Monday, December 18, 2017

A recent (December 2017) correspondence regarding Jerusalem

From: Prof. Dr. Alon Ben-Meir,
[professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies]
To: Kazi Azizul Huq
Date: Thu, Dec 14, 2017
Trump’s Recognition Of Jerusalem As Israel’s Capital And The Prospect Of A Two-State Solution - by Dr. Alon Ben-Meir (see the article at the end)

From: Kazi Azizul Huq
To: Prof. Dr. Alon Ben-Meir
Dt: 17 Dec.2017

Dear Prof.Alon Ben-Meir,
Assalamu Alaikum. Thanks for sending to me your article. It is helpful in our research and understanding the current status and circumstances.

My own opinion is that neither the Israeli Authority nor the Palestinian Authority are qualified to manage/administer Jerusalem - the Holy City. Jerusalem should be an independent city state managed/administered jointly by friendly believer High Clergies of Islam Christianity Judaism (all three are basically same religion for living life in submission to the Almighty).

Best regards
Kazi Azizul Huq
From: Prof. Dr. Alon Ben-Meir
to: Kazi Azizul Huq
Dt: Tue, Dec 19, 2017

Dear Kazi,
Thank you for your comments. From everything we have seen and heard going back nearly 50 years, it seems to me that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are willing now or in the future to relinquish their control of the West or East side of Jerusalem, respectfully. I do believe that there is and there will have to be a solution, specifically because of the nature of Jerusalem, its demographic intersperses, and its unity which can no longer be divided.

Thank you again for your comments.

My best wishes,


Trump’s Recognition Of Jerusalem As Israel’s Capital And The Prospect Of A Two-State Solution - by Dr. Alon Ben-Meir 

I was in Israel when Trump made his announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Initially, I thought Israelis would pour out into the streets celebrating this ‘historic’ moment, but other than small chatter here and there, and some expressions of jubilation, not much else gripped the nation. On the Palestinian side, relatively small demonstrations broke out in the West Bank and Gaza, which continued in the following days with limited violence, and condemnation of the US declaration was heard from most Arab and Muslim capitals. This is pretty much where things stand today.

Perhaps it is too early to draw a definitive conclusion, but based on everything I have seen and heard while in the area and since then, not much more is likely to happen. The question that many people are asking is why, and could anything positive come out of this declaration?

About a year ago, when Trump initially stated his intention to relocate the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, I predicted that the move would have major consequences and may well destroy the prospect of a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state solution.

Yes, this would have been the case had Trump’s declaration been phrased in a manner that included East Jerusalem directly or indirectly as part of Israel’s capital, and ignored the need for a two-state solution. But this is not what happened. In fact, what he stated clearly implied that East Jerusalem was not part of the equation.

Regardless of how strongly I disagree with Trump’s overall foreign policy, he was correct to state that: “The record is in. After two decades of waiver [to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem] we are no closer to a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” Indeed, the final status of Jerusalem never constituted a make-or-break issue in any previous negotiations. Thus, there is no reason to assume that declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital affects East Jerusalem, when in fact everything else he stated – implicitly if not explicitly – was limited to West Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem,” he said, “is the home of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, as well as the Israeli Supreme Court. It is the location of the official residence of the Prime Minister and the President. It is the headquarters of many government ministries.” All of these institutions are located in West Jerusalem, and none are likely to be relocated to East Jerusalem. The Trump administration made it clear to the Israelis that any such move will not be tolerated, as it will cause undue turmoil that would completely undermine the US’ efforts to advance the peace process.

Trump further noted in his declaration that “Jerusalem is today, and must remain, a place where Jews pray at the Western Wall, where Christians walk the Stations of the Cross, and where Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa Mosque.” This in no way is any different from what has been on the negotiating table in every set of peace talks since the 1993-1994 Oslo Accords. In fact, during the Olmert-Abbas negotiations in 2008, a basic agreement was reached on the future of Jerusalem along these lines to preserve the unity of the city.

Moreover, it is important to emphasize the fact that nearly thirty years ago the US leased land in West Jerusalem on which to build the future American embassy. It was not contemplated then and it is not expected now that the US embassy should or would be built in East Jerusalem.

No Israeli government, including the current one led by Netanyahu, has requested to build the American embassy on the East side of the city. Thus, the future building of the US embassy in West Jerusalem does not constitute recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over East Jerusalem.

From the Trump administration’s perspective, there was nothing in his statement that is contrary to the premise that Jerusalem will still end up the capital of both Israeli and Palestinian states. In fact, it may engender a new momentum toward the resumption of peace negotiations, as the Palestinians now realize the longer they wait, the more ground they are likely to lose. “I’ve judged this course of action” Trump said, “to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work toward a lasting agreement.”

Further in Trump’s statement, he said: “We are not taking a position of any final status issue, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved” [emphasis added]. He further stated that “The United States would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides.” Neither of these assertions contradict in any way similar statements made by previous American administrations. Trump knows that the two-state solution remains the only practical option.

Even though President Abbas criticized Trump for his declaration, and pronounced the US as being biased and no longer an honest broker, the US (especially Congress and most previous administrations) has in fact always been biased in favor of the Israelis. That said, Abbas and all other heads of Arab states know that only the US can exert the kind of pressure on Israel to exact compromises central to reaching an agreement.

In return for Trump’s announcement, Netanyahu quietly conceded not to expand the settlements outside the three blocks along the 1967 borders, and also to engage in confidence-building measures, especially joint economic development projects with the Palestinians.

Abbas may now be dismissive of the US’ critical role in negotiations with Israel, but neither he nor his successors can afford to ignore the US’ role in future negotiations and expect a peace agreement with Israel that meets the Palestinians’ basic requirements.

Most Arab states’ criticism of Trump’s declaration, led by Saudi Arabia, was largely muted, not only because they are preoccupied with domestic and regional tensions, but because they understand the real implications of the declaration, which has little or no effect on the reality on the ground and the ultimate framework of a peace accord.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned, the EU has now an enhanced opportunity to play a significant role to guard the principle of a two-state solution by undertaking significant people-to-people confidence-building measures between Israelis and Palestinians. The EU can, in fact should, use its financial aid to the Palestinians and its extensive trade with Israel as a lever to effect significant change in the Israeli-Palestinian political climate, which is a prerequisite to substantive and successful peace negotiations.

To be sure, from my perspective, nothing in Trump’s declaration fundamentally changes the principle of a two-state solution as a prerequisite to peaceful and enduring coexistence between Israel and the Palestinians. Those who claim that the two-state solution has all but vanished because of Trump’s recognition of Israel seem to be engaged in illusions.

They have forgotten what the Zionist dream was all about—the creation of a Jewish state imbued with its long historic experiences, culture, religion, and identity, that can be secure and enduring only if it remains a Jewish and democratic state that offers a home with security to any Jew, and remains as such to eternity.

The one-state option defies every principle of the Zionist dream, and no Israeli government, regardless of its political orientation, will settle on anything less than a Jewish state with a sustainable Jewish majority to ensure the national identity of the state. To be sure, the current status quo is simply unsustainable.

Trump’s declaration does not in any way foreclose the Palestinians’ aspiration to establish their own capital in East Jerusalem, while maintaining the unity of Jerusalem as a single city and as a microcosm of Israeli-Palestinian peaceful coexistence.
[The writer of the article is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies]

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Uri Avnery's Column 26 July 2014 : Once And For All!

IN THIS war, both sides have the same aim: to put an end to the situation that existed before it started.

Once And For All!

To put an end to the launching of rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, Once And For All!

To put an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt, Once And For All!

So why don't the two sides come together without foreign interference and agree on tit for tat?

They can't because they don't speak to each other. They can kill each other, but they cannot speak with each other. God forbid.

THIS IS NOT a war on terror. The war itself is an act of terror.

Neither side has a strategy other than terrorizing the civilian population of the other side.

The Palestinian fighting organizations in Gaza try to impose their will by launching rockets at Israeli towns and villages, hoping that this will break the morale of the population and compel it to end the blockade that turns the Gaza Strip into an "open-air prison".

The Israeli army is bombing the Gaza Strip population and destroying entire neighborhoods, hoping that the inhabitants (those who survive) will shake off the Hamas leadership.

Both hopes are, of course, stupid. History has shown time and again that terrorizing a population causes it to unite behind its leaders and hate the enemy even more. That is happening now on both sides.

SPEAKING ABOUT the two sides in a war, one can hardly avoid creating the impression of symmetry. But this war is far from symmetric.

Israel has one of the largest and most efficient military machines in the world. Hamas and its local allies amount to a few thousand fighters, if that.

The closest analogy one can find is the mythical story of David and Goliath. But this time we are Goliath, and they David.

The story is generally misunderstood. True, Goliath was a giant and David a small shepherd, but Goliath was armed with old-fashioned weapons – heavy armor, sword and shield - and could hardly move, while David had a new-fangled surprise weapon, the sling, with which he could kill from a distance.

Hamas hoped to achieve the same with its rockets, whose reach was a surprise. Also with the number and efficiency of their tunnels, which are reaching into Israel.
However, this time Goliath too was inventive, and the Iron Dome missile batteries intercepted practically all the rockets that could have harmed population centers, including my neighborhood in Tel Aviv.

By now we know that neither side can compel the other side to capitulate. It's a draw. So why go on killing and destroying?

Ah, there's the rub. We can't talk to each other. We need intermediaries.

A CARTOON in Haaretz this week shows Israel and Hamas fighting, and a bunch of mediators dancing in a circle around them.

They all want to mediate. They are fighting each other because each of them wants to mediate, if possible alone. Egypt, Qatar, the US, the UN, Turkey, Mahmoud Abbas, Tony Blair and several more. Mediators galore. Each wants to gain something from the misery of war.

It's a sorry lot. Most of them pitiful, some of them outright disgusting.

Take Egypt, ruled by a bloodstained military dictator. He is a full-time collaborator with Israel, as was Hosny Mubarak before him, only more efficient. Since Israel controls all the other land and sea borders of the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian border is Gaza's only outlet to the world.

But Egypt, the former leader of the Arab world, is now a subcontractor of Israel, more determined than Israel itself to starve the Gaza Strip and kill Hamas.
Egyptian TV is full of "journalists" who curse the Palestinians in the most vulgar terms and grovel before their new Pharaoh. But Egypt now insists on being the sole broker of the cease-fire.

The UN Secretary General is rushing around. He was chosen for his job by the US because he is not outstandingly clever. Now he looks pitiful.

But not more pitiful than John Kerry, a pathetic figure flying hither and thither, trying to convince everyone that the US is still a world power. Gone are the days when Henry Kissinger commanded the leaders of Israel and the Arab countries what to do and what not (especially telling them not to talk to each other, but only to him.)

What exactly is the role of Mahmoud Abbas? Nominally, he is the president of the Gaza Strip, too. But he gives the impression of trying to mediate between the de facto Gaza government and the world. He is much closer to Tel Aviv than to Gaza.

And so the list goes on. The ridiculous figure of Tony Blair. The European Foreign Ministers trying to get a photo opportunity with their neo-fascist Israeli colleague. Altogether, a disgusting sight.

I want to cry out to my government and to the Hamas leaders: For God's sake, forget about the whole sorry lot, talk to each other!

THE PALESTINIAN fighting capabilities are surprising everyone, especially the Israeli army. Instead of begging for a ceasefire by now, Hamas is refusing until its demands are met, while Binyamin Netanyahu seems eager to stop before sinking even deeper into the Gaza morass – a nightmare for the army.

The last war began with the assassination of the Hamas military commander, Ahmad al-Jaabari. His successor is an old acquaintance, Mohammed Deif, whom Israel has tried to assassinate several times, causing him severe injuries. It now appears that he is far more capable than his predecessor – the web of tunnels, the production of far more effective rockets, the better trained fighters – all this attests to a more competent leader.

(This has happened before. We assassinated a Hizbollah leader, Abbas al-Mussawi, and got the far more talented Hassan Nasrallah.)

In the end, some kind of cease-fire will come into being. It will not be the end Once And For All. It never is.

What will remain?

THE HATRED between the two sides has grown. It will remain.

The hatred of many Israelis for Israel's Arab citizens has grown considerably, and this cannot be repaired for a long time. Israeli democracy has been hard hit. Neo-Fascist groups, once a fringe, are now accepted in the mainstream. Some cabinet ministers and Knesset members are outright fascist.

They are acclaimed now by almost all the world's leaders and repeat parrot-like Netanyahu's most threadbare propaganda slogans. But millions around the world have seen day after day the terrible pictures of devastation and death in the Gaza Strip. These will not be eradicated from their minds by a cease-fire. Israel's already precarious standing in the world will sink even lower.

Inside Israel itself, decent people feel more and more uncomfortable. I have heard many utterances by simple people who suddenly talk about emigration. The choking atmosphere inside the country, the awful conformism of all our media (with Haaretz a shining exception), the certainty that war will follow war forever – all this is leading young people to dream about a quiet life with their families in Los Angeles or Berlin.

In the Arab world the consequences will be even worse.

For the first time, almost all Arab governments have openly embraced Israel in the fight against Hamas. For young Arabs anywhere, this is an act of shameful humiliation.

The Arab Spring was an uprising against the corrupt, oppressive and shameless Arab elite. The identification with the plight of the forsaken Palestinian people was an important part of this.

What has happened now is, from the point of view of today's young Arabs, worse, much worse. Egyptian generals, Saudi princes, Kuwaiti emirs and their peers throughout the region stand before their younger generation naked and contemptible, while the Hamas fighters look like shining examples. Unfortunately, this reaction may lead to an even more radical Islamism.

WHILE STANDING in an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv, I was asked by a nice young man: "OK, assuming that this war is bad, what would you do at 6 o'clock after the war?" (That was the name of a famous World War II Soviet movie.)
Well, to start with I would drive away all the mediators and start to talk directly with fighters of the other side.

I would agree to put an immediate end to the land, sea and air blockade of the Gaza Strip and allow the Gazans to build a decent port and airport. On all routes, effective controls must ensure that no weapons are let in.

I would ask that Hamas, after receiving international guarantees, remove in reasonable stages all rockets and destroy all tunnels under the border.

I would certainly release at once all the Shalit-exchange prisoners who were re-arrested at the start of the present crisis. An obligation undertaken under pressure is still an obligation, and cheating by a government is still ugly.

I would recognize, and call upon the world to recognize, the Palestinian Unity Government and do nothing to impede free Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections, under international inspection. I would undertake to respect the results, whatever they may be.

I would immediately start honest peace negotiations with the unified Palestinian leadership, on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative. Now that so many Arab governments embrace Israel, there seems to be a unique chance for a peace agreement.

In short, put an end to the war Once And For All.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Understanding of the fanatical anti-Sephardic posture of a man whose son is the current Israeli Prime Minister

[Sephardi Jews are a Jewish ethnic division whose ethnogenesis and emergence as a distinct community of Jews traces back to immigrants originating in the Israelite tribes of the Middle East]

The Fierce Anti-Sephardism and Zionist Militant Supremacy of Ben-Zion Netanyahu - David Shasha

July 2014 Update

I originally prepared the following article to mark the passing of Ben-Zion Netanyahu back in 2012.
In the article I do my best to provide a clear understanding of the fanatical anti-Sephardic posture of a man whose role in Israel’s politics has been a very important one because of his son, the current Israeli Prime Minister.

As the current obscene bloodletting in Gaza continues, I believe that it is vital for us to understand the venal ideas of Ben-Zion Netanyahu and their place in the ongoing violence.

Benjamin Netanyahu learned his nihilistic Ashkenazi Jewish fatalism from his father who in turn imbibed it from the racist Vladimir Jabotinsky. The elder Netanyahu, as is well-known, was Jabotinsky’s secretary.

It is this Zionist nihilism which is intrinsic to the brutal policies of the current Israeli government.

For these men it was the blood of the Jewish race that was important above all else. The intellectual, cultural, and moral values of the great Jewish sages were not as critical to this racialist vision as violence and blood. This political philosophy had echoes of racist European movements like Sturm und Drang and Blood and Soil which had, ironically, targeted the Jews for persecution.

Ben-Zion Netanyahu, along with more mainstream Zionists like Ben-Zion Dinur and Yitzhak Baer, believed that the Sephardic acculturation to the Greco-Arabic model of Religious Humanism was an adulterated, impure version of Judaism that could not stand next to the doctrinal “purity” of the great Ashkenazi rabbis and their tradition of martyrs.

Only death could prove fidelity to Judaism. The study of philosophy and science and the writing of literature served to “weaken” the “true” Jewish spirit. Sephardic acculturation during the many centuries of Islamic civilization was seen negatively.

The “return” to Zion – to a Middle East that the Zionists despised – was to be constructed along the lines of this Ashkenazi fatalism and would be drawn up on a crucible of blood that continues to this day and looks to continue forever. Israel today has no idea whether it wants a two-state solution or a one-state solution. It is intent on living in the PILPUL limbo of its own nihilism. One day it supports HAMAS, the next day it targets HAMAS for destruction.

The Jewish State will thus forever be an outsider nation; something that is looking more and more likely as Israel’s aggressive actions are truly making it a pariah state.

The Arab enemy must always be treated with cruelty and venality. It is Jabotinsky’s “Iron Wall” philosophy that permeates the current violence. Women and children are being killed in order to fulfill the Zionist mission of blood and sacrifice......

Ben-Zion Netanyahu was not just another scholar of Sephardic history. Because he was the father of the current Israeli Prime Minister his views on Jewish history and identity took on an outsize importance. His many years of counsel to his son – one of Israel’s most important politicians – made his own idiosyncratic views of Sephardic Jews and the Spanish Inquisition and their place in the historical Jewish identity a central factor in Israeli political culture.

Ben-Zion Netanyahu believed that traditional Sephardic Jews were less Jewish than their Ashkenazi compatriots. Along with his academic peers Yitzhak (Fritz) Baer and Ben-Zion Dinur, two men who also had an important role to play in the emergence of Jewish identity in Israel through their writing of national curriculum standards, Netanyahu saw the Sephardim as being effete intellectuals who cared more for sophistication and the good life than for Judaism........

Not surprisingly, by critically comparing the two opposing views we can see echoes of the bitter dispute waged over Zionism in the context of contemporary Jewish identity. The establishment in Zionist thought of the “New Jew” was also part and parcel of a process of “semantic assimilation” to Gentile values that sought to eviscerate the Jewish tradition. Transcending the essential values of Torah Judaism most accurately formulated in Maimonides’ teaching, Zionism was firmly intent on creating a very different understanding of what it means to be Jewish.

In both cases – in Spain and in Zionism – the net effect was to strongly reject the past and its traditions in order to promulgate values quite different from the ethics and pieties of the venerable Jewish heritage.

Ben-Zion Netanyahu and his Zionist cohorts sought to stigmatize rational and scientific thought as not being Jewish while valorizing mystical and anti-rational values as being authentically Jewish. This revaluation has had a decisive – and deleterious – impact on contemporary Judaism......

This integration of Jewish irrationalism into the very heart of contemporary Zionist thought is due in large part to the views of scholars like Netanyahu who successfully made their ideas part of the Israeli educational system and the larger civic culture of the nation.

It is little wonder then that the net result of this intellectual integration has been a culture that is predicated on militancy, as the following obituary states: “Throughout, his views were relentlessly hawkish: he argued that Jews inevitably faced discrimination that was racial and not religious, and that efforts to compromise with Arabs were futile.”

Living in an enchanted world where anti-rational beliefs are the norm, Netanyahu understood the Arab-Israeli conflict through the lenses of the magical and occult. There can never be a rational solution to the conflict because rationalism is anti-Jewish. The mystical is easily translated into the violent. It is an enchanted place where no rational political solution can ever take place. The sword, not the word, is of decisive importance in Netanyahu’s fatalistic epistemology.

Dispensing with the rational, Ben-Zion Netanyahu firmly believed in a deeply radical Right Wing vision of Zionism that was predicated on the values of violence and militancy. His intimate association with the fanatical Revisionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky spoke to his understanding of politics as an outgrowth of a chillingly occult process.

His benighted and inaccurate scholarship saw the Spanish Inquisition as an existential contest between incompatible essentialized racial identities. This contest was seen through the prism of a primordial tribal agon that could only ever be resolved through death and destruction of the enemy.

That this ideology was – contrary to the vain protestations of his son Benjamin – given importance in elite circles of Israeli political thinking is sad testimony for a Zionism whose roots are part and parcel of a way of seeing and interpreting Jewish history that firmly negates the rich Jewish culture of Sephardic Jewry. 

The elevation and eventual triumph of Ashkenazi Judaism in Israeli society is marked by a tradition of anti-rationalism that finds its expression in militant zealotry that often spills over into a blind fanaticism and a siege mentality. It is a culture of suicidal Judaism that remains paranoid and sees itself as being under endless persecution. It is a Judaism that can never have common ground with the Gentile world.

Those are the values that Ben-Zion Netanyahu believed in. These values were transmitted in his writings and discussions to his son, and through his son to the Israeli public and world Jewry as a whole. His outsize influence on Israeli politics has made his death an international matter. He was an important personage whose ideas, however offensive they might have been, have taken on a great significance in our understanding not only of medieval history, but of the current struggle between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. 

It is a legacy of tortured thinking and a profound struggle with the most basic ethical values of a Judaism that he sought to aggressively transform into a corrosively militant ideology which continues to be articulated by the current Israeli Prime Minister and his legion of supporters.

David Shasha


Also applies to Islamophobia worldwide. 

I hated it at the time, but my father's weekly Shabbat afternoon history classes are proving very valuable now.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Zionism – a perspective of a religious "peacenik" -By Chief Rabbi David Rosen

                Zionism – a perspective of a religious "peacenik"
                                    Chief Rabbi David Rosen

While the political movement known as Zionism was produced by eighteenth century rationalism and nineteenth century nationalism; without the unique historical and spiritual bond of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, those secular forces alone could never have brought about the remarkable success that this political movement eventually secured. Moreover even when the British offered the Zionist movement an alternative location in which the Jewish people could take its destiny into its own hands; this was overwhelmingly rejected by secular Zionists as well.

Zionism has always meant the return of the Jewish people to establish independent Jewish life in its ancestral homeland. However precisely the combination of the aforementioned secular forces together with the historical bonds of a religious heritage, meant that there were and are many "zionisms", or in other words different ways of understanding the character and purpose of this enterprise.

Those that call themselves "religious Zionists" see the success of the Zionist enterprise as both a manifestation of Divine fidelity to the promise of return (see Leviticus 26 v.44 & 45) and as facilitating the ability to live a full religious national life in accordance with Jewish teaching (e.g. Leviticus 20 v.22-26; see Babylonian     Talmud, tractate Ketubot, folio 111)  However religious Zionists are also divided in their interpretation of the meaning of the establishment of the State of Israel. There are those who see it in messianic terms as fulfillment of Divine prophecy and as the first stage in the advent of messianic restoration and universal peace; while other religious Zionists have adopted a more pragmatic approach and see the state simply in its facilitatory role as abovementioned. 

However not only religious Zionists, but also secular Zionists (both of the nationalist and socialist variety) saw the establishment of the State of Israel in moral terms, guaranteeing franchise, dignity, equality before the law, education and social services to all its citizens. This spirit and vision are evidenced in Israel's Declaration of Independence which also promises freedom of worship to all the religious communities of the Land. Moreover already in its early decades Israel saw itself as having responsibility to share and offer its technological achievements to the developing world.

From a Jewish religious perspective, this ethical dimension is critical to the meaning and success of Zionism. Not only does the Torah declares that the Jewish people is ideally to dwell in the Land in order to live as a nation in accordance with the revealed Divine tenets and commandments; but that failure to do undermines the ability of the People to live in the Land and leads to exile (Leviticus loc.cit. ) Moreover this condition is overwhelmingly portrayed both in the Torah and in the Prophets in terms of the values of justice and righteousness and the social ethical precepts especially towards the vulnerable and the "other".

The Zionist movement sought from the beginning to achieve a modus vivendi both with the local Arab communities and with the Arab world. In 1919 the preeminent Arab leader, the Emir Faisal, son of the Sherif of Mecca, co-signed a document with the president of the World Zionist Organization Dr. Chaim Weizman (later to become the first president of the State of Israel) welcoming the Zionist enterprise and expressing the hope that Jews and Arabs would work together to bring about a flourishing of the region for the benefit of all. The unfolding political developments meant that that dream was lost and conflict ensued with both Arab nationalism and nascent Palestinian nationalism. This conflict has caused much bloodshed, suffering, displacement and enmity. This should be a source of much distress to us who are proud to be called Jews and Zionists, for the vision of Torah and the vision of Zionism is one in which not only Jews but all people live in peace and dignity.

Moreover the conflict has inevitably been very costly for Israeli society and not only materially. Generally, I believe that Israel can be proud of the fact that despite the conflict, it has guaranteed equality of franchise and to a very large degree equality before the law for all its citizens. However it would be disingenuous to deny that the conflict does impinge on the freedoms and opportunities of Israel's Arab citizens.

Moreover while Israel assumed control of Gaza and areas of Judea and Samaria that constitute the West Bank as a result of a successful war of self defense in 1967, the price of controlling the lives of millions of Palestinians under occupation has inevitably had a deleterious affect on the moral fibre and institutions of Israeli life. That is why in my opinion a peaceful resolution of the conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel is essential not only for Israel's security, for the right of Palestinian national self determination; but also for the health of Judaism, Zionism and Israel's moral character.

For the same reasons I co-founded the organization Rabbis for Human Rights, not only because I believe that  Jews who are true to their religio-ethical heritage are obliged to concern themselves with the human rights of others, especially those who confront the consequences of a conflict of which we are a part; but also because the concept of human rights is ultimately indivisible. If we disregard them in one place, that disregard will come back to haunt us in another. This danger is patently obvious today to all who are not willfully blind.

There is arguably no parallel in human history to the success of Zionism in restoring the Jewish people to independent life in its ancestral homeland; just as there is no parallel to the degree of fidelity that an exiled people maintained in relation to its land for two millennia. However in order to ensure the future success of Zionism we have to find a way out of the present political stalemate, so that the land which three Faiths call holy, may be a place of flourishing for us all.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Renee Leavy Kohn comments on "The contemporary state of Israel is thus Jewish in name and European in practice."- David Shasha

 25 June 2013

Renee Leavy Kohn

From David Shasha this morning: "The contemporary state of Israel is thus Jewish in name and European in practice."

As I have repeatedly said in my discussions of Zionism and Talmudic Judaism, those Religious Zionists who believe in the redemptive value of the current state of Israel are in a quandary: the Jewish liturgical framework was designed to address the harsh reality of Exile and Diaspora.... The formal Jewish prayers contain numerous references to the Destruction of the Temple and loss of national sovereignty. Normative Zionism, as is clear, had no concern for the religious aspects of Judaism and paid no attention to the internal transformation that would or would not take place in religious life after its establishment.

But for Orthodox Jews who believe that the state of Israel has a definite religious function, contemporary Zionism presents the sort of challenge that we see addressed in this often excruciating article by a prominent Religious Zionist leader.

The Jewish fasts – outside Yom Kippur and the Fast of Esther – are linked to the Destruction of the Temple. The 9th of Ab marks the destruction of both the first and second Temples.

Religious Zionists are thus left in a precarious situation: How does one argue for the religious significance of Israel today and still mourn the Exile of the Jews from their land?.............

  • Renee Leavy Kohn This internal contradiction in legal logic is a reflection of the internal contradiction of Zionism as a religious reality: For the first time in Jewish history the Jewish people are being led and controlled by a group of Jews who have no formal connection to the Jewish Law.

    When we look back to the restoration after the destruction of the First Temple, it was led by Ezra the Scribe who was a proto-Rabbinic figure set on re-establishing the Jewish Law for the returnees. At the time of the destruction of the Second Temple there was already a firm institution of rabbinical leadership which was in the process of formulating the Jewish legal tradition in texts such as the Mishnah and Tosefta.

    The rabbis’ attitude toward the Bar Kokhba revolt was ambivalent at best. Like the much later messianic movement of Sabbatai Sevi in the 17th century, the rabbis were at pains to figure out what the movement really meant in national-religious terms. In the end, after both movements failed, they did their best to erase the traces of the messianism and put into place safeguards to ensure the integrity of Jewish Law in the wake of the disastrous effects of the apocalyptic frenzy of the widespread, popular messianism.

    The current state of Israel has clearly sustained in a way that the earlier messianic movements did not. But the state of Israel was formed as a Western European nation-state with no formal ties to Jewish law. In spite of the fact that Zionist leaders in the early days of the state vested power related to Jewish status issues in the hands of an officially recognized rabbinate, the religious element was suppressed and marked as alien to the formal process of government.

    The contemporary state of Israel is thus Jewish in name and European in practice.

    Religious Zionists must deflect the ultimate religious implications of this political reality. The agonizing choice of whether or not to continue to fast on these days is a particular problem, as is the fixed formulation of the Jewish Liturgy.

    What has essentially happened in Religious Zionist thought, as this article clearly indicates, is to mark the founding of Israel in 1948 as the initial step in a larger process whose contours are not yet fully known or understood. Rather than being a political process that is self-contained, Zionism is an open-ended process that has left key questions open and incomplete.

    In this sense, contemporary Religious Zionists are in a similar position to the early Christians who believed that the Redemption had come, but who were forced to face the harsh reality that there was indeed no “Peace on Earth” as prophesied in the Bible. It was then asserted that the Death and Resurrection of Jesus was not a definitive political fact, but only the first stage of the Redemption which would be completed at some uncertain future date when Jesus would return to Earth in a final Apocalyptic revelation.

    To this point there is only confusion in Religious Zionism which has – as this tortuous article shows – not really worked out the details of the national Redemption. Religious Zionists are well aware that the government of Israel has no intention of adopting Jewish Law as its constitution and its adherence to Western norms has even reversed many basic Jewish principles. The country continues to move further and further from the Halakha as time passes and tension mounts in the Religious Zionist community which has become more and more extreme and partisan relative to the Israeli government.

    The Ultra-Orthodox have little problem with this as they have traditionally seen the Israeli government as interlopers in the religious sense and do not accept its authority in Jewish terms. Although the situation of the Ultra-Orthodox is changing in interesting and often dangerous ways, the thinking of Religious Zionist leaders has hit a wall: Many younger members of their community have indeed sought to displace the government of Israel in order to create a Messianic state based on Jewish Law.
  • Renee Leavy Kohn Zionism always contained the seeds of this anarchic energy. By opening the Pandora’s Box of Jewish messianism, Zionism rolled the dice in the belief that Judaism would die out as a religious structure. As has frequently been the case with Religious Zionist leaders, Rabbi Melamed counsels moderation and a suspension of religious ideals in the service of the state. He rules that Jews should continue fasting on the proscribed days. But what he does not address is the contradiction between Religious Zionism’s belief that the current state of Israel is indeed a religious reality and the fact that the state has basically rejected the foundations of Jewish Law.

    The Talmudic tradition grew out of the tragedy of Exile and Diaspora. The Sages over many generations formulated rulings for a community living under Gentile sovereignty. The Rabbinical system has never been run in the context of a Jewish state with complete national autonomy and sovereignty. The Talmud has even counseled Jews against “Forcing the End” and trying to bring the Messiah without God’s express command.

    It would be logical to assume that under a Jewish government that is invested in the Torah tradition a Jewish state would be forced to adapt and modify many Jewish practices – such as fasting – in order to reflect the new reality.

    But in point of fact there has never been a formal acceptance of a new reality other than the commemoration of the founding of the state on its Independence Day. The larger and much thornier questions that are raised by Halakha and national sovereignty have been scrupulously avoided. And as Rabbi Melamed shows in this article, there is no real idea of how to even begin to address them.

    But as Religious Zionist leaders continue to be unable to decide how the current state of Israel fits into the larger Talmudic scheme of restoration and redemption, a new generation of Israeli Religious Zionists has no such problem: The fanaticism of the so-called Hilltop Youth and their supporters in both the Settler community and the larger “Nationalist” community have determined that they will take the law into their own hands.

    In this context it is worthwhile to note that the traditional belief in God’s sovereingnty as expressed by Prophets has been formally dispensed with. After many centuries of quiescence, we now have Jews who believe that it is possible to commandeer the process of Redemption on their own. God is not at all a part of the picture.

    It is this situation that has led to the massive internal contradictions in Religious Zionism and exposed its faulty Halakhic logic.

  • Yitzchak Micha'el The ISRAELI STATE was the EUROPEAN WESTERN response to increased influence and numbers of Religious Jewish communities living in Palestine. So the establishment of BEN GURION's STATE was nothing more than a comprmise at best from the EUROPEAN's point of view. In this the Arabs are right the STATE is EUROPEAN but yet the people are not this was all the more the case with the increase the manipulation and removal of jewish communities from the Islamic countries. The secularisation or more aptly the Romanisation / Euro-fication of their children through forced secular education upon their arrival in interment camps only increased this EU values that we see in those that call themselves Secular today as they say Everybody's Grandparents are Religious only is further testimony to this process.
  • Yitzchak Micha'el The rise of Baalei Teshuvah Movement was not expected by the secular designers as they cannot fathom the Jewish Neshamah's yearning for the Creator and their proper role and way of living before him.