Chapter Six of Jewish History, Jewish Religion by Israel Shahak

Political Consequences

Chapter 6


Jewish History, Jewish Religion


Israel Shahak

The persistent attitudes of classical Judaism toward non-Jews strongly influence its followers, Orthodox Jews and those who can be regarded as its continuators, Zionists. Through the latter it also influences the policies of the State of Israel. Since 1967, as Israel becomes more and more "Jewish," so its policies are influenced more by Jewish ideological considerations than by those of a coldly conceived imperial interest. This ideological influence is not usually perceived by foreign experts, who tend to ignore or downplay the influence of the Jewish religion on Israeli policies. This explains why many of their predictions are incorrect.

In fact, more Israeli government crises are caused by religious reasons, often trivial, than by any other cause. The space devoted by the Hebrew press to discussion of the constantly occurring quarrels between the various religious groups, or between the religious and the secular, is greater than that given any other subject, except in times of war or of security-related tension. At the time of writing, early August 1993, some topics of major interest to readers of the Hebrew press are: whether soldiers killed in action who are sons of non-Jewish mothers will be buried in a segregated area in Israeli military cemeteries; whether Jewish religious burial associations, who have a monopoly over the burial of all Jews except kibbutz members, will be allowed to continue their custom of circumcising the corpses of non-circumcised Jews before burying them (and without asking the family's permission); whether the import of non-kosher meat to Israel, banned unofficially since the establishment of the state, will be allowed or banned by law. There are many more issues of this kind which are of a much greater interest to the Israeli-Jewish public than, let us say, the negotiations with the Palestinians and Syria.

The attempts made by a few Israeli politicians to ignore the factors of "Jewish ideology" in favor of purely imperial interests have led to disastrous results. In early 1974, after its partial defeat in the Yom Kippur War, Israel had a vital interest in stopping the renewed influence of the PLO, which had not yet been recognized by the Arab states as the solely legitimate representative of the Palestinians. The Israeli government conceived of a plan to support Jordanian influence in the West Bank, which was quite considerable at the time. When King Hussein was asked for his support, he demanded a visible quid pro quo. It was arranged that his chief West Bank supporter, Sheikh Jabri of Hebron, who ruled the southern part of the West Bank with an iron fist and with approval of then Defense minister Moshe Dayan, would give a party for the region's notables in the courtyard of his palatial residence in Hebron. The party, in honor of the king's birthday, would feature the public display of Jordanian flags and would begin a pro-Jordanian campaign. But the religious settlers in the nearby Kiryat-Arba, who were only a handful at the time, heard about the plan and threatened Prime Minister Golda Meir and Dayan with vigorous protests since, as they put it, displaying a flag of a "non-Jewish state" within the Land of Israel contradicts the sacred principle which states that this land "belongs" only to Jews. Since this principle is accepted by all Zionists, the government had to bow to their demands and order Sheikh Jabri not to display any Jordanian flags. Thereupon Jabri, who was deeply humiliated, canceled the party and, at the Fez meeting of the Arab League which occurred soon after, King Hussein voted to recognize the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinians. For the bulk of Israeli-Jewish public the current negotiations about "autonomy" are likewise influenced more by such Jewish ideological considerations than by any others.

The conclusion from this consideration of Israeli policies, supported by an analysis of classical Judaism, must be that analyses of Israeli policy-making which do not emphasize the importance of its unique character as a "Jewish state" must be mistaken. In particular, the facile comparison of Israel to other cases of Western imperialism or to settler states, is incorrect. During apartheid, the land of South Africa was officially divided into 87 per cent which "belonged" to the whites and 13 per cent which was said officially to "belong" to the Blacks. In addition, officially sovereign states, embodied with all the symbols of sovereignty, the so-called Bantustans, were established. But "Jewish ideology" demands that no part of the Land of Israel can be recognized as "belonging" to non-Jews and that no signs of sovereignty, such as Jordanian flags, can be officially allowed to be displayed. The principle of Redemption of the Land demands that ideally all the land, and not merely, say, 87 per cent, will in time be "redeemed," that is, become owned by Jews. Jewish ideology prohibits that very convenient principle of imperialism, already known to Romans and followed by so many secular empires, and best formulated by Lord Cromer: "We do not govern Egypt, we govern the governors of Egypt." Jewish ideology forbids such recognition; it also forbids a seemingly respectful attitude to any "non-Jewish governors" within the Land of Israel. The entire apparatus of client kings, sultans, maharajas and chiefs or, in more modern times, of dependent dictators, so convenient in other cases of imperial hegemony, cannot be used by Israel within the area considered part of the Land of Israel. Hence the fears, commonly expressed by Palestinians, of being offered a "Bantustan" are totally groundless. Only if numerous Jewish lives are lost in war, as happened both in 1973 and in the 1983-5 war aftermath in Lebanon, is an Israeli retreat conceivable since it can be justified by the principle that the sanctity of Jewish life is more important than other considerations. What is not possible, as long as Israel remains a "Jewish state," is the Israeli grant of a fake, but nevertheless symbolically real sovereignty, or even of real autonomy, to non-Jews within the Land of Israel for merely political reasons. Israel, like some other countries, is an exclusivist state, but Israeli exclusivism is peculiar to itself.

In addition to Israeli policies it may be surmised that the "Jewish ideology" influences also a significant part, maybe a majority, of the diaspora Jews. While the actual implementation of Jewish ideology depends on Israel being strong, this in turn depends to a considerable extent on the support which diaspora Jews, particularly U.S. Jews, give to Israel. The image of the diaspora Jews and their attitudes to non-Jews, is quite different from the attitudes of classical Judaism, as described above. This discrepancy is most obvious in English-speaking countries, where the greatest falsifications of Judaism regularly occur. The situation is worst in the USA and Canada, the two states whose support for Israeli policies, including policies which most glaringly contradict the basic human rights of non-Jews, is strongest.

U.S. support for Israel, when considered not in abstract but in concrete detail, cannot be adequately explained only as a result of American imperial interests. The strong influence wielded by the organized Jewish community in the USA in support of all Israeli policies must also be taken into account in order to explain the Middle East policies of American Administrations. This phenomenon is even more noticeable in the case of Canada, whose Middle Eastern interests cannot be considered as important, but whose loyal dedication to Israel is even greater than that of the USA In both countries (and also in France, Britain and many other states) Jewish organizations support Israel with about the same loyalty which communist parties accorded to the USSR for so long. Also, many Jews who appear to be active in defending human rights and who adopt non-conformist views on other issues do, in cases affecting Israel, display a remarkable degree of totalitarianism and are in the forefront of the defense of all Israeli policies. It is well known in Israel that the chauvinism and fanaticism in supporting Israel displayed by organized diaspora Jews is much greater (especially since 1967) than the chauvinism shown by an average Israeli Jew. This fanaticism is especially marked in Canada and the USA but because of the incomparably greater political importance of the USA, I will concentrate on the latter. It should, however, be noted that we also find Jews whose views of Israeli policies are not different from those held by the rest of the society (with due regard to the factors of geography, income, social position and so on).

Why should some American Jews display chauvinism, sometimes extreme, and others not? We should begin by observing the social and therefore also the political importance of the Jewish organizations which are of an exclusive nature: they admit no non-Jews on principle. (This exclusivism is in amusing contrast with their hunt to condemn the most obscure non-Jewish club which refuses to admit Jews.) Those who can be called "organized Jews," and who spend most of their time outside work hours mostly in the company of other Jews, can be presumed to uphold Jewish exclusivism and to preserve the attitudes of the classical Judaism to non-Jews. Under present circumstances they cannot openly express these attitudes toward non-Jews in the USA where non-Jews constitute more than 97 per cent of the population. They compensate for this by expressing their real attitudes in their support of the "Jewish state" and the treatment it metes to the non-Jews of the Middle East.

How else can we explain the enthusiasm displayed by so many American rabbis in support of, let us say, Martin Luther King, compared with their lack of support for the rights of Palestinians, even for their individual human rights? How else can we explain the glaring contradiction between the attitudes of classical Judaism toward non-Jews, which include the rule that their lives should not be saved except for the sake of Jewish interest, with the support of the U.S. rabbis and organized Jews for the rights of the Blacks? After all, Martin Luther King and the majority of American Blacks are non-Jews. Even if only the conservative and Orthodox Jews, who together constitute the majority of organized American Jews, are considered to hold such opinions about the non-Jews, the other part of organized U.S. Jewry, the Reform, had never opposed them, and, in my view, show themselves to be quite influenced by them.

Actually the explanation of this apparent contradiction is easy. It should be recalled that Judaism, especially in its classical form, is totalitarian in nature. The behavior of supporters of other totalitarian ideologies of our times was not different from that of the organized American Jews. Stalin and his supporters never tired of condemning the discrimination against the American or the South African Blacks, especially in the midst of the worst crimes committed within the USSR. The South African apartheid regime was tireless in its denunciations of the violations of human rights committed either by communist or by other African regimes, and so were its supporters in other countries. Many similar examples can be given. The support of democracy or of human rights is therefore 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 in general by a Jew which does not include the support of human rights of non-Jews whose rights are being violated by the "Jewish state" is as deceitful as the support of human rights by a Stalinist. The apparent enthusiasm displayed by American rabbis or by the Jewish organizations in the USA during the 1950s and the 1960s in support of the Blacks in the South, was motivated only by considerations of Jewish self-interest, just as was the communist support for the same Blacks. Its purpose in both cases was to try to capture the Black community politically, in the Jewish case to an unthinking support of Israeli policies in the Middle East.

Therefore, the real test facing both Israeli and diaspora Jews is the test of their self-criticism which must include the critique of the Jewish past. The most important part of such a critique must be detailed and honest confrontation of the Jewish attitude to non-Jews. This is what many Jews justly demand from non-Jews: to confront their own past and so become aware of the discrimination and persecutions inflicted on the Jews. In the last 40 years the number of non-Jews killed by Jews is by far greater than the number of the Jews killed by non-Jews. The extent of the persecution and discrimination against non-Jews inflicted by the "Jewish state" with the support of organized diaspora Jews is also enormously greater than the suffering inflicted on Jews by regimes hostile to them. Although the struggle against antisemitism (and of all other forms of racism) should never cease, the struggle against Jewish chauvinism and exclusivism, which must include a critique of classical Judaism, is now of equal or greater importance.

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