Creeping Fundamentalism in Israel

Israel, like America, is a modern secular democracy with a noisy religious minority that desires the creation of a theocracy. And as in America, religious fundamentalists in Israel exert political influence disproportionate to their numbers. But Israel’s fundamentalist minority, the ultra-Orthodox or haredi Jews, have had some worrying successes lately in imposing their vision on the country.

First, there’s this article, about the construction of a light rail in Jerusalem. Yair Naveh, the CEO of the transit company, is proposing that some cars on every train should be “kosher cars”, reserved for the use of the ultra-Orthodox and segregated by gender as their sexist laws demand. (There are already bus lines serving ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in which women are forced to sit at the back, but that isn’t enough for haredi men who are too holy to have to come in contact with women.)

The ultra-Orthodox are fighting for segregation not just on public transportation, but everywhere else as well. Witness this story about a religious court which sentenced an Israeli singer, Erez Yechiel, to a symbolic “whipping” for performing before a mixed-gender audience. This quote from the article says it all:

Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak, who heads the Shofar organization for the distribution of Judaism, has been waging a war against religious singers who perform to an integrated audience of both men and women…

At least for now, this court had no legal authority; the singer submitted himself to its judgment voluntarily. (Why he did that, I have no idea – probably because of the widespread delusion that members of the clergy have some unique moral wisdom, when their bigoted and sexist actions show that, if anything, the opposite is true.) But history shows that religious groups which have the opportunity to enact their beliefs into law rarely pass up the opportunity – and one could be forgiven for wondering, if these rabbis had the power, whether those floggings would always be symbolic.

And the power of the ultra-Orthodox may soon be much more than symbolic, depending on this bill currently being debated in Israel’s parliament. It would grant authority to Israel’s ultra-Orthodox chief rabbinate to recognize or deny conversions to Judaism, effectively invalidating all conversions performed by Reform and Conservative rabbis. Since conversion to Judaism grants Israeli citizenship, this would be a very significant matter in determining who can be a citizen of Israel. It would potentially give the ultra-Orthodox a major advantage in elections, granting them the power to deny citizenship to more liberal Jews who might disagree with their views.

But as hard as they fight to gain control of the Israeli state, the fundamentalists contribute little to its upkeep. As many as two-thirds of ultra-Orthodox men don’t work – they do nothing but study the Torah and get welfare payments from the government to do so. In effect, they expect liberal and moderate Jews to work to support them, even as they lobby to take away the liberals’ rights. And the justification one of them offers for this is laughable:

“Some people drive a taxi, others pray,” said Robert Zwirn, 63, a former doctor from Brooklyn who moved to Israel 20 years ago and gradually gave up his practice to adopt an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle. “But the Messiah won’t come on the merit of you driving a taxi. It will be on the merit of our prayer.”

Because of the delusion that endless prayer and scripture study will bring about the messianic age, these people have convinced themselves that their selfishness is actually a good deed – that they have the right to free-ride off society, taking its resources without giving anything back in return. It’s the same delusion, that they’re the future saviors of the world, that inspires all their other theocratic demands.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Ahab

    Very unsettling. This is a reminder that fundamentalism has pernicious effects on society, no matter what religion it manifests in. I hope Israelis stand up to this!

  • Aegis

    It’s amazing that even when the whole country’s ability to just live good lives and raise their kids is under threat, they’ll give this stuff a pass for threatening it just because of tradition.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    What a racket. I wonder if they’ll join the IDF to fight the war they seem intent on provoking with their settlements and discrimination against Palestinians.

  • Broggly

    I think I saw somewhere that Haredis can opt out of otherwise mandatory national service for their Torah studies. Which, if people can’t similarly opt out for secular reasons, is totally insane and unjust.

  • keddaw

    They’re also breeding like Quiverfuls, knowing that the best way to gain power is to outnumber the liberal and secular Jews.

    When they have a family of 6-9 children, all home-schooled (home indoctrinated more like) into that mindset then they see it as simply a matter of time before their religious nutjobbery takes over the government.

    Sadly, they may be right.

  • Rejistania

    Indeed, it is very scary. And people wonder why the well-educated Israelis leave. To me, this is very relevant and very scary. The person I want to marry is an israeli and thus, I get exposed to a lot of the FAIL! of that country all the time.

    It is not nice or politically correct to say, but I hope that the secular and liberal/reformed people leave and the haredim get into major problems because no one pays their Thora study… maybe that will make them learn…

  • Tommykey

    Funny Ebon, we’re on the same wavelength again, though I used Rabbi Lapin’s reference to us atheist Americans as being parasites to set up the ultra-orthodox on welfare in Israel scenario.

  • L.Long

    I find it amazing that the fundamentalist (insert religion) all have arse-hole dick-head males with power complexes in charge, telling women what evil creatures they are, and trying to get enough power to be able to kill anyone who doesn’t agree with them.
    But what I find TRULY AMAZING is that there are a fairly large number of women who love being debased, abused, and at the least psychologically terrorized, that ACTIVELY support the religious agenda!
    I can understand the power craziness on the men’s part but what do the women get out of it? A small amount of power & freedom? until they piss off some man.
    It would be interesting to know the ratio of fundies leaving the religion as compared to the ‘normal’ xtians losing members. Are the brainwashing methods of the fundie religions that much more powerful then the loose religions?

  • Ahab

    L. Long — I suspect it has less to do with women “loving” their debasement and more with their men keeping them pregnant, dependent, and ignorant of other opportunities.

    I too would love to know how many people deconvert from fundamentalist groups versus mainstream groups. If the number is high, it might be a glimmer of hope in the face of the frantic breeding that Keddaw discussed.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I keep reading statistics that only about 30% of kids raised as JWs remain with the cult.

    But, while the JWs are all about the female subjugation, they actually encourage celibacy.

    No time for marriage and sex and kids with all of that proselytizing to do before Armageddon arrives any second now. Any second now . . . . Any second now . . . .

  • Katie M

    @Tommykey-thanks for that. REALLY pissed me off. I’m sharing this on FB.

  • Sarah Braasch

    It’s all about the level of isolation from the wider society.

    JWs don’t home school, generally, and don’t have their own faith schools, so it’s a bloodletting, but the nice part of the JWs is that those kids are so f’d up psychologically, that they have a really hard time deprogramming and adjusting to the real world and functioning in society.

    Mormons don’t generally have their own schools, but they’ve isolated themselves geographically to such an extent that leaving the religion probably means leaving the state or region of the country. Plus, they have the lovely doctrinal tenets that require marriage and huge numbers of births to attain heavenly salvation. Thus, ginormous families of lemmings.

    Evangelical Xtians are all about the home schooling. Most home schoolers in the US are Evangelical Xtians. And, they have embraced the womb as political weapon to overthrow our secular government and turn the US into a theocracy via majoritarian democracy, a la the Quiverfulls (e.g. the Duggars).

    (Richard Dawkins just did a fab BBC special on the dangers and abuses of faith schools in the UK.)

    Do not underestimate the power of childhood indoctrination.

    It is probably difficult for you to imagine that the person whom you know as Sarah Braasch now was once a Bible thumping, door to door witnessing lemming and automaton that extolled the virtues of gender and sex slavery as God’s righteous order for mankind.

    Of course, I thought demons would rape me if I didn’t comply.

    If you think it’s easy to throw off those shackles once you reach cognitive maturity –

    I still have never ever given blood.

    (JWs think that giving and receiving blood is a mortal sin against Jehovah God.)

  • Jim Baerg

    Perhaps es-JWs should use blood donations as the equivalent of the de-baptisms with hair dryers I’ve heard about.

  • Scotlyn

    Israel, like America, is a modern secular democracy

    Only in the sense that Rome was a democracy, or South Africa under apartheid was a democracy. ie- its democratic functioning is limited to certain defined groups of people. When you have different rules for different “classes” of citizens, depending on their ethnicity or religion, then you do not have a secular democracy. In fact, in this article, Knesset member Danny Danon is quoted as saying, “we have to make sure Israel stays a Jewish democratic country”. A Jewish democratic country is not a secular democratic country. Perhaps this distinction is what makes the developments you mention above a much more inevitable consequence.

  • Sarah Braasch


    I couldn’t agree more. Well said.

  • Joffan

    @Scotlyn; I would say that you are both legitimately concerned about a widespread injustice and writing off the state of Israel too soon. At least there is a challenge before the Supreme Court there, even if the passing and continuance of this law is cause for grave concern. And we all know the flaws of using the words of one representative to label a whole country.

    I would not see a restriction on awarding citizenship as a grave problem for a democracy, in general. In the context of the reality of Israel, where the West Bank and Gaza are neither in nor out of Israel, there is a much bigger problem to resolve.

  • Sarah Braasch

    “I would not see a restriction on awarding citizenship as a grave problem for a democracy, in general.”

    I am blown away by that sentence.

    I actually think that the exact opposite is true.

    No democracy can survive for long with a multi-tiered hierarchy of citizenship.

    Unless you’re advocating for a tyrannical, majoritarian democracy.

    But, the modern day definition of democracy has incorporated ideas of individual human rights and equal protection and rule of law. Essentially, democracy has come to mean a liberal, constitutional democracy, not a majoritarian, “might makes right” version of democracy.

    The real solution to Israel’s travails:

    Not a two state solution, nor a one state, two nation solution, but a one nation-state solution.

  • Lambert

    What on Earth gives anyone the impression that the USA (never mind Israel) is a modern secular democracy.

    Rubbish in the premise, so why read the rest!

  • Thumpalumpacus

    All countries limit their citizenship. It’s when it is differentially restricted that it corrodes democracy.

  • Scotlyn

    Countries may legitimately limit their citizenship, as in setting limits to those who may immigrate. But we are not talking about prospective immigrants. We are talking here about a whole class of people who from birth, and in every sense that matters, are ruled and controlled by Israeli laws, regulations and policies, and by those of no other state, yet denied full citizenship rights. They neither have any say whatsoever in making the rules that govern their lives, nor have they any other sovereign state to belong to. A state which maintains such a hierarchy of distinctions between those under its rule and control, certainly cannot legitimately claim a place among modern, secular democratic states.

    As to the question of whether Israelis a secular or a Jewish democracy? The FoundingDeclaration of Establishment of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948 states:


    The Israel Policy Center states its aims openly as “building a Jewish democracy.” This article fondly imagines that “pulling out” of Gaza (while retaining absolute control over every mouthful of food, drop of water and building materials permitted to its denizens) is a way to gerrymander Israel back to its ideal state of being a Jewish democracy. Here’s an interesting wee snippet from a Knesset debate on the issue – clearly opinions are divided.

    Yet, the law, as it currently stands, allows the state of Israel to issue passports, licence plates, residence permits, university places, marriage rights, etc differently depending on which ethnic/religious group it has decided you belong to. Jonathan Cook explains how this came about in this article:

    Israel refused to recognise an Israeli nationality at the country’s establishment in 1948, making an unusual distinction between “citizenship” and “nationality”. Although all Israelis qualify as “citizens of Israel”, the state is defined as belonging to the “Jewish nation”, meaning not only the 5.6 million Israeli Jews but also more than seven million Jews in the diaspora.

    Finally, this article gives a good analysis of the “Zero tolerance for the other” which in today’s Israel is stranglin any hope of it ever becoming the democracy it could have become – and allowing for the rise of such terrible incidents as are referred to in OP.

  • Scotlyn

    PS – Sarah, that was by way of agreeing with you. Israel can only be at peace when all its denizens become equal citizens. The one “nation-state” solution you refer to.

  • Johan

    You may be interested in this site of Israeli secularists who aim to keep religion out of government:

    As for if Israel is a democracy, yes it is.* It has certain serious flaws, but the Israeli Arabs still enjoy more rights than Arabs in Arab countries. Most – or virtually all – countries we refer to as democratic have flaws in their structures, albeit mostly of a milder nature.


  • kennypo65

    Most of these guys are on welfare but they want special treatment? Put down the Torah and put on your work boots, then we’ll talk. It’s the same here in the US, with churches not paying their fare share of taxes. This forces the rest of us to pay more to pick up the slack. Render unto Caesar my ass, it’s more like, render unto Caesar, but don’t make us do it. The true fear that the priests, ministers, rabbis and imams have is: when no one believes anymore, they will have to WORK for a living.

  • Scotlyn

    Johan, my quarrel was with both terms in the designation Ebon gave Israel – “secular” and “democracy.” If the fundamental meaning of secular is the equal participation of all, whatever their religion, then Israel is manifestly not secular. The “democracy” refers fundamentally to the question of whether power in a state derives from “the people.” Like in ancient Rome, or in apartheid South Africa, (or even in the US prior to Emancipation and female voting) power in Israel does derive, to some extent, from “the people,” but it derives only from a highly restricted subset of the set of all “the people” who must submit to its rules. Therefore it can only be considered a democracy in this, very restricted, sense – a sense which does not actually qualify it to be seen in terms we generally understand mean democracy today.

    The site you refer to does address the problem of Orthodox fundamentalism which is the subject of the OP. But, in so far as can be seen from the single page in English, it does not at all address the difficulties faced by those Muslim and other non-Jewish “citizens” of Israel who are nonetheless not seen as part of the Israeli nation.

    There are, however, some thoughtful Jewish Israeli citizens who do see merit in the one state solution that would naturally arise if true and equal citizenship was offered to all Palestinians within the occupied territories (which of course would then cease to be “occupied”) as well as to the current non-Jewish sub-citizens of Israel proper. Personally, however difficult this option seems, it’s the only way out of the current impasse that makes any sense to me.

  • Scotlyn

    Johan, this

    the Israeli Arabs still enjoy more rights than Arabs in Arab countries

    is so illogical that it barely merits a response, but let me paraphrase your statement, and then ask yourself if it still makes sense. “African Americans still enjoy more rights than Africans in African countries” – so therefore they’ve got no claim to be answered?

  • J. James

    Incredible. I just can’t assimilate the orthodox Jews being on WELFARE- then turning around and dictating events, judging those that work to be lesser Jews, and therefore fit only to be subjugated slaves to THEM. I regret that type cannot reflect the horror and reverberating outrage of my voice.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Actually, the protection and support of a priestly caste has a long and storied history.

  • Scotlyn


  • Ebonmuse

    Tommykey (#7), that was a great link! I deliberately avoided using the word “parasite” in this post because, as revolting as I find the fundamentalists’ behavior, that word has far too many painful connotations when applied to Jews. But when Jewish apologists who should know better use that word to describe us, they lose the right to be afforded that respect. Your post was spot-on.

    Regarding whether Israel is a democracy:

    Countries may legitimately limit their citizenship, as in setting limits to those who may immigrate. But we are not talking about prospective immigrants. We are talking here about a whole class of people who from birth, and in every sense that matters, are ruled and controlled by Israeli laws, regulations and policies, and by those of no other state, yet denied full citizenship rights. They neither have any say whatsoever in making the rules that govern their lives, nor have they any other sovereign state to belong to.

    I don’t deny any of that, Scotlyn, but I have reservations over whether that makes Israel not a democracy. For one thing, it would mean that the United States wasn’t a democracy for most of its history either, until it extended voting rights to women and blacks. I find that conclusion difficult to accept on purely linguistic grounds, even though that discrimination was deplorable. I think it’s better to say that democracies can engage in discrimination just as oligarchies can, and what we have in Israel is a tyranny-of-the-majority situation where unpopular groups are being repressed.

    As for whether Israel is a secular state, I think its situation is similar to the USA’s: a theoretically secular country where, in practice, a clamorous religious majority gets special privileges. Yes, I acknowledge that Israel was founded as a Jewish state, but Judaism can be considered a race as well as a religion, and many of the original Zionists (like Emma Lazarus) were secular themselves. I also note that the Declaration of Establishment which Scotlyn quoted contains the line, “The State of Israel… will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” – again, even if that promise is more often honored in the breach than in the observance.

  • Scotlyn

    For one thing, it would mean that the United States wasn’t a democracy for most of its history either, until it extended voting rights to women and blacks.

    Ebon – did you see my comment #24? The US was a lesser democracy in its earlier incarnations, but it was engaged in pioneering a new type of governance that took a while to perfect. But our learning curve influences the understanding of “democracy” that we have today, and Israel’s “democracy” is only a democracy in the restricted sense. The set of adults who may participate in Israel’s sovereignty is much much smaller than the set of people live under its rule. In the modern understanding of democracy, this is not truly democracy any more than South Africa was a democracy when it governed a black population which could not participate in their country’s sovereignty.

    Judaism can be considered a race as well as a religion

    How does this help the case? Is discriminating on the basis of race better than discriminating on the basis of religion?

    And that is one of the glaring differences between the US and Israel. In the US licence plates are not coded so that a policeman can tell at a glance what the driver’s race/religion is. The US does not issue different types of passports/ID documents to different categories of citizens. No US planning officer deciding whether you will have permission to build a house has access by means of the process itself to information about your race/religion – and a different set of guidelines to follow accordingly. Such discrimination is an inbuilt feature of Israeli bureaucracy.

    Also, getting back to the OP – this highlights the genocidal tendencies, which are another ideological nightmare being nurtured within some of the very orthodox communities – particularly among the more confrontational groups of “settlers”.

  • Scotlyn

    Instead of “tendencies” in my last sentence, I should perhaps have used the word “apologetics.”

  • Rollingforest

    I agree that it is disturbing that Israel is trying to use the law to make sure that a certain ethnic group is always dominant. That isn’t how a just society is supposed to work.


    I think we need to consider what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot. The members of Hamas publically rally for the destruction of Israel. Fatah often doesn’t looks so kindly on Israel either. As bad as the current Israeli policies are, do we really think the Palestinians, if they were to become a voting majority in Israel, would even grant the Jews that level of freedom? It seems likely to me that given the current Palestinian ideological strains that dominate, Jews would likely have far less opportunity than the Palestinians have now. It is likely that the Palestinians would exile the Jews entirely from the entire region as almost all Muslim countries did in 1948. The world would protest, but that wouldn’t stop it. It is also likely that while the Palestinian government would pay lip service to peace, it would turn a blind eye toward the killing of Jews by the Palestinian majority. While I would hesitate to say that the ends justify the means, I think that it is important to be honest about the intentions of all of the players. We ignore that in our decisions.

    What is my solution? First of all, the Palestinians need to end their suicide bombings and missile launching against Israeli citizens. Since these are acts of war, I think it is fine if Israeli troops or UN troops are stationed in Gaza and the West Bank until this happens. Second, Israel needs to remove the settlements from the West Bank and East Jerusalem (or allow the Palestinian government to do so) and give these areas of land back to the Palestinians. And third (cue the outrage) I think that given the current ethnic struggle, Palestinians within Israel proper should be given a fair price for their land and then moved to the West Bank or to whatever other country will accept them. Yes this is harsh, but given the current dominant ideologies, human rights abuses will only increase if they become the majority of the population in Israel proper. There may be a time when Jews and Palestinians can live peacefully in the same neighborhood, but for much these two groups, that time isn’t now.

    This also plays out on a larger scale in Europe. For example, I am, in principle, opposed to what Sarah did to ban the burqa. I support religious freedom. However, I also realize that radical Islam is the biggest threat to European democracy since the fall of the Soviet Union. Unless we assimilate these radical Muslims or remove them from Europe, democracy will be destroyed in the Old World. This isn’t a hypothetical. It is the situation on the ground. I wouldn’t kick a person out just for being a Muslim. But for those who hold to Sharia law, there may come a point where they either have to give it up or be exiled. If you don’t want to exile them, then you need to find some way to assimilate them to Western values. Now.

    I know that because of my policy of forced assimilation or exile, people will accuse me of betraying democracy, being a racist, etc etc. But seriously, if we want democracy to survive, what other choice do we realistically have?

  • Scotlyn

    Rollingforest, I think the argument you make (which is a very common one) is based on another of what I call the “activist fallacies” (I have elsewhere mentioned the fallacy of the “Righteous Victim”). This one is the “Separatist” fallacy, and it is really ever-so tempting to give it lots of head room when you have a history of prior persecution and oppression. Israel is meant to provide a safe homeland for Jews. And I absolutely think that it should aspire to do that. But the road it is currently choosing is unfortunately very much a dead end. The “Separatist” fallacy rests on the belief that you will only be safe when you are surrounded by other people who are just like you. The problem is that you can keep parsing out finer and finer distinctions between who is like you and who is not like you (and therefore threatening) until you get this!

    (And doesn’t that bring back memories of some of the separatist feminist arguments I witnessed in the 80′s – is womenspace “safe” if there are young boys present? Toddler age boys? baby boys? Mothers of boys? Women married to men? Women who like being married to men? You see how much of a dead end this is…)

    The truth is you can either follow the separatist road that Israel is currently on, which never actually gets you to a safe place until you land on your very own desert island of one (making sure you’ve surrounded yourself with a whole heap of booby traps), OR you can make people safe by setting up your country in such a way that the safety of every single person, similar or different, is protected. The one state solution mentioned above would be able to do that, so long as all parties, in good faith, committed to it as an ideal, and vigourously defended one another’s safety.

    Re “acts of war” these are most definitely happening on both sides, but there is a fundamental David and Goliath aspect to it – only this time Israel is playing Goliath. Israel can fight its end of the war with endless soul-sapping checkpoints, a complicated bureaucracy of permits and prohibitions, with restrictions on access to vital infrastructure like water supplies, sewage, farmland, roads, hospitals, schools, jobs, a whole bureaucracy that exists to prevent Palestinians from getting permission to build homes even on land they own, plus (thanks to generous military grants from other countries) huge amounts of high tech and very deadly weaponry which they are not averse to using, tanks, bulldozers, drones, chemical weapons, biological weapons, nuclear weapons, surveillance equipment, press censorship, and a fantastic PR machine. Palestinians have much less to fight back with – although they do put what missiles and willing volunteers they can recruit and a pretty good propaganda machine to effective use as and when they can.

    But, keep in mind that the Palestinians have been engaged for over 60 years in defending their homes against dispossession. Most people in the world would consider this to be a legitimate cause for warlike acts. As to whether the Palestinians could live in peace with their Jewish neighbours and defend their right to safety? How could anyone know until it is tried – but a crucial key to success would be to make sure the Palestinians feel safe, too.

    Re this: “The members of Hamas publically rally for the destruction of Israel.” This is a hoary chestnut, and I have seldom heard anyone unpick it in the public American discourse on the matter. But it is worth asking questions about exactly what is meant by “destruction” and by “Israel.” The idea that Hamas’s desire to “destroy” “Israel” is exactly analogous to an anti-semite’s desire to kill all Jews has effectively taken hold in the US. This is why it is almost impossible to discuss Hamas and its campaign in an intelligent way without being called an anti-semite. Anyone in public office who questioned the equation between Hamas’s stance and an anti-semitic genocidal impulse would probably immediately lose their position to the tune of huge public vilification. Perhaps, since I am a completely unimportant minor observer, I am in a position to offer the following – more as a question than as an answer.

    Imagine that “Israel,” to you is the name for a country set up right in the middle of where you live, by foreign powers, without consultation with you and your people. Imagine that those foreign powers who never consulted you, handed the running of the country to people associated with a terrorist group which has dedicated itself to terrorising, or killing people to make them leave their homes and then bulldozing and destroying them to make it seem as if they never existed. Imagine you finally gather up the shreds of your shattered people enough to campaign against further dispossessions, and that this campaign is ruthlessly and violenty put down. Imagine someone asks you if “Israel” is a legitimate entity. What are you going to say? If that entity, which you may consider non-legitimate because of its history of dispossessing you and your countrymen, happens to conceive of itself as a Jewish nation, then you may find that you are anti-Jewish. But not because of any ideological or historical anti-semitism that is in any way bound up with being Palestinian or even Muslim. (There was far more anti-semitism in Europe and the US prior to WWII than in the Middle East). You may now find that you are anti-Jewish, because the Jews you have dealt with were first anti-you.

    Is it Hamas policy to exterminate every Jew, as most Americans seem to think? I don’t think so – and even if some small minority thought so (thoughts that are fully reciprocated by some of the extreme orthodox settlers per my link above), the majority would soon cease to think that way if they were allowed to live a normal, secure and civilised life alongside their Jewish neighbours. Is it Hamas policy to bring an end to Israel as the discriminatory entity it currently is? Probably. But even if you disagree with that as an aim, you should be able to see that it is in no way in the same league as Hitler’s Final Solution. Instead it is an aim bound up with other legitimate concerns that relate to the Palestinians right to safe and secure homes and livelihoods, and sovereignty in their own land.

  • Harle

    Well said Scotlyn! Thats what I’ve been trying to articulate to a jewish friend of mine for ages.

  • John Nernoff

    Guess who pays for all this? You the taxpayer, through Uncle Sucker.

  • Mathew Wilder

    Just agreeing with Harle, here. Excellent post Scotlyn. It articulated several things I believe but better than I think I would have been able to; so thanks!

  • Ebonmuse

    I want to add my voice to the praise for Scotlyn’s taking the time to write such excellent comments.

    However, while I don’t disagree with what she said about the apartheid policies of Israel, I think there’s another side to this story. In particular, I have concerns about this:

    The idea that Hamas’s desire to “destroy” “Israel” is exactly analogous to an anti-semite’s desire to kill all Jews has effectively taken hold in the US.

    I don’t agree that this is just belligerent rhetoric used to express Hamas’ wish to take back the land that originally belonged to the Palestinians. They do want that, of course, but it goes far beyond that. Hamas and the governments of most Arab countries have, for a long time now, been distributing their own translations of anti-Semitic tracts like The International Jew and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, teaching Holocaust denial, and spreading the same horrifying anti-Jewish blood libels that were used in medieval Europe to justify pogroms.

    Regardless of whether they originally had valid reasons to be aggrieved, Hamas and other organizations have thoroughly adopted the same imagery, the same rhetoric, and the same racist attacks on Jews that were used by the people who sought to eradicate them. I don’t think it’s a stretch to conclude that their goals are the same, and I especially don’t think it’s unreasonable for Israelis to fear that. If Hamas and other groups were only pressing for the dismantling of settlements in the occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state, I’d find it much more difficult to condemn them. As it is, I think both sides are far from blameless.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I couldn’t agree more, Ebon.

    I’ll echo a comment I just made in another thread.

    We have to stop viewing human rights as a zero sum game, or we are NOT going to survive as a species. Period.

    I view with horror the atrocities being perpetrated against the Palestinians by Israel. But, the anti-Semitic genocidal fantasies being propagated throughout the Arab world are real. Israelis’ fears are not unfounded.

    Personally, during the brief time that I spent in Morocco, I was shocked and aghast at the prevalence and mainstream nature of anti-Semitism. In casual conversations with denizens in downtown Rabat, it would have surprised me if the conversation did not turn towards expressions of hatred for all Jews and genocidal wishes.

    And, Morocco is considered to be one of the most progressive and liberal Muslim Arab nations.

    You’re not paranoid, if they really are out to get you.

    But, this in no way, shape or form should be construed as apologetics for the human rights violations being perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians.

    Again, human rights is not a zero sum game. If someone loses, we all lose.

    Again, the only real solution is a one nation-state solution.

    But, I don’t hold out much hope for sanity in this situation. Religious insanity is more like it.

    I think genocide is a much more likely scenario.

  • Scotlyn

    Thank for all the positive feedback – when I realised how long that last comment was, I decided I had to take a break, or I’d turn into a total BLAWG HAWG! Ebon, I don’t disagree with you at all that there is some serious anti-semitic rhetoric out there in the Middle East, too. But that aspect of things is generally very well covered, so therefore, I don’t feel a huge need to do so. Where there is anti-semitism it must be exposed, opposed and uprooted. No one should live in fear because of the violent hatred of others.

    But people also need to learn to distinguish well between anti-semitism and legitimate empathy with the plight of those dispossessed to make room for the west’s attempt to expiate its guilt for its anti-semitic abuses of the past.

    There is another point too, and that is what happens when the middle disappears out of a society and it becomes polarised. My neighbours across the border (just a 15 minute drive from here) in Northern Ireland are a good example of this. As it happens most people, lucky enough to live an ordinary life, are not driven by a desire to go out and beat, maim and kill their neighbours. That’s why I am a great proponent of a political economy of the “middle”. That is to say, having enough wherewithal to learn a useful and engaging trade, make a living, establish a home and a family (note the tiny, small “f” there), and therefore something to protect, and something not worth risking, is a fabulously stabilising force, and a counter incentive to violence. When people cannot make a decent living, when their family members are highly likely to be killed or horribly maimed, when they cannot feel safe in their own homes, or call their homes their own, the human “cost analysis” changes. You’ve already lost much, so you can risk much. You begin to think along lines, if I don’t get them first, they’ll sooner or later get me.

    The “cost analysis” in the North is very slowly normalising. It was only ever small minorities on either side who ever engaged in violence. But there was a long while where no one on either side could find fault when “our” ones did something on “their” ones, while if “their” ones did something on “our” ones it went to show what evil monsters they were. Now we are slowly getting back to where most people are mostly interested in ordinary issues of work, rest, play, and will disapprove of anyone engaging in sectarian violence. The great exceptions are still bound up in the incidence of poor ghettoised areas, which were bypassed by the so-called “dividends of peace”.

    Since I personally think people are people, and there are no completely unredeemable evil monsters residing in Israel, what I believe is that (I know it sounds like a tautology) but normalisation will bring about normalisation. The extremists are the ones who benefit from whipping up fear and hatred. But if MOST people on both sides have their own little safe patch – home, family, schools, farms, etc – that they KNOW the law and every other civilised force available will help them to defend, then they will get busy doing ordinary things and stop having time or the inclination to cause mischief. Some will always want to, but they will eventually be seen as troublemakers and marginalised, not promoted as the only staunch line of defense between “us” and all harm.

  • Rollingforest

    You’re from Ireland, Scotlyn? I had guessed you were from…well, Scotland (of course, I guess you wouldn’t need a nickname related to Scotland if you lived in Scotland) or America. Though I’m guessing you were either originally from Scotland or your ancestors were. My ancestors on my mother’s side were from Ireland, but I live in America. It is cool to talk to people half way around the world though :)

    Aww…no one thanked me for my post ;) That’s okay. I like having more people to debate with. Preaching to the choir bores me and frankly is a waste of time.

    As for the Palestinians feeling cheated out of the land, it should be noted that some of the land was bought by Jews initially. Jews immigrated to Jerusalem and the surrounding areas continuously in the first half of the twentieth century. Ethnic tensions flared, but these Jews bought the land fairly. During the war of 1948, Palestinians fled from Israel proper (which side ordered them to do this is disputed) and their land was taken. Perhaps the Jews should pay for that land.

    But then again, should the Jews be paid for the land that was stolen from them in 70 AD when Israel was destroyed. Who should pay that? The Italians? And in that case, should the Palestinians get any money since they took the land from the Ottomans who took the land from the Byzantines (Romans) who took the land from the Jews? Or should we try and find the Canaanites and give the land back to them? Where do you draw the line? The whole thing just goes round and round. I can understand the Palestinians feeling cheated, but plenty of people were cheated out that land in the past. Who’s to say who has the best claim? In the ancient world, that question was settled with the sword but nowadays diplomacy makes it much more complicated.

  • Rollingforest

    Scotyln, you say, “so long as all parties, in good faith, committed to [one nation] as an ideal, and vigourously defended one another’s safety [then peace would return to the Middle East].” and “As to whether the Palestinians could live in peace with their Jewish neighbors and defend their right to safety? How could anyone know until it is tried?”

    But the problem is that once you try, it is almost impossible (short of intensive street by street fighting and massive amounts of death) to go back to what we have now. You are assuming that if Gaza and the West Bank were joined with Israel and Palestinians there were given voting rights, that everyone would live peacefully and happily. But that only works if people adopt what we refer to as Western values (freedom of speech, freedom of religion, anti-racism ect). You could say that the Israeli blockade increases Palestinian terrorism (just as Palestinian terrorism increases the Israeli blockade) but I think we need to see a clear indication from the Palestinian people that they support these Western values before we attempt to combine Israel proper with the Palestinian lands. Israel stacks the deck in favor of Jews, but even they let Palestinians in Israel proper vote. We can argue about who the land truly belongs to, but I feel that increasing the number of countries that support Western values is important.

    I agree with you that anti-Semitism was much worse in Europe than the Middle East before WWII, but the biggest enemy now isn’t anti-Semitism. It’s Fundamentalism and Totalitarianism.

    If the Palestinians used conventional warfare, this question would be a little simpler to solve. But their use of terrorism causes a lot of moral problems. My definition of a terrorist is someone who uses hit and run (or in this case, hit and blow yourself up) attacks against civilians. Just as most of the world would have been horrified if the US had used nuclear bombs to win the war in Iraq, they are horrified now that Palestinian terrorists are willing to kill little children when they bomb civilian areas. I realize that Hamas probably not interested in killing every Jew (just expelling every Jew from the Middle East), but blowing children apart to make a point is bad enough.

    Terrorist activity should not be tolerated. If we turn a blind eye towards it, it is only going to happen more often which I don’t think is acceptable in any war. Either Hamas needs to stop the terrorists or Israel will do it for them.

    So while the Palestinians may feel desperate, I don’t think that killing civilians is morally justified. Not only that, but they are hurting their cause by doing so. If Palestinian militants were to only attack Israeli troops and never Israeli civilians, they would receive much more support than they do now, especially in America. While a segment of the Evangelical population will support Israel in any situation, the vast bulk of America would support the Palestinians if they only killed Israeli troops and agreed to stop completely if Israel pulled out of the West Bank and lifted the blockade on Gaza. Unfortunately, readers of this site know that Fundamentalism doesn’t disappear just because you create a government based on secular values. If the Fundamentalists become the majority, a democracy shifts itself easily into an oppressive Theocracy and stays that way until people pay with blood and money to rebel against it.

  • Rollingforest

    Some will say that the Israeli government also purposely killing civilians. But the facts suggest that this theory is false. (The data I site below is for the period 2000-2003 and can be found at )

    Among Palestinian deaths, 55% of them were combatants or violent protesters. On top of that, 22% of the dead had an unknown status, so the percentage of combatants or violent protester deaths was probably higher. The number of civilian deaths, at 17%, is considerably lower.

    In Israeli deaths, however, only 20% of deaths were combatants. 70% of Israeli deaths were civilians with no direct activity in the fighting.

    And of the Palestinian civilians that are killed, many of them are human shields that the Palestinian terrorists hide behind. Had the Palestinian terrorists chosen a hideout without any civilians around, as any civilized fighter would do, then the Palestinian civilians wouldn’t have died. (I analyzed more of the data for a friend of mine, but this post is already long).

    The sum result of this is that Israeli military is trying to kill Palestinian militants not civilians, whereas the Palestinian militants are happy to kill Israeli military or Israeli civilian just so long as Jews die.

    I think that you are right, Scotlyn, that wealth decreases violence. However I hear that while violence has decrease in Northern Ireland, the physical separation between the Irish and the British has increased since the Troubles in the ‘70s (most people say Catholic vs Protestant, but the conflict is actually a ethnic/nationalistic one, not a religious one, as I’m sure you know) From what I hear, people in Northern Ireland are more likely to go to segregated stores, segregated hotels, and live in segregated neighborhoods than they were 40 years ago. They are much less likely to have friends from the opposite ethnicity. This would seem perhaps to indicate that some degree of separation is good for peace.

    You said “Since I personally think people are people, and there are no completely unredeemable evil monsters residing in Israel”

    I believe that no one is born evil. However, I understand that memes of extremism (religious or otherwise) can infest a person’s mind so that they are immune to rational persuasion. If, for example, the Palestinians want Israel to lessen the blockade, they must be willing to show that they are capable of stopping material that the less strict blockade would let in from being made into bombs and more importantly, that they are willing to adopt Western values.

  • Scotlyn

    Rollingforest – this site, this site, this site, this site, this site and this site, all run by Israeli Jews, document many of my arguments. Ilan Pappe, a Haifa born Jew, has done a great deal of careful historical research exposing the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. You can watch him discuss it here. Academic freedom in Israel being what it is, he now lives in the UK and receives death threats. Jonathan Cooke is an excellent independent journalist living in Nazareth – you can check out his documentation of the experiences of non-Jewish Israeli citizens here. It just seems to me that your argument is mainly based on talking points that come straight out of the IDF PR manual, and I wonder if you have given serious consideration to the fact that there may be another side to the story. Please note I have not linked to any Palestinian-run sites, which you may consider to be biased.

    PS, I am originally American, but have lived in Ireland for 28 years. I am a “reverse emigrant,” as I have ancestors in the US going back to 1640 – so even though I abhor everything they stand for, I am apparently eminently qualified to be a “real American” in Tea Party parlance…

  • Scotlyn

    Rollingforest (what a lovely evocative name)…the purpose of the rhetorical line you are following is to de-humanise Palestinians – to make it easier for the world to fail to empathise with their deaths and suffering…I wonder is that really your position, or have you not yet given it enough thought?

    Here are the thoughts of one of the Israeli soldiers quoted on the Courage to Refuse website:

    Why don’t you serve in the Territories, and simply refuse to carry out illegal orders, should you be given any?
    Youval Andorn replies:
    Because the illegality is built into the situation. From the moment that we, as soldiers and commanders cross the ’67 borders, we have no choice but to treat every human being as an enemy. We have no choice but to discriminate between Jews and Arabs. We have no choice but to take part in the occupation, which is immoral by definition.

    Ebon, I think this soldier addresses the question of Israel’s status as a democracy.

    Refusing is illegal – how can you justify your act?
    Arik Diamant replies:
    The situation in the occupied territories nowadays is itself illegal. Israel defines itself as a democratic nation – and yet denies 3.5 million people, over a third of its population, the most basic civil rights. The occupied territories are paved with new roads that are restricted for Jews only. Road blocks, massive demolition of homes and other means of collective punishment are applied for Arabs only, as are the imprisonment of people for years without trial, the punishing of relatives rather than culprits, the limitation of the freedom of movement, extra-judicial executions and the list goes on. All these acts contradict democracy. We refuse in the name of democracy, because democracy means more than just majority rule. The democratic system is a full set of values, and these values preclude the items listed above. We refuse to be sent, “in the name of democracy”, to implement things that are so blatantly undemocratic.


    It does take these Israeli soldiers great courage to take the stance they do – 280 of them have served time in prison for doing so. But they refuse to either de-humanise or brutalise their Palestinian neighbours – and they do not buy into the idea that this will reduce Israel’s security – quite the contrary.

  • Scotlyn

    I just want to say that my mind has been changed in relation to promoting a one state solution, as described in some of my comments above, by listening over the past few days to the scholarly, thoughtful arguments of Dr Norman Finkelstein. It is well worth giving him the best part of two hours of your attention in the attached video link to hear him develop his arguments, provide the relevant material and answer his critics.

    But the short version is this.
    1) The issues that will lead to a settlement of the conflict in Israel-Palestine by enabling a fair and just two-state solution are not particularly controversial or difficult to understand.
    a) They rest on firm, non-controversial and widely accepted principles of international law as espoused by mainstream international bodies such as the UN and the World Court, and well-known mainstream NGO’s such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
    b) A broad consensus exists already among most of the nations of the world, who have annually voted in overwhelming numbers, irrespective of left-right alignment or other political agendas, in favour of the Resolution for the “Peaceful Settlement of the question of Palestine”, which outlines the shape of a peaceful two-state solution.
    c) This international consensus two-state solution has been approved unanimously by the Arab League, who also add their assurances to Israel that if they agree the terms of such an agreement, they will not only absolutely recognise the rights of the state of Israel within the family of nations, but they will actively seek to develop normal trade and diplomatic relations with it.
    d) The international consensus two-state solution (which implicitly contains recognition of the right of Israel to exist) has been recognised by the PLO, and by Hamas.
    e) The only parties who refuse to come on board with this non-controversial two-state solution, based solidly on widely accepted principles of international law are Israel and the United States, thus consigning both the Palestinians and the Israelis to ongoing conflict. (Although there are many non-governmental organisations within both countries which have also signed up to the two-state solution as outlined below.)

    The principles on which this two-state solution are based, which rest soundly on international law, and which are subject of overwhelming international support are as follows:
    1) As it is inadmissible in international law to acquire land by means of war, all territories annexed by Israel in 1967 are under illegal occupation, and must be restored to the Palestinian people on which to build themselves an independent state. The internationally recognised 1967 borders mean that, by definition, Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem are all illegally occupied Palestinian territory, not Israeli territory.
    2) As it is inadmissible in international law to transfer your population to an occupied territory, the settlements are illegal, and Israel must withdraw its military, economic and infrastructural support for the settlers and either assist them to leave, or allow them to remain voluntarily under Palestinian governance and in accordance with Palestian terms and conditions.
    3) The Palestinians have the right of self-determination and the right of return according to international law, and no agreement that respects international law can abrogate these rights.
    4) For their part, Palestinians must recognise the right of Israel to exist within its internationally agreed borders, and put an end to all violent attacks on Israeli citizens.

    As Dr Finkelstein says, the aims of a peaceful settlement, as supported widely by all reasonable people is exactly that – peaceful settlement is win/win for everybody – and he quotes Edward Said’s lovely line “there is room for everyone at the table of victory.”

    Dr Finkelstein’s argument that, while there is huge and overwhelming international support for a two-state solution based on the above principles, the same cannot be said for a one-state solution, and therefore advocating it provides yet another distraction from the core issues, which enables those who are not reasonable and do not wish to settle. He’s right. Therefore I have changed my mind on that issue.