Look out your window and see.
                                                                – Donovan
(sent by E-mail on July 21, 2006)


As we are now in the midst of the Three Weeks, and of a war for our very
survival, I am writing to you to recommend a book that is a) extremely
pertinent and b) not yet well known. I learned of it from an
organization I had likewise not heard of until about a year ago, when
its messages about the Gaza withdrawal began appearing on my screen.

The book is "Where There Are No Men: Zo Artzenu's Struggle Against the
Post-Zionist Collapse," by Moshe Feiglin, the founder of Manhigut
Yehudit (Jewish Leadership). This book is not available in bookstores
but only through the Manhigut Yehudit website ( or by
calling 516-295-3222. Please, do yourselves and all Israel a favor and
buy it. I know that Feiglin and Manhigut Yehudit have been branded as
extremist, and this has deterred many from trying to understand their
thinking. This does injustice to a position that is based on
perceptions that have been ignored too long to all our peril, and that
is, moreover, both nuanced and constructive. I would like here to give
at least some idea of this book’s richness and relevance.

What I am offering here is not a conclusive evaluation of Manhigut
Yehudit and its goals. Nor can I comment on “Where There Are No Men”
from the standpoint of the historian or political expert. My field is
literature; I must confess that I have never followed politics very
closely. But Feiglin's analysis of the Israeli situation is consistent
with such observations as I have been able to make, and has caused many
things to fall into place for me. In part, no doubt, this is due to the
book’s literary qualities. Feiglin is an excellent writer, perhaps even
a great writer. "Where There Are No Men" is literate, shrewd, humorous,
enlivened by a feeling for individual qualities and a sense for the
telling anecdote, and above all driven by moral insight and moral
indignation. This is journalism with psychological and spiritual depth.
Reading "Where There Are No Men," I kept thinking of Ibsen and Sophocles
– except that there is no stage; we are in this story. The same could
be said for Feiglin's second book, "Milchemet HeChalomot (The War of
Dreams)," which has so far appeared only in Hebrew. I am about a third
of the way through with it and have had to put it down for a while
because it is just too intense, and makes me want to walk around all day
with a signboard, instead of getting on with the business of life.

Bear with me while I discuss, briefly, the context in which “Where There
Are No Men” came to my attention.

Until shortly before the Gaza evacuation, I had assumed that the
decision emerged from a rational weighing of conflicting utilities and
ethical considerations – security versus the strain and the
questionability of dominating a large and hostile population. I had
gone to a couple of meetings of AIPAC – yes, AIPAC – where two very
personable individuals, a high-ranking AIPAC honcho and a high-ranking
military expert, warmly recommended the disengagement plan. Both of
them seemed to take as self-understood that the evacuees would be justly
compensated and helped to find new places in Israeli society. And of
course 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 believe that these two highly effective people knew what they
were doing. But as the time drew near I was unable to sustain this
belief. On the contrary, what seemed to me as terrible as the
destruction of Gush Katif itself was the collapse of rationality, the
failure to pursue even enlightened self-interest. The fall of the house
of reason.

Against this background the protestors, as represented by Manhigut
Yehudit's pronouncements, looked pretty good. They at least knew that
something terribly wrong was happening. And not just because of
security considerations, not only because of the dispossession and
betrayal of this group of people by their government, but because Gaza
is part of Israel, part of the holy land given by G-d to Israel for the
whole world’s sake, and if our ownership of the land is not defended
then nothing on earth can be defended. And secular Israel was treating
these loyal citizens as the enemy and preparing to repeat the expulsions
on a greater scale in Judea and Samaria. The "enlightened" people were
acting rationally, and only the "irrational" "fundamentalists" were
making sense. How could this be?

The answer that came to me last July was that reason in this world
cannot stand on its own. It is just too vulnerable to the persuasions
of force. Stockholm syndrome, Oslo syndrome, identification with the
aggressor, blaming the victim, are names for the collapse of reason in
the face of force. Perhaps the one thing that can help us to keep a
grip on reason in the face of force is faith in G-d, the G-d of Israel,
the G-d of Avraham and Yitzchak and Yaakov and the singer of Psalms.
And of the land of Israel.

It was in this frame of mind that I came to read "Where There Are No
Men," which is the story of someone who understood this from the start –
and who acted on that understanding. The author/protagonist of this
book is not a haredi but an observant Jew of the "knitted kippah" type,
a native Israeli married to an American, a small businessman who studies
his daily page of Talmud yet is influenced by contemporary culture too.
That is about all we learn of him; he portrays himself simply as one
individual who tries to act on that saying, "... And where there are no
men (or: leaders), try to be a man." (Sayings of the Fathers 2:6)
While there is a certain egotism in the perspective, one feels that the
point of this is not self-aggrandizement but the demonstration that
change begins with the resolute individual. The subtext is “Anyone can
do this.” And finally, "Where There Are No Men" is the story of a
learning process, one that we need to sign up for, if we want to keep
hoping for the survival of Israel, of the Jewish people, of anything
resembling humanity.

The action of “Where There are No Men” begins in 1988 when Feiglin moves
with his family to a small settlement in Samaria. He notices that the
residents, intimidated by car-stonings and other forms of harassment
associated with the “first 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, actually tries to forbid the practice, but finally gives up and
starts (!) flying the Israeli flag from its own outposts. Feiglin
believes that this action has made some contribution to the winding-down
of the “first intifada.” Unrealistic? I think of Malcolm Gladwell’s
“The Tipping Point,” which describes how New York was able to reduce the
crime rate simply by cutting down on graffiti. A small step, under the
right circumstances, can have a wide effect. And at the time of the
first “intifada” the PLO had not yet been legitimized, had not had time
to build up its culture of hatred, and moreover discredited itself by
picking the wrong side in the Gulf War.

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.

As Feiglin portrays it, the violence was almost entirely on the other
side, on the side of a secularist government that stuck at nothing, from
illegal negotiations with the enemy to the use of agents provocateurs to
police brutality to suppression of free speech to the mockery of justice
in the courtrooms, in order to attack the settlers who were taking up
the ideals of Zionism and merging them with the tradition of Israel,
even as secular Zionism was giving way to “post-Zionism.” The deepest
motive, he sees as the wish to “normalize,” to disengage from the Jewish
destiny, to give up on the ideal of “perfecting the universe through the
Almighty’s sovereignty,” and become just another modern nation. The
very existence of the settler movement is a critique of this position.
To sustain the attack on the settlers, on Israel’s Jewish identity, the
PLO had to be kept alive, empowered, treated as a civilized “peace
partner” rather than a band of thugs. This is a terrible analysis; but
I think it is probably true. What else would explain the fact that even
after the results are in from the evacuation of Gaza, the government is
still not willing to abandon plans for the evacuation of Judea and
Samaria, the heartland of the Jewish faith.

In this situation Feiglin and his associates decide to take action,
starting from a position of very little apparent power. Speaking of
himself and his closest associate, Shmuel Sackett, Feiglin writes: "I
still wonder where we got the nerve to even think that two young
non-conformist punks, with no real experience, with families to support,
no sources of funds and no help from any organization, could pull off a
stunt that no one else had even tried." The strength that they are able
to muster often seems to derive from a kind of naivete. At various
points Feiglin mentions "The Little Prince," "Alice in Wonderland," "The
Emperor's New Clothes," Kafka, Orwell – literary works in which an
intelligent yet naive consciousness confronted with a world of strange
and often monstrous deceptions. On the deepest level, “Where There Are
No Men,” like the works mentioned, mirrors the experience of the soul in
ha-‘olam ha-zeh, this world. It is not only a story of protest, but
also a novel of education.

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

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. As Feiglin describes it:

“The neighbors called to the gathering began to trickle into the small
public shelter. They had just finished their evening meal, and instead
of dropping into a soft armchair to view the evening’s TV programs,
arrived exhausted for a meeting. We had few expectations from this
group, but could think of no other way of forging contacts with the
various settlements. We read
off the list of the Yesha settlements which we had compiled from the
telephone directory, and asked those present to raise their hands if
they knew any person living in any of them. To our surprise and joy, we
learned that there was hardly a single settlement in which at least one
resident was not known. Each of the participants accepted the
responsibility for contacting the persons whom he had mentioned. [...]
Thus was set in motion, in effect, a framework for a completely
extra-establishment movement...”

In "Where There Are No Men," "this world" is often referred to (in
somewhat countercultural terms) as "the establishment." It becomes
apparent that the Yesha Council is not only slow to act but is actually
sabotaging their efforts. Feiglin comes to realize that, though elected
by the settlers, the Council is funded by the government and therefore
cannot support any effective opposition to government policy. As
Feiglin mordantly reflects: "... 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." The
observation applies, of course, not only to the Yesha Council. With any
human institution there is the inertia of vested interest, which in the
psychosocial universe seems to function with the inevitability of the
laws of physics. Each one of us, by existing in the world, acquires
some stake in what-is. And perhaps only faith can give us the energy
to “go forth,” to step out of the frame of mind created by all such
involvements, and thus to claim the freedom of action that we have.

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 wildly unrepresentative forum(a survey from
the late ‘90's showed that 80% of Israelis fasted on Yom Kippur, while
90% of key radio-television personnel did not), instead of circumventing
that forum 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. 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 opposition advocates violence. Feiglin
interprets the staging of this rally as an admission 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 proves extremely
useful to the Left. The entire opposition can 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 -- a test
that produces a negative result. Civil disobedience works only against
civil governments. 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 a 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 (whose likewise very interesting book,
HaMahapechah HaEmunit [The Faith-Based Revolution] I am also in the
midst of reading), 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 Feiglin and his associates 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.

Whereas the earlier movement was based on a the feeling that “this is
our land,” the present movement refers to the ultimate basis of that
claim – the Jewish people’s mission to *lead* humanity. 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.” The threshold has been crossed between the (basically
Western) protest model that informed “Zo Artzeinu” to a Torah-based,
constructive model.

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
people, to “normalize.” 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, 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.

This attempt is still going on, as one can see from the organization's
website, (or, better still, the Hebrew site, Obviously the performance is hard to evaluate at
this distance. I have an uneasy feeling that some of the standard
temptations of political action are being yielded to. The attempt to
have an effect
in the present political arena (understandable, in view of the urgency
of the situation) is interfering with the attempt to build
consequentially on the insights reached by Feiglin, Karpel and others,
to deepen the movement’s Torah roots, to engage the creative thinking of
others. But I still think that the movement is worth supporting and
trying to interact with. A beginning like this is, simply, too good to
waste. I am voicing some reservations not, heaven forbid, in order to
discourage others from looking into Manhigut Yehudit, but on the
contrary, in order to urge others to take up these questions, enter into
dialogue with this movement, try to open it up again if it has become
closed, working against the dynamics of ordinary political movements.
For we are in an extraordinary situation and need to be extraordinary.

If it can grow and consolidate itself, Manhigut Yehudit will represent a
return from Jewish apologeticism and isolationism, toward self-assertion
as the keystone of "world repair." We have to hope and believe that in
the end there is something in this chaotic world that can respond to
this – that behind the absurd paranoid claims that "the Jews run
everything" there is a muffled cry for guidance from the nation to whom
the Torah was given. To use the initial episode of this book as a
metaphor: it won’t help us to drive through the neighborhood of this
world behind screened windows. We need, instead, to fly the flag of
Jewish identity and mission.

As I conclude this review, a Torah thought occurs to me:

We are being attacked in the Three Weeks, our most vulnerable time. Our
sages tell us that the Temple was destroyed as a consequence of the sin
of the spies. Therefore, to prevail, must we must not rectify the sin
of the spies? And is this not what "Where There Are No Men" is about?
Whatever step any of us can take is a beginning.

With prayers for Israel and for humanity,
Shabbat shalom,
Esther Cameron, Ph.D., J.D.