Uri Avnery on the fallacy of rising antisemitism

In his article he lays everything bare. Except of course the fact is that both the Christians and Jews hated the Romans, and their religious literature reflects that hatred. Of course this is ironic, since Rome became Christian and today we have Roman Catholics. Which given the gospels’ anti-Roman bent, is a contradiction in terms. Give unto Caesar is weird when the pope has the role of Caesar. Goes somewhat to explaining why catholic priests are forbidden from marrying and having children. In any case Avnery is interesting and very honest as usual.

P.S. He also misses the point that many Arabs would love to move to Israel, if there wasn’t anti-Arab antisemitism in Israel (or anti-Arab Semite-ism in Israel and anti-Jew Semite-ism in the Arab countries).

P.P.S. Though he is right that Europe is the most antisemitic place, because they have the least amount of Semites and still want to get rid of them.

Ask an Israeli / Ask a Palestinian Project


Here’s an interesting project: Ask an Israeli / Ask a Palestinian

Looks like Corey Gil-Shuster, a Canadian born Israeli citizen, came up with this idea, to go out and ask people in Israel/Palestine questions from people all around the world.

Here’s one from Jewish Israelis:
(Israelis: Is Judaism more similar to Christianity or Islam?)

And here’s on from Arab Israelis:
Arab israelis: Do you love Israel?

Here’s an Interview with Corey Gil-Shuster.

And looks like you can help fund the project at:
Go-fund-me The Ask-Project

Boycott Israel: How and Why

This is a brief post about boycott tactics aimed at putting pressure on Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories (the West Bank and Gaza).

Boycotts are a non-violent means of protest. Wikipedia defines

“A boycott [as] an act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for social or political reasons.”


Boycott of Galo Wine

What is the point of boycotting Israel? At the present, given that most people in Canada and the US don’t know much about the Israel/Palestine conflict nor do they care much about it, the main point is to use boycott tactics to help educate people. When asked to boycott some Israeli product or business, the first question people will ask is why? The answer should help inform people about what is going on.

Therefore one should choose targets whose actions people are likely to disagree with or disapprove of. For example companies that support the occupation and help expand the settlements, which means stealing Palestinian land and delaying or preventing the formation of a Palestinian state.

Beyond educating people, another positive effect of boycotts over here (that is outside Israel), is that they generate solidarity and engage people emotionally, even if they are almost entirely symbolic. So one should target the worst offenders because these will be the cases that affect people’s emotions most strongly.

The second goal is to put pressure on companies to change their behavior. The fear of a boycott can cause a company to cease the behavior that led to the boycott. In this case it makes sense to focus on the worst offender or on one company in particular. Because this will put them at a competitive disadvantage and will provide the most incentive for the company to change their ways. This is another reason not to boycott indiscriminately.

The final goal is to put pressure on Israeli society to end the occupation. I list this last, because to me this is the most difficult outcome to achieve. A purely symbolic boycott will never achieve such a goal, although it can help to educate people at home (here in Canada and the US). A boycott that causes single digit losses in market share will not lead to this goal either, although it can cause companies to change their behavior. Only a sustained and general boycott that cripples the Israeli economy will lead to this result directly. And so one should not spend much time focusing on this because it is still a far off goal. If we are lucky the conflict will end before things ever get this far.

But again we should focus on the worst offenders, because this is the way to have the most positive effect on the Israeli public. If we boycott all of Israel, then there is no way for Israelis to agree with the boycott. If Israelis who are opposed to the occupation are directly targeted then it is much more difficult for even them to support the boycott and by extension its goals. If only the worst violators are targeted then it becomes easier to support change within Israel. Of course this assumes that there are enough Israelis that oppose the occupation.

My main point is that one should be careful in choosing targets for boycott, because the goal of boycotts should be to educate people about what is going on, to put pressure on companies to stop or change their negatives behavior and finally to put pressure on Israeli society to end the occupation. I have listed these three broad goals in what I consider to be their order of importance.

Israel’s Return to Judaism

Many people believe that Israel is a secular democracy. While Israel, unlike Iran, is clearly not a theocracy at the present, it is also far from being a uniformly secular society. It is probably as or even more religious than the United States, which is itself quite a religious country.

(On a side note I would argue that on a purely popular and demographic level Israeli society might be more religious than Iranian society).

When Israel was founded the population was 90% secular, and only 3% of the population was ultra-orthodox. Today 43% of Israeli Jewish society is secular and 8% are ultra-orthodox. Roughly 12% are religious nationalists, or religious Zionists. Another 12% are religiously observant. The remaining non-secular Jews are still observant but less observant.

The ultra-orthodox, haredim in Hebrew, are opposed to secular society. Many of the men, refuse to work and either live off of handouts or have their wives work while they spend their entire lives studying Talmud. There are 3 broad categories: Ashkenazi (that is European) Hasidic haredim, Ashkenazi non-Hasidic haredim, and Mizrahi (Middle-Eastern) haredim. For the most part they oppose democracy and support the establishment of a true theocracy (similar to Iran, but Jewish).

These are the Jews who wear the distinctive generally black clothes.

Haredim Protesting in Jerusalem
Haredim protesting against a law that would require them to do military service, like other Israeli Jews.

The religious Zionists (dati leumi, or religious national in Hebrew) are for the most part similar to the modern Orthodox in the West. They follow the religious commandments but accept to be part of secular society. However many of them believe that they are living in Messianic times and that the Messiah is about to come, and so certain religious rules can be relaxed. They are strongly Zionist in their views, and are generally opposed to giving up any of the Land of Israel to non-Jews. In these two views they are similar to Christian Zionists in the US who are anxiously awaiting Armageddon in the Holy Land, and the second coming of Christ, which they believe will occur when all the Jews return to Israel. They make up most of the settlers in the scattered settlements in the West Bank.

They tend to wear colorful knitted skullcaps rather than the plain black skullcaps or the old fashioned hats worn by the haredim.

(there is a new sub-group of the previous group, the hardelim (acronym for haredi dati leumit, but which also means mustard in Hebrew), as the name implies they are religious zionists who reject secular society.)

Knitted Skullcaps

The remaining majority of religious Jewish Israelis are also modern Orthodox (the conservative and reform movements are not well represented in Israel and the Orthodox alone have official status), but they are less observant: most may not engage in daily prayers, many may not keep the Sabbath, but almost all are more or less sympathetic to the more religiously observant.

For their part the secular Jews are about evenly divided between those who believe in God but are not religiously observant much like a great many Jews and non-Jews outside of Israel, and those who are agnostics or atheists and who more or less reject religion.

The above is based on the rough understanding I have come to during my readings about Israel. Please comment below if you know of anything I have gotten wrong.

Note: Due to the high birthrate among religious Jews and haredim in particular Israel is becoming more (not less) religious over time.

Why Israelis Support the Latest War on Gaza

Gershom Gorenberg states it pretty simply in his article It Isn’t About the Tunnels. So What Is the Gaza Conflict Really About?

For Israelis, explosions—even of rockets intercepted in the air—are reminders of suicide bombings during the Second Intifada and before, of seeing parts of bodies on the street. The outsider can reasonably say that Palestinians, especially in Gaza, have much more reason to be traumatized. This is true. But suffering is like air, like smoke; it expands to fill all the space inside you. The fact that someone elsewhere is more afraid does not reduce your own fear. At the moment of fear, it is very easy to divide the world into those who are with you and those who are against you.

During the Second Intifada (Palestinian uprising from 2001 to 2005) there were over 100 suicide bombings carried out in Israel, killing about 700 Israeli civilians, and 200 to 300 hundred Israeli soldiers. About 40% of the attacks were carried out by Hamas (which currently governs Gaza), 26% by Fatah (which currently governs the West Bank), and 26% by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (which now also operates out of Gaza). (About 3,000 Palestinian were killed during this time)

source, source

Burning Bus

So it is no wonder that the first reaction of Israelis was to want their government to make it stop.

We may be opposed to the blockade and siege of Gaza, we may believe that Israel started the current conflict by cracking down on Hamas in the West Bank, but the fact remains that if we are honest we can understand the response of the Israeli public who supported the war.

That is not to say that Israel was right to wage this war that killed 1,800 Palestinians, most of them civilians, or that Israel could not have done much more to prevent the killing of civilians. But we can’t pretend that the Israelis are being heartless warmongers. They have an understandable fear, and the response is about security.

On the other hand I think we should not only support but demand the lifting of the siege and blockade of Gaza, so that Palestinians can live in dignity. Unlike the rockets attacks, Israelis have no excuse for opposing this. Because the blockade is not about security, it is about punishing the residents of Gaza. The blockade blocks the export of goods out of Gaza, is that because of security? The blockade until June 2009 prevented the import of hummus. Is hummus a deadly weapon? After 2009 Israel allowed hummus, but not hummus with extras, such as mushrooms or pine nuts in it, was this somehow about security?

As much as one can believe that Israel has the right to defend itself from rocket attacks, I don’t think a reasonable person can believe that Israel has the right to decide what kind of food the people of Gaza should eat. Or whether they are allowed to export goods to the outside world. Israel only does this because they can and because it hurts the Gazans.

So at best the motive is revenge for previous attacks.

But Gaza’s worth is negative to many right-wingers in Israel. Gaza contains almost 2 million Palestinians that they want to get rid of.

I think that at a minimum they hope that by making the place unlivable they can get the Gazans to leave voluntarily.

But the extremists want all the Land of Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza, and they want a Jewish majority in all that land, and ethnic cleansing is the only way to get both. So getting rid of those 2 million Gazans would be the first step in that process.

And there are calls to take over Gaza by force and get rid of all the current residents. Here is one by a prominent politician from Netanyahu’s Likud party: MK Feiglin’s call for annexation and ethnic cleansing in Gaza.

Who are the stakeholders in the Israel/Palestine conflict?

The noted Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who lived in Gaza and now lives in the West Bank in order to report on the occupation first hand is quoted as having said:

‘The Palestinians, as a people, are divided into subgroups, something which is reminiscent also of South Africa under apartheid rule’

Now whether the citation is accurate or not, this describes the reality. Palestinians today even within the borders of Israel/Palestine fall into different categories. These categories are as follows (in order of most rights and freedoms, to least rights and freedoms):

  1. Palestinian/Arab citizens of Israel (about 1,650,000 people, just over 20% of the Israeli population). These are the Palestinians who remained within the borders of the Jewish state and their descendants. At first they lived under a form of martial law, but gradually more and more rights were granted to them. While they don’t quite the same rights as Israeli Jews, they still have the right to vote, to run for office, to serve in the military (though they are not required to do so, nor encouraged to do so). Until recently they could not lease or buy most of the land in Israel. The attorney general overturned this in 2005 but in practice those who buy such land have problems registering their ownership and face other bureaucrat blocks.
  2. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem (about 260,000 people, 57% of the population of East Jerusalem, about 29% of Jerusalem’s total population, though the city is largely segregated between Arabs and Jews, so there is little social contact). These are Palestinians who lived in East Jerusalem when it was under Jordanian rule (as was the rest of the West Bank) and their descendants. After conquering the West Bank in the June 1967 war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, and as such they should have received Israeli citizenship automatically. This did not happen and they became permanent residents. Palestinian Eat Jerusalemites can receive Israeli citizenship under certain conditions but most them choose not to do so for political reasons. As of 2005 5% had Israeli citizenship.As permanent residents they can live and work in Israel, but can’t vote in national elections, and may lose their right to return to Israel if they leave.
  3. Palestinians living in the West Bank (about 2,700,000 people). These are the rest of the Palestinians who lived in the West Bank when it was under Jordanian rule, and their descendants. They can be considered citizens of the state of Palestine (as recognized as a non-member UN observer state). Basically they are governed by Fatah (as opposed to Hamas). Since earlier this year Hamas (which governs in Gaza) and Fatah have formed a National Unity Government. They can obtain a Palestinian Passport, though it seems Israel might have to approve, which allows visa-free travel to a very limited number of countries (tied for 5th least useful passport).
  4. Palestinians living in Gaza (about 1,800,000). These are the Palestinians who lived in Gaza when it was under Egyptian rule and their descendants. Both in this case and in the case of the Palestinians in the West Bank, many are Palestinian refugees from land which is now part of the State of Israel. Refugees both from the 1948 war and the 1967 war. They are governed by Hamas, which won the 2006 elections in both the West Bank and Gaza. Fatah tried to overthrow Hamas in a coup, but failed, and Hamas took control of Gaza while Fatah continued to rule in the West Bank. There is a blockade by both Egypt and Israel which limits the goods which can come in, and also blocks exports, which has crippled the Gazan economy. The residents of Gaza are often more or less trapped in Gaza.

Yasser Arafat

As another classification there are the Palestinian refugees of the 1948 war and their descendants which are tracked by the UN organization UNRWA. There are such refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, but also others outside Israel/Palestine in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The numbers are as follows:
Gaza Strip 1,106,195
West Bank 778,993
Lebanon 425,640
Syria 472,109
Jordan 1,983,733

Then there are Palestinians that live in diaspora in countries throughout the world. In total about 11,000,000 people (including all the above categories as well).

That is for the Palestinian side.

For the Jewish side there are the following divisions.

  1. Israeli Jews (about 6,100,000 people 75% of the Israeli population).
  2. Jewish population in diaspora (about 13,500,000 people, including the above Israelis).

Based on the Israeli Law of Return any one who is Jewish (that is born of a Jewish mother or converted to Orthodox Judaism), as well as their children and their grandchildren can immigrate to Israel along with their respective spouses, and receive citizenship. Though in the case of anyone not born of a Jewish mother nor converted to Orthodox Judaism they will not receive Jewish status. In practice this means that any Jewish person can immigrate to Israel if they wish to (and assuming they can find a job and/or support themselves).

Of the Jewish population in Israel there are those who live within the 1967 borders, about 5,600,000 people, and those who live in what are called the occupied territories. These people, who are called settlers are divided roughly as follows:

  1. 320,000 (West Bank excluding East Jerusalem)
  2. 200,000 East Jerusalem
  3. 20,000 Golan Heights (Syrian territory captured by Israel)

Of the settlers in the West Bank, almost 90% live in the major settlement blocks, which are well connected to Israel by road (many of them are considered suburbs of Jerusalem). The rest live in scattered settlements. Maps of this can be seen in this previous article. The most likely two-state solution at the current time would involve Israel keeping the major settlement blocks and giving up the rest of the settlements. This was the impasse in the 2000/2001 talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinians were willing to give up their claims on the 78% of the land that Israel conquered in 1948, and were willing to waive the rights of the refugees and their descendants to return, but they were not willing to give up significant parts of the other 22% of the land.

Ben Gurion

In conclusion these are the stakeholders.

Within Israel/Palestine:

  • Israeli Jews (including the settlers)
  • Palestinians/Arabs in Israel
  • Palestinians in East Jerusalem
  • Palestinians in the West Bank
  • Palestinians in Gaza

Outside Israel/Palestine:

  • Jews in diaspora
  • The rest of the Palestinian refugees in the region (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon)
  • Palestinians in diaspora

Hamas, Violent Resistance, and Zionist Ideology

This is a brief view of the Iranian official party line on the Israel/Palestine conflict:

Which I originally saw on Norman Finkelstein’s website.

It’s sad to say, but to me it seems that if the West Bank were armed as Gaza and engaged in the same rocket throwing tactics against Israel and especially the settlements, there would probably be a Palestinian state in five years… (though of course there would be much loss of life). So I can’t entirely disagree with the video…

This is the real risk that Israel is running. By rejecting peaceful moves towards a Palestinian state governed by moderate elements, they are opening the door to a Palestinian state established by violence and ruled by Islamic fundamentalists. And this is one reason that I think Israel should make unilateral concessions to the Palestinians so as to empower moderate elements (besides the obvious fact that Israel has a moral obligation to do these things).

I can give many examples that would cost Israel virtually nothing.

  1. 50% of the occupied West Bank in Area C, which is forbidden to all Palestinians, is totally unused. Israel could hand that over now without having to evacuate any settlements.
  2. The blockade of Gaza could be ended for exports which would have no security consequences.
  3. Israel could stop expanding the settlements and build new “settlements” in the unused land in Israel proper.

I think Israel should do these things to de-legitimize the claims of those among the Palestinians who say that Israel only responds to force. Right now Hamas says look Abbas collaborated with Israel and he got nothing. He is not fighting Israel for a decade now, he is keeping security in the West Bank and they give him no land and no state, so support Hamas.

Luckily for Israel (but not for the Palestinians), Hamas is an Islamic fundamentalist group, and such groups are rightly condemned in the West. Today Israel’s main defense is to demonize Hamas. However if the same arguments were made by a secular democratic movement, they would be very hard to reject. And the Israeli occupation would likely go the way of South African Apartheid.

Again these concessions would cost Israelis virtually nothing and would contribute to their long term interests. And yet Israelis refuse to consider them! Why is this? I think Israelis refuse to even consider these things not because they have a strategic interest to refuse, but primarily for ideological reasons. That is because of the Zionist belief that there should be a state with a Jewish majority in all the Land of Israel. And this means there can never be a Palestinian state within the current boundaries of Israel/Palestine. They may say it is because of security, but that’s not the real reason. The real reason is that their beliefs are the mirror image of Hamas’s charter. Hamas wants an Islamic state in all of Israel/Palestine and many Israelis want a Jewish state in all of Israel/Palestine. Asking Palestinians to recognize a Jewish state of Israel is in this sense as reasonable as asking Israelis to accept an Islamic state of Palestine.

Many believe that Israel is grabbing land because there is no cost involved, and that it will continue to do so as long as there is no cost. But there is a cost, and it is not a small cost. The cost is economic, political, social and moral. But Israelis are willing to pay, because they believe in the ideal of a greater Israel and are willing to sacrifice their real interests for the sake of the ideology of a Greater Israel.

This is similar to the case of South Africa. The white minority didn’t just support Apartheid simply because it benefited them economically. Even after it was clearly hurting their economy, they still supported it, because they at least to some extent fundamentally believed in the system. Only when threatened with economic collapse and complete international isolation did Apartheid end.

Israel is fundamentally still driven in part by Zionist ideology, rather than purely by cost/benefit analysis.

I say in part, because thankfully it is less than in the past. Most now accept autonomy and Bantustans (independent Gaza like pockets of Palestinian population in the West Bank), whereas the Zionist ideal is a Jewish state in all the land of Israel (and which meant for example that displaying Palestinian/Jordanian flags was officially illegal in the occupied territories before Oslo).

But as Israel Shahak said (Jewish History Jewish Religion p. 121) because of this ideology, Israel is (still) not willing to make concessions for purely political reasons. Only when there is loss of Jewish life or loss of international legitimacy is Israel willing to retreat from its knee-jerk rejectionism. And because of Israel’s military might and international support, Israel can go very far in its rejection.

In my opinion those who care about the fate of Israelis and Palestinians, should denounce not only Islamic fundamentalism but also Zionist ideology.

Without discussing the belief in Zionist ideology, one is forced to say that Israel is in some way evil (because Israel does things that hurt not only the Palestinians but also fundamental Israeli interests as well). And since Israel is a Jewish state (actually THE Jewish state) this can lead to antisemitism.

Because of this I think that criticism of Zionism actually helps prevent antisemitism, by showing where these paradoxical policies come from.

(However this is a complicated and sensitive issue because to a certain extent Zionism is related to Jewish views and attitudes towards non-Jews.)

Note I do not reject the idea of a Jewish State (in the sense of France as a French state). Or the idea of a Jewish State in this sense being established in Israel/Palestine. What I reject is the establishment of this state by force, and the expropriation and expulsion of the native Palestinians, the expansion of this state by force, and the fact that not all citizens of Israel are considered to be Jews, contrary to the case where all citizens of France are considered to be French (and a similar thing holds for all liberal democracies). If extending the term Jew to cover all citizens of Israel is not possible, then in my opinion the state should be Israeli or Hebrew or some other term, either that or Israel should accept that it is not a liberal democracy.

1948 – Benny Morris 3/11 The First Stage of the Civil War

This is my post on the third chapter of Benny Morris’s book “1948 A History of the First Arab-Israeli War”. I hope to cover each of the other chapters in turn.

This chapter deals with the first part of the civil war or inter-ethnic war which occurred after the UN vote for partition of Israel/Palestine. The 1948 war had two parts, a war between the Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine) and the Palestinians, which here is called the civil war, which runs from November 30th 1947 to May 14th 1948, and a conventional war between the Yishuv/the newly created state of Israel and the armies from Arab countries from May 15th 1948 to 1949 (fighting more or less ended in January of that year but the war officially ended in July 1949).

The civil war can be further divided into two parts: the first part which is dealt with in this chapter runs from the November 30th 1947 until the end of March 1948. According to Morris it is the Arabs who are on the offensive, carrying out guerrilla attacks and terrorist attacks, which are responded to in kind by the Haganah the Jewish militia which later becomes the IDF/the Israeli army and the two paramilitary/terrorist organizations the IZL and the LHI.

Picture of a hotel in Jerusalem that was bombed by the Palestinians, leveling 4 buildings and killing 58, mostly civilians (Morris qualifies it as the worst attack of the war):
Amdursky Hotel

During the civil war British troops are still there but they are in the process of leaving Palestine, they try not to interfere in the fighting while making an effort to maintain law and order where possible.

It is important to note that while the Palestinian population is 1.2 or 1.3 million, and the Yishuv population only 630,000, the Yishuv had a disproportionate number of army-age males as the Zionist leadership had made sure to ship in as many young fit males as possible during the 30s and 40s.

Also the Jewish community was better organized, better trained, better armed and had a real army in the Haganah. The Palestinians had no army of their own, and fought as separate bands or gangs with little central coordination or control. Also the Yishuv was very homogeneous close to 90 percent Ashkenazi and 90 percent secular, while Palestinian Arab society was divided on any number of lines: religious, town/country, etc.

In the aftermath of the holocaust there was much popular US support for Zionism. And Golda Myerson (Meir) managed to raise 50 million dollars in a US fundraising tour in January-March 1948, another 50 million in another tour in May-June. Morris writes that this was used to buy arms from Czechoslovakia and that these arms shipments proved decisive in the battles from April to October 1948.

On the other hand the Arab countries were not as well organized nor as generous, and the Palestinians received a fraction of this foreign aid.

The Yishuv had also set up a clandestine arms industry, which produced guns, bullets, mortars and grenades, all of it hidden from the British.

Also the Yishuv was much more united and had stronger nationalist feelings. While the Palestinian villagers, had ties to family, village and region, rather than to an abstract nation.

Morris describes the various attacks that occurred, most of them in the area destined to form the Jewish state. There were terrorist attacks and attacks on Jewish settlements, which were not very successful because of the Jewish defenses. On the other hand attacks on Jewish convoys of goods were much more successful. It seems from most of the accounts Morris gives that much more Arabs than Jews died in most of the attacks. Of note, is that territory did not change hands, as it would during the later phases of the war.

In any case the fear of defeat as well as the collapse of the Palestinian economy caused many Palestinians to flee their homes. Many of the elite left the country, but most people went to their villages of origin. In all 75,000 to 100,000 Palestinians left their homes in this first part of the civil war. The Palestinian leadership tried to stop this flight, especially for young fighting age males, though sometimes they did encourage the evacuation of women and children.

By the end of this first period there were about 1,000 dead in the Yishuv. Morris does not give a number of Palestinian dead, but it must be higher as at each attack there were more Palestinians killed, though they may have mainly been militants. On the other hand the IZL and LHI paramilitary/terrorist organizations carried out terror attacks during this period. The Haganah did too, but mainly as retaliation.

The next chapter will cover the second stage of the civil war, where the Yishuv takes the initiative, with major battles and the conquest of territory (mainly by the Jews).

Genuine Criticism of Religion vs. Falsification of History

Oh no not another post about religion! I promise the next post will be on chapter 3 of Benny Morris’s 1948.

This is a critique of the article: Mourning for a Judaism Being Murdered by Israel by Rabbi Michael Lerner published in his liberal magazine Tikkun.

Tikkun Magazine

First I would like to make a similar criticism of a statement by a Muslim in defence of Islam, to show that I am not a hypocrite out to attack Judaism, but a person who thinks that the negative aspects of all religions should be criticized.

I saw part of a debate for and against Islam as a religion of war at Oxford university on youtube. The pro-Islam speaker said that we shouldn’t condemn Islam because of Sharia law, because there are various interpretations of Sharia Law. While that may be true today, historically there were four major schools, and as far as I know they all advocated death by stoning as a punishment for certain “crimes”, notably adultery. So to me that’s what the speaker should have said. He should have said while historically Sharia law has advocated things that don’t accord with our current views on human rights and acceptable forms of punishment, there are now new interpretations that are more liberal. And to be clear today’s Muslims shouldn’t be condemned because of their past, but all supporters of human rights and opponents of cruel punishments should take a stand and denounce and criticize this past, not try to hide or deny it.

Anyways back to Lerner’s article.

I take issue with Lerner’s statement that “one of the primary victims of the war between Israel and Hamas is the compassionate and love-oriented Judaism that has held together for several thousand years”.

This is a disgusting statement. First the primary victim of this “war” is not Judaism, but the over 1000 Palestinian civilians, and also the 2 Israeli civilians that have been killed.

To see one of the primary victims as Judaism is to not care about real people in the real world, and care primarily about Jews and Judaism, when it is exactly in the name of Jews and Judaism that these crimes are being committed.

Second I don’t think Judaism has been a religion of love and compassion for non-Jews. Not saying it should necessarily be that way (why care for people who have been intolerant and have persecuted you for so long), but to say it has been is to paper over anti-Gentile sentiment that has been there for over a thousand years.

To be clear I don’t have a problem with Lerner rejecting acts done in that name of Judaism, as many Christians and Muslims reject negative acts that are done in the name of their religions.

What I reject is the falsification of history. If he wishes to reject something of the Jewish religion or the Jewish past he doesn’t like, he should say honestly, such and such is bad and as a moral people we Jews should reject it. He shouldn’t claim that it was somehow pure and wonderful in the past and has only become bad recently.

I will give explanations based on the Christians and the Muslims.

I don’t accept that Christians should say the Holocaust is bad, so we Christians should go back to the historical Christian tolerance of Jews. Christians were never tolerant. It was not as bad as the holocaust, but apology for the holocaust should not be used to deny Christian antisemitism.

The exact same thing goes for Muslims and all other groups. It may be true that the Muslim rulers treated Jews better than Christian Europe treated its Jews or that Jews were not expelled from Muslims lands until after 1948, but Jews were still treated badly by Muslims and that should be acknowledged and rejected. What shouldn’t be done is to say Muslims treated Jews well and then the Zionists came along and made the Muslims hate Jews, and we should go back to the golden age of Islam when Jews and Muslims loved each other.

As an example of such falsification, Lerner talks about loving the other and the stranger. From what I understand in Orthodox Judaism this was taken as meaning to love converts to Judaism, not to love non-Jews. Just as the commandment to love one’s fellow/neighbor as oneself, was taken to mean fellow Jew and not all other humans.

I don’t think that historical anti-Gentile sentiments in Judaism should be falsified. It may not have mattered when Jews were not in positions of power over Gentiles, but they sometimes were, and they definitely are now, so this part of the past needs to be confronted.

From what I have read the “prophetic Judaism” that Lerner advocates, and which is admirable, is part of the reform movement, a relatively recent branch of the Jewish religion. Reform again from what I understand was a reevaluation of Judaism in view of the European enlightenment. Whether they succeeded in making Judaism into a truly humanist religion, I don’t know (maybe they did), but to present this as the true historical Judaism and to say that there have always been some contrary voices is not entirely honest.

About reform: Reform Judaism at Jewish Virtual Library
To read about the history of the conflict between Liberal and Conservative tendencies in Judaism in post-war America you can look at the book Torn at the Roots by Micahel E. Staub.

To respond to the claim that there is no one true Judaism, that is true today, but not historically, as with other religions.

One can think outside orthodoxy in every system, that does not negate the fact that there is an Orthodox or Canon Law.

Again, with Islam, Christianity and Judaism there was for a long period of time a canonical and accepted Law.

For Islam this is the four main schools, in Judaism the Orthodox view of Halacha, and at least for the Catholic church, Catholic Canon Law.

All of them pretty much had actual courts that made judgements with coercive penalties. So that the fact that people could think outside these systems didn’t matter much, because people were tried and judged based on the official view of the religion.
So for much of history there was in a very important sense one true definition of the faith.

But even if there was an important counter-movement, I am mainly saying that Lerner is being deceptive in overstating the historical importance of his views.

Note: To be clear When I use the term Orthodox Judaism, I mean Judaism roughly from the year 800 to 1800, following Halacha as defined by the Babylonian Talmud. As opposed to Reform and Conservative Judaism which either do not view the Halacha as legally binding or have a liberal interpretation of Halacha.

Israel Shahak which I often quote had this to say (Open Secrets p. 135):

much as I abhor the journal Commentary, I abhor Tikkun even more for its sanctimonious hypocrisy and for its methodical mendacity about everything that concerns Judaism. I prefer to deal with the overt chauvinism of a Podhoretz who is at least intelligible, than with ‘the politics of meaning’ of a Lerner devoid of any meaning and therefore more dangerous.

The title of the article indicates we should mourn for Judaism because it is the victim. I have more respect for Israelis and Jews who mourn the 2 Israeli civilians and 64 Israeli soldier killed so far. At least theirs is the normal human reaction of mourning losses on one’s side. It takes more to mourn the losses on the other side of the fence. And I think everyone should make that effort. And I think the world is moving in that direction. But a humanist view doesn’t come naturally to most people when it comes to wars. As I wrote before I know of no counter-example. Americans in general cared more about the lives of American soldiers lost in Vietnam than about Vietnamese civilians killed, even though there were many more of the latter.

The issue I have with Lerner is that he makes it sound like Jews are historically superior in their love and compassion towards others, falsifying Jewish history in the process, rather than taking an honest stand and criticizing the past.

Finally I believe that all religions and all groups should as someone said: “try and root the modern practice in modern values, with humanism at its center”.

I think reform Judaism has succeeded in doing that in many areas. For example in its acceptance of homosexuality, both in its members and in its clergy, despite the fact that it is clearly and explicitly forbidden by classical Judaism in the strongest terms. They made a decision to change this aspect of their religion for purely moral reasons, acknowledging that the original position was untenable in light of human rights and civil liberties.

However in the area of anti-Gentile feelings and exclusivity, I think the reality of European antisemitism which culminated in the Holocaust, along with the establishment of the state of Israel, pretty much killed the chances of a similar process taking place, and reinforced the notion of Jews as a separate nation.

As to the history, I think there have been profound changes. To me the religion went from particularism in the beginning (as almost all religions are at first, even Jesus says that he is only sent “unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, Matt15:24, when he initially refuses to treat the Canaanite woman’s daughter), to universalism (and a period where there was active proselytism). However after military defeat at the hands of the Romans, and after Christianity won out as the official state religion of the empire (and later when Islam won over most of the rest of the lands where Judaism existed), Judaism went back to particularism in the rabbinical period. Again under reform there was a tendency towards universalism, which I think didn’t quite succeed.

An interesting case of a religion which is not well known, but is probably much more closed is Zoroastrianism, which does not accept converts at all. And in which both parents must be of the faith for the child to be accepted into the faith, though this is sometimes relaxed if only the father is of the faith (it seems Iranian Zoroastrians are more liberal in this regards and Indian Parsis more conservative). Also non-Zoroastrians are not allowed into their temples at least in India.

For another open letter to Rabbi Lerner on the topic of Israel/Palestine see:
Adddendum II to “Kibbutz Life In Israel” – Letter to Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun Very interesting with some good arguments I had not thought of, but the author does quote/paraphrase Israel Shahak several times without citation (though he does cite him twice).