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Old 10-02-2008, 09:47 PM   #1
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"God is with us" - the philosophy of Israel's extremists

How I became a target for Israel's 'Jewish terrorists' - Middle East, World - The Independent

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How I became a target for Israel's 'Jewish terrorists'

Peace campaigner attacked with a pipe bomb tells Donald Macintyre why right-wing extremism should be feared

Thursday, 2 October 2008



Quique Kierszenbaum

Professor Zeev Sternhell is a Holocaust survivor and a combat veteran of Israel's wars

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Zeev Sternhell is careful about his choice of words when he unhesitatingly calls the pipe bomb which exploded outside his front door last week "an act of Jewish terrorism."


As a Holocaust survivor orphaned by the age of seven and a combat veteran of Israel's wars, Professor Sternhell, 73, who was lucky to have only been injured in the leg by flying shrapnel from the bomb, is "horrified" not for himself but because it might have hit his wife, daughter his grandchildren on one of their sleepovers, or their neighbours. "It was a terror act because they couldn't know who would have been hit."

Given that, as he wryly puts it, he has no known enemies in the "criminal underworld", the reason for what police think was attempted murder isn't hard to find. As a veteran member of Peace Now, and vigorous opponent of the occupation since the late 1970s, the Hebrew University scholar, Israel Prize laureate and internationally-known authority on the roots of fascism apparently became the target of the highest-profile attack inside Israel by far right-wing Jewish extremists since Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in 1995.

But if the attack was meant to silence one of the country's foremost public intellectuals, it hasn't worked. For a start he does not rule out a connection with strong signs of increasing violence by settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank. In recent weeks, extremist settlers have rioted, blocked roads, burned Palestinian orchards and in one case, armed settlers have attacked a village.

Lamenting that the army and the police are "either unwilling or unable or probably both" to enforce the law against attacks on Palestinians in a West Bank where the settlers enjoy a kind of "self rule", he says the extremists believe that "people like me who think that they are the real danger to Zionism, to the future of the Israeli state, should be neutralised and should be punished... So I think there is a link between the brutality and violence that is the reality of everyday life in the West Bank and this attack."

Of the 250,000 West Bank settlers he estimates that only some 40,000 to 50,000 are truly ideological and of these only "a few thousand are ready to use force." He pinpoints the new generation of "hilltop youth" who, in a pattern familiar from "revolutionary movements", regard their aging leadership as "traitors" for being willing to discuss with the government even the possibility of voluntary evacuation from a few outposts.

Activists who are "deeply convinced that the future of the Jewish people depends on them," therefore regard violence as legitimate and believe that "God is with us, and God will see to it that we will get rid of the Palestinians. That is more or less their philosophy."
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Old 10-03-2008, 08:28 AM   #2
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The subsidising of a religious settler movement with funds from the US really is unacceptable, although it is nice that archeology has undercut the literalist approach to their myths.
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Old 10-03-2008, 08:45 AM   #3
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God used as an excuse to kill and terrorize people?

Doesn't surprise me.
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Old 10-03-2008, 12:20 PM   #4
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perhaps yolland could comment on this:

it has long been my understanding that the jewish "nation" is supposed to be the light of the world, the suffering servant, an example of hope and perseverance, witness of hashem's mercy, a shining example of all that is good and holy. what i don't understand is how this vision is reconciled with militant-zionism's apparent obsession with a political nation state.

is my understanding of the suffering servant completely off base, or is it an uncommon, minority interpretation?
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Old 10-03-2008, 03:08 PM   #5
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Hmmm, well I wouldn't say it's usually given the hyper-triumphalist inflection you just placed on it. Maybe among some of the haredim. The concept, of course, basically comes from Deutero-Isaiah and later Jewish writings on it (Targum, Talmud, various midrashim), where it's most commonly understood as a metaphor for the exile/diaspora condition, one the author(s) presumably knew quite well: 'bearing witness,' or however you want to put it, isn't about sovereignty, temples and animal sacrifice, but rather about becoming an exemplary human being as the tradition's moral code understands it.

My first reaction to your 'reconciliation' question is that it's ultimately just rhetorical--that you might as well ask Why, if European (Christian?) culture is the wellspring of individualism, democracy and the ideals of liberty, justice and equality for all, did the Holocaust happen there; or Why, if the founding of the United States was such a transformative moment in progressing towards polities based on those same ideals, did slavery take root here so deeply and flourish here so much longer than elsewhere in the cultural world that we're supposedly some pinnacle of...etc., etc. Collectively professing adherence to the most inspiring, elegant and powerful of ideologies (or not, depending on your perspective) is no guarantee of collective, consistently righteous behavior, even on that ideology's own terms; that's just human nature for you.

Less grandiosely, though, I would point out that the modern state of Israel, as opposed to the religion of (rabbinic) Judaism, is founded ideologically on the principle of ethnic nationalism (consider when, where, and under what circumstances Zionism developed), and psychically on the spirit of fear (consider when, from where, in response to--and into--which circumstances the recent ancestors of the bulk of its present ethnic-Jewish population arrived). That observation doesn't in itself 'reconcile' anything, but I think it does help explain why contradictions that seem glaring to you or to me might not figure much in the thinking of many Israelis.

I'm not sure whether the growing settler-extremist movement is more a grotesquely warped version of the old kibbutznik ideal, of those haredim and Hasidim who historically dodged military service in the interests of religious study, or of Zionism itself; but in light of all the missed opportunities, failures of foresight and leadership, and obsessive distrust that's been allowed to fester for decades now, it was probably inevitable that some such movement would eventually emerge, toxically intertwining the perverse comforts of extreme religious fervor with other, equally volatile emotions. The most disturbing part of all this to me is not the awareness that these people situate themselves within the same religious heritage as me--I'm far too skeptical about human nature to be deeply distraught over that, which I could understand some seeing as a failing--but rather the simple awareness that their numbers are growing and, in particular, that they're increasingly overrepresented in the IDF at all ranks, posing the threat of ever-mounting resistance to and obstruction, even sabotage, of future land-for-peace exchanges. Considering what a bedrock institution of Israeli society the IDF is, I think it would be hard to exaggerate the danger.
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Old 10-04-2008, 10:08 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yolland View Post
Hmmm, well I wouldn't say it's usually given the hyper-triumphalist inflection you just placed on it... 'bearing witness,' or however you want to put it, isn't about sovereignty, temples and animal sacrifice, but rather about becoming an exemplary human being as the tradition's moral code understands it.
i wasn't intending for it to come off as hyper-triumphalist. i was trying to make the point that you did, i.e. that the jewish nation is not necessarily a material construct. at least, as i understand it...

Quote:
My first reaction to your 'reconciliation' question is that it's ultimately just rhetorical--that you might as well ask Why, if European (Christian?) culture is the wellspring of individualism, democracy and the ideals of liberty, justice and equality for all, did the Holocaust happen there; or Why, if the founding of the United States was such a transformative moment in progressing towards polities based on those same ideals, did slavery take root here so deeply and flourish here so much longer than elsewhere in the cultural world that we're supposedly some pinnacle of...etc., etc. Collectively professing adherence to the most inspiring, elegant and powerful of ideologies (or not, depending on your perspective) is no guarantee of collective, consistently righteous behavior, even on that ideology's own terms; that's just human nature for you.
well, i don't believe in human nature.

but again, i wasn't intending to be obtuse here.

Quote:
Less grandiosely, though, I would point out that the modern state of Israel, as opposed to the religion of (rabbinic) Judaism, is founded ideologically on the principle of ethnic nationalism (consider when, where, and under what circumstances Zionism developed), and psychically on the spirit of fear (consider when, from where, in response to--and into--which circumstances the recent ancestors of the bulk of its present ethnic-Jewish population arrived). That observation doesn't in itself 'reconcile' anything, but I think it does help explain why contradictions that seem glaring to you or to me might not figure much in the thinking of many Israelis.
this is more along the lines of what i was asking. you would agree that there is an ideological rift between zionism and judaism that is not reconcilable? i guess what i was wondering was if zionism has taken such a hold on judaic thought that other interpretations of israel and the jewish nation have been suffocated.

somewhat off topic: have you read any of hugh schonfield's works? if so, i'd be curious to know your opinion of him. it's been quite a while since i spent any serious time considering religion, but i always found his stuff very interesting, if nothing else. i particularly enjoyed those incredible christians.
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Old 10-04-2008, 07:07 PM   #7
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I'm afraid I haven't read Schonfield, though I've heard of him. He held/taught a rather unusual Messianic doctrine that Jesus was the Messiah, but was not divine and was not resurrected, is that correct? I don't know enough about him to know how he locates that belief in the tradition of Jewish Messianic teachings. In general, Jewish writings on Christian doctrine is not an area I'm well-versed in.

As for the rest, I think perhaps I don't fully understand the question you're asking. Historically, religious Jewish anti-Zionism, i.e. opposition to the existence of a Jewish state on explicitly religious grounds, focused on the contradiction between Zionism and literalist interpretations of Messianism--that it's apikorsos, heresy, to have a Jewish state in the absence of the Messiah's return. However, not all religious Jews, let alone secular ones, agreed with that interpretation, and prior to the Holocaust most Jews rejected Zionism not out of moral revulsion, but rather because they felt the best and safest way forward for Jews lay in availing themselves of the promise and tools of democracy (or Communism, especially for Russian Jews) to deliver on full equality and freedom from persecution for all. For them, this was not about faith in the innate holiness and righteousness of the diaspora condition, but rather about faith in democracy (or socialism); e.g. that if it pleased you to be so, there was no contradiction between being a good German citizen and a good (i.e. observant) Jew. Hitler and Stalin did far more damage to that optimism than Herzl or Ben-Gurion ever could have. Nonetheless, there were very few Jews, Zionist or anti-Zionist, who entertained the idea of establishing a Jewish state as some sort of religious duty; Zionism was not a Messianic movement, as opposed to scattered earlier aliyot (immigrations to the Holy Land) of the medieval and early-modern periods, where a few hundred Jews or so might move with their rabbi to Palestine in anticipation of the Messiah's imminent arrival.

So, I guess I'm unclear as to why exactly you see Zionism presenting an inherent contradiction to notions of Jewish identity, or to what it means to belong to "the Jewish people," per se. General ethical problems pertaining to Zionism having benefited from colonialism (and anti-Semitism for that matter) in terms of securing a state, sure; subsequent and continuing oppression of the Palestinians by the state of Israel, sure; but I don't really understand the "other interpretations of Israel and the Jewish nation have been suffocated" part. I would prefer that the pogroms and the Holocaust had never happened, which almost certainly would mean no one would've perceived a need for a Jewish nation-state in the first place, but who wouldn't? That's over and done with; I can and do use my dollars and my vote as best as I can to support American efforts to promote fair negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians and to protest Israel's human rights injustices, but that doesn't create some sort of identity crisis for me as a religious Jew, and I don't see why it should.
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Old 10-04-2008, 09:08 PM   #8
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I'm afraid I haven't read Schonfield, though I've heard of him. He held/taught a rather unusual Messianic doctrine that Jesus was the Messiah, but was not divine and was not resurrected, is that correct?
yeah, that's him.

Quote:
As for the rest, I think perhaps I don't fully understand the question you're asking. Historically, religious Jewish anti-Zionism, i.e. opposition to the existence of a Jewish state on explicitly religious grounds, focused on the contradiction between Zionism and literalist interpretations of Messianism--that it's apikorsos, heresy, to have a Jewish state in the absence of the Messiah's return. However, not all religious Jews, let alone secular ones, agreed with that interpretation, and prior to the Holocaust most Jews rejected Zionism not out of moral revulsion, but rather because they felt the best and safest way forward for Jews lay in availing themselves of the promise and tools of democracy (or Communism, especially for Russian Jews) to deliver on full equality and freedom from persecution for all. For them, this was not about faith in the innate holiness and righteousness of the diaspora condition, but rather about faith in democracy (or socialism); e.g. that if it pleased you to be so, there was no contradiction between being a good German citizen and a good (i.e. observant) Jew. Hitler and Stalin did far more damage to that optimism than Herzl or Ben-Gurion ever could have. Nonetheless, there were very few Jews, Zionist or anti-Zionist, who entertained the idea of establishing a Jewish state as some sort of religious duty; Zionism was not a Messianic movement, as opposed to scattered earlier aliyot (immigrations to the Holy Land) of the medieval and early-modern periods, where a few hundred Jews or so might move with their rabbi to Palestine in anticipation of the Messiah's imminent arrival.

So, I guess I'm unclear as to why exactly you see Zionism presenting an inherent contradiction to notions of Jewish identity, or to what it means to belong to "the Jewish people," per se. General ethical problems pertaining to Zionism having benefited from colonialism (and anti-Semitism for that matter) in terms of securing a state, sure; subsequent and continuing oppression of the Palestinians by the state of Israel, sure; but I don't really understand the "other interpretations of Israel and the Jewish nation have been suffocated" part. I would prefer that the pogroms and the Holocaust had never happened, which almost certainly would mean no one would've perceived a need for a Jewish nation-state in the first place, but who wouldn't? That's over and done with; I can and do use my dollars and my vote as best as I can to support American efforts to promote fair negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians and to protest Israel's human rights injustices, but that doesn't create some sort of identity crisis for me as a religious Jew, and I don't see why it should.
thanks this and your other post answer most of my questions. i'm sorry i wasn't entirely clear.
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Old 10-05-2008, 03:04 PM   #9
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Here's an interesting article from today's CBSnews.com:

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/...n4501952.shtml

"Modesty Patrols" Sow Fear In Israel
Ultra-Orthodox Jews, On Campaign For Purity, Allegedly Stone Women For Wearing Red Blouses.

(AP) In Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where the rule of law sometimes takes a back seat to the rule of God, zealots are on a campaign to stamp out behavior they consider unchaste. They hurl stones at women for such "sins" as wearing a red blouse, and attack stores selling devices that can access the Internet.

In recent weeks, self-styled "modesty patrols" have been accused of breaking into the apartment of a Jerusalem woman and beating her for allegedly consorting with men. They have torched a store that sells MP4 players, fearing devout Jews would use them to download pornography.

"These breaches of purity and modesty endanger our community," said 38-year-old Elchanan Blau, defending the bearded, black-robed zealots. "If it takes fire to get them to stop, then so be it."

Many ultra-Orthodox Jews are dismayed by the violence, but the enforcers often enjoy quiet approval from rabbis eager to protect their own reputations as guardians of the faith, community members say. And while some welcome anything that keeps secular culture out of their cloistered world, others feel terrorized, knowing that the mere perception of impropriety could ruin their lives.

"There are eyes and ears all over the place, very similar to what you hear about in countries like Iran," says Israeli-American novelist Naomi Ragen, an observant Jew who has chronicled the troubles that confront some women living in the ultra-Orthodox world.

The violence has already deepened the antagonism between the 600,000 haredim, or God-fearing, and the secular majority, which resents having religious rules dictated to them.

Religious vigilantes operate in a society that has granted their community influence well beyond its numbers - partly out of a commitment to revive the great centers of Jewish scholarship destroyed in the Holocaust, but also because the Orthodox are perennial king-makers in Israeli coalition politics.

Thus public transport is grounded for the Jewish Sabbath each Saturday, and the rabbis control all Jewish marriage and divorce in Israel.

In recent years, however, the haredim have eased up on their long campaign to impose their rules on secular areas, and nowadays many restaurants and suburban shopping centers are open on the Sabbath.

These days, most vigilante attacks take place in the zealots' own neighborhoods.

Israel police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the modesty police are not an organized phenomenon, just rogue enforcers carrying out isolated attacks. But Israel's Justice Ministry used the term "modesty patrols" in an indictment against a man accused of assaulting the Jerusalem woman.

The unidentified, 31-year-old woman had left the ultra-Orthodox fold after getting divorced, according to the charges filed by the Jerusalem district attorney's office. The charges said her assailant tried to get her to leave her apartment in a haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem by gagging, beating and threatening to kill her. He was paid US$2,000 for the attack, it said.

A 17-year-old who moved to Israel from New York five years ago said she was hospitalized after being attacked with pepper spray by a crowd of men outraged that she was walking down a Jerusalem street with boys.

"They can burn in hell," said the girl, who would identify herself only as Rivka.

She lives in Beit Shemesh, a town outside Jerusalem where the vigilantism has been particularly violent. Zealots there have thrown rocks and spat at women, and set fire to trash bins to protest impiety. Walls of the neighborhood are plastered with signs exhorting women to dress modestly - spelled out as closed-necked, long-sleeved blouses and long skirts.

These breaches of purity and modesty endanger our community. If it takes fire to get them to stop, then so be it.

Elchanan Blau, defender of the modesty patrolsThe state, catering to religious sensitivities, subsidizes gender-segregated bus routes that service religious neighborhoods. Ragen and several other women challenged the practice in Israel's Supreme Court after an Orthodox Canadian woman in her 50s told police she was kicked, slapped, pushed to the floor and spat upon by men for refusing to move to the back of the bus.

Another Beit Shemesh girl, who asked to be identified only as Esther, said zealots threw rocks, cursed and spat at a friend for wearing a red blouse - taboo because the color attracts attention.

Yitzhak Polack, a 50-year-old Jerusalem teacher, is one of those who deplore such behavior.

"They are stupid troublemakers who are bringing shame and disgrace on this holy community," he said.

But the rabbis are afraid to condemn them, says Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, another community member.

"They can't come out against zealots who champion modesty. Here and there they write against violence, but the militants ultimately set the tone," he said.

Stores are targeted too.

In August, a Jerusalem man was placed under house arrest on suspicion he set fire to a store in a haredi district of the city that sold MP4 players.

"It started about six months ago. They would come into the store, about 15 of them at a time, screaming, 'This store burns souls!' and they would throw merchandise on the floor and threaten customers," said 31-year-old Aaron Gold, a haredi worker at the Space electronics store.

One Friday night, just before the Sabbath was about to begin, "they smashed a window, doused the place with gasoline and lit a match," Gold said.

Now, a big sign behind the counter says, "All products sold in this store are under rabbinical supervision. By order of the rabbis, no MP4s are sold here."

Clothing stores that sell clothes regarded as provocative have been vandalized, and bleach thrown at merchandise.

Suspicion is all that's needed to spark an attack.

Girls have been expelled from school after being seen talking to boys, a punishment that ruins their marriage prospects.

"It could be very innocent; she could be talking to her brother," Ragen said. But once thrown out of school, "no one - NO ONE - will take you in," she added.

In one case, the violence reached the highest levels of haredi society.

Three years ago, a son of Israel's Sephardi chief rabbi, Shlomo Amar, was accused of kidnapping a 17-year-old boy, beating him at knifepoint and terrorizing him with snarling dogs because he had sought the attentions of the accused's unchaperoned sister.

The son was sentenced to two years and eight months in jail.

His sister married a different suitor the following year.


By Amy Tiebel
© MMVIII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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