Sunday, July 1, 2007

Israel is Bad for Jewish Ethics

Meet the New Goliath


You can trace the current Middle East conflicts back to Moses, who was deaf. God said: "Moses, take your people to Canada." Moses heard Canaan.

One group of religious Jews believes Israel is anathema to Jewish ethics. On June 10, a group of Naturei Karta (Guardians of the City) joined a demonstration in Washington DC to protest the Israeli occupation of Palestine and of Syria's Golan Heights. Back in October 2005, Neturei Karta leader Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss had made the group's position clear about Israel and the Zionist movement. "The Zionists use the Holocaust issue to their benefit. We, Jews who perished in the Holocaust, do not use it to advance our interests. We stress that there are hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world who identify with our opposition to the Zionist ideology and who feel that Zionism is not Jewish, but a political agenda...What we want is not a withdrawal to the '67 borders, but to everything included in it, so the country can go back to the Palestinians and we could live with them ... "

Two years ago, I talked to one of the men in black suits, with black hats and the traditional curls of the Hassidic Jews--but they are not Hassidic.

"How can the ethics of Judaism be practiced by corrupt state officials, and most are corrupt in most governments?" He said this before the July 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, meaning before the revelation that the then head of the Israeli army, General Dan Halutz, was busy selling off his stock portfolio on the morning of the invasion for fear that prices would plunge. In addition, as Israel prepared to go to war, two Cabinet officials were charged with pinching the butts of young women staff members.

"Do you realize, that a man who calls himself a Jew," he continued, "gave orders to Israeli young men and women in the army or police to kill Palestinian civilians, to break their bones [referring to Labor Party Defense Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who in 1989 urged Israeli soldiers to break the bones of Palestinian demonstrators]. Is such behavior compatible with our ethics? With morality on any level? As long as Israel exists as a state, Jewish men and women will commit unpardonable sins and pollute the religion for future generations. Israeli has fomented a pernicious lobby in the United States and its equivalent in Europe to tell the non-Jewish public that it is a democratic David fighting a fanatical Goliath. This is a lie. No Messiah will ever return to such a terrible place. A state of Israel can exist only after the Messiah Returns."

I tried to lighten the mood a little, fearing he would explode in anger. I recounted the story of the man shortly after the 1948 creation of Israel who returns home and tells his wife. "The rabbi said all Jews have to move to Israel because the Messiah will soon come there. "Are you crazy?" she retorted, "After we spent all that money fixing up the apartment!"

He didn't laugh.

"Have you lost your sense of humor?" I asked.

"When it comes to Israel," he replied, "I see nothing funny."

As a child, my family elders, rabbis and other religious figures taught me the same lessons as Israeli journalist Uri Avnery learned: "Judaism a humane religion, a 'light unto the Gentiles'. Judaism means to loathe violence, to value the spiritual above the powerful, to turn an enemy into a friend. A Jew is allowed to defend himself. 'If somebody comes to kill you, kill him first' as the Talmudic injunction goes--but not as a lover of violence and the intoxication of power."

These ideas long preceded the creation of Israel as a Jewish state, one that has been routinely at war--or on the edge of war -- with its neighbors. After the 1967 war, Orthodox and Hassidic sects began to gain influence in Israeli politics and culture.

Settlements grew in the territories taken in that war against Israel's neighbors. And with these new colonies, some of them fervently religious, arose justification for discriminating against Palestinians who, began to acquire in the language of these Israelis the characteristics of the hated "other." The great irony of course was that the Nazis had developed just such a language for Jews. What Israelis did to Palestinians was a far cry from the Holocaust, but nevertheless it sounded deeply discordant to Jews like myself to listen to devout rabbis justifying a system that former President Jimmy Carter called "apartheid" in his book.

John Ross recounts his experience when he went to Palestine to observe the olive harvest and seven, young men in yarmulkes "charged down the bare brown hillside swinging thick clubs and hurling large lethal stones, war-whooping in Hebrew their harsh curses upon the people of this lacerated land. I was standing with a Palestinian farmer and his family under a freshly-picked olive tree when they came for us and thus, I suppose, guilty of being a race traitor in their perverted vision."

As Ross began to run, "the savages [members of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane's fascist cult] broke out of the trees and before I had time to turn towards them, they were upon me The first blow glanced off the small of my back and I tumbled to the red-brown earth, trying to cover my head with my forearm. The second smashed into my wrist and the blood began to spurt One Nazi youth picked up a large, jagged rock and advanced upon me with malice glowing in his evil, rabid eyes, hurling it from five feet away. I felt the painful crack against my knee and then they were pulling me to my feet, tearing my clothes and booting me down the hill like a punctured soccer ball." (Anderson Valley Advertiser December 3, 2003)

Compare the thugs who put Ross in the hospital to the words of Mordechai Eliyahu, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel and key spiritual guide for Israeli settlers in Palestinian territory. In early June, he wrote to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He offered his decree: having compassion with the civilian population of Gaza is incompatible with protecting Israeli soldiers' lives. Those holding supposedly humane feelings imperil Israeli lives. The rabbi's son, Shmuel, interpreted this decree: "if killing 100 Arabs is not sufficient to stop the launching of Qassam rockets at Israel, then 1,000 must be killed. And if that is not sufficient, then 10,000, and 100,000 and even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop."

Eliyahu claimed that "all civilians living in Gaza" are "collectively guilty for Qassam attacks on Sderot" and that "there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings."

Journalist Avnery found the letter in Olam Katan [Small World], "a weekly pamphlet to be distributed in synagogues nationwide. Eliyahu wrote that "This is a message to all leaders of the Jewish people not to be compassionate with those who shoot [rockets] at civilians in their houses." Eliyahu's son, Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed, said his father "advocated carpet bombing the general area from which the Qassams were launched, regardless of the price in Palestinian life." (Avnery, Gush Shalom, June 9, 2007)

In his letter, Eliyahu justified his edict by quoting from Psalms. "I will pursue my enemies and apprehend them and I will not desist until I have eradicated them."

Avnery reported on Eliyahu's disproportionate equation. Over the last six years, nine Israelis in Sderot died from "crudely built Qassam missiles." 650 Palestinians died last year (more than half unarmed civilians, according to Amnesty International) from attacks by Israel, one of the most potent and sophisticated military powers in the world."

In Israel, so far neither outrage nor outcry has come from this bloody call. Instead, writes Avnery, "The number of rabbis who publicly support such methods has risen to the hundreds. Most of them come from the settlements," where Jews have taken Palestinian land and water and built their own communities--albeit the World Court declared that one nation cannot claim the conquered territory of another. (Gush Shalom)

In the United States, Israeli propagandists and uncritically loyal supporters, including Congress, cling to the image of Israel as a besieged David surrounded by Goliaths, as a nation of democrats and justice seekers isolated in a sea of anti-democratic and unjust enemies. A nation with 200 nuclear missiles and the best conventional army, the highest industrial and technological capacity in the region as poor little David?

In front of Washington DC's synagogues, signs declare: "We support Israel in its struggle for peace and justice." Israel has shown little interest in either peace or justice. Its government knows no nation or group of nations would dare attack it lest it feel the wrath of a government well in tune with Rabbi Eliyahu's sentiments. Israel has become Goliath. Hopefully, an Israeli David will also emerge and guide his people toward peace and justice.

Saul Landau's new book, BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD, with a foreword by Gore Vidal, is now available from Counterpunch Press. His new film, WE DON'T PLAY GOLF HERE, is available on DVD from Landau's writings also appear on