal than he came across and he may be the greatest leader the Jewish people ever had.

I, personally, am a Revisionist. Unfortunately, my home burnt to the ground some time within the past few decades and I now wander the streets looking colorful but quite outdated. That I am not. I too believe in gaining the seats of power and in aiding confederates gain them as well. That being the case, I would love to see manhigut taken more seriously, but the religious confidence held by some (many? all except for Ben?) of its members, reminds me of the ayatollahs - or king david, another kingdom from hell.


5:58 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...

My problem with Manhigut Yehudit is that just as I don't believe that they're Likudniks, I don't really believe they're Zionists either.

And what can I do - I am a Zionist. So I know at some point our paths will part.

There are many other thinkers over the past decades who presented a combination of Judaism and Zionism in a healthy way. Yedidya HaKohen, Tzuriel Admonit (to think of a couple from the Religious Kibbutz movement) and R' Eliezer Berkowitz.

Now that I think about it, Merkaz Shalem put out a collection of Berkowitz's writings. Do you think that Shalem is more authentically Zionist than Manhigut Yehudit?

1:42 PM  
Blogger mnuez said...

Oops, I meant #4. I spose my earlier typo may have made my post even more incomprehensible than my posts usually are. I'd say a safe bet with mnuez is to assume the typos rather than what's written. You'll be a heck of a lot closer to what I'm actually trying to say.

#4, that is. #4.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Oysvurf said...

Brilliant, brilliant post. A completely accurate description and analysis of RPO and its leadership. Briefly, point by point:
1) Yes, this is part of the fascist tendencies of the leadership
2) There were more instances of this sort of horse-trading - especially during local elections in the Likud primaries. More than once RPO leaders chose a corrupt veteran Likud horse-trader over an "emuni" candidate.
3) This is always a question that religious zionists have asked themselves - Am I closer to pork-eating Zionist Ariel Sharon (pre-disengagement version) or thrice a day shmone esrei praying shomer shabbat Satmar Chassid? Tough question. RPO has just tried turning this into part of their ideology - they need to explain the phenomena of religious non or anti zionists and came up with this "emuni" label to describe those who have the correct belief irrespective of level of religious observance.
4) yes, they have lots of wackos in the organization - but a lot of them are well-read, well spoken, well-written and lucid - they just support some wacko ideas as well.
5) The head of RPO is a fascist - pure and simple. The idea that he had to head up RPO b/c no one else would step forward is b.s. He arranged it so that everything else fell through and he "had to" step forward. The Branover candidacy for President was a silly joke. Oysvurf had the pleasure to sit in a room with head of RPO shortly after the 1996 elections for RPO leader's "victory celebration". RPO leader could barely find 20 people to come to this gathering. In a brilliant soliloquy of ego demostration and fascist potential, RPO leader appointed himself watchdog over Bibi and Oysvurf left the meeting never to attend another meeting of his organization(s) again.

RPO is attractive b/c - fascist tendencies non-withstanding - RPO leader has a head on his shoulder and sees many things correctly. He is simply a fascist and does not believe that anyone else is fit to lead. Anarchy serves his purpose (see how most other fascist leaders came to power). That's why he will sell out on "emuni" candidates and volunteers to advance horse-traders like Olmert and Katz. It's all part of a fascist divide and conquer methodology. RPO leader also probably has some degree of an "arrangement" with the secret security services so that the anarchy is measured and never really spills out of control. The security services really didn't know what to do with RPO leader so they have tried to co-opt him (like when the old man let Lechi veterans (Shamir) and radical Mapam folks into the army and secret services but banned all Etzel folks from anything and everything. It's tactic that the Bolsheviks would use to keep an eye on their enemies, by keeping them close. So the question of who is using whom when it comes to RPO leader and the security services in Israel is still an open question as far as the anarchy is concerned

BTW, it's Statler and Waldorf in the gallery. Statler and Hilton was a hotel.

4:06 PM  
Blogger bar_kochba132 said...

Your analysis is quite interesting, so are OYSVURF's comments.
All of this is well and good, but I have a serious problem with this. As I understand it, RPO's group controls something like 130 members in the Party central Committee, out of 3000. I have a good friend who is quite active in the party, he even got a spot on the Knesset list not so far from the realistic slots. He keeps telling me that the central committee(CC) is "super-right wing" and he thinks he has a good chance to get in the next time. So what if the CC is "super-right"?-the Knesset members and minister completely betrayed the voters and CC members. The CC even voted to bring the Labor party into the gov't knowing this would mean the destruction of Gush Katif which they will all tell you they are against.
Does no.1 in the RPO really think that the powers-that-be would let them just take over the party, even if somehow they got a majority in the CC. Ari Shavit of Ha'aretz has pointed out that the system gets rid of anyone viewed as a trouble-maker-Aharon Abu-Hatzera, Aryeh Deri and Rav Uzi Meshullam all challenged the status quo and they all went to jail on trumped up charges. Now the entire relgious right has been targeted, so Gidon Ezra promises to build as many prison camps as needed, even for many thousands (quote from Makor Rishon), Halutz wants to close down the yeshivot hesder, Walla is telling leftist vigilantes how to assault demonstrators, etc. They are not just going to roll over and "democratically" hand over power to those whom they hate.
I have come to the conclusion that party-political activity is finished for the time being in Israel. There is no point in participating in this farce, and I don't expect to vote in the next elections. There is only one thing to do---begin grass-roots work with the population. No. 1 of RPO is correct, a clear majority of the Jewish population is Emuni (I have seen this when I worked as a volunteer for Gush Katif), but they feel powerless to change anything. The problem is that there is no tradition of grass-roots activity in Israel, my friend the Likud activist says "it'll never work". Why not? You rent a hall, publicize the meeting at synagogues and on the street and call it something like "Emergency Meeting to save Israel" or something similar--have a group of people like Effie Eitam, Martin Sherman, Motti Ashkenazi, Motti Karpel and other experts come and speak 20 minutes each on economics, defense, social issues and the Jewish background of all of this, then you open the floor to discussion for 60-90 minutes, and thrash out ideas. Israelis hate allowing the audience to speak-I have seen Knesset members refuse to answer questions from the crowd, so this would be new.
Then you write up a one-page summary of what was discussed, make up fliers and distribute them at taxi stands. You ask the drivers and passengers or other passersby "what do you think of this?" "what are your ideas".
You have this group of speakers spead 2 or 3 times a week in different cities, and you have a small garin of activists publicize the
meeting and carry out follow-up work.
Again, I am repeatedly told this will never work in Israel--but it is our only chance to change anything, you must work quietly, or else the regime will crack down, which is what they will do to RPO and no.1 if they ever get big.
Now is the time to start because it will take years to get things to jell, but then, the public will be well informed and will then be in a position to oust this corrupt oligarchy which is destroying the country before our very eyes.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Oysvurf said...

I was at just such a conference that took place in 1995 in the great synagogue around sukkot time. All the extra-parliamentary groups spoke about what they were doing. head of RPO spoke (then as part of ZA), Nadia Matar, Yoram Chazony, the Gamla folks - everyone and anyone who was part of the opposition to Oslo. All these ideas came up. Nothing really happened - except that Bibi actually got elected. Of course he sold out, as did the next savior of the right - Sharon.

Now look where we've gone:
1) RPO folks stuck in the mud of political horse-trading
2) Nadia Matar at wits end with kachniks and worried about where to do her laundry
3) Gamla putting up red posters of Sharon and bassi
4) Shalem Center sold out to the center (read, slowly being taken over by leftists)
5) ditto for Makor Rishon which was supposed to be the secular nationalist media (Yediot was once in that role - for an example of what Makor Rishon will look like in 10 years - read Yediot on any given Friday.

Nope - they're going to have to destroy the whole shop before a new one gets put up. Tinkering with the method of choosing judges or adding freedom of this or freedom of that won't change anything.

So in many respects leader of RPO is correct. Only problem is 1) Right message, wrong messenger and 2) Can't be done through existing political scene

3:50 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Of course I knew you meant #4.

Some in RPO are hyper-Zionist; some are anti-Zionist. The difference is sometimes subtle but is in fact very important. The SC people (with whom I work together from time to time) are good Zionists in the classical sense.

Fascist is a harsh word. I try to avoid that kind of hyperbole. Thanks for pointing out the Waldorf mistake.

The CC is indeed very right wing but the "pragmatic" (read: self-serving) Katz-Hanegbi faction is still considerably larger than the Landau-founders-RPO faction. And, yes, the legal system does chew up and spit out anybody it sees as a threat. See

4:22 PM  
Blogger Oysvurf said...

true - but it's a word that's being used to describe RPO leader by people in "our" camp. I'm sure you saw the piece on RPO a few months ago in the local Gush Etzion magazine. The tendencies are there for all to see - and it's not just anti-revisionist or anti-kachnic rhetoric that's being spit out. They have some pretty dangerous ideas and dangerous people mixed up in there with all the good stuff.

The line between what (most of) RPO really wants to accomplish and (some of) RPO trying to turn Israel into a Jewish version of Ayotollahstan is a very thin one.

4:54 PM  
Anonymous zalman said...

So let me get this straight…
The leaders of RPO are hoping for total anarchy … RPO’s partners are not trustworthy… RPO people are starting apocalyptic institutions and I-don't-want-to-know what else … and the rhetoric often slides into demagoguery or worse.

Gevalt! RPO could just as well stand for Radical Palestinian Organization.

Sounds pretty risky to me.

Does your mother know who your friends are?

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