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Israel Disgraces Judaism: Militarism + Orthodoxy = Authoritarian Mindset

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Where else in the world is Occupation given a free pass by the global community? Why? Lingering guilt over the Holocaust? Geopolitical reality, in which the US has established a wedge of support for its never-ending confrontation with Russia and China? Oil politics run amuck, where Middle East dominance is a prerequisite for America’s hegemonic plans and aspirations? Or merely, the minutia of power-considerations, from, e.g., AIPAC lobbying to relentless media iteration of a bastion of freedom standing valiantly against the twin evils of Arab nationalism (read, Muslim extremism) and the still-communistic menace of Russia and China (a distorted conjuring of Stalin and Mao)? Take your pick, probably all of the foregoing, for allowing Israel to drop below the moral radar and emerge scot-free as a member of the international community in good standing. And no doubt, other factors I’ve omitted, as in the skillful use of charging opponents, including Jews, with the tar brush of anti-Semitism.

Ganugh, enough already. Judaism is precious to the history of freedom, inscribed in the sublime thoughts of Torah, where persecution had the effect of chastening the ancient Hebrews to welcome and respect the stranger and to feel a special obligation to uphold moral standards through living exemplary lives. This has come down until recent times as a mandate, whether secular or religious, to amplify the gifts of civilization for all humankind as in the contributions made to philosophy, literature, painting, and music—a tangible presence on the world scene that, in the 20th century, could but anger the forces of totalitarianism and mediocrity and lead directly to the Evil of the Holocaust itself. World Jewry paid the penalty for, by its conduct and values, opposing the retrograde forces spawned by the difficulties attendant on the industrial transformation, on which fascism thrived: a manure pile of resentments, conspiracy theory, fears of democratization, the plebeian accommodation to monopoly capitalism as though identifying with The Leadership and with conquest would restore meaning to life.

Because Jews had been, perhaps from time immemorial, the proverbial scapegoat, made their targeting easier, but for that very reason, made their urge toward learning, their enlistment in progressive causes, the more defining and vital to their own lives. Now, I’m saddened, deeply saddened, to write, this is passing away in the mistaken identification with Israel as the source of Jewish essentialness. It is NOT. There is no warrant in Torah for the merciless beating down of an indigenous population whose only “crime” has been inhabitancy of a land the conqueror has claimed—if not a distortion of Zionism, where all could live in peace and harmony, then grounds for exposing Zionism from the start as unwarranted aggression and contrary to the spirit of Jewish cosmopolitanism and the godliness of all human beings. Today, Israel remains on a decades-long rampage of inflicting deprivation and humiliation on the Palestinian people, while inflicting the poisons of hatred and intolerance on itself. We read in today’s paper the Knesset is considering legislation on curbing the influence of NGOs, the fine print being their not our NGOs, the “their” the few peace groups remaining in Israeli society, along with the members wearing identifying symbols in the Knesset (obvious shades of Nazism), while also today Israel is demanding Brazil accept Dan Dayan, archetypal militant settler in the Occupied Territories, as its ambassador to that country.

But today is not different from yesterday, the ever-steady encroachment on the rights of Palestinians, advanced weaponry vs. knives and can openers, the bombardments of areas densely-filled with ordinary families (and hospitals, water-treatment plants, etc.) that we witnessed in Gaza, the checkpoints, the barbed wire, and behind the Israeli soldier’s sunglasses the smugness, contemptuousness, disdain for human life, like controlling so much cattle to market, or a throwback to Nazis herded Jews at bayonet point into the waiting trains for the crematoria. Every Jew who died in the concentration camp and death chamber during World War II is a silent refutation of current Israeli practice; they did not die to confer license on oppressors, or to legitimize oppression. They died, yes, as martyrs, they died as giving testimony to the world of their belief in freedom and for many their devotion to God.

Israel invokes God via the Jewish State as the new Golden Calf, to be worshipped as the guardian of mayhem and murder. Every Palestinian thrown off the land, stomped under foot, wears the face of a Jew herded into the ovens. And Israelis are blind to their own actions, the commission of atrocities, as though having somehow (call it “introjection”) internalized the unspeakable crimes committed against Jews of a previous generation. What is to be done? Can the now-apparent authoritarianism, fast assuming totalitarian proportions, be reversed? I don’t know. I do know, however, the pride I can take in the Judaism that I learned about and experienced in an earlier time. Now somewhat older, I can remember the solidarity expressed between whites and blacks in which Jews were an important part of the civil rights struggle (of which I was privileged to be a foot soldier). I can remember the disproportionate role of Jews in radicalism and the labor movement, and personally claiming Paul Robeson as one of our own. Radicalism is dying in America; it is probably already dead, long buried, and openly vilified in Israel. The two are somehow related, as Israel has absorbed to itself what had been the legacy of American Jewry, only to negate it and leave it empty. My title above, “Israel Disgraces Judaism,” in reality does not go far enough, for it may also be responsible for its decline as a world religion solicitous of the care of all who are persecuted and deprived of their humanity. It therefore not only disgraces Judaism, it negates it, a transmogrification of beauty into ugliness which few among us will have the courage to withstand.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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