Simmering Nat'l-Religious Tensions Cancel Bible Event

A Bible festival on King David featuring a rabbi, general, politician, and academic has been canceled, on the backdrop of the Gush Katif expulsion.

Hillel Fendel,

Expelling a family
Expelling a family
(Flash 90)

A Bible festival on King David featuring a rabbi, general, politician, and academic has been canceled, on the backdrop of the still-simmering societal tensions over the Gaza expulsion three years ago.

The festival was to be an evening dedicated to the man billed as "the greatest of Israel's kings," King David.  It was to begin with a tour of the area in which he fought and defeated Goliath, and continue with speeches about King David, interspersed with musical selections.

Protests Against Presence of IDF's Expulsion Chief
However, the participation of IDF Maj.-Gen. Gershon HaCohen - the man who oversaw the expulsion of the 9,000 Jews of Gush Katif in Jewish Gaza three summers ago - turned the event into a major controversy.  Many protested HaCohen's participation, saying he represented the State's cruelty to its citizens and should not be honored, especially while most of the expellees have still not been provided with permanent alternative housing.

General Quits, Event Canceled
Soon after the Gush Katif sympathizers threatened to boycott and/or disturb the event, HaCohen announced that he would not take part, as he "does not desire to sadden people." The organizers then pulled a surprise of their own and called off the entire event.

Gen. HaCohen is a son of a respected religious-Zionist family, and three of his brothers serve as heads of or leading teachers in yeshivot.  He himself is not religiously observant, though he describes himself as being "religious with a transparent yarmulke."

HaCohen was actively responsible for the IDF's actual removal of the nearly 9,000 residents of Gush Katif during the Disengagement.  He explained to Haaretz at the time that his obligation was to the "decision of the sovereign state... I am about to enable the State of Israel to carry out the decision of the government, even where there is severe controversy. The ability to carry out this decision is what turns us from a council of communities into a state... I will destroy what I destroy in the name of the State, and in order for the State to exist. I will do what I do in order to enable the State to make difficult decisions in other places, and to impose authority in other places."

"I Took Part in a Crime"
A year later, while paying a condolence visit to the bereaved family of a soldier killed in the Second Lebanon War, HaCohen took a different approach.  "What happened last year was a crime, and I was part of this crime against the Jewish nation," he admitted.

HaCohen's philosphical deliberations, however, were of less interest to the Gush Katif expellees than the actual results of his actions. 

"This is a man who killed nearly 10,000 people," said former N'vei Dekalim resident Mazal Henya, expressing her intense emotions in an extreme manner, "and I can't understand why they would put him on a panel.  The people of Gush Etzion embraced us when the expulsion happened, and it is difficult for me now to see another face.  I can't understand how they can do this right as we're commemorating the third anniversary of the expulsion. There has to be a limit to what they can do to us."

Three Years Too Late
Other Gush Katif symphathizers threatened to boycott or otherwise disturb the event.  After Gen. HaCohen ultimately backed out on his own, saying he did not wish to sadden people, some of the potential boycotters responded, "He's three years too late for that..."

Organizers Explain Cancellation
The story then took a surprising turn. Event organizers Yaron Rosental and Eliaz Cohen, of the Kibbutz Kfar Etzion Field School and Gush Etzion Cultural Center, respectively, decided to cancel the entire event.  They released a statement explaining that they could not accept the "targeting" and "boycotting" of an IDF officer who had given so much to Israeli security and Jewish life in Judea and Samaria.  "We must do everything we can to avoid polarization of our society and the establishment of two states for one people, as happened 50 years after King David's regime."

Speaking with Arutz-7, Cohen acknowledged that the cancellation could be a form of "overturning the game," but said, "It cannot be that a group of people would show such ungratefulness to the army for what it has done and will so undemocratically boycott an army general for his beliefs.  I had invested much time and effort into this event, and it was a great dream of mine, but I'm willing to pay this price."

Chanan Porat's Position
Rabbi Chanan Porat of Kfar Etzion - a former Knesset Member, a teacher, and a respected "elder statesman" of the pro-Land of Israel camp who was to have taken part in the King David event - was asked by IsraelNationalNews what he thought of the cancellation.  He said:

"I was never too enthusiastic about the event to begin with, because of the participation of Yossi Sarid [former head of the anti-religious Meretz party] and the like... But I thought that perhaps some good could come from it in any event.  When I heard of the response to HaCohen's presence, I did not think it was a good idea to withdraw his invitation; I talked to the organizers and tried to explain to them that there was a difference between a personal boycott of an individual, such as not allowing him into your house or car - which should not be done - and the refusal to give him a public stage at which to speak. The latter is legitimate, and should not be termed an 'unfair boycott.'"

Rabbi Porat said that he talked with Gen. HaCohen as well. "I explained the situation to him, and why it was painful for people if he would appear - but I told him that I felt the decision was his to make.  To his credit, he understood, and withdrew."

Porat said he does not think the entire event should have been canceled, "but it certainly is not correct to say it was an undemocratic move.  It was not undemocratic to boycott HaCohen, and it was not undemocratic to cancel the event."

"I believe that the entire issue of how we relate to boycotts and our anger at those who took part in the Disengagement is something we must analyze and discuss," Porat said.  "It cannot remain in the personal sphere; refusing to pick up hitch-hiking soldiers, for instance, is not permissible. But to allow the public to choose whom it wants to hear is a different story... The entire issue must be carefully analyzed."