Shahak Israel - Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel

Authors : Shahak Israel - Mezvinsky Norton
Title : Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel
Year : 1999

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Virtually identified with Arab terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism is anathema throughout the non-Muslim world. Virtually identified with ignorance, superstition, intolerance and racism, Christian fundamentalism is anathema to the cultural and intellectual elite in the United States. The recent significant increase in its number of adherents, combined with its widening political influence, nevertheless, make Christian fundamentalism a real threat to democracy in the United States. Although possessing nearly all the important social scientific properties of Islamic and Christian fundamentalism, Jewish fundamentalism is practically unknown outside of Israel and certain sections of a few other places. When its existence is acknowledged, its significance is minimized or limited to arcane religious practices and quaint middle European dress, most often by those same non- Israeli elite commentators who see so uncompromisingly the evils inherent in Jewish fundamentalism's Islamic and/or Christian cousins. As students of contemporary society and as Jews, one Israeli, one American, with personal commitments and attachments to the Middle East, we cannot help seeing Jewish fundamentalism in Israel as a major obstacle to peace in the region. Nor can we help being dismayed by the dismissal of the perniciousness of Jewish fundamentalism to peace and to its victims by those who are otherwise knowledgeable and astute and so quick to point out the violence inherent in other fundamentalist approaches to existence. This book is a journey of understanding—often painful, often dreary, often disturbing—for us as Jews who have a stake in Jewry . With our hearts and minds we want Jews, together with other people, to recognize and strive for the highest ideals, even as we fall short of them. We see these ideals as central to the values of Western civilization and applicable throughout the civilized world. We believe these values do not stand in the way of peace anywhere. That a perversion of these values in the name of Jewish fundamentalism stands as an impediment to peace, to the development of Israeli democracy and even to civilized discourse outrages us, both as Jews and as human beings. To identify and lessen, if not purge, this outrage, we have written this book and undertaken this journey in the hope that it may bring understanding to our readers as it has brought understanding to us. Our assumption is that peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved until the currents and cross-currents of contemporary life in the region are understood. In this most historical and most religious area, understanding entails an exploration of the past that continues to impinge upon the attitudes, values, assumptions and behaviors of all the people of this beautiful and troubled land. Jewish opposition in Israel to Jewish fundamentalism greatly increased after a Jewish, fundamentalist, religious fanatic, Yigal Amir, who insisted that he was acting in accordance with dictates in Judaism, shot and killed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. That numerous groups of religious Jews after the assassination supported this murder in the name of the "true" Jewish religion aroused interest in Israel in past killings by Jews of other Jews who were alleged to be heretics or sinners. In our book we cite present and past investigations by Israeli scholars documenting that for centuries prior to the rise of the modern nation state, Jews, believing they were acting in accordance with God's word and thus preparing themselves for eternal paradise, punished or killed heretics and/or religious sinners. Contemporary Jewish fundamentalism is an attempt to revive a situation that often existed in Jewish communities before the influence of modernity. The basic principles of Jewish fundamentalism are the same as those found in other religions: restoration and survival of the "pure" and pious religious community that presumably existed in the past. In our book we describe in some detail the origins, ideologies, practices and overall impact upon society of fundamentalism. We emphasize mostly the messianic tendency, because we believe it to be the most influential and dangerous. Jewish fundamentalists generally oppose extensions of human freedoms, especially the freedom of expression, in Israel. In regard to foreign policy, the National Religious Party, ruled by supponers of the messianic tendency of Jewish fundamentalism, has continuously opposed any and all withdrawals from territories conquered and occupied by Israel since 1967. These fundamentalists opposed Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai in 1978, just as twenty years later they continued to oppose any withdrawal from the West Bank. These same Jews printed and distributed atlases allegedly showing that the land of Israel, belonging only to the Jews and requiring liberation, included the Sinai, Jordan, Lebanon, most of Syria and Kuwait. Jewish fundamentalists have advocated the most discriminative proposals against Palestinians. Not surprisingly, Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir, the most sensational Jewish assassins of the 1990s, and most of their admirers have been Jewish fundamentalists of the messianic tendency. In the 1990s, Israeli sociologists and scholars in other academic fields have focused more attention than ever before upon the social effects in Israeli society of Jewish fundamentalists. The overwhelming opinion of these scholars is that the adherents of Jewish fundamentalism in Israel are hostile to democracy .The fundamentalists oppose equality for all citizens, especially non-Jews and Jewish "deviants" such as homosexuals. The great majority of religious Jews in Israel, influenced by fundamentalists, share these views to some extent. In a book review published on October 14, 1998, Baruch Kirnrnerling, a distinguished Israeli sociologist, citing evidence from a study conducted by other scholars, commented: The values of the Jewish religion, at least in its Orthodox and nationalistic form that prevails in Israel, cannot be squared with democratic values. No other variable—neither nationality, nor attitudes about security, nor social or economic values, nor ethnic descent and education—so influences the attitudes of Israeli Jews against democratic values as does Citing additional evidence, Kimmerling commented further that secular, Israeli Jews who had acquired college or university education had the greatest attachment to democratic values and that religious Jews who studied in yeshivot (religious schools) most opposed democracy. It is clear that fundamentalist antagonism to democratic values, as well as to most aspects of secular culture and life style, is deeply instilled in Israel's religious schools. The documentation of fundamentalist antagonism to the secular life style of a majority of Israeli Jews is clear. The September 20, 1998, edition of Yediot Ahronot, the largest circulation, Hebrew language, daily Israeli newspaper, for example, contained a "cultural profile" survey of Israeli Jewish society. The survey revealed that the major Israeli consumers of culture, who visit museums and attend concerts and the theater, had finished high school and defined themselves as either secular or not Orthodox (religious). The Israeli religious press and pronouncements by Israeli rabbis, condemning cultural activity, have confirmed the survey's findings. Jewish fundamentalists have displayed severe enmity against Jews who adopt a different sexual life style. Many Israeli rabbis and the Israeli religious political patties in the 1990s reacted sharply against the increased visibility and power of the homosexual and lesbian communities in Israel. According to the Halacha {Jewish religious law), homosexuality is punishable by death by stoning, and, although the punishment is not clear, lesbian relations are forbidden. The Israeli secular press emphasized in the 1990s some of the more outrageous rabbinical proposals for dealing with homosexuals; these included a "compulsory healing treatment" and/or a period of "education in a closed institution." Many rabbis, when interviewed, indicated that they favored imposition of the death penalty for Jewish homosexual men. (The rabbis tended to leave lesbians alone.) In their televised election advertisements, Israeli religious political parties usually have emphasized that homosexual Jews constitute one of the greatest dangers facing Israel. The religious parties have been successful in their attempts to eliminate in public school courses any mention of Hebrew homosexual love poems, some of which contain beautiful Hebrew lyrics. This censorship is evidence of fundamentalist influence. Conflicts in Israeli society between adherents and opponents of Jewish fundamentalism rank among the most important issues in Israeli politics. In this book we do not attempt to discuss all of these problems and/or issues. Rather, we focus upon what we consider to be the most vital problems and issues of Jewish fundamentalism. Defenders of the "Jewish interest" often attack persons who write critically about Jews and/or Judaism for not emphasizing in the same text positive features that may have nothing or little to do with the substance under focus. Some of these defenders, for example, attacked Seffi Rachlevsky after the publication of his best-selling book, "Messiahs' Donkeys." In his book, Rachlevsky correctly claimed that Rabbi Kook, the Elder, the revered father of the messianic tendency of Jewish fundamentalism (who is featured in our book), 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." The Rachlevsky detractors did not attempt to refute substantivey the relevance of the Kook quotation. Rather, they argued that Rabbi Kook said other things and that Rachlevsky, by neglecting to mention them, had distorted the teachings of Rabbi Kook. Rachlevsky pointed out that Rabbi Kook's entire teaching was based upon the Lurianic Cabbala, the school of Jewish mysticism that dominated Judaism from the late sixteenth to the early nineteenth century. One of the basic tenants of the Lurianic Cabbala is the absolute superiority of the Jewish soul and body over the non-Jewish soul and body. According to the Lurianic Cabbala, the world was created solely for the sake of Jews; the existence of non-Jews was subsidiary. If an influential Christian bishop or Islamic scholar argued that the difference between the superior souls of non- Jews and the inferior souls of Jews was greater than the difference between the human soul and the souls of cattle, he would incur the wrath of and be viewed as an anti-Semite by most Jewish scholars regardless of whatever less meaningful, positive statements he included. From this perspective the detractors of Rachlevsky are hypocrites. That Rabbi Kook was a vegetarian and even respected the rights of plants to the extent that he did not allow flowers or grass to be cut for his own pleasure neither distracted from nor added anything to his position regarding the comparison of the souls of Jews and non-Jews. That Kook deprecated unnecessary Jewish brutality against non-Jews should not minimize criticism of his expressed delight in the belief that the death of millions of soldiers during World War One constituted a sign of the approaching salvation of Jews and the coming of the Messiah. The detractors of Rachlevsky and those who may level similar criticisms against our book and us are not the only hypocrites in this area. Shelves of bookshops in English-speaking and other countries groan under the weight of books on Jewish mysticism in general and on Hassidism and the Lurianic Cabbala more specifically. Many of the authors of these books are widely regarded as famous scholars because of the minutiae of their scholarship. The people who read only these books on these subjects, however, cannot suspect that Jewish mysticism, the Lurianic Cabbala, Hassidism and the teachings of Rabbi Kook contain basic ideas about Jewish superiority comparable to the worst forms of anti-Semitism. The scholarly authors of these books, for example Gershon Scholem, have willfully omitted reference to such ideas. These authors are supreme hypocrites. They are analogous to many authors of books on Stalin and Stalinism. Until recently, people who read only the books written by Stalinists could not know about Stalin's crimes and would have false notions of the Stalinists' regimes and their real ideologies. The fact is that certain Jews, some of whom wield political influence, consider Jews to be superior to non-Jews and view the world as having been created only or primarily for Jews. This belief in Jewish superiority is most dangerous when held by Jews who love their children, are honest in their relations with other Jews and perform, as do fundamentalists in all religions, various acts of piety. This belief is less dangerous when held by Jews who are not overwhelmingly concerned about religion and/or corruption. A parallel worth citing here is that in a secular, totalitarian system, a dedicated party worker or a convinced nationalist is usually more dangerous and harmful than a corrupt member of the same ideological system. Our final point in this preface is both personal and universal. As Jews, we understand that our own grandparents or great-grandparents probably believed in at least some of the views described in our book. This same statement may apply to other contemporary Jews. In the past many non- Jews, as individuals and as members of groups, held anti-Semitic views, which, especially when the circumstances were propitious, influenced the behavior of others towards Jews. Similarly, in the past, slavery was universally practiced and justified, the inferior status of women was a global phenomenon and the belief that a country belonged to an individual or family and was heritable was common. Jewish fundamentalists still believe, as they have in the past, in a golden age when everything was, or was going to be, perfect. This golden age is so much of a reality for them that, when faced with issues of pernicious beliefs and practices, they take refuge by invoking God's word, by falsely describing the past and by condemning non-Jews for harboring feelings of superiority and having contempt for Jews. The fundamentalists also justify their own belief in Jewish superiority and their feeling of contempt for non-Jews; they seek to reproduce the mythical golden age in which their views would dominate. We have written this book in order to reveal the essential character of Jewish fundamentalism and its adherents. This character threatens democratic features of Israeli society. We believe that awareness is the necessary first step in opposition. We realize that by criticizing Jewish fundamentalism we are criticizing a part of the past that we love. We wish that members of every human grouping would criticize their own past, even before criticizing others. This, we further believe, would lead to a better understanding between human groups and would be followed, perhaps slowly and hesitantly, by better treatment of minorities. Most of our book is concerned with basic beliefs and resultant policies in Israeli Jewish society. We believe that a critique of Jewish fundamentalism, which entails a critique of the Jewish past, can help Jews acquire more understanding and improve their behavior towards Palestinians, especially in the territories conquered in and occupied since 1967. We hope that our critique will also motivate other people in the Middle East to engage in criticism of their entire past in order to increase their knowledge of themselves and improve their behavior towards others in the present. All of this could constitute a major factor in bringing peace to the Middle East. ...

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