Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pointing Fingers Instead of Soul Searching

In today's New York Times, under the headline, "A religious war in Israel's army, " Ethan Bronner reports that several of the testimonies of secular soldiers who served in Gaza, and who allege inappropriate behavior, attribute that behavior to the rise of the religious-nationalist Jews in the army.

Several of the testimonies, published by an institute that runs a premilitary course and is affiliated with the left-leaning secular kibbutz movement, showed a distinct impatience with religious soldiers, portraying them as self-appointed holy warriors.

A soldier, identified by the pseudonym Ram, is quoted as saying that in Gaza, "the rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles and their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the non-Jews who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. This was the main message, and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war."

Dany Zamir, the director of the one-year premilitary course who solicited the testimonies and then leaked them, leading to a promise by the military to investigate, is quoted in the transcripts as expressing anguish over the growing religious nationalist elements of the military.

"If clerics are anointing us with oil and sticking holy books in our hands, and if the soldiers in these units aren't representative of the whole spectrum of the Jewish people, but rather of certain segments of the population, what can we expect?" he said. "To whom do we complain?"

Zamir was not only implying with the above statement that the religious soldiers and commanders are in large part responsible for the moral decline of the Israeli soldier. He also seemed to imply that were the army to be composed of units that were more representative of the Jewish people, it would have greater moral legitimacy to do what it did in Gaza.

If that inference is correct, than the secular Dany Zamir is little different from Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, the ultra-nationalist Rabbi who said recently that Barukh Goldstein's "error" in killing innocent Palestinians was acting without the authorization of the nation. Had he received such an authorization, then it would have been all right.

Perhaps that is unfair to Zamir. Perhaps not. What he certainly shares in common with the religious nationalist right is the penchant of some Jews to bash other Jews who do not belong to their "tribe".

But is Zamir right? Is there a moral decline in the IDF, and is that decline attributable to the rise of religious nationalists?

Some preliminary points

  • According to one of my informants, there has never been a serious academic study of IDF soldier violence in the Occupied Territories. Which soldiers are likely to be perpetrators? What communities do they come from? What is their moral upbringing? Until that study is undertaken, the answers to these questions are mere guesses. In lieu of serious study, one can bash the religious nationalists (but not the Russians, the Mizrahim, or the secular Ashkenazim) with impunity.
  • Even with such a study, it is difficult to have conclusive answers. A religious soldier may believe that conquering the Land of Israel is a religious imperative, that 'whoever is merciful to the cruel, will eventually be cruel to the merciful' – and still act like a mentsh with the civilian population. By contrast, one can be raised in a kibbutz with humanistic values and still commit unspeakable acts in war.
  • The longer the Occupation, the worse Israel behaves, and the more their bad behavior becomes acceptable and justified by Israeli society. True, there was some pretty nasty stuff in the First Intifada (Remember "Break-their-bones" Rabin?) , but Israel then, at least, made the pretence of caring about the civilian population. It took a more violent Second Intifada for the Knesset to pass the law limiting the Palestinian's ability to sue for damages, to cage Palestinians in ghettoes, and to build a wall to ensure maximum land for Israeli expansion. For their part, the Palestinians were able to kill many more Israelis civilians in the Second Intifada than in the First, though very few recently.

So has there been a moral decline in the IDF? As others have correctly pointed out, the last campaign in Gaza was particularly repugnant from a moral standpoint. But I cannot see it as qualitatively different from previous campaigns. And I am glad to see that Gideon Levy shares that view. And certainly there is no reason – yet – to believe that the rise of the religious nationalist ideology is behind the hardening of Israel's heart. Anybody who lived in Israel through the Gaza campaign knew that Israelis of all stripes didn't give a damn about what happened in Gaza. "Served them right" is what you will hear people say who belong to all the tribes of Israel.

The tendency to attribute the evil to religious nationalists – their Hamasniks or our own – is more often than not a convenient excuse for not looking in the mirror. Ehud Olmert is not a religious nationalist. Ehud Barak is not a religious nationalist. Avigdor Lieberman is certainly not a religious nationalist. And let us not forget Bibi.

Olmert and Barak and Livni share the responsibility for what happened in Gaza, not some rabbi in the military rabbinate, who provide the secular leaders cover by making them look moderate.

The article ends with Prof. Moshe Halbertal of the Hebrew University and Hartman Institute making the by-now hackneyed distinction between the peace-loving, moderate religious Zionists, and the ultra-nationalist Land of Israel Zionists. Halbertal, like Zamir, professed to be shocked when he learned of how the troops behaved in Gaza. Once again, Levy is there to say to those shocked, "Bullshit. You knew exactly what was going on during real time – all you had to do was read the newspaper."

Israelis appear to be doomed to live in a perpetual "Groundhog's Day" where they repeat the endless cycle of being shocked whenever they hear of the IDF's traditional and predictable behaviour. Even their reactions are predictable. And there will always be the New York Times Israel correspondent (using a liberal Zionist Jew) consulting the Hartman Institute "philosopher" (a modern orthodox liberal Zionist Jew) for the "moderate" position.

In the beginning there was Tom Friedman interviewing David Hartman. Friedman begat Bronner and Hartman began Halbertal. Nothing has changed; they all say the same thing.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the IDF, the Hartman crowd just follows in the footsteps of another Israeli apologist, liberal Zionist, Michael Walzer, who has constructed an entire Just War theory with the IDF in mind.

All the military ethical codes don't do a damn thing when the folks in charge are operating under their own tribal morality, and when the "war on terrorism" becomes cover war crimes. The difference between the US and Israel is that we have been governed by Bushes and Chenies for the last sixty years (with maybe a slight breath of fresh air from 1993-1995.)

Stop bashing the religious right.

All our hands have spilt this blood.


dickerson3870 said...

Thanks for your perspective on this!

Anonymous said...

jerry, you ignore the link between increasing palestinian violence and Israeli aggression.

I recall that motivation was a serious problem in the IDF during the first intifada, but for the second commanders claimed higher enlistment and motivation.

When bombs are found in Chaifa like the one yesterday, one staters such as yourself seem like they are living in cloud cuckoo land.

Anonymous said...

Gideon Levy, like you, often harps on the issue of the "Most moral army in the world." I am curious as to who, then, among armies that actually fight, has earned that distinction (I don't count the Salavation Army or Tzivos Hashem)?

Jerry Haber said...

Zak, there is no link, on either side. There are occasional correlations, nothing more.If there were, there would be more balance in the numbers.

The real question is why aren't the Palestinians leaving more bombs. Is it just because they aren't able?

Hard for you to get that I am not a one-stater, isn't it? Kinda breaks the mold.

Jerry Haber said...

It's not Gideon Levy who harps on the "most moral army" issue -- it is the brainwashed Israelis, from the Prime Minister to the mem mem, who constantly repeat that mantra. I have never heard of another country in which such a patently absurd statement becomes part of the national discourse, so much that intelligent people can actually treat the question of "which is the most moral army" as a legitimate one.

But I can't give you an answer off hand for which is a more moral army -- the Salvation Army or Zivos ha-Shem. I guess if you are a utilitarian, then it would be the Salvation Army, but who knows?!

March 23, 2009 6:47 AM

Anonymous said...

Hi jerry,

I wasn't asking whether you thought Arabs should be blowing up Jews more, I was merely pointing out that the survival instinct will trump moral considerations when people really feel threatened.
Jew or Arab. IMO, a one state "solution" would result in another civil war, with atrocities commited on both sides.

And no - it's not hard for me to get that you are a one stater, you are a jew with another home in the US which you will probably use if we go to war with Iran. Funny that the other one stater I know enjoys that same privilege.

But your motivations aren't important and your perspective is worthy, ofcourse. So why do i think you live in cloud cuckoo land? Because as far as I can tell co-existence didn't work under British occupation and there is no reason whatsoever that I can see it working under some kind of shared soverignitity.

All it would mean, would be more genocide, in an age where terror has been 'democratized'.

Niall Ferguson (probably not your favorite historian) has an interesting theory. 3 E's. Empires in decline, economic volatility and ethnic tension. these 3 E's fuel conditions which are likely to see genocide.

To me, that's exactly the situation a one state solution looks likely to bring.




Jerry Haber said...

Zak, what I meant so say is that I am not a one-stater, and I don't understand why you think I am.

If Israel goes to war with Iran, it will be because of Jewish paranoia, not because Iran is a threat to Israel. Because Iran is not an existential threat to Israel, even under its current administration. It is certainly much less a threat to Israel than the Soviet Uniow was to the US, and the US didn't nuke it.

It is arguable that world peace -- and Israel's well-being -- would be better ensured by there being a nuclear balance in the Middle East.

Anonymous said...

Jerry, how do you think the two states should be divided?

Anonymous said...


My impression was that you are pro the idea of a binational state, if I am wrong about that, my bad.

But blaming Jewish paranoia for Israel's troubles when 100 kilos of TNT were found in a mall on Sunday just re-affirms the impression that your perspective is out of touch.

Unfortunately - as Bill gates would tell us - sometimes you have to be paranoid.


Anonymous said...

If the IDF is "not the most moral army in the world" then the statement should be followed by some explanation, "because the army of X is more moral." Otherwise, stick to claims of "the IDF is not a moral army" (which I personally would follow with "because no army, in the history of the world, has ever engaged in significant armed conflict and acted morally.")

Anonymous said...

Zak, it's Andy Grove, Intel's ex boss, not Bill Gates who said "Only the Paranoid Survive". It's the title of one of his books. Maybe we should say: only the Paranoyid survive!

Anonymous said...

I would be curious to hear your response to Margaret's question Jerry, as my preliminary research (ok, wikipedia!) sas Judah Magnes was a one stater.

After days like today, separation seems to be the only way.

Jerry Haber said...


Magnes was a binationalist before the state was founded; afterwards, he spoke of a federation including Israel, a Palestinian State, Jordan, and maybe others. The first three would constitute, what he called, a United States of Palestine. So he went from a binationalist to a federalist.

It should be pointed out that the partition plan, which Magnes opposed, also limited the sovereignty of the Jewish and the Palestinian states, by setting up a Joint Economic Union, with a single economic policy and a single currency.

Zionists always point to the Partition Plan as the UN's recognition of the Jewish right to an independent state. Show me anything in the document which says that.

Margaret, I have said many times that I am entirely agnostic as to what political framework is decided upon, provided that a) it is mutually agreed upon (or imposed from without), b) the two peoples are able to have self-determination, peace, and security, without one side dominating the other. That means that Israeli colonialism cannot give way to neo-colonialism.The goal should be parity, lo li-shlot, ve-lo le-hishalet, neither to rule nor to be ruled, according to the old Zionist slogan.

If you ask me my preference, it is a federalist solution, like Magnes suggested.

Jerry Haber said...

One more thing. Needless to say, no solution has been offered since 1947 which is anything remotely like what I said in the note above. The State of Israel has never accepted a just partition, and, in my opinion, it never will.

Anonymous said...


I think recognition of Israel by the UN implies it, although I am not sure why you think the point is so important.

My concern is survival, not a utopian dream that will result in genocide.


Anonymous said...

I know this is a bit out of bounds but there was another (short-lived) plan, before that: a greater Palestine which encomprised Judea/Samaria, the actual Jordan and the southern part of Syria. This was the initial thinking.

Anonymous said...

I believe there is a problem of the army being "overrun" by religiously-motivated zealots.

Tho I don't think it's the cause of the moral decline.
It is simply the effect of this moral decline.

The Zionist left has abandoned the army long ago.
It's an empty shell - and it's being occupied by those who think it's a tool for advancing their goals.

Naturally those would be the religiously-motivated and messianic lot.

I do believe a lot of the immorality and horrible t-shirts that soldiers now proudly wear has a lot to do with the percentage of soldiers right-wing nationalistic views in all units.

Soldiers are almost by definition a herd. Dissent is frowned upon.
So if once those religious-nationalistic elements would have "lain low" as to not offend their peers.
Nowadays it is the left-leaning ones who have to lay low and go with the herd.

Jerry Haber said...


If your concern is Jewish survival, then why are you a Zionist. There is no reason to believe that Jewish survival is best served by a state, and much reason to believe that Jewish survival is not served by Israel, either bare physical survival or cultural survival.

I realize that these are weighty questions, but I can't avoid the conclusion that concern with the survival of the State of Israel in its present form has replaced concern with the survival of the Jews.

Anyway, I don't see how the State of Israel can survive in its present course over the long run. That should make me happy but it doesn't, for with all its flaws, there is much to admire and love about the state and its people. I look on as Israel as a family member that is bent on a course of self-destruction, and the Jews as other family members who either support that course, or who are afraid to intervene.

Jerry Haber said...

Zak, Membership in the UN doesn't imply UN recognition of a *right* of a people to a state, if such a right exists. The UN partition plan recognized that there were two competing communities in Palestine, and called for partition into two states as the way out of the mess that was most likely to succeed. That it did not succeed was due to the actions of both sides, both of which opposed partition on principle; one of which accepted it as a temporary tactical move. The real partition that succeeded for 40 years was the partition of Palestine by the Zionists and the Hashemite kingdom, at the expense of the Palestinian nationalists.

I am not a futurist, but I and others think that the countdown for the demise of the 48 regime started in 67. Let us hope that it will be replaced by a better, and not a worse, one.

Anonymous said...


I'm a Zionist because I do think a Jewish homeland in this land is crucial for Jewish survival. I would agree with you that on its current course, Israel is headed for trouble, but I don't share your certain pessimism at all. And I totally disagree that in its present form Jewish survival is not served by the State. On a physical level (immigration from anti Semitic countries) and cultural level I see tremndous benefit. A Jewish homeland is the solution to the Jewish problem.

Regarding your second point, I think it does imply recognition of the jewish state, perhaps not legally but certainly Harry Truman didn't think it was a non-Jewish majority in the State.

I also question the certainty with which you assert that the vote to accept partition was always planned as a temporary step. Revisionist historians made this claim, especially Benny Morris, and the theory has been refuted. benny Morris actually apologized to Efraim Karsh after his book The Birth was criticized (that's putting it mildly) in Karsh's Fabricating Israeli History: The "New Historians".

Mo-ha-med said...

I disagree with your arguments - won't discuss that now, especially that the discussion is gone on a tangent - but I enjoyed the article. Not what I expected from a religious orthodox person -then again, who fits the stereotypes..


Kung Fu Jew 18 said...

Magnes, thanks for your critical analysis on this and other topics. What an ugly state of affairs.

Jerry Haber said...

Zak, you wrote:

And I totally disagree that in its present form Jewish survival is not served by the State. On a physical level (immigration from anti Semitic countries) and cultural level I see tremendous benefit. A Jewish homeland is the solution to the Jewish problem.

Some comments:

1) I didn't know there was a Jewish problem. I don't have a problem.

2) Subtract Zionism from the equation, and I don't know of any significant aliyah to Israel over the last sixty years, because of anti-Semitism. As I wrote, many more Jews have died violent deaths related to Israel in the last sixty years than related to anti-Semitism.

3) Of course, it may be that Israel acts the way it does in order to foster anti-Semitism so that there will be aliyah. I doubt that is the case. I do know that Israel gets upset when Jews prefer to immigrate to other countries.

4) From a Jewish standpoint, Israel did have a period where it was culturally interesting. That was the period of the beginning of the state, where the cultural beacons were European Jews.Some of the other aliyot also contributed. That period is over.

5)Essentially, there are three versious of Israeli Judaism -- secular Zionism, religious Zionism, and haredism, one more dismal than the text. There is more Jewish cultural life in the US than in Israel. I know. I live in both.

6) Israel does play a positive role in Jewish identity as a myth, not as a reality. And it provides a source of pride and self-worth. The only problem is that it also provides a source of shame and embarrassment. If you identify Judaism and Israel, you not only gain, you lose.

7) This is not to say that there is not a significant *Israeli* culture, high and low. One could say the same for Belgium or Finland. But in terms of Jewish culture, in terms of an engaging Judaism, what does it offer? And the decline is apparent. Just look at Hebrew University. What Jewish thinkers are coming out of Israel today?

Anonymous said...

Zak, it's irrelevant what Truman thought about the demographics of the day in Palestine. It is relevant that he recognised only the "State", and explicitly not the "Jewish State".

Anonymous said...

Fiddler - that's absolute nonsense. Recognition of Israel most certainly implied recongntion of the Jewish State.

Anonymous said...


1) I think your personal lack of a Jewish problem is a good thing. American Jews between their 40's - 60's have had it good. Not everyone has it so easy. And we will also see how the coming difficult (post Madoff) years treat US Jews.

2) An astonishing assertion. Are you seriously saying that 700,000 Jews from Arab countries were inspired by Herzl? Are you aware of the massive number of French people who have moved to Israel in the last 10 years as French authorities turn a blind eye to Islamic anti Jewish behavior (the French have been a major part of driving up real estate prices too, to my detriment) Ethiopian Jews were considered the lowest of the low..... And I wouldn't go back to the UK after what I saw in the last 10 years. You don't have to be running away from a gas chamber to be running away from anti-Semitism.

3) Since you doubt your own comment, why post it? And what does "Israel gets upset" mean? Can you introduce me to your "Israel"?

4) There is plenty that Israel still has to offer culturally - I don't have to look to European Jewish thinkers to find my single source of Jewish culture. Jewish culture is evolving here, and its great to be part of the evolution.

5) You've left out Post Zionist Judaism, not the same thing as secular Zionism, and arguably bigger than the other 3. All ideology is ultimately hollow, isn't it? That's actually what I like about post-Zionism. It creates an opportunity to question values. There is plenty of Jewish culture in the US, I lived there for 3 ears and experienced it first hand. More than Israel? No - the air here is Jewish. You can't beat that. Random conversations - such as being able to discuss Biblical Criticism with two of my son's friends parents at his daycare - they are just more common and effortless here. So no, I don't think there's more Jewish culture in the US.

6) Is Israel a myth or a reality? Reality.

As for being ashamed of Israel's actions. If Israeli soldiers commit crimes war that's an outrage. But like with any family, you should take the good with the bad. Unfortunately, you seem revel in the bad and ignore the good.

7) In terms of Jewish culture I think Israel has a lot to offer, like I said, especially in terms of engaging with Judaism. Take the wide variety of Orthodox prayer services found here as an example. The food. Israeli cinema. (and so what if it is like Belgium or French cinema - it deals with Jewish issues). As for Israeli thinkers? Well, you are in academia so you can say more than me, but Aviezer Ravitsky comes to mind. But can an American Jewish thinker that mocks the anxieties and struggles of his people be taken seriously?

Anonymous said...

Ben-Gurion himself explicitly stated that acceptance of Partition was only a precursor to (possibly) gaining the entirety of Palestine. He even wrote to his son that partition "is not end, but a beginning... Our possession is important not only for itself... through this we increase our power, and every increase in power facilitates getting hold of the country in its entirely [along with Transjordan]. Establishing a state... will serve as a very potent lever in our historical efforts to redeem the whole country." (Righteous Victims)

In fact, Israel's Declaration of Independence did not specify the borders according to Partition, and rejected it outright. Other sources show that Ben-Gurion only viewed Partition.

Avram said...

"Subtract Zionism from the equation, and I don't know of any significant aliyah to Israel over the last sixty years, because of anti-Semitism"

The 1,000,000 Jews from the Arab world came because of Zionism?

"From a Jewish standpoint, Israel did have a period where it was culturally interesting. That was the period of the beginning of the state, where the cultural beacons were European Jews"

Nothing of interest from the Mizrachim? Or the Ethiopians? Or the Yanks! :) Oh well, your statement doesn't surprise but I probably am misreading it (or at least I hope I am)

"If you identify Judaism and Israel, you not only gain, you lose."

Isn't that the case with most things in life though Jerry? Every 'relationship' has good (gain) and bad (loss) ...

Margaret said...

Thanks for the response, Jerry. I agree that federation would be a useful result. I don't see how resolution can be imposed from the outside, except by the requirement that a resolution be achieved.

I have attempted numerous times to download "Rain of Fire: Israel's Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza," but the transfer of information is always 'stopped' after a moment or two. Have others been able to download the .pdf file?

Elli said...

"2) Subtract Zionism from the equation, and I don't know of any significant aliyah to Israel over the last sixty years, because of anti-Semitism. As I wrote, many more Jews have died violent deaths related to Israel in the last sixty years than related to anti-Semitism."

I think if you were to change 'sixty' to 'seventy' this paragraph would have to be vastly rewritten.

Jerry Haber said...

OK, let's get one thing straight.

When I said, "Subtract Zionism from the equation," I didn't mean subtract the Zionist ideology of the immigrants from the equation. I mean, "Subtract the Zionist state from the equation."

How many Jews would have immigrated to Israel from Arab countries had there not been a Jewish state.

OH, that's simple.


How many Jews would have been expelled from Arab countries during the fifties without the Zionist state?

Oh, that's simple.


How many French Jews would have immigrated to Israel (many of them Jews who chose to immigrate to France in the sixties) had Israel behaved like a proper state and not committed crimes against Palestinians in the Second Intifada?

A handful.

In every case that you brought, it was the ideology and actions of the Zionists that brought people to Israel, some times when they were not even interested in getting to Israel, as in the case of the Russians in the seventies.

Subtract the "anti-Semitism" that was a reaction to the Jewish state -- as wrong and as evil as that anti-semitism is, and you will find only a handful of Jews who came to Israel escaping persecution.

It is nice to know that the raison d'etre of the Jewish state over the last sixty years found expression only, perhaps, in the saving of Ethiopian Jewry and the Falash Mura -- saved by the ultra-right wing Zionist government of Yitzkhak Shamir.

Or perhaps that is the point of Zionism -- to make life miserable for the Jews in the diaspora so that that they will have to seek safe haven.

The Nazi Holocaust, as Elli correctly pointed out, was different. That had nothing to do with Zionism. But that was an aberration, and since the Holocaust, European anti-semitism has almost universally been a cover for anti-Zionism, and not vice-versa.

Ah, but you will say, think of the millions of Jews who would have been saved had there been a state of Israel in the thirties and the forties.

Yes, and think of how they would have died, had Rommel captured Palestine.

So much for what ifs.

I note that nobody disputed my claim that in the last sixty years, more Jews have died because of Israel than because of anti-Semites anywhere.

And as for solving discrimination, talk to the hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews who are living happily in the US, Germany, and elsewhere -- to the displeasure of the Zionists.

Jerry Haber said...


Correction, I meant, not "secular Zionism" but "secular Judaism". and for "religious Zionism" read "religious Zionist Judaism." Unfortunately, modern orthodoxy has not fostered a non-Zionist ideology. Secular Judaism includes post-Zionism, although many post-Zionists don't really think much about their Judaism, secular or not.

By speaking of "secular Judaism" I was being charitable. There are many Jews who are hiloni who claim that there is such an animal as secular Judaism. It is difficult to find it among the younger generation in Israel. That is because people equate speaking Hebrew and being ethnically Jewish with being Jewish. But I grant you that it does exist, by the grace of Hashem and the Posner Foundation.

Of course, all this is a complicated subject and depends on what one means by Jewish culture.

Israel gave us Avi Ravitsky (may be speedily recover) but it gave us many more orthodox rabbis who bring disgrace daily to Judaism. (Just read NRG, YNET, and Haaretz) -- racists, fascists, and "Judaeonazis" that have sprung from the soil of Eretz Yisrael.

As for Jewish culture in the air...yes, there is that, and that's why I like living in Israel. But all that could have been accomplished without creating a ethnocracy in the late 1940s. All that was in place in the thirties and the forties, if not earlier. It meant a commitment to a cultural Zionism, rather than to an political-ethnic Zionism that substitutes ethnicity for Judaism by Jews who took their Judaism for granted, and who were unable to pass it on to subsequent generations.

I don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Keep the large, Hebrew-speaking community, keep government support of Jewish cultural institutions, keep all that -- and make Israel in to a multi-cultural liberal democracy, not the ethnocracy that has some passing resemblance to the former.

zak said...

Jerry: Israel isn't the 92nd St Y. it's a Jewish homeland. That means we have Jewish whores, Jewish rapists, Jewish thieves, Jewish racism, and every other problem normal nations have. Its fine to criticize - Lord help us if we didn't - but you're imbalanced view isn't justified. All the arguments you have given, ignore the fact that the elementary purpose of the Jewish State is to protect Jews. Like it or not - and acknowledge the need for it or not - thats the reality.

Jerry Haber said...


Israel is a "normal homeland". I am not sure what that means. Apparently you think that all states are more or less the same, each imperfect, with plusses and minuses. So you do not distinguish between, say, Serbia and Sweden, Rwanda and England, Iran and the US. All are normal in your eyes.

Ah, those Jewish whores and thieves...kinda makes you feel nostalgiac for Herzl, who envisioned a Jewish states as a liberal democracy which would be a beacon of light for other countries...with its whores and thieves.

But what if, instead, the Jewish State is one of the world leading states in per capita sexual slavery, as it was several years ago, according to Amnesty International?

Normal enough for you?

At the heart of Zionism were two conceptions: the one that a Jewish homeland was needed for the physical protection of Jews; the second, that a Jewish homeland was needed to serve as a catalyst for the regeneration of Judaism and Jewish culture, and as a source of Jewish self-esteem.

My claim is that in its first sixty years Israel has failed as a source of protection for Jews, and has actually exacerbated the situation of the Jews, certainly in Israel itself, but also in the world. The ebb and flow of attacks against Jews outside of Israel is directly related to Israel's actions against the Palestinians.

It has been more successful in the second goal of Zionism but in ways unanticipated by the Zionist visionaries. It has produced an interesting variant of Jewish culture -- Israeli culture, which, though dominantly Jewish, is or should not be, exclusively so. And, as a mythic state, it has inspired Jewish culture outside of Israel.

But it has yet to provide an attractive version or vision of Judaism. One would have thought that it would take the lead in this area. But what Torah has come forth from Zion?What religiously inspiring or challenging thinker has been born or raised on Israeli soul? Name a single native Israeli rabbi, if you can, whose works have made a dent on Jewish religion or culture?

Or have you given up on Judaism altogether, and replaced it with the comfort zone of living in a rather large Flatbush or Anatevka, a shtetl/ghetto in the Middle East whicn you can call home?

Y. Ben-David said...

"Jerry", you did a real nice job of rewriting history in your comments to Zak.

"How many Jews would have been expelled from the Arabs states in the 1950's if it hadn't been for Zionism"?
Are you kidding? Did you forget the Farhud massacre of Jews in Baghdad in 1941? It had nothing to do with Zionism. The massacre of Jews in Fez (in supposedly "tolerant Morocco") in 1912 IIRC. Nothing to do with Zionism. Are you aware that Nasser in 1956 not only expelled the Jews of the country (why would he want them to go to Israel anyway?) but tens of thousands of other non-Arabs (sounds like ethnic cleansing to me)? You are aware that today, with the rise of political Islamism, religious minorities such as Christians, Bahais and others are under unremitting pressure to convert or leave those Arab countries. It would have been the same with the Jews. They would have been considered conspirators "in league with Western Imperialism" WITHOUT ANY CONNECTION TO ZIONISM, even if Israel didn't exist. George Orwell wrote about the virulent antisemitism he encountered in Morocco in 1939, without any connection to Zionism. There was a massacre of Jews in Libya during World War II as well, pre-state-of-Israel. The rise of Arab nationalism early in the 20th century (even pre-Islamism) put the Jews in an untenable situation. It is FALSE to blame Zionism for this.

Jerry Haber said...

Y. Ben David,

Hatred toward Zionism was indeed one of the causes of the Farhud massacre (the identification of the Jews with Zionists); another cause was virulent Nazi-inspired antisemitism, which, as I wrote, should be excluded because, since World War II, neo-Nazi antisemitism is inextricably linked to Zionism (and the appeal of Nazism to Arabs in general can be tied to anti-Zionism.)

As for the rise in ethnic based nationalism in general (and religious-based nationalism), I couldn't agree with you more that this has been a disaster for ethnic and religious minorities, but the answer is not the creation of yet another ethnic-national religious state Jewish which will disadvantage its minorities (and now, the two-staters want yet another state -- Palestine -- which will mirror Israel's discriminatory policies to its minorities), but rather liberal states that do not discriminate against their minorities and are not ethincally based.

Finally, none of your examples touch my claim that the state of Israel has not fulfilled its mission as a haven or protector of Jews, and that more Jews have been adversely affected (in their physical safety) because of the state than despite it.

Mike said...

Jerry, you write: "But what Torah has come forth from Zion? What religiously inspiring or challenging thinker has been born or raised on Israeli soul?"

Pardon me of being rude but did you witness a Jewish "religiously inspiring or challenging thinker" born anywhere lately? Don't you think that the last 150 years or so, most major Jewish thinkers and creators were secular Jews? Don't you think for instance, that the blending of jewish immigrant culture and native american culture did shape an entirely new and unique cultural breed, that no rabbi ever could imagine?

Besides, when I read Herzl, I don't think he had a renaissance of religious judaism in mind. He was a secular western bourgeois type with fourierist dreams. His first aim was to provide a shelter for persecuted Jews and give theme a homeland where they could enjoy their full rights.

Zak said...

I'll settle for physical safety over cultural incubator, if that's what the choices are Jerry. At the end of the day, culture comes after safety.

On the whole, Jews in Israel ARE safer than they would have been were there no Jewish State. Ask Pierre next time you see him.

The rise in anti-Semitism in Europe may be connected to Israeli actions, but there have always been excuses for anti-Semitism, and unfortunately your failure to see the this just makes you an apologist for the latest anti-Semitic fad.

Have I given up on Judaism altogether? Your question assumes you have a monopoly on what Judaism is. And it also implies that political independence wasn't a goal in core Jewish narratives - kind of ignoring Exodus, which - at the very least - I hope you would agree is a defining narrative in Jewish culture!

So on Jewish whores - Yes, 'm afraid to say it is better to have such problems, if not having them means not having a homeland - that is the price of political independence.

On Orthodox Jewish thinkers, I'm glad you asked. Where else other than Israel have you seen a movement within Orthodoxy that strives to embrace the challenge of including Biblical Criticism within its framework. Rabbi Mordechai Breur z"l wasn't born here, but hewas certainly an Israeli Rabbi who has made contributions to Jewish Orthodox thought that haven't even been recognized yet.

Its not the 92n St Y. But there's plenty here f you look for it.

Zak said...

Jerry said:
Finally, none of your examples touch my claim that the state of Israel has not fulfilled its mission as a haven or protector of Jews, and that more Jews have been adversely affected (in their physical safety) because of the state than despite it.

Zak says:

My grandmother z"l immigrated because of European anti Semitism in 1968. I think she would have pretty clearly told you her life was made immeasurably better because of the existence of the Jewish State. Israel may not have fulfilled its stated goal FULLY, but it certainly did so more than partially.

You have to much faith in the Goyim Jerry.

Y.. Ben-David said...

Zionism was not a major cause of the Farhud massacre.
Suppose the Jews of the Arabic countries had remained there. What would have happened to the Jews caught in the cross-fire of the Algerian civil war in which something like 100,000 people were killed? How would the tens of thousands of Jews who would have had the "pleasure" of living under Saddam Hussein have fared? Wouldn't they have served as cannon fodder for his war with Iran?
A significant cause for the rise of political Zionism was the endemic antisemitism Jews in Europe and the Middle East faced for generations (in addition to a true love of Eretz Israel on the part of religious Jews). You twist everything around by adopting this bizarre view adapted by anti-Zionists and propaganted by those like Tony Karon who suddenly claim that few Jews ever had any interest in Zionism except that a clique controlling an international conspiracy by Zionists forced their Zionism on this unwilling people and that this, in turn, caused a rise in hatred for Jews where none had ever existed. This is such twisted thinking I don't even know how to really confront this.

Jerry Haber said...

All right, MIke, what interesting secular Jewish thinkers have come out of Israel in the last sixty years, who were born there? The only cultural achievement of any worth was the second generation of Israeli writers (Oz, Yehoshua, Grossman, Applefeld, etc.), and Applefeld is an immigrant. Name some names of international bearers of Israeli or Jewish culture, art, politics.

More to the point, how many third generation Israelis have achieved international status?

Israel is a big shtetl, and there was always culture in the shtetl. Waltzing with Bashir and Paradise Now -- that's all you've got? Iran's film industry has done better than that.

Jerry Haber said...


The question is simple. How many Jews have died in Israel because of their being Israeli and Jewish during the period Israel has existed. And how many died outside of Israel during the same time period for being Jewish?

Maybe it is better to die a free man than live and be persecuted. I'll grant you that. But the Zionist argument that Israel would be a safe haven for the persecuted has not come to pass. You can be safer elsewhere, and you can live a Jewish life elsewhere as well -- without committing daily injustices against natives.

That's why so many Jews, when given a choice, chose to go to the US (and now Germany) and not to Israel.

Much to the dismay of the Zionists.

Jerry Haber said...

Y. Ben David,

Read a history of Zionism. You may learn something about how popular it was. Or how most of the people who supported it, especially in the US, had no intention of moving to a Jewish State.

Zionism arose with the rise of European nationalism. It is, to this day, a European ethno-nationalist movement. After the breakdown of the Soviet Union, the last Russofied ethnic state remains Israel. And it is in the process of becoming more Russofied. It managed to attract a small number of Western European Jews, and a smaller number of US Jews, neither of which has made a big impact on the state.

Netanyahu is the exception that proves the rule. And look at his cabinet...if you have a few hours.

As for cannon fodder, perhaps you meant "besar totahim" -- what ethnic group in Israel did that phrase refer to?

Mike said...

Jerry, I am not an expert on Israeli culture, secular or religious, but I like also Zeruya Shalev (on men/women relations) and Amos Gitai. All right, they are not world-class artists, whatever that means, but they are worthwhile artists and appreciated in Europe.

Personally, I think the historical role of the Jews has come to an end. Secular Judaism was concomitant with modernism. Secular Jews bridged the gap between the old and new world so they became the symbol of modern values. But now, the world has moved on. In the West, we live in a post-modern, multi-cultural civilization. In my country, gay men can adopt children, and on certain conditions, a doctor has the right to unplug terminally ill persons. You can buy euthanasia kits at your drugstore. So, you know, societies are changing… for the better or the worst. And in any case, traditional values (among them Jewish religious values) have been wiped out long ago with the quest of individual rights.

Maybe you should not expect a renewal of Jewish spiritual values in Israel. That’s gone. Israel was originally founded for giving a shelter to Jews. It is clearly a failure, because for instance, as a European Jew, I feel safer here than in Israel. But protection and freedom for the Jews were the main purpose of Zionism.

Zak said...


actually, most jews had already moved to the US before the major aliyot. But either way, I agree with you that the US was a perfectly adequate destination for Jews. As one recent AIPAC donor put it though, "Israel allows me to open my suitcase in this country". US Jews have done well (classic Galut story really) but they wern't always treated well, and they did suffer anti-Semitism throught their short history in that great country.

Historically though, I also don't think your argument is a fair one becasue it is arguable that without Israel as an option many more jews would have been persecuted over the last 60 years. Pogroms after the holocasut in Poland and Ukraine (I think). My grandmother's immigration to Israel in 1968 comes to mind too (again), as does my father's comments that they had to hide their Judaism when they lived under communism, at risk of physical violence.

Your aspirations are perfectly justifiable and honorable. But I think you misread history.