WHERE THERE ARE NO MEN: A BOOK TO RECALL
Recently I learned that Moshe Feiglin’s Where There Are No Men: Zo Artzenu’s Struggle Against the Post-Zionist Collapse is out of print. It has never been available in mainstream bookstores and is no longer offered on the website of Manhigut Yehudit; the movement headed by Feiglin. I am writing this to call attention to an underground classic that remains burningly relevant.
I first encountered Where There Are No Men in the summer of 2005. At the beginning of the summer I had gone to a couple of meetings where a high-ranking representative of AIPAC and a high-ranking military expert warmly and confidently recommended the “disengagement” plan. Both of them seemed to take it for granted that the evacuees would be justly compensated and resettled, security concerns would be taken care of, and the world would stop being so anti-Semitic, and shalom ‘al kol Yisrael. I wanted very much to think that these two highly effective people knew what they were doing. Events showed that they did not know what they were doing. Feiglin’s book explained why.
Feiglin now has a second book, The War of Dreams, which is also well worth reading. But while The War of Dreams is a collection of essays, Where There Are No Men tells a story. Other things being equal, a story is more powerful than an argument. And Where There Are No Men is a story well told. It is literate, shrewd, passionate, humorous, enlivened by a feeling for individual qualities and a sense for the telling anecdote. This is journalism with psychological and spiritual depth. Reading Where There Are No Men, I kept thinking of Ibsen and Sophocles. Except that we are all onstage.
The action of Where There Are No Men begins in 1988 when Feiglin, a small businessman, religiously observant in the “crocheted kippah” manner, moves with his family to a small settlement in Samaria. He soon notices that the residents, intimidated by car-stonings and other forms of harassment associated with the Afirst intifada,” are driving around with metal screens on their car windows and living in fear. Believing that a show of confidence will earn the respect of the Arabs and help to calm the situation, he begins driving around with open windows and a large Israeli flag flying from the roof of his car. Others follow his example, and he begins supplying flags to them. The IDF, under leftist command, tries to forbid the practice, but finally gives up and starts (!) flying the Israeli flag from its own outposts.
Feiglin believes that this small action has contributed to the winding-down of the “first intifada.” (Could he be right about this? Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point describes how New York reduced its the crime rate simply by cracking down on graffiti.) In any case, by 1992 the intifada is faltering, along with the ostracized, fragmented and near-bankrupt PLO, and the settlers are going about their business in reasonable peace and quiet. Unfortunately, the Labor party does not accept this outcome, and the Oslo process is set in motion. At the same time, an intensive campaign is mounted to “demonize” the settlers, to portray them as violent and as a burden on the rest of the country.
In 1994 Feiglin, in conversation with a neighbor, finds himself developing the idea for what eventually becomes known as the “doubling operation.” Suppose, he suggests, we simultaneously establish a number of new settlements. The army will not be able to evict everyone immediately. When evicted, we reorganize and do it again, till the army is worn out. After the conversation, Feiglin, “unable to let a good idea stagnate,” writes out the thoughts he has just expressed in “an orderly, reasoned document.” At this point he teams up with Shmuel Sackett, a recent immigrant from the United States and a veteran of protests on behalf of Soviet Jewry. In their partnership Feiglin is generally the idea man and spokesman, Sackett the practical organizer.
Feiglin and Sackett's first hard lesson is learned as they attempt to enlist the cooperation of the Yesha Council in organizing the “doubling operation.” The Council is slow to respond. Hoping to goad it into action, they begin organizing on their own, with a plan that is spread by word of mouth through neighbors and their connections in the various settlements. Gradually Feiglin and Sackett realize that the Yesha Council is not only slow to act but is actually opposing their efforts. For the Coucil, though elected by the settlers, is funded by the government and therefore cannot support any effective opposition to government policy. Due to the Council's tactics, the “doubling operation” takes place on a much-reduced scale. Nevertheless, it succeeds in attracting nationwide attention. Feiglin and Sackett become the heads of a movement, known as “Zo Artzeinu” (“This is our land”). Their example is followed by others, who in some cases even establish permanent settlements.
In organizing their next operation, Zo Artzeinu relies from the start on word of mouth, using their lists from the previous operation and contacting local ad hoc protest groups. They gain the vocal support of numerous academics. On August 8, 1995 they manage to get thousands of people, representing a cross section of the population on both sides of the Green line, to block major intersections and bring traffic to a standstill across the country. Two weeks later they hold a massive rally in front of the President's house in Jerusalem.
At about this point in the book, Feiglin and Sackett begin making what in retrospect looks like a mistake. They allow themselves to be distracted from the task of setting up “a broad communications network,” and get drawn into a battle with the mainstream Israeli media. These media, of course, are heavily biased toward the Left, and alternate between ignoring and (with the help of government agents provocateurs) demonizing the protestors. Feiglin and Sackett's tactics are partly shaped by the effort to get their cause represented in a forum that is wildly unrepresentative (Feiglin cites a survey showing that 80% of Israelis fast on Yom Kippur, while 90% of key radio-television personnel do not), instead of circumventing the mainstream media as they had begun to do.
Feiglin and Sackett decide that in order to get media attention and counter the “rightist violence” stereotype, Zo Artzeinu's protests need to be illegal and at the same physically and verbally nonviolent. Moreover, protestors must be willing to accept the legal consequence of their acts. At the rally in front of the President's house, demonstrators wear T-shirts reading “I am willing to be arrested for the sake of my country.” In the subsequent trial for sedition, Feiglin will represent himself, unwilling to have his message watered down by legal arguments.
For a time, these tactics are effective. Feiglin becomes something of a media personality. Apparently the media decisionmakers feel they cannot afford to ignore him completely. He is interviewed on television shows, although the shows are set up to give him minimal opportunity to present his views. The media appearances turn into a battle of wits.
But media hostility continues unabated; and the government steps in with brute force. Two weeks after the crossing demonstration, at a rally in front of the President's house, the demonstrators are met with massive police violence. Sadly, these measures are effective in deterring many from participation in demonstrations. Meanwhile the press and government campaign against the “violent” Right continues unabated. In keeping with a pattern that has been described by Phyllis Chesler, the more a group is targeted for violence the more it is also portrayed as the instigator of violence. Nevertheless, the support of the Left erodes.
To shore up its image, the government holds an anti-protest demonstration in Tel Aviv at Kikar Malchei Israel. At first titled “A Peace Rally,” the gathering is renamed “Peace, Yes! – Violence, No!” – the implication being that the Right advocates violence. Feiglin interprets this obviously staged rally as a sign of weakness. He advises his followers to stay away from the rally: “Leave them alone. They are collapsing.”
Then comes the news of the Rabin assassination. Whatever the truth about this event, the assassination proved extremely useful to the Left. The entire Right could now be accused of having created a “climate of violence.” Where There Are No Men sometimes reads like a defense brief against this accusation, as Feiglin emphasizes the nonviolent character of the protests and makes clear that his models were Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Indeed, Zo Artzeinu's activities could be regarded as a test of the Gandhi-King “civil disobedience” model in the Israeli context. From this test, Feiglin and his associates learn that civil disobedience works only against governments that are themselves civil and democratic. It has worked in America and Europe, but not in China. The experience of Zo Artzeinu suggests that Israel, under the domination of a Left whose “Bolshevist” history is briefly but chillingly reviewed, is in some respects more like a totalitarian state than an Western democracy.
But Feiglin and his associates do not accept defeat. They analyze the results of their efforts and prepare for a new attempt. While the Kikar Malchei Israel rally is going on, Feiglin is conferring with a delegation of haredi settlers from Bat Ayin. The head of the delegation, Motti Karpel, states that since protest demonstrations have failed “the national camp has no choice but to create an alternative leadership, an alternative to both the Right and the Left.” Then comes the stunning announcement of the Rabin assassination, and it is some time before they recover from their own shock and the public reaction. But the conclusions drawn from the “Zo Artzeinu” experiment become the basis for Manhigut Yehudit, which, as its name suggests, represents a sharpening of focus. Feiglin writes: “I felt that the solution that the Israeli public really seeks for its present dilemma couldn't come from a perceived only as a protest movement, a movement of demonstrations of opposition. It could only come from a movement built upon positive upbuilding and presentation of an alternative.” Whereas the earlier movement was based on the Zionist feeling that “this is our land,” the present movement bases itself on Israel’s Divinely conferred status as the people chosen to lead the world from its promised land. While “Zo Artzeinu” was a protest movement based on a Western model, Manhigut Yehudit is Torah-based and constructive in its outlook.
In his “Conclusion and Beginning” Feiglin zeroes in on the mistakes which future efforts must avoid. He asks, “What exactly is the flaw in classic Zionism that made possible the rapid development of post-Zionism?” Answer: the wish to escape from the chosenness of the Jewish people, to “normalize.” “Post-Zionism” is not a majority ideology in Israel; it is mostly the ideology of a Westernized, secular elite who control the media and universities and thus succeeds repeatedly in acting against the wishes of most Israeli Jews. But Feiglin's analysis does not let the “religious” world off; he also criticizes the haredi “alienation from national life,” the isolationism of the settler movement, the “division of labor” between religious and secular in modern Israel. I have to restrain myself here so as not to quote whole passages from this final chapter. The ideas Feiglin expresses correspond closely to my own perceptions during the 80's, when I was privileged to live in Israel; and these ideas were voiced by many others (and often buttressed with quotations from the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, Avraham Yitzchak ha-Kohen Kook zts”l). Yet somehow, these widespread perceptions were not able to find an effective political and cultural vehicle. Evidently, Manhigut Yehudit is an attempt to build such a vehicle. The story, then, is still continuing.
I call Where There Are No Men a “classic” because, even without reference to the history in which we are still involved, it is a powerful treatment of an archetypal and important theme. It is the story of two people who took action starting from a position of very little apparent power. Feiglin invokes not only the saying from Pirkei Avot – “Where there are no men, strive to be a man” – but also The Little Prince, Alice in Wonderland, The Emperor's New Clothes, Kafka, Orwell – literary works in which an intelligent yet naive consciousness is confronted with a world of strange and monstrous deceptions. One could say that these works mirror the experience of the soul in ha-'olam ha-zeh, this world – or, as the book puts it in somewhat countercultural terms, “the establishment”: “The world is divided, essentially, into the establishment – and whatever is not part of it. The value defended by the establishment above all others is self-preservation.” This observation has, of course, a great many applications. With any human institution there is the inertia of vested interest. Each one of us, by existing in the world, acquires some stake in what-is. If the ability to “go forth,” to step out of the frame of mind created by all such involvements, is the true test of faith, then Where There Are No Men is a work of faith. It should be reprinted, recommended and shared.