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Religious Fundamentalism in Israel
Its pervasive, destructive influence in Israeli politics, the military and society.
Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Israel Shahak's (1933 - 2001) "Jewish History, Jewish Religion" argued that while Islamic fundamentalism is vilified in the West, comparable Jewish extremism is largely ignored. In the book's forward, Edward Said wrote:
Shahak's "Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel" picked up on the theme in explaining its pervasive, destructive influence in Israeli politics, the military and society. He noted that substituting German or Aryan for Jewish and non-Jews for Jews makes it easy to see how a superiority doctrine made an earlier genocide possible and is letting another happen now.
Shahak called all forms of bigotry morally reprehensible and said:
As a leading Israeli human rights activist and Holocaust survivor, Shakah reviewed Jewish fundamentalist history, examined its strains, and explained the dangers of extremist messianic ones. They oppose equality of Jews and non-Jews and destroy democratic values by espousing dogma calling Jews superior to all others.
The earlier influence of fundamentalist Rabbi Abraham Kook (1865 - 1935), or Kuk, was significant. He preached Jewish supremacy and said: "The difference between a Jewish soul and souls of non-Jews - all of them in all different levels - is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the souls of cattle." His teachings helped create the settler movement, and his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, founded the extremist Gush Emunim (GE) under the slogan: "The Land of Israel, for the people of Israel, according to the Torah of Israel."
Like the elder Kook, GE sees state power as a way forward to a new messianic era. It believes that God created the world for Jews. Others are lesser beings. Greater Israel belongs to Jews alone, and holy wars are acceptable to attain it.
Kook was Israel's first chief rabbi. In his honor and to continue his teachings, the extremist Merkaz Harav (the Rabbi's Center) was founded in 1924 as a yeshiva or fundamentalist religious college. It teaches that "non-Jews living under Jewish law in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) must either be enslaved as water carriers and wood hewers, or banished, or exterminated." It gets no more extremist than that and highlights the dangers for Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Their lives and welfare are being sacrificed for a Greater Israel for Jews alone.
Gush Emunim adherents and other Israeli religious zealots plan it. They're active in politics, hold seats in the Knesset, are Netanyahu government coalition partners (including Shas, United Torah and Yisrael Beiteinu), and are prominently represented in Israel's military throughout the ranks and rabbinate. Chief military rabbi, Brigadier General Avichai Rontzki, called Operation Cast Lead a "religious war" in which it was "immoral" to show mercy to an enemy of "murderers."
Many others feel the same way, prominently among them graduates of Hesder Yeshivat schools that combine extremist religious indoctrination with military service to defend the Jewish State.
In 1981, Rabbi Harav Lichtenstein's article, "The Ideology of Hesder: The View from Yeshivat Har Etzion," explained that:
Nearly all Hesder graduates perform combat service for up to six years. Today 41 schools operate throughout Israel. In 1991, Hesder was awarded the Israel Prize (the state's highest honor) for its exceptional service to the nation.
One commander expressed how many feel in explaining the military's mission:
Extremist Israeli rabbis teach this ideology, and in 2003 Rabbi Saadya Grama's book, "Romemut Yisrael Ufarashat Hagalut (The Majesty of Israel and the Question of the Diaspora), argued that non-Jews are "completely evil" while Jews are genetically superior. Reform and conservative rabbis condemned it. Extremist orthodox ones endorsed it. Some more moderate ones also saying Grama advocates separating Jews from an intrinsically hostile anti-Semetic world. Rabbi Yosef Blau called the book "a call for a superior people to withdraw from the world and live in isolation while submitting to its enemies and placing trust in God."
Others in Israel teach the extremist notion that the ten commandments don't apply to non-Jews. So killing them in defending the homeland is acceptable, and according to Rabbi Dov Lior, chairman of the Jewish Rabbinic Council:
Rabbi David Batsri called Arabs "a blight, a devil, a disaster....donkeys, and we have to ask ourselves why God didn't create them to walk on all fours. Well, the answer is that they are needed to build and clean." Extremist zealots want them for no other purpose in Jewish society.
In 2007, Israel's former chief rabbi, Mordechai Elyahu, called for the Israeli army to mass-murder Palestinians. In fanatical language he said:
In June 2009, US Hasidic Rabbi Manis Friedman voiced a similar sentiment in calling on Israel to kill Palestinian "men, women and children."
Views like these aren't exceptions. Though a minority, they proliferate throughout Israeli society, and are common enough to incite violence against Palestinians, even when they rightfully defend themselves as international law allows.
Religious Extremism Threatens Any Chance for an Equitable Solution to the Israeli - Palestinian Conflict
Israeli extremists are a minority but influential enough to make policy, and therein lies the threat to peace and likelihood of a sovereign Palestinian state. In his book, "A Little Too Close to God," David Horovitz recalled that before Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, he attended a Netanyahu-sponsored anti-Rabin rally he described as follows:
In his book, "Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence," Professor Mark Juergensmeyer compared the similarities among religious-motivated extremists, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or others.
He related a conversation with Yoel Lerner who was imprisoned for trying to blow up the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim holy site, because he believed that an ancient Jewish temple stood there before it was destroyed.
He expressed messianic Zionism in saying the "Messiah will come to earth only after the temple is rebuilt and made ready for him," so Jews must assure it's done. These views are prominent in high places and throughout Israeli society; that is, religious fervor for a Greater Israel for Jews only, a Jewish state excluding all Arabs with violence an acceptable tool to remove them, and conflict will continue until they're gone.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency's (JTA) Report on Jewish Extremists
On June 24, JTA wrote a special report on Jewish extremists in which it described "the face of radical Jewish nationalism in Israel....a movement of settler youths, rabbis, leaders and supporters determined to hold onto the West Bank at any cost." They represent a minority, but are a "vocal and increasingly violent constituency of the Jewish settler movement" rampaging against Palestinians and Israelis, confident that God is on their side, and one day a "Torah-based theocracy (will) triumph over the State of Israel."
Rabbi Yisrael Iriel is one of its adherents in preaching Jewish superiority and unwillingness to cede any part of biblical Israel to non-Jews. He's one of a "small group of (extremist) rabbis who provide the theological and ideological underpinnings for radical settlers."
The Israeli human rights group Yesh Din believes they number about 1000 but exert considerable influence nonetheless. They're an extremist fringe element, determined to use violence to achieve their goals, and are supported by other West Bank settlers. One young adherent expressed their agenda by saying "I think God chose a good and beautiful land for us," and we'll fight to keep it. If so, it makes peaceful resolution harder than ever to achieve, especially with political hard-liners in charge and most Israelis supporting them.
Hate Literature Distributed to Israeli Soldiers
Until discontinued on July 20, a booklet published by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, in cooperation with Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, titled, "On Either Side of the Border" was given to IDF soldiers containing hateful fiction purported to be true. It suggested that the Pope and Vatican cardinals sympathized with Hezbollah's struggle and conspired with the organization to kill Jews. It claimed that the Vatican organized Auschwitz tours to teach its members how to do it, and that its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, was invited to join a delegation to tour France, Poland, Italy and the Vatican.
It also accused European politicians and journalists of conspiring against Israel. Rabbi Eliahu's aide, David Menahemov, claimed booklet material was true even though the account portrayed was preposterous. Yet one Israeli soldier said everyone in the ranks reads and believes it. Many soldiers told him, "Read this and you'll understand who the Arabs are" and why the Israeli cause is just.
During Operation Cast Lead, 10,000 mp3s were also distributed to Israeli forces with recorded extremist sermons. Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger urged soldiers to "trust in God and know that war is being waged for the sanctification of His name....and not to fear. (Soldiers) should not think of (their) wi(ves) or children or (their) mother(s) and father(s)."
Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar called the Gaza conflict "a holy mission that is being waged in the name of the entire Jewish people."
Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu said "Our intention is to uplift soldiers' spirits" in battle against Hamas terrorists. The IDF Rabbinate division, Jewish Consciousness Field (JCF), also distributed a pamphlet titled "Jewish Consciousness Emphases for Cast Lead" calling military rabbis "Anointed Priests of War."
A JCF officer, Shmuel Yurman, explained the pamphlet's purpose as follows:
JCF's head, Rabbi Tzadok Ben-Artzi, justified the war saying:
He advised IDF rabbis to say that the war's aim is "to save the Jewish people from its enemies" and eradicate evil in the world. Other extremist rabbis voiced the same sentiment, and, under Brigadier General Avichai Ronzki's command, the IDF's rabbinate theologized military missions and fed messianic dogma to young minds. Many in the ranks are already zealots enough to make spreading this gospel all the easier.
Ronzki explains it by saying that "as military rabbis, (we're) supposed to deal with helping soldiers to internalize Jewish values, spirit and consciousness as presented in Jewish sources. This is our main function as rabbis....(to) teach....what Judaism is."
Different Sides of Israel's Religious Community
Ronzki and other zealots represent one side of Israel's religious community, comprised of two major groups - religious Zionists and Charedim. Governed by their ideology, the former believe in the special relationship between God and Jews and see Israeli governance from that perspective. They comprise about two-thirds of the religious community and 8% of the population. Representing the other third and about 4.5% of the population, the Charedim see Israel as a secular state like most others in the country.
Ethnicity also defines religious segments. Sephardic Jews originated from the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. Ashkenazi ones are from Eastern Europe and differ in religious and cultural traditions. Both communities attend separate synagogues in different neighborhoods, yet are represented in religious Zionist and Charedim camps. Israel has two chief rabbis, one Ashkenazi, the other Sephardic.
Though a minority, Israel's religious community wields considerable influence politically, in the military and society overall. Moreover, synagogues and yeshivas are popular places where people gather to discuss issues of common interest and hear the views of their rabbinical leaders.
The most extreme believe in Jewish sovereignty over all biblical Israel, so foregoing any of it is unthinkable. Thirteenth century Rabbi Moses Ben Nachman was their spiritual godfather. He wrote that Jews "should settle in the land and inherit it, because He gave it to them, and they should not reject God's inheritance." Our rabbis say it's "a mitzvah (commandment) to settle in the land and it is forbidden to leave it."
Similar dogma today holds that reclaiming Israel for Jews will foreshadow the coming of the messiah. Rabbi Avraham Kook preached it. Today's most extreme zealots believe that conceding any biblical land will delay or subvert messianic redemption, so it can't be tolerated. Palestinians are called enemies for wanting land of their own. Yielding any violates Jewish law they believe.
In contrast, secular Charedim accept land concessions for peace and want the government to make policy, not religious Zionists based on biblical law. They believe Israel should serve the interests of all Jews, not one segment over another, and feel no part of Israel is too sacred to concede (except Jerusalem) if it best serves the Jewish people overall.
They believe that the Torah promotes peaceful co-existence and, except for defense, conflict is counterproductive. Like religious Zionists, they feel all biblical Israel belongs to the Jews, yet they're willing to concede some in the interest of peace.
Most religious Israelis fall somewhere between these groups. They believe that biblical Israel was promised to Jews, yet accept compromise to one degree or another to preserve life and serve the best interests of all Jews.
How the future balance of power shifts from one side to the other will greatly influence the makeup of future Israeli governments and determine whether peaceful co-existance can replace over six decades of conflict and repression. So far it hasn't, and nothing suggests it will any time soon, not while extremist Zionists run the government, serve prominently in the IDF, and, according to critics, are gaining more power incrementally.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Mondays from 11AM to 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national topics. All programs are archived for easy listening.
Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.This story was published on August 12, 2009.
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