Jewish Fundamentalism

Hank Greely questioned my statement that Zionism in Israel is different from mainstream Zionism in the US. May I call attention to David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch - The Roots of Violence in the Middle East, Here is an excerpt entitled 2Pursuing the Millennium: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel":

In the minds of many Westerners, Muslim fundamentalism has replaced communism as perhaps the greatest single "threat" to the existing world order. From this perspective the Palestinian intifada becomes just another episode in a "clash of civilizations." For them, there is an intrinsic link between Palestinian "terrorism" and, say, the al-Qaeda bombing of an American warship off Yemen. Almost totally absent from such arguments is any inclination to examine Jewish fundamentalism, or so much as to ask whether it, too, might be a factor in the conflict over Palestine, one of the reasons why it seems so insoluble.

There is, in fact, a great ignorance of, or indifference to, this whole subject in the outside world, and not least in the United States. This is due at least in part to that general reluctance of the mainstream American media to subject Israel to the same searching scrutiny to which it would other states and societies, and especially when the issue in question is as sensitive, as emotionally charged, as this one is. But, in the view of the late Israel Shahak, it reflects particularly badly on an American Jewry which, with its ingrained, institutionalized aversion to finding fault with Israel, turns a blind eye to what Israelis like himself viewed with disgust and alarm, and unceasingly said so.

American Jews, especially Orthodox ones, are generous financiers of the shock troops of fundamentalism, the religious settlers; indeed a good 10 percent of these, and among the most extreme, violent and sometimes patently deranged, are actually immigrants from America. They are, says Shahak, one of the "absolutely worst phenomena" in Israeli society, and "it is not by chance that they have their roots in the American-Jewish community." It was from his headquarters in New York that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the late Menachem Schneerson, seer of possibly the most rabid of Hasidic sects, the Chabad, gave guidance to his many followers in both Israel and the United States.

The ignorance or indifference is all the more remiss in that Jewish fundamentalism is not, and cannot be, just a domestic Israeli question. Israel was always a highly ideological society; it is also a vastly outsized military power, both nuclear and conventional. That is a combination which, when the ideology in question is Zionism in its most extreme, theocratic form, is fraught with possible consequences for the region and the world, and, of course, for the world's only, Israeli-supporting superpower.

Like its Islamic counterpart, Jewish fundamentalism in Israel has grown enormously in political importance over the past quarter-century. Its committed, hard-core adherents, as distinct from a larger body of the more traditionally religious, are thought to account for some 20 to 25 percent of the population. They, and more particularly the settlers among them, have acquired an influence, disproportionate to their numbers, over the whole Israeli political process, and especially in relation to the ultra-nationalist right, which, beneath its secular exterior, actually shares much of their febrile, exalted outlook on the world. It is fundamentalism of a very special, ethnocentric and fiercely xenophobic kind, with beliefs and practices that are "even more extremist," says Shahak, "than those attributed to the extremes of Islamic fundamentalism," if not "the most totalitarian system ever invented."

Like fundamentalism everywhere, the Jewish variety seeks to restore an ideal, imagined past. If it ever managed to do so, the Israel celebrated by the American "friends of Israel" as a "bastion of democracy in the Middle East" would, most assuredly, be no more. For, in its full and perfect form, the Jewish Kingdom that arose in its place would elevate a stern and wrathful God's sovereignty over any new-fangled, heathen concepts such as the people's will, civil liberties or human rights. It would be governed by the Halacha, or Jewish religious law, of which the rabbis would be the sole interpreters, and whose observance clerical commissars, installed in every public and private institution, would rigorously enforce, with the help of citizens legally obligated to report any offense to the authorities. A monarch, chosen by the rabbis, would rule and the Knesset would be replaced by a Sanhedrin, or supreme judicial, ecclesiastic and administrative council. Men and women would be segregated in public, and "modesty" in female dress and conduct would be enforced by law. Adultery would be a capital offense, and anyone who drove on the Sabbath, or desecrated it in other ways, would be liable to death by stoning. As for non-Jews, the Halacha would be an edifice of systematic discrimination against them, in which every possible crime or sin committed by a Gentile against a Jew, from murder or adultery to robbery or fraud, would be far more heavily punished than the same crime or sin committed by a Jew against a Gentile--if, indeed, the latter were considered to be a felony at all, which it often would not be.

All forms of "idolatry or idol-worship," but especially Christian ones (for traditionally Muslims, who are not considered to be idolaters, are held in less contempt than Christians), would be "obliterated," in the words of Shas party leader Rabbi Ovadia Yossef. According to conditions laid down by Maimonides, whose Halacha rulings are holy write to the fundamentalists, those Gentiles, or so-called "Sons of Noah," permitted to remain in the Kingdom could only do so as "resident aliens," obliged under law to accept the "inferiority" in perpetuity which that status entails, to "suffer the humiliation of servitude," and to be "kept down and not raise their heads to the Jews." At weekday prayers, the faithful would intone the special curse: "And may the apostates have no hope, and all the Christians perish instantly." One wonders what the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons think of all this; for it is strange, this new adoration by America's evangelicals of an Israel whose Jewish fundamentalists continue to harbor a doctrinal contempt for Christianity only rivaled by the contempt which the Christian fundamentalists reserve for the Jews themselves.

Fundamentalists come in a multitude of sects, often fiercely disputatious with one another on the finest and most esoteric points of doctrine, but all are agreed on this basic eschatological truth: It is upon the coming of the Messiah that the Jewish Kingdom will arise, and the twice-destroyed Temple will be reconstructed on the site where the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosques now stand. One school of fundamentalists, the Hanedim, believes that the Messiah will appear in His own good time, that the millennium, the End of Days, will come by the grace of God alone. The Shas party is their largest single political component. Their position has in it something of the traditional religious quietism, which, historically, opposed the whole idea of Zionism, immigration to Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish state.

The other school, less extreme in outward religious observances, is more so, indeed breathtakingly revolutionary, on one crucial point of dogma: the belief that the coming of the Messiah can be accomplished, or hastened, by human agency. In fact, the "messianic era" has already arrived. This messianic fundamentalism is represented by the National Religious Party, and its progeny, the settlers of the Gush Emunim, or Bloc of the Faithful, who eventually came to dominate it. Its adherents are ready to involve themselves in the world, sinful though it is, and, by so doing, they sanctify it. Except for the symbolic skullcap, they have adopted conventional modern dress; they include secular subjects in the curricula of their seminaries.

According to the teachings of their spiritual mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, the Gush, or at least the rabbis who lead it, are themselves the collective incarnation of the Messiah. Since, in biblical prophecy, the Messiah was to appear riding on an ass, he identified the ass as those errant, secular Jews who remain in stubborn ignorance of the exalted purpose of its divinely guided rider. In the shape of those early Zionists they had, it is true, performed the necessary task of carrying the Jews back to the Holy Land, settling it and founding a state there. But now they had served their historic purpose; now they had become obsolete in their failure to renounce their beastly, ass-like ways--and to perceive that Zionism has a divine, not merely a national, purpose.

Commenting on Pursuing the Millenium: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, by David Hirst, Hank Levin says: "What proportion of Jews in the U.S. are Orthodox? What part of those are "ultra-orthodox" instead of modern orthodox--two orthodox groups that have different views about Zionism. You seem to be characterizing the views of Jews by the most extreme right-wingers in the community. Given that the Orthodox represent less than ten percent of all American Jews, it is likely that the ultra-orthodox (who are also the most right-wing on Israel) represent less than 5 percent of all Jews in America. You need to be more cautious in characterizing what is the Jewish or Zionist perspective by characterizing the views of the most right-wing extremists". RH: As we have said before, American Zionists re different from Israeli ones. The problem is the indoctrination of young Israelis discussed by Tim Brown.

Replying to criticisms of Pursuing the Millenium: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel," by David Hirst, Christopher Jones says: "These statements that crop up every once and a while condemning generalizations about Jews, Zionists and Israel are way off the mark and must be the product of propaganda. The Israeli electorate put Likud in power -- period. That is enough for me to say the a large amount of Israelis support the policies of Ariel Sharon and those around him, which is tantamount to voting for a war criminal. We shouldn't forget the underlying racism and religiosity (notice the duality) that permeates the Jewish state's existence. More and more I have come to the conclusion that the Jewish state should be dismantled and changed into a secular Palestine where everyone, regardless of race or religion will have one vote". RH: A secular Palestine state was the original proposal of Arafat. It is a good idea, but what are the chances of its coming about?

I said: "Hank Greely questioned my statement that Zionism in Israel is different from mainstream Zionism in the US". Hank counters: "Actually, I just said that not all Zionism is the same and not all Zionists see the Euphrates as the border of Israel. I didn't say anything about Zionism in Israel versus Zionism elsewhere. On other hand, I am willing to bet (a lot) that not all Zionists in Israel are the same and that not all of them think the Euphrates should be the country's border. I am not entirely unwilling to generalize - in my experience, any four Israelis have, on any given topic, at least seven different opinions. Yes, there are Jewish religious fundamentalists in Israel whose views are disturbing, at least, to secular folks like me and are probably barriers to peace. The same is true of Muslim and Christian religious fundamentalists in Israel - and all of the above in the US. (I have yet to meet a fundamentalist agnostic, but I do not have enough evidence either to affirm or deny that possibility.)"

Commenting on Pursuing the Millenium: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, by David Hirst, Tim Brown says: "For those WAISers curios about the effectiveness of indoctrination on Zionism, there is a fascinating study on Israel to make Zionists of children born there that they may find interesting. I see it as an important study on the nurture side of the nature vs. nurture question. It's an article entitled "Socialization of National Ideology: The Case of Zionist Attitudes Among Young Israelis" by Dr. Ofira Seliktar (Political Psychology 2, nos 3-4 (1980), pages 66-94).
RH: This ties in directly with our textbook project: their use not only to create hostility toward other countries but also to indoctrinate children with the government's ideology. Nazi Germany is an excellent case. As for Israel, it was disturbing to see young Israelis building settlements in Palestinian territory and proclaiming "This is our land. God gave it to us. The Old Testament says so". There have been in history a number of documents which were improperly used for a land grab. The Old Testament joins them.
Hank Greely says: "Christopher Jones makes the amazing leap from the fact that Likud (with its many coalition partners) has won elections to preposterous (or is that unWAIS?) conclusion that statements "condemning generalizations about Jews, Zionists and Israel are way off the mark and must be the product of propaganda."

Using the fact that people voted for the same party of candidate as evidence that they all think alike is strange enough - consider the big tents of the American Democratic and Republican parties. But even granting Jones that, a quick bit of Googling shows that 28 parties contested the latest (January 2003) elections to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. 13 parties won the 1.5% of the vote necessary to have seats in the parliament. Likud won the highest percentage of any party - 29.29% of the vote, which seems scarcely a landslide.

It is also interesting to transfer Jones's argument to other contexts where it seems at least equally unlikely that all those in the country think the same way. Consider the following substitution and whether it fairly refutes the idea that you shouldn't generalize about the views of the population in question:

"The American electorate put the Republicans in power - period. That is enough for me to say that a large amount of Americans support the policies of George W. Bush and those around him, which is tantamount to voting for a war criminal. We shouldn't forget the underlying racism and religiosity (notice the duality) that permeates the American state's existence."

You can go ahead and substitute any country democratic enough to hold elections and its ruling party: India and the BJP, the UK and Labor, Russia and Putin's Union of Unity and Fatherland, etc. (Of course, frank dictatorships, military or otherwise, have an advantage in the Jones approach - the people of Saudi Arabia or Pakistan don't even get a "pretend" vote for their rulers.

I do not follow events in Israel or the Middle East especially closely. And I do not support the Likud government's policies. I believe the present government of Israel is a disaster and a menace to the Palestinians, to the peace of the world, and, in the long run, to the survival of its own people. And it looks to me that that government has the substantial support of most of its people. I keep getting drawn into these kinds of discussions on this list because of the persistent assertion by some posters that "all Zionists" or "all Israelis" or "all Jews" hold particular views. I don't believe that's true, but I do believe it both draws from and plays into an ancient and ugly history of antisemitism. I do not at all believe, as some assert, that any criticism of Israel or its policies derives from antisemitism. It is perfectly possible to oppose Israeli policies, or even, I think, the existence of the state of Israel, without being an antisemite. But it is also possible to oppose them and to be motivated by hatred or fear of "the Jews." A demand that all Jews be viewed as having, or as being responsible for, the same opinions seems to me both completely unrealistic and a common ingredient of antisemitism. And antisemitism, like any strong bias against the entirety of any group of humans, should be denounced".

RH: I do not remember postings which said that all Zionists or all Israelis think alike, The differences among them have been stressed.

Christopher Jones writes: "Mr Greely should read my posting in its entirety. In it, I stress that Jews are the greatest racists and users of generalizations the world has ever known. How many times have you heard "The Arabs" cross the lips of a Likud minister? Or "The Palestinians"? How many times has a TV camera focused on a screaming hysterical Israeli demanding to "kill them?" According to Mr Greely's posting, the Jewish government in Jerusalem should be spared the " J " word and other generalizations, while the Arabs i.e. the oppressed and dispossessed should not be. This is an attempt to dilute the collective responsibility of the Jews in the robbery and rape of Palestine. By the same token, I would then ask him to condemn the Allied bombing campaign of Germany because all Germans were not followers of the Nazis and are thus entitled to reparations from the Allied powers for this war crime. They did not have the benefit of elections like the Israeli electorate. And the same is true for other precious American generalizations -- should we make a difference in the use of the expression "Mexican illegal"? This entire argument is a thinly veiled defence of the current policies of Israel and an attempt to silence anyone who doesn't agree with Sharon and brand him as an antisemiteª.
Hank Greely says: "Given that in my earlier post I said "I believe the present government of Israel is a disaster and a menace to the Palestinians, to the peace of the world, and, in the long run, to the survival of its own people," to call my argument against generalizations "a thinly veiled defense of the current policies of Israel" seems to me quite inaccurate - it wasn't intended as a defense at all, but if Christopher Jones chooses to see it as such, it would seem at least necessary to call it "thickly veiled".I do think the issue of bombing civilian targets in World War II - in Germany, in Japan, and in the UK, among other places - is a difficult one, both morally and militarily, but I don't think it makes sense to explore it in this thread". RH: Christopher Jones and Hank Greely have made their positions clear, so we must lave the matter there. Pax vobiscum.