Category Archives: Zionism and Jewish religion

Zionism – the continuation of Judaism by other means

Zionism – the continuation of Judaism by other means

Yael Lotan

(Provenance: posted on the ALEF forum, based at the University of Haifa, on 27 September 2005, this article was circulated a few years earlier by Ms. Lotan’s daughter)

Anyone who wishes to discuss the phenomenon of Zionism immediately runs into the problem of how to define it. Unlike the European colonization of the Americas, for example, or the British domination of Kenya or India, the Jewish settlement in Palestine has been given various and contradictory definitions. The two commonest, and conflicting, definitions are: 1. ‘Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people;’ 2. ‘Zionism is one of the manifestations of European colonialism in the 20th century.’ I shall return to these definitions, their sources and limitations.

I propose to show that Zionism is an essentially Jewish phenomenon, and cannot be separated from Judaism (in the religious-historical sense of the term), and therefore its resemblance to either national liberation or colonialist movements is morphological rather than taxonomic, and leaves various aspects of Zionism unexplained.

What is Judaism?

A prayer called Hamavdil (the Separator), said by observant Jews every Saturday evening as the Sabbath ends, praises God who ‘separates the sacred from the profane’. Judaism is dominated by the idea of separation. What are the origins and rationale of this striking characteristic? – This question ought to be tackled with the tools of anthropology, psychology, history and sociology. There must be various reasons why Judaism has not been investigated with these tools, and why the few scholars who attempted to analyze the nature of Judaism tended to produce apologetics. One reason may be that some of the fathers of modern anthropology were themselves Jews (e.g., Franz Boas and Claude Levi-Strauss), and were unwilling or unable to tackle their ancestral culture with the same tools with which they tackled exotic ones. But then, neither did non-Jewish scholars apply to the religion which gave birth to Christianity the same analytical methods they applied unhesitatingly to alien cultures and religions. A rare and illuminating exception may be found in Mary Douglas’ famous book Purity and Danger, in which she discusses the purity laws in the Book of Leviticus, placing them in a broad anthropological context.

But this is a rare study, and it deals only with the primeval phase of Judaism. It can no more cover the subject of latter-day Judaism than a discussion of the early days of the American republic can cover the subject of the US today. It is time that someone applied the usual anthropological methods to the Shulhan Arukh – the all-embracing rule-book for observant Jews – in comparison with other old cultures, from the Hindu Brahmins to Papuan tribes. But even without all these, it is possible to outline some of the main features of Judaism.

1. The Old Testament defines the Yahwist deity in terms of what he is not: Jehovah is not the god of other tribes; He does not share his dominion over his chosen tribe with any other deity; Being a deity of the upper air, the wind and the surface of the earth, he has no dealings with what lies under the earth, namely, the world of the dead and the chthonic powers – which accounts for such biblical assertions as ‘The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence,’ and for the injunctions against the consumption of blood and necromancy; Jehovah requires from his followers to adopt signs to distinguish them from other people, e.g., circumcision, and the prohibition of work or lighting a fire one day a week. The Bible also lay down rules of separation between different kinds of field crops, a ban on yoking together an ass and an ox, on weaving fabrics with mixed animal and vegetable fibres, etc. In the course of time Judaism added more and more ritual separations, until it became totally dominated and obsessed by the business of keeping various categories of things apart – the pure and the impure, the sacred and the profane, kasher and taref (ritually clean and unclean meats), meat and dairy products, leavened and unleavened dough (during Passover), silk and cotton, men and women, adults and minors, and so on.

2. Judaism as we know it began to evolve in the time of the Second Temple, i.e., the fifth century BC. Thereafter, the principal separation, namely, between Jews and ‘Gentiles’, became entrenched, as the religious leaders Ezra and Nehemiah forbade inter-marriage between Jews and other people. Even the Samaritans, who were their brothers from the northern kingdom of Samaria, were rejected. Jews who adopted some of the ways of the world around them were reviled and shunned by the traditionalists (known in the New Testament as Pharisees). A Jew who assimilated culturally and socially with the Greeks and later with the Romans was regarded as an enemy. The Hellenistic civilization of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, which was largely extinguished by Christendom until the Renaissance, was utterly rejected by the Jews who remained faithful to their tribal religion. Christianity, with its ambivalent attitude towards Judaism, which gradually turned into vicious enmity, made the separation that much easier.

(It is important to distinguish between earlier examples of Jewish hostility to strangers – e.g., the story of Moses’ Ethiopian wife – which reflected ordinary xenophobia, and the later isolationism, which was anchored in religious law. The historical books of the Old Testament show that up until the time of the Second Temple there was constant inter-marriage between the Israelites and their neighbours.)

3. After the fall of Judea and the destruction of the Temple, in the year 70 AD, separateness became the hallmark of Judaism. Some other nations circumcized their sons, or worshipped a single god, sometimes even an unseen god (according to Tacitus, so did some Germanic tribes), or prohibited the eating of pigs, but these features did not lead to a spiritual or social alliance with the Jews. In later times Islam adopted the main tenets of Judaism, but was nevertheless rejected. The biblical verse ‘The people shall dwell alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations’ became the motto of the Jews. Judaism adopted the Roman principle of descent through the female, since mater semper certa est – the mother is always known – and with it the notion that Jews are not only set apart by their religion, but are actually made of a different, purer, substance, which must not be defiled by mixed marriage. In a curious way, the religion and its rituals became almost secondary, because ‘A Jew, even if he transgresses, remains a Jew’ – meaning, that even if he ate pork or lit a fire on the Sabbath, he was still a member of the chosen people, and could always return to the fold. On the other hand, a Gentile can be circumcized and observe all the numerous rules, yet he remains a goy, and every effort is made to discourage goyim from trying to convert to Judaism. Thus Judaism does not really claim to be a universal religion, like Christianity and Islam, otherwise it would have sought to convert everyone. This is the great paradox: that the universal deity the Jews believe in is not interested in the rest of the human race, and maintains a separate arrangement with a particular tribe.

4. The Hebrew word Yahadut, which denotes both Judaism and Jewry, demonstrates that there is no difference between the faith and the people. The familiar Jewish saying that ‘It is not Israel who kept the Sabbath, but the Sabbath that kept Israel’, is perfectly true. The religion, with its endless prohibitions and rules of ritual purity, preserved the distinctive identity of its adherents. That was its function. At the same time, it held out an eschatological vision according to which at the End of Days the entire world will acknowledge the supremacy of Jehovah and recognize Jerusalem as his abode and the Jews as his priests – ‘a kingdom of priests and an holy nation.’ It does not suggest that all men will become Jews! The separation is therefore a cosmic phenomenon, and will continue even in the afterworld. In this it differs from the Brahmin caste – which resembles Jewry in having strict laws of purity and separation – since in the Hindu religion the individual’s caste-identity applies only to a single incarnation, and does not have a cosmic status.

Modern Times and the Enlightenment

In the 19th century the impact of the Enlightenment began to undermine Jewish isolationism. In Europe, where the majority of Jews lived, religious observance was visibly weakening and assimilation was increasing. As the surrounding society grew more secular and open, abandoning the identification of individuals by their religion, more and more Jews came to feel uncomfortable in their isolation. But for the violent crises which rocked European societies during that period, it is possible that most Jews would have assimilated, leaving only a few small Orthodox communities to cling to their traditional way of life. But the upheavals in Europe in the late 19th century exposed all the ethnic and religious minorities to existential dangers, and Jews were traditional targets of popular discontent and frustration. At this time, antisemism, whose origins were religious and whose roots went back to the Crusades, took on a secularized and racist quality. It has been argued that Jewish separateness provoked antisemitism, or at least exacerbated it. Even if so, it may not matter any longer. What is certain, however, is that the violent outbreaks of European antisemitism stimulated the mass emigration of Jews to America and other distant lands.

At the start of the 20th century, when assimilation was spreading from Western Europe to the more tradition-bound Jewish communities in Central and even Eastern Europe, there were three options for the preservation of Jewish identity. The first was the time-honoured Orthodox way – namely, the strict observance of the ritual laws, which amounted to a physical barrier to assimilation, since you cannot assimilate among people with whom you cannot share a meal or a drink, or pass your leisure time, let alone marry them. The second option was to preserve Jewish identity by means of ‘cultural autonomy’, as promoted by the Yiddishist movement known as the Bund – namely, by encouraging the distinctive Jewish culture in Yiddish language and literature, in music and various traditions. This popular movement could join the progressive current, support radical ideologies, and even adopt an anti-religious stance, for if there was a distinctive Jewish culture, it could help preserve their separate identity, even if the walls it built around them were not as impregnable as those of Orthodoxy. Finally, there was the territorial option – namely, Zionism.

Territorial Separation

What Zionism offered was a way of maintaining Jewish separateness in the most natural way: by a physical separation from the rest of mankind. In a Jewish State it would be possible to preserve the tribe without having constantly to resist assimilation. Moreover, it would be possible to achieve a ‘normalization’ of the Jewish people – while living apart, it would be ‘a nation among nations’, and like the others it would consist of different classes – workers and capitalists, religious and secular people – who would all be Jews. Furthermore, if masses of Jews gathered from all over the world to live in one place, their existence would be more secure than as minority communities in alien and sometimes hostile societies. But for this plan to succeed it had to be located in a place which would not only be empty of ‘Gentiles’, but would also have specific Jewish associations – namely, the ‘Land of Israel’ (the traditional Jewish name for Palestine). All attempts to create a territorial solution in another location – e.g., in the Argentine pampas, in Uganda or Birobidjan – were not Jewish solutions and remained ideologically and numerically insignificant.

During the first third of the century the Zionist option did not enjoy much success. The Orthodox option was still well entrenched, and progressive Jews were more attracted by the cultural, quasi-secular, option of the Bund. The rest were people who were not averse to assimilation, who regarded Judaism as a burden which any sensible person would prefer to drop. There is no doubt that but for the rise of Nazism and its consequences, Zionism would not have become in the latter half of the century the success story that it is.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the two definitions of Zionism quoted at the beginning of this article have been prevalent, not only in Israel but wherever the subject is raised. Secular Jews describe Zionism as one of the national liberation movements which arose around the turn of the century, and therefore define every Jewish community the world over as part of the Jewish People, or the Jewish Nation; we shall come back to the problems of this definition. Jews and non-Jews of Marxist background usually describe Zionism as a colonial manifestation, but this definition is not quite satisfactory either, as we shall see.

Zionism as a Movement of National Liberation

Zionism, then, offered to solve the problem of Jewish separateness by territorial means. Unfortunately for it, it turned out that the autochthonous inhabitants of Palestine, which the Zionist leadership had described as a handful of Ishmaelite nomads who could be ignored or driven out, were in fact a nation. Ben Gurion recalled how, when he disembarked at the port of Jaffa in 1906, he looked around him and grew alarmed: ‘What are all these Arabs doing in my country?’ – Did not Zionism promise to spare the Jews from having to build walls of separation”! This was the start of the Middle East conflict. And not only the conflict between Jews and Arabs. In the first decade of the century Zionist leaders bemoaned the fact that Jewish agriculturists in Palestine were employing ‘Ishmaelite men and women’ in their orchards and homes. What was the point of immigrating to the Land of Israel, they said, if there too they had to mingle with goyim, and ‘Gentile’ women worked in their kitchens and looked after their children? The solution proposed was to bring Jews from the Yemen – known from their communities in Jerusalem as deeply religious – and employ them instead of Arabs in the orchards and houses. This was in fact done in 1906 – the settlement called Sha’arayim was created near Rehovot, and populated with a Jewish community imported especially from Yemen. However, where the Ashkenazi families in Rehovot had received four acres each, the Yemenites received only one acre per family, thus ensuring that they would be unable to support their families by agriculture, and would have to go to work for their Ashkenazi neighbours.

But the definition of Jews as a nation is extraordinarily problematic. It’s perfectly obvious that the only common denominator between European and Yemenite Jews, or between, say, a Jew from Cochin and a Jew from Romania, is religion. (It is true that after two or three generations of living together in Israel something resembling an Israeli nation has come into being, just as an American nation and an Australian nation emerged in their time. However, the periodic flooding of Israel with masses of new immigrants hinders the crystallization of an Israeli nation; but this lies outside the present discussion.) And indeed, in Israel, after a century of local history, religion remains the framework of society. Israel cannot cease to be a ‘Jewish State’, or a ‘State of the Jews’. An editorial in the secular Israeli daily Haaretz expressed it thus: ‘The State was established to provide a national home for the Jewish people, and so it remains on the threshold of the 21st century. The Jewish people is a unique ethnic-national entity, combining religion and nationality… The rules governing the political scene in Israel are derived from the axiom that this is a Jewish State… This position is anchored in Supreme Court rulings and in the laws concerning the Knesset, which determine that ‘a party may not compete in the general elections for the Knesset if its aims or its acts oppose, openly or implicitly, the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people’ (12 February 1996). The formula ‘The Jewish people is a unique ethnic-national entity, combining religion and nationality,’ rests on premises which cannot be rationally sustained. What kind of ‘ethnic entity’ can contain both Russian and Iraqi Jews? Can the term ‘nationality’ do so? – Clearly not. The one and only common denominator is the religion, and with it the tradition, or myth, of a shared origin thousands of years ago. Where religion fails, Zionism sustains the myth of ethnic continuity by various other means – archaeology, the swearing of soldiers in Massada or at the Wailing Wall, and so on.

Zionism as a European Colonial Movement

People with a Marxist background apply to Zionism the terms they regard as universal, i.e., those of materialism, economics and class. And indeed, Zionist history as a whole resembles that of European colonialism. The early Zionist leadership was predominantly bourgeois European, and had strong links with the bourgeois European governments of the time. Moreover, it enjoyed the crucial support of powerful capitalist elements, such as the Baron Rothschild and others. Looking at the history of Zionism, from the imperialist ‘Balfour Declaration’ of 1917 to the present Western support for aggressive Israel, it is easy to draw parallels between it and, say, the French colonization of Algeria or Indochina. All the same, it is a different story. Between the 1920s and 1940s there was a popular Zionist slogan that often drew fire from the progressive wing: it was a call for ‘Hebrew Labour’ – i.e., ‘Employ Jews, not Arabs!’ But though it expressed indifference to the needs of the Arab labour force, it could not be defined as racism in the usual sense of the term, for we have seen that Yemenite Jewish labourers, who were not ‘European’, and did not differ ‘racially’ or culturally from their Moslem neighbours in Yemen, were actually imported to replace local Arab labourers. (The Jewish credentials of the Yemenite community were never in doubt. On the contrary – rabbis, cantors and radio announcers of Yemenite background were highly prized for their vast knowledge of Hebrew and its heritage.) But if not racism, what did the call for ‘Hebrew labour’ signify? – Quite simply, the traditional Jewish separation from the goyim, an application of the same principles Jews have lived by throughout the world for centuries.

By contrast, the European colonists in the Americas, Africa and Asia were attracted by the availability of a cheap labour force. People migrated from Europe to various parts of the world in order to enrich themselves by exploiting the natural resources of those countries by means of the local labour force. The Zionist settlement in Palestine from the late 19th to the mid-20th century was a different enterprise. Before World War II, most of the Zionist settlers came to Palestine of their own will, not so much driven by circumstances as impelled by ideological fervour, often leaving behind them far better conditions than those they encountered in the ‘Promised Land’. Those Jews who wished to better their condition materially emigrated to the Americas, to Australia and South Africa. As for the money that Jewish capitalists invested in the Zionist settlement – this was characteristic Jewish philanthropy (i.e., dedicated to Jewish causes), enlivened with sympathy for the new ideology. When these capitalists looked for profits, they invested in far more promising enterprises than the Jewish settlement in Palestine; (though they probably did hope that eventually there would be a self-supporting Jewish community in Palestine, that might in the fullness of time even become profitable.)

It is hardly surprising that the Zionist movement conducted itself in some ways like other European colonial movements, since the political thinking of its central leadership stemmed from the European worldview of its time. Even when these leaders proclaimed progressive views, they continued to identify with Western colonialism. (We must not forget that in those days even progressive people in the West believed in the superiority of European civilization.) Certainly, as far as the Zionists could see, colonialism was the only viable scenario, and all other strategies must have seemed totally unrealistic. Zionism rode on the skirts of European imperialism, and cooperated with it in order to win its support. When Britain was the dominant power in the Middle East, Zionism collaborated with it. Nowadays, when the dominant power is the United States, Israel serves American interests because they serve her own. Yet the aim of Zionism has been to serve not the interests of Britain or the United States, but the age-old Jewish goal of a separate existence.

Israeli Zionism

It is natural that the Zionist movement could contain various currents, because they all flowed to the same destination – namely, a Jewish state, in which separateness would be automatic. (Today even secular Zionists are capable of describing the process of Jewish assimilation and inter-marriage in the Western world as ‘a demographic Holocaust’!) Many people believe that in a few generations the only Jews in the world, other than a handful of ultra-Orthodox communities who maintain their identity in the old, well-tried way, will be the citizens of the Jewish State. The rest will assimilate and disappear among the ‘Gentiles’. That is why Zionism remains the common programme of nearly all of the political parties in Israel, from Moledet on the extreme Right to Meretz on the Left. Its principal tenet is that there must be a separate Jewish political entity, and the only question left is by what means this may be achieved. Right-wingers believe that it is possible to suppress and perhaps expel the non-Jews living in Palestine, either gradually by driving them to emigrate, or by more violent means; at the very least they seek to confine the Palestinians to some scattered, closed, supervised reservations. At the other end of the scale, the most committed members of the peace camp voice a preference for a very small Israel, within the pre-1967 borders or even smaller, provided it is ‘all ours’ – meaning, without any Arabs, or only a tiny minority as a testimony to Israeli democracy. In this they closely resemble the white Afrikaner movement in South Africa, which, since the fall of Apartheid, has been clamouring for a separate white state in Natal Province.

The realization that Zionism is a continuation of Judaism by other means helps to explain how it can resemble European colonialism and at the same time differ from it in important ways, and also resemble national liberation movements in some aspects and be quite unlike them in others. The Holocaust provided Jewish isolationism with a retroactive, if paranoid, vindication, and is therefore never absent from Zionist propaganda and apologetics. (I say ‘paranoid’, because there is no reason to regard the Nazi extermination policy as an ongoing threat, any more than African-Americans are threatened with a return to slavery.) And, as stated before, today there is little point in arguing whether or not Jewish separateness itself provoked antisemitism. Even if it did, then – as in cases of rape – the victim is not to be blamed.

Today it is difficult to digest the paradoxes of the Israeli situation unless one considers the aim of Zionism. It is difficult to understand why in South Africa the reverse process is taking place – from Apartheid to unification, despite all the problems and obstacles – whereas in Israel even the popular peace-camp slogan, ‘Two States for Two Nations’, whose motives are ostensibly enlightened, strives towards the same goal as the Orthodoxy. There is, of course, a basic difference between the two main Zionist camps, but it may be illustrated by the following metaphor: the hawkish Right wants Israel to remain a thorn in the flesh of the Middle East, and prefers a state of hostility over a peaceable solution, whereas the dovish Left seeks to heal the inflamed wound and turn Israel into a kind of implant in the Middle East, something like a cardiac pacemaker or plastic hip-replacement – an essentially benign, non-infective foreign body.

There is no point in giving good and bad marks to history. The question is not whether the aim of separateness is good or bad, but what it signifies and where it must lead. Because the supra-national empires of Europe fell apart in the early years of this century, people often speak of our time as being the ‘era of the nation state’; but in reality we are living in an era of non-nation states. The dominant power in the world today, the United States of America, is not a nation state, nor is there such a state anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, from pole to pole. Similarly, Australia, Great Britain, India, China, Russia and Indonesia, are not nation states, and the same holds true for most of the African states. As time goes on, there are fewer and fewer countries whose inhabitants predominantly belong to a single ethnic-cultural group. The mass migrations of the past century have greatly eroded the national pattern, which was never as static as some people imagine.

In reality Zionism, though based on the concept of a ‘Jewish nation’, gave birth to a state based on religion, while at the same time trying to maintain a modern, quasi-secular, quasi-democratic guise. Yet though there are today some vigorous theocracies and semi-theocracies – chiefly in the Moslem world – they do have ethnic-cultural foundations to sustain them, which cannot be said about Israel, as any visitor soon perceives. People who believe that it will be possible in future to maintain a ‘Jewish State’ in Israel are deluding themselves. Not only the Palestinian Arabs, but all of human reality will prevent this dream from materializing. The question remains, how dearly will the inhabitants of this land still have to pay before a solution is found.

On Jewish Identity (Jan-26-2011 14:12)

On Jewish Identity

by Prof. Richard Falk

As soon as exclusivity or superiority is claimed for any ethnic or religious fraction of the human whole, there is implicitly posited a belief in the inferiority of ‘the other.’

(LOS ANGELES) – As someone who is both Jewish and supportive of the Palestinian struggle for a just and sustainable peace, I am often asked about my identity. The harshest critics of my understanding of the Israel/Palestine conflict contend that I am a self-hating Jew, which implies that sharp criticism of Israel and Zionism are somehow incompatible with affirming a Jewish identity. Of course, I deny this.

For me to be Jewish is, above all, to be preoccupied with overcoming injustice and thirsting for justice in the world, and that means being respectful toward other peoples regardless of their nationality or religion, and empathetic in the face of human suffering whoever and wherever victimization is encountered.

With this orientation, I could, but will not, return the insult, and say that those who endorse the cruelties of Israel occupation policies are the real self-hating Jews as they have turned away from the moral clarity of Old Testament prophets, which is the shining light of the Old Testament overcoming the often bloody exploits of the ancient Israelites. So interpreted, the biblical mandate for just behavior extends to all of humanity.  As the great Rabbi Hillel teaches, “[T]hat which is hateful to you do not do to another..the rest (of the Torah) is all commentary, now go study.” Not hateful only to another Jew, but clearly meant to encompass every human being 

But in a more fundamental respect my own evolution has always been suspicious of those who give priority to tribalist or sectarian identities. In other words, it is fine to affirm being Jewish, but it should not take precedence over being human or being open and receptive to the insight and wisdom of other traditions.


We have reached a point in the political and cultural evolution that our future flourishing as a species vitally depends upon the spread of a more ecumenical ethos. We have expressed this embrace of otherness in relation to food, with the rise of ‘fusion’ cuisines, and with regard to popular culture, particularly music, where all kinds of borrowing and synthesis are perceived as exciting, authentic, valuable.

For me this rejection of tribalism takes two forms, one negative, the other positive. I do not feel exclusively Jewish. Also, even if I did, I would never claim the superiority of the Jewish religion over other religions.

I have felt uncomfortable since childhood with biblical claims, often repeated in contemporary social settings, that Jews are ‘the chosen people’ of God even if this is understood benevolently and temporally as a special destiny associated with doing justice rather than as a matter of societal achievement via wealth and professional success.

As soon as exclusivity or superiority is claimed for any ethnic or religious fraction of the human whole, there is implicitly posited a belief in the inferiority of ‘the other,’ which unconsciously and indirectly gives rise to the murderous mentality of warfare and gives a moral and religious edge to many forms of persecution, culminating in a variety of inquisitions.

And, of course, the historical climax of inverted exclusivity was the Holocaust, a process in which Jews (along with the Roma and others) were chosen for extermination. Claims of exclusivity often usually pretend to possess privileged access to truth that helps disguise monstrous intentions and behavior.

To have such access, whether from a divine or secular source, treats all those outside the select circle as tainted by falsehood, the logic of which generates a societal license to kill, even to exterminate. Extreme tribalism is genocidal at its core given material scarcities and inequalities that exist in the world, which would otherwise be indefensible.

Besides, the disturbing historical record of exclusivist approaches to living together there is increasing confirmation of the artificiality of the ethnic foundations of the claims of distinct national identities, often at the expense of those exclusions. Benedict Anderson has seminally linked nationalist aspirations with distinct political projects in his Imagined Communities. More recently the Israeli historian, Shlomo Sand in The Invention of the Jewish People has shown the absence of a Jewish ethnos that might justify the claim of being a distinct people, and the degree to which in the Zionist embodiment of their conception of Jewishness in Israel, the Palestinian minority has been subjugated, a cruel ideological side effect of this type of ethnic nationalism. One of the achievements of European secularism and the move to modernity was to denationalize the state while asserting its sovereign control over people living within its bounded territory, which in effect disconnected juridical nationalism from ethnic and religious nationalism, and thus created the basis in law and morality for treating all people subject to the state as equal before the law.

Of course, societal beliefs and traditions, along with class conflict and racism and religious prejudices persisted, but not with the blessings of the state. Toward the end of his book Sand poses the question that exposes the raw nerve of the Zionist insistence on Israel as a Jewish state, an insistence given great salience by the current leadership: “It is hard to know how much longer the Israeli Arabs, who represent 20% of the country’s inhabitants, will continue to tolerate being viewed as foreigners in their own homeland.” (p. 325)

It should be borne in mind that even the initial purely colonialist encouragement of the Zionist project  in the form of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 looked with favor only to a Jewish homeland, and only then if it did not encroach on the rights and prospect of the indigenous population then resident in historic Palestine.

Turning to the positive effects of rejecting tribalist and sectarian approaches to truth and spirituality, I would emphasize the fabulous opportunities at this stage of history to learn from and participate in diverse religious traditions, especially in a globalizing world. In my own case, I have drawn spiritual sustenance from the other great religions ever since my student days.

Although celebrating the distinctive traditions of one’s own birth or chosen religion can be personally enriching, and is for most people, I have found that the quality of the sacred and divine can be experienced from many different points of entry with interactive and comparable benefits. In my case I have at various times been inspired and enlightened by the practices and wisdom of Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, Taoist, and indigenous peoples.

And in a more mundane sense, I think that the future of humanity will be greatly enhanced if these various religious and wisdom traditions are ecumenically and inclusively embraced by more and more people throughout the world, providing a thickening societal and civilizational fiber for human solidarity. I have always been skeptical of the rational case for global humanism that is quite prevalent in the West, an aspect of the Enlightenment legacy, which is also partly responsible for secular excesses relating to technology culminating in the development and normalization of nuclear weaponry.

This exclusion of the spiritual is also responsible for those forms of materialism that underpin predatory capitalism that prevails in many parts of the world today. Beyond this, such homogenizing types of universalism, associated with both consumerism and its military twin, imperialism, tend to erode cultural differences, and do not touch the experience of most of the people living on the planet.

In my experience what is most appropriate in our historical circumstances is an ecumenical and inclusive spiritual identity, and associated ethical and political commitments.

In effect, what would awaken the collective sensibilities of the peoples of the earth to the challenges confronting humanity is a movement of spiritual and ethical globalization that approaches the universal through an immersion in a variety of particularities. 

In this sense, I want to say, yes I am Jewish, and proud of it, but I am equally indigenous, Sufi, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian to the extent that I allow myself to participate in their rituals, partake of their sacred texts, and seek and avail myself of the opportunity to sit at the feet of their masters.  Many persons living deprived lives do not have or desire such ecumenical opportunities, and can best approach this universal ideal, by seeking out the inclusive potentialities of their own religious and cultural reality.

I want to give the last word to an early nineteenth century American spiritual seer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, although with some hesitation, given his patriarchal use of language. I was slightly tempted to substitute ‘humans are’ for ‘man is’ but then I decided to respect the integrity of Emerson’s speech within the historical setting of its original utterance (unlike the recent purging of ‘nigger’ from the American classic, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, and the substitution of the historically misleading, yet culturally less offensive word ‘slave’).

Here are Emerson’s words as written: “The civility of no race can be perfect whilst another race is degraded. It is a doctrine of the oldest and of the newest philosophy, that man is one, and that you cannot injure any member, without a sympathetic injury to all members.”

Special thanks to: and


Richard Falk is an international law and international relations scholar who taught at Princeton University for forty years. 

Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He initiated this blog partly in celebration of his 80th birthday. Visit Richard Falk’s Citizen Pilgrimage blog.

Idea of a Jewish people invented, says Israeli historian

Idea of a Jewish people invented, says historian

By Jonathan Cook

11 October 2008

Jonathan Cook views Israeli historian Shlomo Sand’s taboo-breaking bestseller, which has demolished the foundations of the state of Israel by arguing that the so-called “Jewish nation”, “Jewish exile” and the alleged historical connection between the “Jewish people” and the Holy Land are quite simply myths.

No one is more surprised than Shlomo Sand that his latest academic work has spent 19 weeks on Israel’s bestseller list – and that success has come to the history professor despite his book challenging Israel’s biggest taboo.

Dr Sand argues that the idea of a Jewish nation – whose need for a safe haven was originally used to justify the founding of the state of Israel – is a myth invented little more than a century ago.

An expert on European history at Tel Aviv University, Dr Sand drew on extensive historical and archaeological research to support not only this claim but several more – all equally controversial.

In addition, he argues that the Jews were never exiled from the Holy Land, that most of today’s Jews have no historical connection to the land called Israel and that the only political solution to the country’s conflict with the Palestinians is to abolish the Jewish state.

The success of When and How Was the Jewish People Invented? looks likely to be repeated around the world. A French edition, launched last month, is selling so fast that it has already had three print runs.

Translations are under way into a dozen languages, including Arabic and English. But he predicted a rough ride from the pro-Israel lobby when the book is launched by his English publisher, Verso, in the United States next year.

In contrast, he said Israelis had been, if not exactly supportive, at least curious about his argument. Tom Segev, one of the country’s leading journalists, has called the book “fascinating and challenging”.

Surprisingly, Dr Sand said, most of his academic colleagues in Israel have shied away from tackling his arguments. One exception is Israel Bartal, a professor of Jewish history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Writing in Haaretz, the Israeli daily newspaper, Dr Bartal made little effort to rebut Dr Sand’s claims. He dedicated much of his article instead to defending his profession, suggesting that Israeli historians were not as ignorant about the invented nature of Jewish history as Dr Sand contends.

The idea for the book came to him many years ago, Dr Sand said, but he waited until recently to start working on it. “I cannot claim to be particularly courageous in publishing the book now,” he said. “I waited until I was a full professor. There is a price to be paid in Israeli academia for expressing views of this sort.”

Dr Sand’s main argument is that until little more than a century ago, Jews thought of themselves as Jews only because they shared a common religion. At the turn of the 20th century, he said, Zionist Jews challenged this idea and started creating a national history by inventing the idea that Jews existed as a people separate from their religion.

Equally, the modern Zionist idea of Jews being obligated to return from exile to the Promised Land was entirely alien to Judaism, he added.

“Zionism changed the idea of Jerusalem. Before, the holy places were seen as places to long for, not to be lived in. For 2,000 years Jews stayed away from Jerusalem not because they could not return but because their religion forbade them from returning until the messiah came.”

The biggest surprise during his research came when he started looking at the archaeological evidence from the biblical era.

“I was not raised as a Zionist, but like all other Israelis I took it for granted that the Jews were a people living in Judea and that they were exiled by the Romans in 70AD.

“But once I started looking at the evidence, I discovered that the kingdoms of David and Solomon were legends.

“Similarly with the exile. In fact, you can’t explain Jewishness without exile. But when I started to look for history books describing the events of this exile, I couldn’t find any. Not one.

“That was because the Romans did not exile people. In fact, Jews in Palestine were overwhelming peasants and all the evidence suggests they stayed on their lands.”

Instead, he believes an alternative theory is more plausible: the exile was a myth promoted by early Christians to recruit Jews to the new faith. “Christians wanted later generations of Jews to believe that their ancestors had been exiled as a punishment from God.”

So if there was no exile, how is it that so many Jews ended up scattered around the globe before the modern state of Israel began encouraging them to “return”?

Dr Sand said that, in the centuries immediately preceding and following the Christian era, Judaism was a proselytizing religion, desperate for converts. “This is mentioned in the Roman literature of the time.”

Jews travelled to other regions seeking converts, particularly in Yemen and among the Berber tribes of North Africa. Centuries later, the people of the Khazar kingdom in what is today south Russia, would convert en masse to Judaism, becoming the genesis of the Ashkenazi Jews of central and eastern Europe.

Dr Sand pointed to the strange state of denial in which most Israelis live, noting that papers offered extensive coverage recently to the discovery of the capital of the Khazar kingdom next to the Caspian Sea.

Ynet, the website of Israel’s most popular newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, headlined the story: “Russian archaeologists find long-lost Jewish capital.” And yet none of the papers, he added, had considered the significance of this find to standard accounts of Jewish history.

One further question is prompted by Dr Sand’s account, as he himself notes: if most Jews never left the Holy Land, what became of them?

“It is not taught in Israeli schools but most of the early Zionist leaders, including David Ben Gurion [Israel’s first prime minister], believed that the Palestinians were the descendants of the area’s original Jews. They believed the Jews had later converted to Islam.”

Dr Sand attributed his colleagues’ reticence to engage with him to an implicit acknowledgement by many that the whole edifice of “Jewish history” taught at Israeli universities is built like a house of cards.

The problem with the teaching of history in Israel, Dr Sand said, dates to a decision in the 1930s to separate history into two disciplines: general history and Jewish history. Jewish history was assumed to need its own field of study because Jewish experience was considered unique.

“There’s no Jewish department of politics or sociology at the universities. Only history is taught in this way, and it has allowed specialists in Jewish history to live in a very insular and conservative world where they are not touched by modern developments in historical research.

“I’ve been criticized in Israel for writing about Jewish history when European history is my specialty. But a book like this needed a historian who is familiar with the standard concepts of historical inquiry used by academia in the rest of the world.”


Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is A version of this article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi.

The Influence of Xenophobic Ideologies on the Israeli Jews



The Influence of Xenophobic Ideologies on the Israeli Jews

In report 136 I quoted at length an outstanding Israeli social scientist, Baruch Kimmerling ("Haaretz", 21 January, 1994) discussing potentialities of a civil war between the two camps of Israeli Jewish society. Kimmerling observed that for Gush Emunim the settlements aim "at spreading to and thus absorbing the secular population of the State of Israel in their concept of the collective Jewish identity as religious, ethnocentric and programmatically anti-liberal and anti- universalist. Within this concept democracy can be tolerated only as long as it fosters the Divine Jewish Kingdom. Any values discrepant with ‘Jewish values’ which alone have absolute validity are to be suppressed". Moreover, Kimmerling wrote that "between 1974 and 1992 Gush Emunim managed to surround itself with a periphery of supporters with varying degrees of commitment and contact. Its greatest achievement was its quite extensive influence on Israeli-Jewish Culture and collective identity, whose concepts became with time more and more ethnocentric". Another factor which in Kimmerling’s view increases the likelihood of a civil war is the fact that Gush Emunim has managed to acquire "a territorial base of its own, and expertise in handling weapons and executing quasi-military operations". Incidentally, my report 135 contained similar arguments. However, Gush Emunim’s political power can be presumed to derive not only from its own resources, or of those of its Israeli supporters who fully adhere to its ideology. Their power has two additional Sources: the spread of ethnocentric and xenophobic views, especially of the hatred of Arabs, among the Israeli Jewish masses and the penetration of the Israeli Security System, Le. the army and various Intelligence branches by Gush Emunim members and supporters. This report will be devoted to discussion of two latter factors. As such, it can be seen as a sequel of reports 135 and 136.

All the polls taken after Goldstein’s massacre have shown that while the approval of that massacre was in the Israeli Jewish society on the whole quite considerable, some population subgroups have approved it more and some less. An expertly poll taken ten days after the massacre by Eliyahu Hassin for "Shishi" and published on March 11 used a representative sample of all Israeli adults, which means that it included the Arab holders of Israeli citizenship. The respondents could choose between three options: justifying the massacre, "understanding" it without justifying, and condemning it in no uncertain terms. The first two answers were categorized jointly and thus contrasted with clear condemnations. (The remainder needed to add up to 100 percent stands for those who refused to answer or had no opinion.) The national average was: justifying 6%; understanding 30%; not condemning 36%; condemning 63%. Since the answers of the Arabs, who constitute about 14.5% of Israeli adults, were predictable, we can infer that about 40% of Israeli Jews either justified or at least "understood" Goldstein’s massacre. This is the point of departure for this report and it probably should be a point of departure for any serious analysis of Israeli Jewish attitudes. As mentioned, the poll breakdowns showed that those responses varied significantly between various segments of the population. The most meaningful was in my view the variation between the younger and the older age cohorts. In the age cohort 18-29 8% were found to justify the massacre; 35% to understand it; (Le. 43% did not condemn it), and only 56% condemned it, which means that overt or covert approval for the massacre was higher than in the national average. By contrast, in the age cohort 50-65 only 3% were found to justify it; 18% to understand it; (Le. 21%; did not condemn it), whereas as many as 78%, (which means much more than in the national average) did condemn it. The breakdown by age shows that on issues involving the Palestinians in the Territories the Israeli attitudes tend to get increasingly tough with the lapse of time. Incidentally, on issues not directly involving the Palestinians in the Territories, like the freedom of Israeli press, the younger Israelis turn out to be more liberal than the elderly.

Although Israelis below 18 were recently not polled, the descriptions of their views and attitudes had abounded in the last decade. Those descriptions make it clear that xenophobic attitudes tend to be at their highest among the youth aged 14-18. Indisputably, the major reason for this is the character of Jewish education in Israel. Jewish high school students from largest Israeli cities interviewed by "Yediot Ahronot" correspondents (March 2) displayed such xenophobic attitudes in abundance. Ronit Antler, who summarized those interviews, compared them with comments of top echelon Israeli educators. Thus "Joe Kolodner, the head of the Education Ministry’s Psychological Service, said that ‘Israeli society undergoes a deep crisis if after 45 years [of statehood] a generation appeared which believes that what happened in Hebron was O.K. ‘By contrast, the General Director of the Education Ministry, Shimshon Shoshani, remained unimpressed. ‘I haven’t yet heard that the students approved of the massacre. Most students in this country behave maturely’. Antler comments that visits to schools around the country revealed that many students did denounce the murder, but also that many others did not have any hesitation to profess their solidarity with the murderer. The common argument in support of the latter attitude is: ‘Since they kill us, why shouldn’t we kill them?’"

Here are some specifics of the interviews and their setting. "Municipal High School A is an average Tel-Aviv school. The school is integrated, in that it contains students from all social strata. It is located on the boundary dividing the northern [wealthy] from the southern [poor] parts of the city. Most of its students denounced the murder, but refused to feel sorry about it. They were by no means shocked. Usually they avoided calling it ‘murder’ or ‘massacre’, preferring instead expressions such as: ‘the event’, ‘the incident’, or ‘that thing which happened in Hebron’.

"Yesterday, during the afternoon recess, the students assembled in [discussion] groups. They were sitting on the floor, smoking cigarettes, eating sandwiches and arguing. Miri, from grade 11: ‘Murder is a terrible thing. Every murder should be denounced. Both by Arabs and by Jews. It’s too bad that the extremists on both sides are wrecking the peace process. I offer my condolences to the Arabs’. But Oded from the same grade was more annoyed by the ‘all-out vilification of Jewish residents of Kiryat Arba’. He said: ‘They are falling prey to all that talk about evacuation. Those people chose to live there, they have a splendid ideology. The minute Arafat called off the talks on the ground that he didn’t receive a satisfactory compensation for what happened in Hebron, I came to the conclusion that no Arabs really want peace. Hamas keeps assaulting us, yet we don’t call off the peace process. Once again this shows that no Arabs can be trusted’. Rotem, also from grade 11, refused to empathize with the Arabs. ‘It is hard for me to mourn their dead. It is difficult for me to identify with their grief. Now can one compare what happened on Friday with Hamas murders. Hamas murders individuals whereas in Hebron a filthy mass murder was committed’. Ayelet from grade 11 admitted openly: ‘It aggrieves me much more when a Jew is killed than when a Gentile is. But what Goldstein did is now going to lead to a chain of murders of Jews’. Nadav believed that Goldstein had succeeded: "He wanted to wreck the peace process and this is exactly what is now happening. This is why I denounce the murder’. Edo: ‘The whole thing is an embarrassment, but under the circumstances the murder was justified. It should not be condemned. Killing the Jews has become an everyday routine. Just a week ago the Arabs murdered a pregnant Jewish woman’. But Shira was shocked: ‘How can you talk like this? That affair should be condemned as inhuman. It should be condemned just like the murder of a pregnant woman and of an old Jew in Kfar Saba’. But Lior from grade 12 could not understand what all the furor was about: ‘What he did was O.K. Too bad he didn’t have more grenades to throw them and kill more Arabs. That’s what should have been done. This state belongs to the Jews and to them alone. I esteem Goldstein for what he did. The Talmud says: "When someone comes to kill you, hurry to kill him first". All the Arabs want to kill us.’ Yael opposed Lior firmly. ‘I do not want us to be like the Arabs. They murder us, but this doesn’t mean that we must murder them. One murder leads to the next"’.

In the rather poor city of Be’er Sheva, where veteran "Oriental" Jews and recent immigrants from the former USSR together amount to about 80% of the population, the opinions tended to be more extremist than in Tel Aviv. "In one of the larger Be’er Sheva high schools a teacher said that after questioning one of her classes, she was surprised to find over 60% of her students approving of the massacre. 10% were critical of the fact that the murder had taken place in a mosque which is a holy site, but they refused to condemn it anyway. (In another Be’er Sheva high school a grade 12 student, Gadi Baranes said: ‘Goldstein should have done it in a market, in a street, at workplace, but not in a place of worship’.) Those denouncing Goldstein were very few in number: below 10%. But a large proportion of students refused to take sides. The teacher said: ‘I was in shock. This was a class of outstanding students, capable of expressing themselves and of explaining their views. Some were new immigrants [from the former USSR], and they leaned toward extremism. The main argument of those who approved of Goldstein was: ‘We need to be realistic. That’s the only language, which the Arabs understand. So far they have murdered us and we have said nothing. The Arabs must finally understand that those among us fed up with the daily killings of the Jews can murder them as well. Besides, why is it being said that murder victims were innocent? Don’t they murder innocent people too?’ But two new immigrant students told the teacher: ‘We can only conclude that there is no law and order in Israel. This is high time that people take the law into their own hands. The way Goldstein did it. He punished the Arabs in a way the government should have punished them long ago"’.

Here are three statements from another high school in the same city. "Lior Misha’li from grade 12 didn’t hesitate to be blunt: ‘I feel pleased about what Goldstein did. I have been happy ever since. They are making a fuss because he killed 60 of them with one stroke, but they kill one or two of us every day or every two days. That’s the difference between us and them. The way I see it, dozens of the thus liquidated Arabs could now be replaced by the Jewish unemployed in dozens of jobs’. Netan’el Zvilli from grade 12, (a cousin of Nissim ZVilli, the General Secretary of the Labor party) said: ‘I do not approve of what Goldstein did, but I wouldn’t say it was a tragedy. There is no reason for making a fuss about it. Let’s not forget that since the agreement with the PLO they have not stopped murdering us. That means that none of them really are for peace. Perhaps Goldstein overreacted, perhaps he killed a little bit too many, but even in that case it wasn’t terrible’. The only Be’er Sheva student who could be found to condemn the massacre, Eyal Zeitun from grade 12, expressed himself as follows: ‘I am against this murder. It was inhuman. My greatest hope is to be soon enlisted in a combat unit. Then I am going to take care of the Arabs. I will kill plenty of Arab rabble and terrorists, but not worshippers in a mosque"’.

Since the "Yediot Ahronot" correspondents were not allowed to talk to students of religious high schools, the quoted reactions of the Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva students can be presumed to represent the reported distribution of opinions of secular Israeli Jewish youth also from other cities. Some information about the views prevalent among students of religious high schools can nonetheless be found in an article by Yael Fishbein, a veteran education correspondent ("Davar", March 3). She believes that while "the education system provides the Israeli society with the best opportunity to counteract Kahanism and its mutations, for many years this opportunity has been deliberately wasted". She recalls on this occasion that already" 10 years ago the Supreme Court of Justice noted the amazing similarity between the ‘Kach’ program and the Nazi Nurenburg laws". Fishbein backs her case with an impressive amount of documentation. "The youth’s support for Kahane and his views is no news. The Van Leer Institute surveyed this phenomenon in the mid-1980s through the medium of the Dahaf Institute, to find that the percentage of Kahane supporters among the youth stood at about 9%, but when Kahane’s name was not mentioned, it climbed up to about 33% … But the Van Leer survey also showed that support of religious youth for Kahane was three times as large as that of secular youth, and that the former tended to profess that support in much more extremist terms, stressing explicitly such tenets of Kahanism as hatred of Arabs, the denial of their rights or the demand to expel them from the Land of Israel". Those findings sparked a quite extensive debate in the wake of which "the then Education minister, Yitzhak Navon [Labor], set up a unit for Education for Democracy and Jewish-Arab co-existence". However, "the religious Jewish community firmly opposed any education for democracy and co-existence in the name of the double standard prescribed by the Jewish religion between the attitudes towards the Jews and the Gentiles. This double standard applied with particular force against the Arabs whom many religious Jews perceived as the ‘offspring of Amalek’ which they were duty-bound to exterminate". This is why they have opposed education for democracy and co-existence not only in their own schools, but also in secular ones. As usual, the Labor party yielded to pressures of the religious parties, with the effect that "the established unit remained very small, with paltry budgets". Moreover, "the religious education took advantage of its legally guaranteed autonomy to announce that it would not tolerate any joint meetings of Jewish and Arab schoolchildren as transgressing Judaism". This announcement is still binding.

"The Education Ministry once again researched the attitudes of youth toward Kahanism in 1990, through a survey carried out by Prof. Ze’ev Ben-Sira. Support for Kahanism was then found to have increased. 39% of surveyed youths said that they identified or agreed with Kahane’s views. When Kahane’s name was not mentioned, support for his ideas climbed. 66% either supported or strongly supported ‘encouraging the Arab residents of the Territories to emigrate’. 53% supported ‘restricting the human rights of people who did not fulfill the duties of the state’s residents, such as military or national service’. The Ben-Sira survey also revealed an enormous difference between the attitude of secular and religious Jewish youths. The over-all percentage of those who expressed their preference for the domination of the Territories over the human rights was about 60%. But in the secular educational institutions the idea commanded the Support of only 35%, whereas in the religious ones of as many as 74%. In secular vocational schools (Le. attended mostly by children of parents with income below the average) 61% expressed that preference, whereas in the religious vocational schools 71%". In addition to documenting the formidable influence of Jewish religion upon the formation of xenophobic attitudes, the Ben-Sira survey noted the impact of poverty. This finding was recently corroborated by Hassin who found that respondents with income below the average justified Goldstein’s murder in 7%, "understood" it in 40% (Le. did not condemn it in 47%) and condemned it only in 51 %, whereas the respondents with income above the average justified it only in 4%; "understood" it in 20% (Le. did not condemn it in 24%) and condemned it in 75%. Fishbein adds that "the Education Ministry, headed by Zvulun Hammer [from National Religious Party], refrained from publicizing Ben-Sira’s findings. The excerpts from the Ben-Sira report cleared for publications were very selective: the selection having been biased to show the superiority of religious education in inculcating commitment to Zionism".

Jointly with plenty of other available data these findings show that Jewish religion and poverty (especially if caused by unemployment) are two major factors explaining Jewish chauvinism and Nazism. Far from ignoring either, I would attribute more importance to the influence of religion. This is at least a conclusion drawn by numerous surveys and other investigations researching the causes of Kahane’s election to the Knesset in 1984. It was then conclusively shown that vote for Kahane was the bulkiest in localities or neighborhoods which were religious and poor at the same time. Neither of those variables alone sufficed to explain massive vote for him. But jointly, these variables have a high correlative power: higher than that of any other variable. The silence of not a few "leftists", especially Jewish, about the influence of Jewish religion may be deliberate in their intention to conceal the truth. But it always strikes me as pernicious in its political effects. Incidentally, for all the difference between the conditions under which the Palestinians live as compared to the Jews, a combination of extreme poverty with religious influence appears to generate religious extremism among the former no less than among the latter.

The findings quoted by Fishbein concerning the difference between religious and secular students in their attitudes toward the Arabs have been confirmed by the poll of Jewish residents of Jerusalem ("Kol Ha’ir", September 24, 1993) investigating their attitudes toward the Oslo Agreement. Let me quote what I myself wrote about the latter in report 127. In accordance with the usual Israeli polling routine, each respondent was asked to identify himself as secular (who defies all or most commandments of Judaism), traditional (who observes only the more convenient among them), religious (who observes all commandments without renouncing the Western culture, except when it directly contradicts those commandments) or Haredi (the ultra-pious, who rejects all Western culture.) All four categories were then asked whether they support or oppose the Agreement. Without counting the undecided or those who refused to answer, the percentages were:

Jewish attitudes toward the Oslo Agreement


Since the Haredim usually don’t serve in the army, their opposition to the Agreement must be assumed to have little to do with the traumas of the Intifada or the possibility of a war. If anything, it is ascribable to their basic worldview.

But let me return to other findings quoted by Fishbein. "During the same period Dr. Ofra Meizlish and Dr. Reuven Gal [a former chief of the army’s Social Sciences Unit] surveyed the attitudes towards the Arabs in Jewish high schools. The findings were again discomfiting: 58% of religious and 35% of secular high school students said that they hated all the Arabs or most of them. To the question "to what extent would you like to wreak a vengeance on the Arabs?’ 76% of the religious youths replied that they had would like it much or very much. But the secular youths were not far behind, with about 61% replying likewise. In the same period of time professor Kalman Binyamini surveyed political and civic attitudes of [Jewish] youths in Jerusalem. 80% of his respondents agreed that ‘it would not be wrong if we goaded most Arabs to leaving Israel’. 62% agreed that ‘one could justify Jewish indiscriminate acts of vengeance when they are retaliations for Arab violence’.

But Fishbein also reports the findings of prestigious pollsters confirming the findings of education experts. "A survey of Mina Tzemah published in ‘Yediot Ahronot’, showed that 51% of young people favored ‘the deportation of all Arabs from Judea and Samaria’. The Education Ministry, however, was not overly concerned with such findings. It simply ignored them. After all, that Ministry’s higher-ranking staff was predominantly religious, and the minister was also religious. They feared to probe into their own political and educational attitudes. The Unit for Education for Democracy and Co-existence was therefore put on a back burner. True, there were some voluntary associations which undertook some worthy initiatives, but that was all".

Fishbein provides detailed information on how two consecutive Education ministers in Rabin’s government, Aloni and Rubinstein, both from Meretz, refused to do anything to change that state of affairs. They made all sorts of lofty declarations of their intentions and appointed various committees which still deliberate about what can be done about the steady growth of xenophobia in the Jewish educational system in Israel. Skipping her descriptions of their inactivity, let me only quote her conclusions. "The reality did not wait for the committee’s reports. The results of the poisoned Kahanist education slapped all of us in the face with indomitable force. The massacre in Hebron may have been a product of a pervert mind, but the approval of that massacre has been more widespread than anyone in the government would be willing to admit … Israeli society is plagued by some of the most terrible social malignancies of the 20th century: racism, hatred, dehumanization and apologetics for killing of people called the Arabs. At this time our educational system is in the hands of a Meretz minister who sits idly and keeps pretending that everything is O.K."
The pernicious influence of Jewish religious education was also discussed by another veteran education correspondent, Nilli Mandler ("Haaretz", April 5). She reports that religious Jewish educators recently began to use the term "Amalek" as referring to "all Gentiles who can be presumed to hurt the Jews". As an example, she quotes a new book "Adey Ad" ["Forever and Ever"] authored by Dr. Dov Ehrlich, which contains "essays in education and philosophy" published by the autonomous Department of Religious Education in the Education ministry for the use by its teachers. Since the Bible study is a central subject in religious education, both teachers and their students can be presumed to know the Biblical verses commanding the Jews to exterminate the Amalekites, e.g. "now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (I Samuel, Chapter 15, verse 3). But Ehrlich continues: "Amalekites can be now found allover the world, but especially within the borders of the Greater Land of Israel which the Lord, blessed be His Name, gave to us the Jews. The Amalekites are fated to hate us forever and ever, so we are justly commanded to hate them twice as strongly. The Bible commanded us to exterminate the Amalekites. Just as we obeyed the command by exterminating the ancient Amalek, we now must do the same to the modern Amalek".


As Mandler informs us, in the preface to the quoted book, "the director of the autonomous Religious Education Department, Mattay Dagan, stresses the relevance of the issues discussed in the book to the present time, due to which ‘the problems it so sagaciously raises will enrich the thought of the educators and school headmasters’. Dr. Ehrlich himself explains that ‘it is always important to disclose where the hatred of the nations toward the Jews comes from. But the hatred of modern Amalekites toward the Jews cannot be logically explained, because they suck it with their mothers’ milk. Such hatred toward the Jews can be contested only by our reciprocal hatred toward them’. In his Biblical quotations and commentary, Dr. Ehrlich does not neglect to emphasize the verbs, like to exterminate, to destroy, to raze from the earth’s surface, etc., But his intellectual exertions climax with the Talmudic quotation defining the term "Amalek" as ‘a nation which, like dogs, wants to lick Jewish blood’. This fact, contends Dr. Ehrlich, frees us from the need to justify our hatred of them. He just wants to provide the religious educators with ‘ammunition against the counterclaims raised by hypocritical or do-gooding Jews against the truth".

Mandler is perfectly right in commenting that this recent book follows in the footsteps of a similar literature published earlier by the same autonomous Religious Education Department. She says that all this literature "has commended all Jewish conquests and the settling of the conquered territories when located within the borders of the Land of Israel as demarcated according to the Bible by God, whose promise should turn into reality now". I can only comment that such borders contain a territory much larger than that which presently falls under Israeli rule. "Such publications also staunchly oppose any contacts between Jewish students and teachers and their Arab colleagues (even those holding Israeli citizenship), on the presumption that such contacts cannot but foster Jewish assimilation. They also propose to solve the Arab problem either by converting the Arabs to Judaism en masse or by goading them into emigration. A book supposed to teach the citizenship duties claims not only that a Palestinian nation has never existed, but also that it will never exist unless treacherous Jews help create it".

Mandler also shows how two formerly separate and even mutually hostile Jewish religious education networks, the autonomous but still belonging to the state, and the totally independent, managed by the ultra-pious Haredim, are now coordinating their endeavors. Coordination between them has already produced a book for religious teachers which posits the construction of the Third Temple as an urgent necessity, and "notes with astonishment that instead of building it, the Jews who returned to their own land didn’t even put at the top of their priorities the purification of the Temple Mount from the abominations now standing there" [Le. the Dome of the Rock and the AI-Aksa mosque]. This coordination of educational efforts can be understood as by-product of the formation of the "Hardelim",  the Haredi-nationalist bloc, as mentioned in report 136. I would anticipate a repeat of the 1984 attempt to demolish the Temple Mount mosques as a near-inevitable effect of the politics of education under this discussion.

Mandler does acknowledge the existence of a tiny minority of religious educators committed to the cause of peace, but she deplores their weakness. She says that Meretz ministers of Education have on purpose ignored the activities of the autonomous Department of Religious Education in their ministry. "In any event", says Mandler, "there was nothing much that they could do", since the Department’s autonomy was guaranteed by the law. Nevertheless they didn’t want to raise the issue of changing the law, because the disputes over this matter were apt to undermine the peace process. Hence Jewish religious education in Israel remains under control of Gush Emunim acting through the medium the National Religious Party". I can only add that students and teachers of this education system are regularly attending anti-government demonstrations which often turn violent. Such attendance is formally prohibited by the Education ministry regulations, but the weak and inept Labor-Meretz government keeps trying to propitiate the most extremist rabbis, and is consequently afraid even to mention that its regulations are being breached in the open. Right after the Oslo Agreement, during the period of fake euphoria, some observers like Ya’akov Hasday (quoted in report 127 of October 10, 1993) claimed that diplomatic tricks were no substitute for a hard effort of affecting public opinion and hence Israeli Jewish politics, and that such an effort must precede any meaningful peace. The just discussed evidence proves them right.
Of interest to this discussion is also the Hassin poll’s correlation between attitudes toward Goldstein’s massacre and extraction as measured by the difference between the Jews "born in Israel of Oriental parents", and "born in Israel of European parents". The former justified the massacre in 9%; "understood" it in 41%; (Le. did not condemn it in 50%) and condemned it in 49%; whereas the latter justified the massacre in 2%; "understood" it in 18%; (Le. did not condemn it in 20%) and condemned it in 78%. The correlation is by all means high, and most polls investigating the impact of extraction upon political attitudes come out with similar findings. On closer examination, however, strong grounds appear for dismissing this correlation as spurious,  explainable by the already discussed poverty and religion factors. With income level held constant (e.g. by surveying or polling middle class or academic respondents of "Oriental" extraction), the initial correlation tends to disappear. In other words, it can be shown that "Oriental" Jews tend to discard their xenophobia when they cease to be poor, along with discarding tribal atavism of their forebears when they become secular. The transition from religiosity (defined as strict observance of Jewish Orthodoxy including its tenets regarding the Gentiles), to a mere "traditionalism", (defined as selective observance of the same) may not be decisive, but adoption of a secular worldview has been shown to obliterate all statistical differences between Jews of whichever extraction. The only exception from this rule are the recent Jewish immigrants from the former USSR. Having lived all their life under the communist regime, they tend to retain their secularism, but together with pronounced xenophobia and especially with hatred of the Arabs. I am not going to back those contentions by quoting specific evidence, whether to the effect of the mentioned spurious correlation or to the effect of the Soviet Jews being an exception. But I do want to continue discussing the "Orientals".

There are two conflicting dogmas on the subject of the "Oriental" xenophobia as supposedly more pronounced than that of the Ashkenazis. Both dogmas are fairly widespread but neither has any validity. The first dogma is that for whatever reasons the "Orientals" hate the Arabs much more intensely than the Ashkenazis would be capable of. The second dogma is a specialty of the PLO and various "leftist" circles. It holds that the "Orientals" really like the Arabs or even regard themselves as "Arabs by culture" or as "Arabs of Jewish faith", but have been brainwashed by the Israeli government or some other recondite power to hate the Arabs. As I see it, loathing the Gentiles is a fundamental tenet of the Jewish religion, and it is common to all Jews as long as they remain religious. A substantial proportion of the Ashkenazis have forsaken the Jewish religion, whereas among the "Orientals" that proportion has been much smaller, especially until they arrived in Israel. Undoubtedly, the bulk of the "Oriental" Jews hated the Arabs (or the Iranians, or any other nation in the midst of which they happened to live before immigrating to Israel), because most of them were religious. This attitude has been retained in Israel, but rather because remaining religious has meant following Judaism’s laws, beliefs and traditions.

Curiously, the "Orientals" may loathe the Arabs while loving their language or folklore. But this also happens elsewhere in the world. In Israel there are many "Orientals", usually quite traditional in their outlook, who would love Arab culture (although often only its superficial aspects like cuisine, popular music, etc.), and even highly appreciate what they would call "Arab mentality" (supposed to be antithetical to "European mentality"), and at the same time hate the Arabs viciously and advocate all kinds of barbarities as the "right" way of dealing with them, on the ground that they alone "know the Arabs". I would not dignify such popular beliefs by naming them "an ideology", but the political impact of those beliefs is in Israel tremendous: not only because of their social influence, also upon the Ashkenazis, but primarily because a lot of such "Orientals" serve the Israeli Security System as "experts on Arabs" and can thus shape Israeli policies.

The best case in point of the impact of such beliefs upon policy- making is the person of Ben-Zion Alkalay, the author of a collection of over 4,300 Palestinian proverbs, which the author assiduously collected while working 55 years for Haganah and Israeli intelligence. He advanced to a high-ranking post in the Military Administration of the West Bank and subsequently became a lecturer in "Arab mentality" for Israeli army officers and ranking Shabak agents. He began his career while attending a Catholic Arab school "Terra Sancta" in Jerusalem, where he spied on both his teachers and schoolmates. After his book appeared, he was respectfully interviewed in "Kol Ha’ir" (August 20, 1993) and "Yediot Ahronot" (August 2 7, 1993). In those interviews, Alkalay professes his love for Arab food, folklore, folk music and other Customs with all the extravagance possible. When asked by an Ashkenazi "Yediot" interviewer, Yaron London, "and given your unbounded attachment to Arab language and Arab folklore, what’s your opinion about the Arabs as individuals?" Alkalay answered: "I find no difficulty in reconciling the love of Arab language and folklore with mortal hatred of the Arabs.

I know it better than you can possibly do, that you can never make any deal with an Arab. I will never trust any Arab, even though I do have more Arab than Jewish friends. I kiss these Arab friends of mine, but I never believe a single word they tell me. All of them are about to betray me. I know them and their mentality, and hence I know that an Arab who will not deceive me has not yet been born. An Arab begins to lie already in his mother’s womb". London comments: "I failed to find anything that could somehow qualify his sweeping generalizations".

To "Kol Ha’ir" interviewer, Yossi Cohen, Alkalay provided a "substantiation" of his view why the Arabs cannot be trusted. They cannot be trusted because they are Gentiles about whom a Jewish proverb says: "Don’t trust a Gentile even when he has already lain 40 years in his grave". Among the "Oriental" Jews the proverb is indeed common, although Yiddish folklore contains similar proverbs. Yet Alkalay adds a qualification to Cohen. No Gentiles can be trusted, but "an Arab is a special kind of creature. He differs from other Gentiles. In addition to his untrustworthiness he changes his opinions twice a week".

Interestingly, Alkalay shares an opinion held by some Arab intellectuals. The opinion is that the conflict between Israel and the Arabs cannot be resolved because the rulers of Israel have absorbed the "European mentality" which precludes their "understanding" of "Arab mentality". Alkalay ascribes the "weakness" of Begin and Dayan in making peace with Egypt and of Shamir and Arens in consenting to the Madrid Conference to their not following the expertise of "Arab knowers" like himself. Failures of Shabak in dealing with Palestinians are attributed by Alkalay to tender-heartedness of its Ashkenazi interrogators, who do not know that Arabs need to be knocked mercilessly. Only those who "know" the Arabs are fit to interrogate them properly, enunciates Alkalay. But due to their ignorance of "Arab nature", the Shabak Ashkenazi interrogators are also making another mistake. They cannot understand that the best way to beat Palestinians is with the indigenous bludgeon [called "nabut"], rather than with a standard mass-produced police club used by the Israeli army, which according to Alkalay the Arabs "fail to respect". I can only say that I myself have heard similar views since the late 1940s, and so I know that no one who mixes with crowds in an Israeli city can avoid listening to them even now.

So far I have discussed Israeli Jewish xenophobia, as a popular culture trait, whose political impact, although considerable, remains indirect. But by virtue of the penetration of the Israeli Security System by the religious settlers and their sympathizers, the political impact of their culture becomes direct. The extent of this penetration in at least some branches of the Israeli army has recently been estimated by a number of articles. Danny Rubinstein ("Haaretz", March 16) cogently observes that although formally it is the army which rules the Territories, yet by virtue of dominating the army the "extremist settlers" have already become "the real masters of the West Bank and Gaza Strip long ago". His ample exemplification of this state of affairs includes the following facts: "The army authorities believe that both the Israeli left and the Hebrew press correspondents serve the interests of ‘the Arab enemy’. This is why whenever Possible, the commanders of the Israeli army do not spare efforts to deny them access to any place in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip … This state of affairs was created by the settlers who had gradually managed to penetrate more and more effectively the entire Security System in the Territories". (By using the term "Security System", Rubinstein apparently means to say that the settlers have penetrated the Shabak as well.) "The settlers have achieved a status equivalent to the soldiers … The army passes on to them all recent intelligence and lets them freely and uncontrollably enter every security command in the Territories … It will not be an exaggeration to say that under such circumstances the settlers have acquired a status of the real masters of the Territories. They tend to treat the Israeli army as present in the Territories solely in order to serve them. In many respects the settlers can be said to have indeed succeeded to turn the Israeli army into a tool defending them not only from the Arab enemy but also from any Jew whom they suspect of abetting that enemy, in the first place from the so-called "hostile Hebrew media" and the Israeli left. Even the Civil Administration which is supposed to serve the interests of the Arabs is quite often forced to perform as the settlers demand".

Alon Hadar ("Kol Ha’ir", March 18) provides some information about the Israeli army’s Regional Defense Division of the West Bank, comprised of reservist settlers but commanded by career officers, who often live in extremist settlements. One of them, "major Israel Blumenthal, a battalion commander of Hebron settler reservists (who lives in Kiryat Arba) was interviewed on Channel I of the Israeli TV … The interview climaxed with Blumenthal’s impassioned defense of the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein, whom he called ‘a soldier who fell in combat"’. In spite of public protests, and in spite of the Chief of Staffs lies to the effect of his having been "suspended", Blumenthal continues to serve at his post. But Hadar says more: "Independently of the settler- officers, every settlement has its Coordinator of Military Security (CMS), acting under the command of a given Regional Defense officer. Although civilians, the CMSs have to comply with the military law, and their salaries are paid by the Israeli army through the medium of their settlement. Nominally, the CMSs are not allowed to participate in politics: actually most of them not only attend the demonstrations, but also engage in illegal acts such as blocking Palestinian traffic on highways or vandalizing Palestinian property. Few weeks ago the Israeli army explicitly prohibited the CMSs from participating in the illegal ‘Proliferate the Settlements’ operation. Yet many ignored the prohibition and the army ignored their disobedience.

"The Judea and Samaria Division is comprised of several brigades. Each brigade has a reservist battalion of Regional Defense [comprised of the settlers] and army battalions attached to it for a period of time. The reservist battalions are commanded by professional army officers, subordinate to the Divisional Regional Defense commander, colonel Shlomo.  In addition to their military duties, those officers serve as the Israeli army’s liaison men with the settlers. They often visit the CMSs in their settlements, and contact them with higher-ranking officers … The Regional Defense officers are also responsible for the politically highly sensitive task of distributing more Israeli army weapons to settlements and individual settlers".

More information about these weapons is provided by Yanki Galanty, writing in "Bemahane", (March 2), the official biweekly of the Israeli army. Galanty describes the settlement of Levonah "inhabited by several dozen Jewish families. It was provided by the [Israeli] army with the following semi-heavy weapons: several machine guns 0,3; one semi-heavy machine gun 0,5; one mortar 52 and one mortar 81". Possession and skillful use of such weapons will enable every tiniest settlement to withstand an attack of hundreds of assaulters armed only with light weapons, such as automatic guns.

"Those weapons", continues Galanty, "Supplement the light personal weapons, such as Uzzis, M-16s and Kalachnikov [automatic] guns, which almost all Levonah’s inhabitants had received from the Israeli army already before. In addition to these, every male inhabitant of Levonah has a revolver of his own, not necessarily of the same brand, with which he never parts. This relatively small settlement can therefore be considered to be equipped with a by no means negligible firepower. Those weapons are an important, but far from the only one, component of security provided by the Israeli army to all Jewish settlements in the Territories … The army has also other methods to bolster military strength of the settlements. A category of ‘security means’ provided by the army to the settlements includes inter alia the jeeps, communication equipment, a network of security fences and their illumination, along with other equipment. This equipment is intended to let every settlement cope with any potential security problem. All civilian settlers are organized in military detachments devised to let them respond instantly to a terrorist assault or any other military emergency".

It can be seen that apart from penetrating the army the settlers also wield a far from negligible military power of their own. The extent of this penetration of Shabak can be estimated only indirectly. A few weeks ago, after the Shabak coordinator (Le. commander) of the Ramallah district, Noam Cohen, was killed by Hamas guerillas, his name was provided and his parents were interviewed. The interviews revealed that he had been deeply religious and that he had regarded his service in Shabak, and before this in the top elite unit of the Israeli army, "The General Staff Patrol", as a sacred duty. Moreover, he was told by his spiritual mentors that if he gets killed while serving in Shabak, he would attain martyrdom and his soul would receive instant accommodation in the place of honor in the Jewish paradise, just beneath God’s Throne. His pious father, Dr. Yehezkel Cohen, a well-known religious educator told the press that this must have actually happened. Returning to more mundane matters, Dr. Cohen told the press that his son had often assured him that Shabak activities were perfectly humane and beneficent to the Arabs, and that Jews "who slander Shabak" were traitors. Some Ramallah inhabitants appear to hold views similar to Dr. Cohen, except in respect to things mundane. After one of Noam Cohen’s assaulters was killed by the Israeli army, the assaulter’s father told a Hebrew paper that it was his martyred son who was in Paradise, since he had "relieved Ramallah’s inhabitants from a despot terrifying everybody". It appears that a holy war is waged in the West Bank in which Shabak, penetrated by Jewish religious zealots, is hardly different from Hamas.

More facts concerning the penetration of the army by Jewish religious fanatics have appeared in Avirama Golan’s article ("Haaretz", April 5), bearing the title "When lots of colonels wear a skullcap". The article discusses the role of the "Hesder" [Arrangement] Yeshivot in the Israeli army. The arrangement works as follows: Some Yeshivot agree with the army contractually that their students are to serve under conditions involving some autonomy from the army. They are drafted separately to serve in units of their own for half a year, followed by a half year of Talmudic studies. This alternation between 6 months of army service and studies of Talmud continues for 4 years, which means that "Hesder" soldiers effectively serve in the army only 2 years instead of 3 as all other draftees. Each such unit has its own rabbi, whom its commanding officer is obliged to consult before making any decision. The army consented to this arrangement with enthusiasm, because otherwise Yeshiva students would not serve at all, and also because they had proved themselves as excellent and dedicated soldiers, who pray and often dance before being sent on a dangerous assignment. During the war in Lebanon "Hesder" units suffered much heavier casualties than any other units of the Israeli army, and their battle conduct became notorious for bravery to the point of recklessness and for cruelty. At least on one occasion they were reported to have chopped off the ears of their victims.

Golan quotes Rabbi Hayim Drukman, one of the extremist Gush Emunim leaders, who heads a "Hesder" Yeshiva and lauds the institution extravagantly. But Golan also quotes the renowned researcher of the Israeli religious community, professor Menahem Friedman, who himself is religious, but liberal in his political beliefs. Friedman views with trepidation the growing numbers and growing role of "Hesder" Yeshiva soldiers in the army, especially since most of their rabbis are affiliated with Gush Emunim. He says: "Rabbinical extremism, which nowadays is so common, has an increasing clout upon national-religious youth. It is not clear whether this trend can be reversed, and what extremes can it yet reach. No rabbi has so far dared to halt this surge toward extremism. Let it be borne in mind that many "Hesder" Yeshiva soldiers remain in the army after completing their compulsory service. Many become officers advancing up to the colonel’s rank. Let us not forget that military coups in other countries were usually hatched by colonels … The combat troops of the Israeli army nowadays abound not only with colonels but also of battalion and company commanders affiliated with Gush Emunim. All of them unconditionally accept the authority of their former Yeshiva Heads. They represent a new variety of religious Jew who solicits a rabbinical ruling on every conceivable matter and who then accepts it as irrevocable … The calamitous fact that Gush Emunim has its own army within the Israeli army can already be noticed. Golan also quotes Yizhar Be’er, an author who, although religious, supports Labor. He told her that "ten years ago, I alone advised the army that unless it disbands the "Hesder" Yeshivot at once, their units, for example Armored, would be all too likely to use their tanks in order to besiege the Knesset and seize it". Neither Be’er nor Friedman, however, expect the army or the present government to pay any heed to their forewarnings.

But religious penetration of the army can assume other forms as well. Dvora Shapira ("Maariv", April 15) interviewed leaders of the mighty youth movement "Bney Akiva", affiliated with National Religious Party (see report 136 for description of a pilgrimage of their delegation to Hebron). One of them, Danny Hershberg, says with pride: "We are educating our youth from the age of ten as future combat soldiers". Due to such brainwashing it turns out that many religious youngsters refuse to join the "Hesder" Yeshivot because they are too militaristically- minded to tolerate any interruptions in their compulsory army service.

Obliging to this mood, the army finances 7 "pre-military religious colleges", 5 of them located in the West Bank. Enrollment in such a college entitles the religious youth to a draft deferment for one year. But during that year the college boys receive for a very low fee a military training qualifying them for admission to an officer course or an elite unit right upon being drafted. Tough military training in those colleges goes together with Talmudic studies "which emphasize how highly is the army esteemed by Judaism". Both study programs together "occupy the students for at least 14 hours every day", which is, I presume, optimal to make brainwashing really efficient.

Since the kibbutzim have been long engaged in similar efforts to penetrate the army. Shapira also talked with heads of the United Kibbutz Movement. They boasted about how high was proportion of kibbutz members in the combat units and officer corps of the army, and especially among the "Mista’aravim". Upon hearing this, Shapira expressed her fears that "this might lead to a clash between the left and the religious within the army". I cannot but share those fears.

The described state of affairs within the army can allow us to better understand also Kimmerling’s fears as voiced in an article whose conclusions I have already presented in report 136 ("Haaretz", April 6). In that article, Kimmerling notes that "in the last 20 years the officer corps of the Israeli army has undergone tremendous changes". One change was that the career of an officer became very appealing, as it secured handsome income in addition to high social prestige. It thus became particularly appealing for "the fast growing ‘Oriental’ middle class which treated that career as a major springboard of their upward social mobility". The result was that the army officer corps became gradually filled with entrants from this social background, who 20 years earlier had hardly been represented there. I would slightly qualify Kimmerling’s observation, to the effect that young "Orientals" joining the officer corps tended to sprout from the lower middle class. But as Kimmerling points out, the next wave of entrants was the "national-religious youth", more and more so as time was lapsing and as the support from the settler dominated Regional Defense Division of the West Bank was growing. Both the national-religious and the settler soldiers derived lots of benefits from the Cooperation between the army and the settlers. Both are regarded by Kimmerling as components of "the religious-settler military infrastructure, whose behavior at a time of political crisis is unpredictable. The settlers have a militia, well equipped with lawfully acquired weapons, and highly skilled in their use. Its commanders are politically sophisticated. It is this segment of society which poses the mightiest challenge to the legal authority of the State of Israel and to its army’s high command".



It is symptomatic of the abysmally poor quality of reporting on Israeli affairs, (inferior even to reporting on the Territories), that none of the facts discussed in this report, or report 136, has filtered as yet to the Western "experts on Israeli affairs" or to the Western media, including the quality press. Instead, both the experts and the media keep preoccupying themselves with diplomatic trivia of "the peace process". I can only conclude by stating with all the firmness that for the Israelis (and for all the Middle Easterners for that matter) nothing can be more important than the looming clash between Jewish supporters and opponents of religious zealotry.

Reconciling Jewish religious law and nationalism

The Conversion Crisis 1995 – Present

  1. Non-Orthodox Conversions in Israel:
    The Goldstein Case
  2. The Conversion Bill
  3. The Ne’eman Committee
  4. The ‘Technical’ Proposal


Non-Orthodox Conversions in Israel:
— The Goldstein Case:

The precursor to today’s “conversion crisis” was a November 1995 Supreme Court decision in the Goldstein case on recognition of non-Orthodox conversions performed in Israel. Hava (or Eliyani or Elaine) Goldstein, a native of Brazil, emigrated to Israel in 1990 and converted to Judaism under Reform auspices in Israel a year later. She married a Jewish, Brazilian-born Israeli in a civil ceremony outside Israel. Goldstein applied for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return and sought to register as a Jew with the Ministry of Interior. Since Goldstein could not produce a conversion certificate from the Rabbinate, her request for registration was denied. The Court decided that the Interior Ministry’s request for a conversion certificate from the Rabbinate had no basis in Israeli law. The Ministry of Interior was given six months to register Goldstein as a Jew.

“I do not believe that this issue can be resolved through litigation or legislation. We would rather have neither. What we need is an agreement among religious leaders
of all the parties involved….”
Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu

The Goldstein decision was hailed by Reform and Conservative leaders as de facto official state recognition of non-Orthodox conversions performed in Israel.

Recognizing the implications of their decision, the justices refused to comment on the validity of non-Orthodox conversions or their legitimacy in Israel. Noting that previous Supreme Court decisions (most notably “Miller”) had clarified the matter of conversions performed outside of Israel and other related issues, the Court directed the Knesset to clarify the guidelines for conversions performed in Israel. Should the Knesset fail to establish such guidelines, specifically regarding state recognition of non-Orthodox conversions performed in Israel, the responsibility would fall to the Court in future cases.

The Conversion Bill: 
Almost immediately, political forces mobilized to initiate legislation further clarifying state-recognized conversions performed in Israel. The Reform and Conservative leadership looked to the Labor government under Shimon Peres to promote legislation recognizing non-Orthodox conversions in Israel. However, these hopes were soon disappointed when Interior Minister Haim Ramon told a delegation of American Reform rabbis that he would not support the registration of Goldstein as a Jew both as a matter of principle and of political survival. In turn, the Orthodox parties sought to introduce legislation which would codify the State of Israel’s long-standing, de facto practice of nonrecognition of non-Orthodox conversions performed in Israel. Orthodox leaders in Israel expressed the fear that were such legislation not passed, the Conservative and Reform movements would gain recognition for their conversions performed in Israel through the judiciary.

Following the May 1996 election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed a coalition agreement with the National Religious Party and Shas in which the new Likud government agreed “the law of conversion shall be changed so that conversions to Judaism in Israel will be recognized only if authorized by the Chief Rabbinate.” News of the agreement was greeted with great concern in the Diaspora, with the Reform and Conservative movements vowing to fight any legislative move that would take away the recognition for conversions performed under their auspices which they had earned in the courts. In response, Prime Minister Netanyahu pledged that any legislation would only deny state recognition of non-Orthodox conversions performed in Israel. Non-Orthodox conversions performed outside of Israel would continue to be recognized by the State of Israel according to the Law of Return and the “Miller precedent.”

The initial bill proposed by Shas in October 1996 went far beyond the one detailed in the coalition agreement. Instead the bill banned state recognition of non-Orthodox conversions performed both in Israel and the Diaspora, stating, “there shall be no legal validity whatsoever to a conversion unless it receives the approval of the highest religious court in Israel of the religion to which the aforementioned wishes to join.” In March 1997, the Cabinet formally approved a more limited legislation, mirroring that of the coalition agreement, denying state recognition to non-Orthodox conversions performed in Israel only. This legislation passed its first reading in April.

 The Ne’eman Committee:
As the Knesset prepared for the bill’s second and third reading in June, the government sought a compromise setting guidelines for non-Orthodox conversions whereby (ideally) there would be no need for Orthodox parties to pursue the legislation while the Reform and Conservative movements would have no need to pursue judicial challenges.

Prime Minister Netanyahu created a committee chaired by Yaakov Ne’eman, a respected lawyer (who was appointed Finance Minister one month later), bringing together Orthodox, Reform and Conservative representatives to hammer out a solution. The Reform and Conservative movements agreed to temporarily suspend their court cases pending the recommendations of the Ne’eman Committee. (At this time, a number of cases were pending before the Supreme Court including a case petitioning for state recognition of children from the former Soviet Union who were adopted by nonreligious Israeli Jews, denied Orthodox conversions, were converted to Judaism under Conservative auspices in Israel and thus were denied state recognition as Jews, as well as a petition for the inclusion of Reform and Conservative representatives on local religious councils in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Kirat Tivon. Reform and Conservative movements agreed to suspend this judicial action if the Orthodox parties agreed to suspend action on a bill legislating the exclusion of Reform and Conservative representatives from serving on local religious councils.) Heralding the historic mission of the Ne’eman Committee, Prime Minister Netanyahu declared, “I do not believe that this issue can be resolved through litigation or legislation. We would rather have neither. What we need is an agreement among religious leaders of all the parties involved….”

Its deadline extended three times, the Ne’eman Committee met more than fifty times over the next seven months, and submitted its report to the Prime Minister in late January 1997. The Ne’eman Committee set as its goal a comprehensive solution to the matter of non-Orthodox conversions in Israel which would comply with Jewish law. Ne’eman himself has stated that he hopes this solution will enable the approximately 200,000 non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union living in Israel to convert to Judaism if they so wish. According to press reports, the preamble of the proposal declares, “It is agreed by all parties that there must be a single, uniform, official conversion procedure that will be conducted in accordance with Jewish law and will be recognized by all segments of the Jewish people….The composition of the commission, which includes representatives of both the Reform and Conservative movements, reflects a desire for cooperation among all three major movements in Judaism and for Jewish unity.”

The Committee proposed to create “conversion institutes,” to prepare potential converts for conversion. The institutes would be sponsored by the Jewish Agency, and operated jointly by the three denominations. Aspiring converts would attend classes at the institutes but the actual conversion would be performed under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate, according to Orthodox guidelines. With the establishment of these institutes, the Reform and Conservative movements would agree not to perform conversions outside the framework of the institutes.

The agreement brings benefits to all the involved parties. Under this proposal, every convert to Judaism in Israel would enjoy both state and Rabbinate recognition as a Jew. This convert would be free to officially immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return (even if the conversion was performed in Israel), to register with the Ministry of Interior as a Jew, marry, divorce and be buried in Israel as a Jew. The acceptance of this proposal would also mark the first time the State of Israel and the Rabbinate would officially recognize the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel in matters of personal status.

 The ‘Technical’ Proposal:
Fearing that the Ne’eman Committee compromise would be rejected by the Rabbinate and the Ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset, Jewish Agency chairman Avraham Burg convened a meeting of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform representatives to work out an interim measure to prevent the reintroduction of the conversion bill in the Knesset. Over the course of a weekend the group arrived at a stop-gap measure meant to circumvent Orthodox and non-Orthodox sensitivities without mandating comprehensive solution.

Burg’s plan calls for a replacement of the word “Jew” (in Hebrew “yehudi/a”) in the identity cards of Israeli Jews, with the letter “yud” (“j”). Jews-from-birth would have the letter “yud” with the individual’s date-of-birth. Jews-from-conversion, regardless of the type of conversion, would have the letter “yud” with the date of the individual’s conversion stamped in their identity card.

This ambiguity pleases the Reform and Conservative movements by enabling individuals who convert under their auspices in Israel to receive identity cards nearly identical to those of other Israeli Jews.

Ultra-Orthodox parties would be satisfied since the non-Orthodox convert would not be designated as “Jew” (“Yehudi/a”) but only as the letter “yud” (“j”) which could stand for the word “Jew,” or for the word Israeli (“Yisraeli/a”), or for any other word beginning with the letter “yud.” Moreover, ultra-Orthodoxy sees no religious significance in the symbols of modern Israeli nationhood, with which it often finds itself in conflict, and thus has no problem with labeling converts as a separate designation on their identity cards.

In general, the “nationalist-Zionist” camp does not support this plan. For religious Zionists, the national and religious are intertwined. Designating converts on identity cards violates this ideology by creating different standards and classes for nationality and religion.

There are, however, many flaws to the plan. Individuals converting to Judaism under non-Orthodox auspices in Israel will still not be recognized as Jews by the Rabbinate, and thus will be barred from marrying, divorcing or being buried as Jews in Israel. Critics point out that the plan would officially label converts to Judaism, thus distinguishing them from other Israeli Jews and effectively creating two official categories of Jews.

Israeli Court: Jews who believe in Jesus are not Jews

Haim Shapiro
Jerusalem Post, Week ending 13 Febr. 1988

Court to rule on Jews who believe in Jesus

Citations from university professors, quotations from religious tracts and the findings of a public opinion poll were all part of the proceedings last week as the High Court of Justice began to tackle the question of whether a Jew who believes in Jesus is still a Jew.

According to a Dahaf poll, 78 percent of a random survey of 1,189 Jewish Israelis said that children of a Jewish mother who believe in Jesus, but do not formally convert and who claim to be Zionists, should be accepted as olim [Jewish immigrants].

The findings were presented by attorney Yosef Ben-Menashe in the case of Jerry and Shirley Beresford, originally from Zimbabwe. They are petitioning the High Court in an effort to have the Interior Ministry recognize them as Jews, in order to have the status of olim.

But if those polled seemed to be tolerant of “messianic Jews,” Yehoshua Kahana, head of the Interior Ministrx’s population registry, told the Jerusalem Post that he regarded them as more dangerous than the Reform converts whose registration as Jews the ministry has been fighting.

“Those people (the Reform converts) at least want to be Jews, while these people (the messianic Jews) are Christians pretending to be Jews,” Kahana said.

The Law of Return declares that “every Jew has the right to come to the country as an oleh.” In 1962, the Supreme Court ruled that the Law of Return did not apply to a person who, although a Jew, had subsequently converted to Christianity.

The question before the court was whether the Beresfords? belief in Jesus meant that they had become Christians, even though there was no formal conversion.

Jerry Beresford, bearded and wearing a knitted kippa, sat quietly as attorney Uzi Fogelman, of the State Attornex’s Office, argued that the Rama Harsharon messianic Jewish community to which the couple belongs had missionary intentions and that a Jewish fraternal organization in Zimbabwe had expelled them.

The couple have apparently denied that they believe in the Trinity but, Fogelman argued, citing another messianic Jewish pamphlet, they did accept the divinity of Jesus. Fogelman also cited the view of two Hebrew University scholars, Professor Zvi  Werblovsky and David Flusser, who both seem to be of the opinion that messianic Jews are in fact Christians.

The trial is due to continue in the near future, but in the interim, the two sides may accept a compromise which might avoid setting a politically volatile precedent. Under such a compromise, the government would give the Beresfords the rights of olim without reference to the question of their Jewishness.+

New Developments (Jewish Chronicle, UK, 5 January 1990):

The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Messianic Jews ? also known as Jews for Jesus ? are not Jews and do not qualify as citizens under the Law of Return.   South African immigrants Gary and Shirley Beresfod applied for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. But a 3-judge panel ruled that they were not entitled to it even though both had Jewish parents.  The judges said their belief in Jesus made them Christians.

Identity crisis is `biggest threat to Jews’

"Most participants agreed that the challenge of Judaism today is to survive in a world where individuals are free to choose their own identities."

If such freedom is a threat to Judaism, what does that say about Judaism? [Jeff Blankfort]


w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m

Identity crisis is `biggest threat to Jews’

By Amiram Barkat

 The multiplicity of identities in the post-modern era is the greatest threat facing the Jewish people, according to a group of about 20 Jewish leaders from Israel and the Diaspora.

At the end of a "brainstorming session" held at the Wye Plantation near Washington, D.C., the participants decided that the Jewish identity crisis is a more significant threat than assimilation, demography, anti-Semitism or radical Islam.

Those who attended the gathering, the final stage of a project entitled "Alternate Futures for the Jewish People," recommended Jewish education and the removal of obstacles that prevent many potential converts from joining the Jewish people.

The brainstorming session was organized by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, an independent think tank set up by the Jewish Agency that studies issues related to the Jewish people. Dennis Ross, the former Mideast coordinator, heads the think tank.

Participants included attorney Alan Dershowitz; former deputy secretary of the U.S. treasury Stuart Eizenstat; Natan Sharansky, former minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs; Rabbi Samuel Sirat; the former chief rabbi of France; Michael Steinhardt, one of the leading Jewish philanthropists in the U.S.; Prof. Jehuda Reinharz, president of Brandeis University and Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, head of the hesder yeshiva in Petah Tikva, which combines military service with Torah study.

Most participants agreed that the challenge of Judaism today is to survive in a world where individuals are free to choose their own identities. They came to the conclusion that there is a lack of spiritual leadership that can imbue a Jewish identity with content that is relevant for most Jews, including the non-Orthodox and the young.

The group praised the Orthodox denomination for high birth rates and low intermarriage rates.