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Religious Fundamentalism in Israel

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Religious Fundamentalism in Israel - by Stephen Lendman

Israel Shahak's (1933 - 2001) "Jewish History, Jewish Religion" argued that while Islamic fundamentalism is vilified in the West, comparable Jewish extremism is largely ignored. In the book's forward, Edward Said wrote:

"....Shahak's mode of telling the truth has always been rigorous and uncompromising. There is nothing seductive about it, no attempt made to put it 'nicely,' no effort expended on making the truth palatable....For Shahak killing is murder is killing is murder: his manner is to repeat. (He) shows that the obscure, narrowly chauvinist prescriptions against various undesirable Others are to be found in Judaism (as in other monotheistic religions) but he always goes on to show the continuity between those and the way Israel treats Palestinians, Christians and other non-Jews. A devastating portrait of prejudice, hypocrisy and religious intolerance emerges."

Shahak's "Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel" picked up on the theme in explaining its pervasive, destructive influence in Israeli politics, the military and society. He noted that substituting German or Aryan for Jewish and non-Jews for Jews makes it easy to see how a superiority doctrine made an earlier genocide possible and is letting another happen now.

Shahak called all forms of bigotry morally reprehensible and said:

"Any form of racism, discrimination and xenophobia becomes more potent and politically influential if it is taken for granted by the society which indulges in it." For Israeli Jews, he believed, "The support of democracy and human rights is....meaningless or even harmful and deceitful when it does not begin with self-critique and with support of human rights when they are violated by one's own group. Any support of human rights for non-Jews whose rights are being violated by the 'Jewish state' is as deceitful as the support of human rights by a Stalinist...."

As a leading Israeli human rights activist and Holocaust survivor, Shakah reviewed Jewish fundamentalist history, examined its strains, and explained the dangers of extremist messianic ones. They oppose equality of Jews and non-Jews and destroy democratic values by espousing dogma calling Jews superior to all others.

The earlier influence of fundamentalist Rabbi Abraham Kook (1865 - 1935), or Kuk, was significant. He preached Jewish supremacy and said: "The difference between a Jewish soul and souls of non-Jews - all of them in all different levels - is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the souls of cattle." His teachings helped create the settler movement, and his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, founded the extremist Gush Emunim (GE) under the slogan: "The Land of Israel, for the people of Israel, according to the Torah of Israel."

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Like the elder Kook, GE sees state power as a way forward to a new messianic era. It believes that God created the world for Jews. Others are lesser beings. Greater Israel belongs to Jews alone, and holy wars are acceptable to attain it.

Kook was Israel's first chief rabbi. In his honor and to continue his teachings, the extremist Merkaz Harav (the Rabbi's Center) was founded in 1924 as a yeshiva or fundamentalist religious college. It teaches that "non-Jews living under Jewish law in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) must either be enslaved as water carriers and wood hewers, or banished, or exterminated." It gets no more extremist than that and highlights the dangers for Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Their lives and welfare are being sacrificed for a Greater Israel for Jews alone.

Gush Emunim adherents and other Israeli religious zealots plan it. They're active in politics, hold seats in the Knesset, are Netanyahu government coalition partners (including Shas, United Torah and Yisrael Beiteinu), and are prominently represented in Israel's military throughout the ranks and rabbinate. Chief military rabbi, Brigadier General Avichai Rontzki, called Operation Cast Lead a "religious war" in which it was "immoral" to show mercy to an enemy of "murderers."

Many others feel the same way, prominently among them graduates of Hesder Yeshivat schools that combine extremist religious indoctrination with military service to defend the Jewish State.

In 1981, Rabbi Harav Lichtenstein's article, "The Ideology of Hesder: The View from Yeshivat Har Etzion," explained that:

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"Hesder....seeks to attract and develop bnei torah (religious individuals) who are profoundly motivated by the desire to become serious talmidei machamim (religiously knowledgeable) but who concurrently feel morally and religiously bound to help defend their people and their country; who....regard this dual commitment as both a privilege and a duty....it thus enables them to maintain an integrated Jewish experience."

Nearly all Hesder graduates perform combat service for up to six years. Today 41 schools operate throughout Israel. In 1991, Hesder was awarded the Israel Prize (the state's highest honor) for its exceptional service to the nation.

One commander expressed how many feel in explaining the military's mission:

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I was born in 1934, am a retired, progressive small businessman concerned about all the major national and world issues, committed to speak out and write about them.

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