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Ex-Mossad Head: ‘Haredization’ Trumps Iran As Threat
Recent Israeli elections surprised and pleased even world-weary intelligence veteran: sees 'winds of change.'
Tue, 01/29/2013 - 19:00
Editor And Publisher
Gary Rosenblatt
Gary Rosenblatt

It’s not often that Mideast events surprise Efraim Halevy, who served in the Mossad for 28 years (including four as director) and who also was head of the National Security Council and adviser to and confidante of four Israeli prime ministers.

But Halevy, 78, the London-born intelligence expert who made aliyah in 1948, acknowledges that elements of last week’s national elections surprised and pleased him, underscoring that “the winds of change” that have swept the Arab world in the last two years have come to Israel “in our own particular way.” Namely, domestic issues dealing with the daily concerns of the majority of Israelis — including housing, making ends meet, religious-secular tensions and creating a more equitable society — had a major impact on the election results, moving the government more toward the center.

As precise and low-key in his manner of speech as he is bold in his pronouncements, Halevy, who was in New York this week on behalf of American Friends of Hebrew University (his alma mater), maintained that “we are in the midst of the Third World War” with radical Islam, one that it will take 25 years to win; that while Iran is “a formidable enemy,” it does not represent “an existential threat” to Israel; and that “the growing haredi radicalization” in Israeli society “poses a greater threat than [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad.”

During an interview at Jewish Week, he asserted it was “irrelevant” to view Israeli politics as a struggle between left and right, but more helpful to perceive of a population keen on restoring a sense of societal balance as well as safeguarding its security.

He kept coming back to a campaign slogan of Yair Lapid, the surprise centrist candidate in the Israeli elections who now appears to be the political linchpin to the next government coalition: “share the burden.”

Halevy believes the issue goes well beyond the immediate target for Lapid of having haredi yeshiva students serve in the Israeli Defense Forces rather than receiving exemptions for Torah study.

Comparing it to “the unraveling of a ball of wool,” Halevy said the concept of sharing the burden is profound and touches on many “interconnected” aspects of Israeli society, like “the economy, the demand for gainful employment, the role of women in society, rules of conduct in the public domain” and how to resolve the Jewish status crisis for hundreds of thousands of Russian immigrants who live in Israel but are not Jewish according to halacha, or religious law.

He said “it is no longer possible to put off” issues affecting so many citizens living in limbo in terms of their Jewishness, and that Jerusalem, however reluctant to deal with these delicate religious and political matters, must make “courageous decisions.”

It is not tolerable, he said, for Russian-speaking IDF soldiers to be denied burial in military cemeteries in Israel or for would-be converts to be prevented from joining the Jewish people because of the increasingly stringent standards of the Chief Rabbinate.

Halevy, who grew up in Bnei Akiva, the Modern Orthodox youth movement and attended co-ed Orthodox schools in Israel, noted with dismay how Orthodoxy has moved strongly to the right, speculating that with the continued growth of non-Zionist haredi communities, Zionists “could become a minority in Israel even without the Arabs.”

He said it will take “a titanic effort” to bring about a sense of cohesion and fairness in Israeli society, but implied that a new government where Lapid’s Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) party plays a significant and moderating role would be a positive step.

He also welcomed the candidacy of Rabbi David Stav, a leader of the Tzohar rabbinical group, which calls for a gentler, more open brand of Orthodoxy, in this year’s election for the Chief Rabbinate, and predicted a close race against haredi candidates.

On security issues like Iran and the Palestinians, Halevy remains a pragmatist, calling for incremental steps based on negotiations and the need to “understand one’s enemy.”

He believes the Palestinian leadership must reach some consensus on dealing with the reality of Israel, and that Israel needs to change its electoral system in ways that empower its leaders to make vital decisions.

Appearing on PBS’ “The Charlie Rose Show” the night before our meeting, Halevy called for building a gradual understanding between the Palestinians and Israelis rather than seeking an end to the conflict at this point. He also cited the need for more transparency in policy decisions, noting that “no one really knows” the details of the agreement brokered by Egypt to end the recent fighting between Hamas and Israel.

“We have to climb down from our ideologies” and find means for coexistence with the Palestinians, he said of Israeli political leaders, asserting, for example, that Israel does not need the Palestinians to “recognize our rights to exist.”

Halevy said Iran represents “a very serious threat” to Israel, but “it is wrong to tell your enemy he has the power to destroy you. Don’t test him,” he said, pointing out that Israel has “an enormous array of capabilities — offensive and defensive — to counter” Iran’s military might and “steps should be taken to de-fang” Tehran.

While acknowledging that Israel “might have to resort to force,” he said there is a need to “exhaust all avenues first,” namely negotiations conducted by the United States. Dialogue can be “very unpleasant, fraught with pitfalls and dangerous,” but necessary, he believes. Since the “ultimate task is to change the mind of your enemies,” one has to convince them there is an alternative to warfare, though the threat of a military strike must remain possibility.

Halevy said the economic sanctions against Iran are having a powerful impact on its leaders, and he sees Syria as “an Achilles heel” for Iran’s mullahs, who are fearful of the outcome of the civil war being waged.

He believes negotiations between Tehran and Washington should be encouraged and that there is a chance Iran will “stop short if faced by a united front on the nuclear issue.”

He said that “it is a big mistake for Israel to personalize” the situation, and was emphatic in asserting that “the U.S. will never sell Israel out.”

In a parting political shot, Halevy said that last week’s vote in Israel underscored the society’s desire for a sense of “normalcy,” adding “the prime minister has paid a heavy price” for his steady drumbeat of accentuating the external threats to the Jewish state.

Whether or not a new government will take the initiatives to “share the burden” at home and focus on renewing talks with the Palestinians and finding alternatives to a military confrontation with Iran remains to be seen. But it’s clear Halevy believes these tough decisions can no longer be delayed. Follow Gary Rosenblatt’s blog, RosenBlog, at throughout the week.

Efraim Halevy, haredi Jews

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I was disgusted by this article. Typical, hateful anti-Orthodox bigotry by the contented fat cat Jewish liberals. When one is intermarried or without a true Jewish education the reaction is to lash out at those who maintain true Torah values.

Who are you to say, who is a jew and who is not? My mother is Jewish, Father Jewish? I am secular and more so reform. Anonymous, you have no right to tell me how to live my life in ISRAEL or US. Enough is Enough. If we can't stand together as a nation, than we don't need ARABS destroying us. We will do it well to ourselves.They throw stones at children because they are not modest enough? They make women get up on the bus and move to the back? Excuse me, we are sound more like MOHAMEDIANS than anything else.

Rarher then lash out at the author or the posters of commentary with attacks and nothing else to say, why don't you use some intellighece and refute the factual points made. Or can't you refute them?

Well Runner,Here are a couple of simple facts. Charedim don't attack Israel with missiles. Charedim don't spy on Israel for Iran. Charedim don't tear up Jewish children with nail bombs.Obviously the Forward lets you post on their site but not me.The circle of civility is limited to those whom they agree with.In this regard I praise THE JEWISH WEEK for being tolerant of opinions that they don't agree with.

The biggest threat to Israel are the Haredi rabbis, who order their followers not to work, not to serve in the IDF, who make fatwa type proclamations on the minutiae of how to live one's life, who protect child abusers and sanction the vilification of victims and their families, who accountable,to no one and who cannot be fired. At some point in the future, due to their high growth rates, Israel will become a theocracy. Just watch the financial support from overseas plummet.

Their rabbis order them not to work,Runner?OK now it is your turn?Which rabbis,by name ,ordered their followers not to work.I guess the Chasidim in Tel Aviv's diamond district,the dairy truckers who work the Geulah district,sofrim,moylim,teachers,politicos,vendors,etc.are not following their rabbis???""Fatwa type proclimations???How over the top can you get.Who have they ever ordered murdered? Name one person?Your posts are the same slander that you post in the Forward.

I think you hit all the major points very well. Israel is an independent country and if its Jews choose to commit national suicide, that is their choice. The recently published 2012 Forbes list of major American donors to non-profits still has lots of Jews on it, but only two were closely associated with Jewish and/or Israeli charities. Both of these gentlemen are close to 80 years of age.

I find it quite ironic that Halevy talks of "sharing the burden." It can be argued that the book "Nefesh Hachaim" by Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin had the strongest effect upon Orthodox Jewry convincing them that the study of Torah is above all, including army duty. And Halevy is a descendant of Rabbi Chaim!

Lets share the burden equally. Secular Jews must spend years studying the Torah every day, performing mitzvoths and serving Hashem, and Haredim will serve in the Army.

YM, which burdens are you concerned that "secular" Jews share? which mitvot exactly? are we talking about the charidi mitzvah of stealing from the goverment, living off of government subsidies, committing acts of pedophilia against young boys, attacking nine year old girls whose sleeves are not long enough? Is that your concept of serving Hashem? Studying the Torah is a mitzvah but some have to work to pay the taxes that give your family of 15 "parnassah". You may perhaps perform mitzvot bein adam v'hashem, but those bein adam v'adam are totally not in your psyche. Actually, l'daavoni harav, so many of your charidi chevra violate those laws on a regular basis. What are you doing on this treif site anyway? Go get a job and support your family, and let the Jewish goyim who you so hate, support you and defend your country. go'al nefesh.

" 'We have to climb down from our ideologies' and find means for coexistence with the Palestinians"
"He said that 'it is a big mistake for Israel to personalize' the situation, and was emphatic in asserting that 'the U.S. will never sell Israel out.' "

This was an important interview. Good reporting.

the truth hurts ..

What is it with the editorial policies of Jewish publications? The same anti-Orthodox drivel permeates the Jewish News in Detroit. Here, the emphasis is "Tikun Olam" as if observance of Shabbat and the Yomim Tovim were an after thought. You indicate that Mr. Halevy attended "modern Orthodox schools. Who cares? He is in his late 70's so that influence long ago disappeared. What does he observe now is a better question. To be sure, modern orthodox kids do serve in the IDF. So do some Haredi. Is that the real issue in Israel? Is the lack of total IDF enrollment by the Haredi community the obstacle to peace NO. Like so many non-observant Jews, Halevy seems to be bristling under the fact that matters of religion are under the auspices of the Orthodox Rabbinate. He would rather set aside thousands of years of religious law in favor of the easy way out, the popular view of the moment, the anyone is a Jew mantra. While the issue of the Russian Jews and, in a larger sense, "Who is Jew?" are of grave concern, our history has shown that our Rabbis have usually had it right on this issue and other matters of religious law. Change in our law has come about at a glacial pace and has not bent to the popular mantra of the day. That approach has served us well. If change on these issues will come, it won't be in our lifetimes.

Does your hatred for observant Jewry ever tire? There is never a week that your newspaper skips attacking Orthodoxy. Don't worry nobody would ever accuse you of being fair.

Gee, JW finds an Israeli who thinks that the ultra-Orthodox are more dangerous to Israel than a nuclear-armed Iran, and it becomes the subject of a JW editorial. I do wish you would take JEWISH out of your title since there is nothing Jewish about JW.