Theocrats on the March in Israel

Since I wrote recently about the evil mullahs of the Middle East who ferociously resist the slightest spark of progress, I think it’s worth pointing out – in the name of fairness – that destructive, theocratic insanity can be found in every religion. Christopher Hitchens has written an excellent column this week in Slate to remind us of that.

The right-wing government that’s currently in charge of Israel is continuing the policy of building homes for Jewish settlers on land seized by force from Palestinians. Understandably, the Palestinians have demanded a freeze on these settlements as a condition of resuming peace talks. But Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has been intransigent – and much of the blame for that can be laid on one man, a right-wing rabbi named Ovadia Yosef, who’s the de facto head of a crucial party in Netanyahu’s coalition. Hitchens calls Yosef an “elderly Sephardic ayatollah”, and from a look at his record, that assessment is spot-on.

Last month, Yosef proclaimed that the sole purpose for the existence of gentiles is to be servants for Jews (and I should note that by “Jews”, Yosef doubtlessly doesn’t mean all people who claim Jewish heritage, but only the minority who are ultra-Orthodox like himself). Before that, he was well-known for publicly wishing that God would send a plague to eradicate the Palestinians, showing himself to be a staunch supporter of the Hebrew Bible’s policy of holy genocide. He’s also attributed Hurricane Katrina to insufficient Torah study in New Orleans, said that Holocaust victims were reincarnated sinners whom God was punishing, and proclaimed that Orthodox conversion, and only Orthodox conversion, gifts the convert with the “Jewish gene”.

And this is the person whose consent is a necessary element of the settlement freeze. This is the person whom all the peace negotiations and all the diplomatic efforts depend on – not a reasonable person of good will who wants to promote peace, but a religious maniac who openly doubts the humanity of everyone outside his narrow circle of dogma. It’s enough to make me despair of hoping that it will ever stop.

If it weren’t for all the innocent people caught on both sides of the conflict, I’d say that we should withdraw from this region entirely and let the fanatics fight it out forever – let their endless war continue until the last two fall with their hands around each other’s throats, while the rest of humanity moves on. But even the most bloodthirsty, fanatical partisans on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides are still human beings, and should be capable of better than this. There must be a way, some way of persuasion, that will get them to put their spiral of grievance aside and get them all to see reason. I just wish that I could see what it was.

About Adam Lee

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

  • Scotlyn

    GRRR – I have just made and lost this comment twice – hopefully third time lucky.

    Ebon, the solution is not mysterious or difficult to find. It lies in the UN’s annual resolution regarding a Peaceful Settlement of the Palestinian question. (This is explained very well by Norman Finkelstein in his many thoughtful and well-argued expositions on the subject).

    This resolution, in basically the same form, is passed year after year with the support of every single country on earth, with the sole significant exceptions of Israel (which is a party to the conflict) and the US. (There are usually a couple of minor Pacific Islands who jump on the US/Israel bandwagon for some reason). It is supported, for example, by every European country, every African country, almost every Asian country, almost every North American AND South American country – you get the picture….

    This resolution is firmly anchored in the tenets and precedents of international law. It has the goodwill of the vast majority of the international community. It has the full support of the entire Arab League, who have also pledged full recognition of a post-solution Israel (ie one that has ceded what is necessary for the implementation of a Palestinian state with all the meaningful attributes of sovereignty) with full trade and diplomatic relations, and mutual support for shared security concerns.

    On the Palestinian side, every major party, including Hamas, has signalled acceptance of a two-state solution. Whatever else this means, it does mean that they accept the right of the state of Israel to exist, so long as the equal right of the Palestinian state to exist has been granted.

    The only bar to the implementation of this solution, down all the years, has been Israel’s steady refusal to engage or co-operate, and its utter abhorrence of any move that would limit its ongoing programme of steady dispossession of Palestinian land or its policy of containment and disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people. Within Israel, this dynamic may well be driven by the need to appease those religious fanatics who seek full reclamation of the Biblical “promised land,” regardless of the human cost. This Israeli intransigence, coupled with the US policy, for its own fathomless reasons, of enablement of Israeli territorial expansion, means that the obvious, the internationally respected and legal solution, cannot be implemented. The combined “might” of Israel and the US, which is formidable, makes “right.”

  • Bob Carlson

    In his eloquent opening statement in his recent debate with Dembski, Hitchens makes the point that the Jews were caused to turn away from their synagogues because of the Holocaust, such that the vast majority of them are now post-religious or secular. He begins making this claim at about 2.50 into part 2 of the YouTube recording of the debate. I would wonder, however, if the Holocaust was the major factor or whether it is was, instead, that getting a good education became highly valued by Jewish people. Perhaps the question boils down to one of whether the aspiration for a better education thrives more in a western setting than it does in the Middle East, where it may be overwhelmed by the environment of intense tribalism and competition for resources.

  • kennypo65

    This sort of thing is what happens when someone claims to know “god’s will”. These ultra-orthodox Jews really believe they are “chosen”. They are as big a threat to peace as the muslim terrorist with a vest made of C-4. These guys are still living in old testament times,believing that GOD WILLS them to have the land. Having been to Israel, I can only say this: given a choice, I would rather be a black man in Jim Crow era Mississippi, than a Palestinian living in 21st century Israel. I don’t believe that there will ever be peace in that part of the world until all parties replace religion with reason.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    As I’ve noted before, you could take every Jewish West Bank settler and stick them in Detroit, and Detroit would still have fewer people than it did at its peak.

    The point being there’s plenty of land in the world where these people could go.

  • Camus Dude

    This is the person whom all the peace negotiations and all the diplomatic efforts depend on – not a reasonable person of good will who wants to promote peace, but a religious maniac who openly doubts the humanity of everyone outside his narrow circle of dogma. It’s enough to make me despair of hoping that it will ever stop.

    Learning this, if I hadn’t already given up hope for “peace in the Middle East” (such a vague phrase), this would probably make me do so.

    There must be a way, some way of persuasion, that will get them to put their spiral of grievance aside and get them all to see reason.

    Sadly, I doubt there is a way. Certainly all the evidence seems to point against this being the case. There is no “must” – just a wish; but as we all know, reality rarely honors our wishes.

  • Tom

    You couldn’t be more wrong about Ovadia Yosef’s influence. Here in Israel, nobody outside of his party takes him seriously, and he’s the punch line to many jokes about stupidity. Saying that Yosef’s opinion determines official policy is insane.

    As a diehard fan of this site, I was very disappointed to read that you wrote about “land seized by force from Palestinians” without mentioning that the seizing happened during wars the Palestinians started (with the help of several Arab countries’ armies) in order to “kill all Jews”. Needless to say, the Israelis agreed to the Partition Plan back in 1947.

    -Israeli Atheist

  • http://blog.oldnewatheist.com/ jim coufal

    Israel has never hidden its intentions in the middle east, having openly spoken about them. Their are many statements that could be listed, I include here only three by David Ben Gurion. In 1937 he said, “We must expel Arabs and take their places.” Also early on he said, “We must use terror, assassination, land confiscation…” Later he admitted that, “If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country. It is true God promised it to us, but how could that interest them? Our God is not theirs. There have been Anti-Semitism, the nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?”

    It may be claimed that this is “quote mining,” but the abundance of such statements, made by a wide variety of Israeli leaders, clearly indicates their recognition and acknowledgement of what they have and are doing.

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    Tom, down south in the United States there was an idiot named “George Doubleyuh Bush”, junior, to be specific. He was considered a joke both in, and outside his country.

    …Didn’t stop his opinions from determining official policy. You only need the ear of one or two people, and regardless how the rest of the world views you, you have great power.

    And regardless of who started the war… If Canada had kept a chunk of New York, and bombed the states every so often for the sake of it, would that be just fine because the states began the war of 1812? Land taken in a war is land taken in a war, no matter who started it.

    And one more thing: If people had to swallow their pride, and give back land they took in a war, regardless of who started the war, regardless of the inanity of the reason of the war in the first place, if they had to give away a few hundred acres of land, to stop a deathcount in likely the late tens of millions by now at least, would it be better to let them have the stupid rock, or to bomb each other endlessly, because hey, dead babies are awesome?

    That won’t cascade into a full blown land-grab. There is a very specific piece of land they’ve wanted for a long time, they won’t try to expand beyond it, it would be a one-off deal that would save the lives of millions.

    Eh, screw the masses, when they HIT us we STOLE their rock fair and square, and now we’re going to KEEP IT! Screw the dead babies, we have a ROCK BLESSED BY A FAIRY!

  • Tom

    Zietlos, look what happened when we handed over Gaza – the Palestinians just used it as a big launching pad for missiles directed at Israel. There’s no reason to assume the same won’t happen if we give away more land, especially since Palestinian leaders have asserted over and over again that their goal is a Palestinian state on all the land that is now part of Israel. That’s why they’ve repeatedly refused 2-state deals, so I don’t see why you think the Palestinians “won’t try to expand beyond” a piece of land. As to Bush, like it or not, he was the actual president, so he had the authority to determine policy, which is way more than you can say about Yosef. I suggest you come live in Israel for a while and see for yourself how much authority Yosef has (and how willing the Palestinians are to settle for less than the entire country).

  • Thumpalumpacus

    There must be a way, some way of persuasion, that will get them to put their spiral of grievance aside and get them all to see reason. I just wish that I could see what it was.

    The problem is not the you don’t see the solution clearly. I’m sure you do. The problem is, they don’t. Or, if they do, they cannot see their way to grasp it.

  • http://daylightatheism.org J. James

    “Let them fight it out…” Do they give us much of a choice? They will fight and fight and fight until they are all fought out, look no further than Europe. The parallels are remarkable. So there MAY be a dim, wavering ray of hope. As the status quo of oil-funded jihad shrivels and dies as the oil becomes more scarce, the entirety of the Middle East will have to depend on modernization or they will perish. Education will improve, barely. Fanatics will fight over every millimeter of progress, but growing fatigue and disgust with them will shove back powerfully. As things struggle to improve, and tidbits of progress are made, people will find hope and begin phushing harder and harder until momentum is gained. Religion will cause the momentum to falter, if not be lost. But the momentum will come back. Once they get a taste of ACTUAL liberty, security, freedom, there will be no taking it from them. Of course, this all depends on how the religions treat each other. Fear is another thing entirely. They must be terrified that somehow religious fanatics, or Allah hisself, will punish them for hoping for a brighter tomorrow.

  • Yahzi

    There must be a way, some way of persuasion, that will get them to put their spiral of grievance aside and get them all to see reason. I just wish that I could see what it was.

    But there isn’t. That’s kind of the point of faith: you can’t be reasoned out of it. They have decided they’re right and you’re wrong a priori, so by definition there is no way to argue them out of their position.

    It takes two parties to reason. Playing the game of reason is optional. This is why sometimes you have to resort to force: because force is unilateral. When someone decides to play the game of force, everyone has to join in. And rejecting reason at the outset is playing force.

    This is why religion is dangerous. Not because of any specific doctrines, but because the entire nature of faith makes force the only possible way to resolve differences.

  • Scotlyn

    Ebon:

    If it weren’t for all the innocent people caught on both sides of the conflict, I’d say that we should withdraw from this region entirely

    If by “withdrawal” you refer to withdrawing the huge amounts of military and financial aid with which the US taxpayer funds Israeli expansionism at the expense of the Palestinians, this might actually accomplish something useful. US enablement is a huge part of the dynamic at work here.

    Tom:

    Zietlos, look what happened when we handed over Gaza

    Israel only “gave” Gaza to the Palestinians in the same sense that German Governer-General Hans Frank “gave” the Warsaw Ghetto to the Jews in 1940. Gaza is an enclosure on a tiny piece of land completely blockaded in. Fishermen attempting to go beyond the sewage-girt shore to catch less contaminated fish are herded back to their three-mile limit like cattle. People cannot come and go freely but must submit to attrition by both soul-destroying red tape, and arbitrary, violently enforced rules at daily checkpoints. Israeli settlers may have departed, willingly or not, but Israeli guns have never left it.

    The residents of the Warsaw Ghetto rose up against their enclosure and imprisonment. It should not surprise anyone that the residents of Gaza should do the same. That both uprisings were ruthlessly, indiscriminately and disproportionately punished should not surprise anyone either.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Scot: Your point is fair, but comparing the two isn’t. Not only did more than 100,000 Jews (more than 30% of the Ghetto’s population) die of disease and starvation before the uprising, more than 15,000 were killed in the fighting in 1943. It should be remembered that the very purpose of the Warsaw Ghetto was to provide a clearing station for the gassing of Jews. The same is obviously not the case in Gaza.

    I’m not justifying Israeli action in Gaza, but merely pointing out that while your comparison packs a powerful visceral punch, the significant differences serve to undermine the comparison. A better historical analogy might be the camps run by the British during the Boer War, or Native reservations in America [i]circa[/i] 1880.

  • Yahzi

    Scotlyn: just imagine that the Arab league had won the ’67 war. Now imagine what kind of ghetto they would have given the Jews.

    There are no good guys here. Only bad and worse. However, one of these fanatic religious states at least has enough democracy that we can deal with them; and one of them doesn’t. Can you guess which is which?

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Thump, I think a better analogy would be the Kurt Russell film Escape From New York, except that unlike Manhattan, Gaza is not an island. All we need now is for Bibi Netanyahu’s escape pod to land somewhere in Gaza City.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Zietlos, look what happened when we handed over Gaza – the Palestinians just used it as a big launching pad for missiles directed at Israel. There’s no reason to assume the same won’t happen if we give away more land, especially since Palestinian leaders have asserted over and over again that their goal is a Palestinian state on all the land that is now part of Israel.

    Let’s say for the sake of argument that this is all true, Tom. The question still remains: What is the endgame here? Do you think this situation is indefinitely sustainable? Can Israel hold the entire population of Gaza in what is, in effect, a giant prison camp forever? Does your position depend on the people of Gaza eventually learning to like Israel despite its imprisoning them, blockading them and launching military strikes against them, and only then will Israel lift the blockade?

    Someone has to take the first step if this situation is ever going to end. Do you think that Israel has no responsibility to do that? Personally, I think that if they permit the creation of a Palestinian state in Gaza, and that land just becomes a launching pad for rockets (which, in any case, have never done any major damage), then the world will see clearly who’s at fault. As it is, Israel is fostering the impression that they’re not seeking a peaceful solution either.

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    Indeed Ebon. The world LOVES morality to be black-and-white. Right now, there’s two shades of gray fighting each other. Now, you can examine the pixels and try to determine which one has a slightly darker hue, and how they react to every stimuli, but it is far too much effort. If, instead, one, when their demands are met, goes psycho about it instead of settling down, well, the States loves Isreal with a scary passion, and they’re looking for another place to bomb now that Iraq is dying down (no pun intended), they’d send their full military might if Palestine continued to attempt to expand, carpet bomb the whole place, be they civilian or military.

    And then Isreal can pick through the ashes and get the land back. It’s really quite simple. Give the stupid land parcel, if they accept and everyones happy, then I apologize to the religious folk who want to swim in blood since it won’t come true. If they don’t play nice, the States has their new target to keep their military-industrial life support complex running, and the survivors can make gore-angels to celebrate their impotent deity.

  • Dark Jaguar

    If 90′s movies and TV have taught me anything, it’s that the best way to get them to change their ways is for some stranger from foreign lands to die heroically saving some diplomat from an assassination attempt.

    Ideally, they’d just combine into one nation with a shared heritage. It’s an easy solution really. Let whoever lives wherever just keep whatever land they have now, set up whatever needs to be done to solve homeless issues, and just GO ON WITH LIFE.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    And on this subject, guess who says that Israel’s recent, deadly forest fires are punishment for insufficient observance of the Sabbath.

  • Tom

    Scotlyn,
    People cannot come and go freely because if they do, some of them smuggle in rockets to use against Israeli civilians, and others blow themselves up in Israeli restaurants or on Israeli buses. The situation is far from ideal, but Israel has to defend itself. As to the Israeli guns not leaving Gaza, they’re only used in retaliation for rocket firing. During the Gaza War the Israeli army made a point of attacking terrorist targets alone (Hamas training camps, underground tunnels used for smuggling weapons, etc.) and giving civilians time to evacuate buildings where terrorists were hiding before attacking them. Israel also provided the civilians in Gaza with supplies and medical aid throughout the war.

    Ebonmuse,
    We don’t think the situation is indefinitely sustainable, which is why we’ve offered the Palestinians a country several times. The blockade and military strikes serve to stop terrorism and rocket attacks, and since the Palestinians refuse to accept anything less than the entire land of Israel, we have no other way to defend ourselves. Israel has taken the first step, many times, but the Palestinians’ religion prevents them from compromising. As to the creation of a Palestinian state in Gaza, first of all, Israel has offered the Palestinians a state that includes all of Gaza, but they Palestinians turned it down because they can’t make peace with infidels. Secondly, I am personally insulted by your statement that the rockets from Gaza “have never done any major damage”. I suggest you try spending 8 years in a city where every few hours you hear an alarm announcing you have 15 seconds to get to a bomb shelter if you want to live.


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