Israel Democracy NYC

Sustained over the course of the entire week, the protest movement for democracy followed Prime Minister Netanyahu to New York throughout the entirety of his recent trip. At Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, the main protest on Friday against the judicial overhaul coup in Israel was a remarkable morning event protesting the appearance of Netanyahu at the UN that morning. Gathered together was a remarkable mingling of Israelis, Israeli Americans, and American Jews. Mainstream and to the left of mainstream, they were some 2000+ people supporting the democracy in Israel. Everyone was there: the people from UnXceptable, Brothers and Sisters in Arms, Pink Front, and the anti-occupation bloc. The few Palestinian flags at the protest seemed to bother no one. With no obvious signs of friction between the various factions, the protesters filled up at least half of the plaza. They made a lot of noise that the surrounding skyscrapers magnified and carried. For its part, a marginal contingent of Bibists was kept at a distance from the main protest. Also present were a tiny contingent from Neturei Karta, and a large contingent of Habad youngsters, whose presence was, one could say, largely an irritant. Animated at the protest, the public face of Israel and the Jewish community in the United States was secular, democratic, and liberal.

Posted in uncategorized | 2 Comments

(This Week) Israel Democracy Protests (NYC)

Posted in uncategorized | 1 Comment

Israel (Democracy-Autocracy) Flow Chart

Posted in uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

(Religious Zionism) No Democracy (With Occupation + Settlements)

In a previous post, I posed a set of claims, the basic point being that the internal rift in Israel is not between Zionism and democracy, but rather between Zionism and religion. The argument is based on the claim that as a secular movement, Zionism depends upon democracy, and that the combination of rightwing religion and government is a social dissolvent. The proof is that the extraordinary power exercised by religious Zionism and the Judaism it represents today in the governing coalition is rotting out from within the very social structure of the State of Israel upon which the very existence of the state depends. A second set of claims addressed in this post follows logically from the first claim. The argument relates to the occupation and also to the illegal settlement project (or Yesha) in the occupied West Bank and ties back to religion and politics. ((As per Wikipedia, Yesha (Hebrew: יש”ע) is a Hebrew acronym for “Judea, SamariaGaza” (יהודה שומרון עזה‎, “Yehuda Shomron ‘Azza”) – a geographical area, roughly corresponding to the West Bank and Gaza Strip combined.”))

The facts about democracy and the State, on one hand, and the occupation, settlements, and religious Zionism, on the other hand, are crude and very basic and stark: –There is no democracy with occupation. The permanent state-legal apparatus that sustains in perpetuity the occupation of Palestinian territories in which Palestinian people enjoy no democratic rights is inherently anti-democratic.

–Under international law, all Jewish settlements in the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank are illegal.

–The occupation depends upon the settlement project (Yesha), which is inherently violent and lawless.

–Religious Zionism dominates Yesha (the settlement project); just as the settlement project (Yesha) has radicalized and now dominates religious Zionism. Once upon a time, the old National Religious Part was a force of moderation in Israeli society. Today, the racist Religious Zionism and Jewish Power parties led by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir represent politically both mainstream Jewish settlements and the radical-religious avantgarde of the settlement movement.

–The internal conflict today in Israel is between religion and state. The government of Israel is the ultimate sovereign over all territories under its control. But rightwing religion and religious settlements are the hard force that makes intractable the one-state reality in Israel and the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank. –The conflict between religion and state boils down to domination. The first settlements in the wake of the 1967 war were established by Labor governments. They were established to serve the state, fulfilling pragmatic state- and state-power functions. With the victory in 1977 of the Likud under Menachem Begin, settlements mushroomed all over the occupied West Bank and Gaza. The ideological hardcore represented by Gush Emunim was and remains religious. Today, the Israeli state and state-power serve the settlement project and, along with it, the ideological project of annexation and ethno-religious supremacy that now dominates religious Zionism.

–As a force of ethno-religious supremacy and creeping apartheid, the settlement project and the religious Zionism it represents run complete roughshod over Palestinian lives and lands. They run roughshod also over secular Israeli society, which religious Zionism seeks to annex and transform under its own image. Yesha runs roughshod also over and rots out state power in Israel.

–The violence and lawlessness at the heart of the settlement project in the Israeli Occupied Palestinian West Bank propel the anti-judicial and anti-democracy coup underway in the State of Israel.

In Israeli center-right discourse, one will invariably hear that it is possible to “manage” or “shrink” the occupation, i.e. the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people in the occupied West Bank. The argument does not consider that the settlement project undermines the very possibility in that the settlement project is itself inherently destabilizing and unmanageable. As an ideological and lawless force in society, the settlement project commits itself to its own religious law and political agenda, first and foremost, a hardened and religious form of ethno-supremacy. Backed up by senior members in the governing coalition, every outburst of settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the silence of the mainstream settlement community are meant to magnify the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people, and the annexation of their lands.

The violence and mayhem represented by the settlement project is nothing new. The lawlessness and violence trace back to the emergence of Gush Emunim in the 1970s, the Jewish Underground in the 1980s, and the so-called Hill Top Youth of today. Supported by state power, the Israeli occupied West Bank has always been a place of lawlessness and violence, bubbling under the surface and erupting out into the open. In violation of international law, the settlement project has always depended upon transfer of Palestinian lands to Israeli controlled state-lands, land grabs of privately owned Palestinian lands (illegal even under Israeli law and sometimes blocked by the military and by the Supreme Court), soldier and settler violence, a relative lack of action on the part of Israeli legal bodies, including the Supreme Court in relation to so-called state-owned lands, and Israeli public indifference.

The religious-settler chickens have today come home to roost inside the State of Israel. In the wake of the Second Intifada, very few Israeli Jews cared about settlements and the occupation and Palestinian rights and creeping apartheid as long as the settlement project worked quietly across the Green Line (the armistice line that separates sovereign Israel from the occupied West Bank). But that status quo and the complicity that sustained it have undergone a sudden and clarifying transformation now that the government of Israel is formally under control by Kahanist parties representing extreme-racist iterations of religious Zionism that now dominate the national-religious sector in Israel and in the occupied Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank. As the occupation + settlements take deep root in the Knesset, government, and in important government ministries, the anti-democratic legislation undermining the autonomy of the courts is designed, in small and large part, to give complete freedom to forces supporting annexation and apartheid in the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank while extending Jewish religious supremacy and privilege in Israeli civil society at the expense of values held dearly in secular society.

Reflecting religious-legal supremacy and social isolation, a tension has always marked the relation between religious Zionism vis-à-vis secular state authority and secular society. What is different today is the balance of political power. I quote in full Alexander Kaye from his book The Invention of Jewish Theocracy. According to Kaye, “from the early 1950s there developed an internal tension among religious Zionists between principle and pragmatism, resulting in a dual rhetoric. Externally, religious Zionists advocated a pluralist approach to law, an approach that allows for different legal systems with different sources of authority to coexist within the same political territory. This posture helped them to argue that rabbinical courts should be granted greater autonomy and that they should operate alongside, rather than be subordinate to, secular courts. This pluralist rhetoric, however, was a strategic move only. Among themselves, religious Zionists continued to adhere to the doctrine of legal centralism that had guided them up to that point. They remained committed in principle to the ideal that the entire state and its law should be governed by halakha.” (p.127; h/t Ittai Hershman(

Once upon a time, religious Zionism served the state. It represented a force of moderation that married religion to the national project as dominated by the secular state. Historically, however, religious Zionism was a marginal demographic and ideological force, posing no real threat to the national ethos of secular Jewish society in Israel. That was before 1967 and the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and other Arab territories, and the establishment of illegal settlements. It was also before the population growth in the Haredi sector in Israeli society, which over the years, especially since the Second Intifada, has aligned more and more with the reactionary political right in Israel as led by Benjamin Netanyahu. The election of the Netanyahu/Religious Zionism/Jewish Power/Haredi government has changed the balance. Not a force of moderation, religious Zionism dominated by Religious Zionism/Jewish Power shows itself as a radical force in society, one that seeks to marry the secular state to all manner of religious ends. The state now serves the settlement project and other religious interests and values.

There is, however, a demographic weak point undergirding religious Zionism and the settlement project. Even as the Religious Zionism/Jewish Power parties secure political power for their own ends, religious Zionist communities in Israel and in illegal Jewish settlements in the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank constitute a relatively small demography relative to the total Jewish and Arab Israeli populations in Israel and the Palestinian population under military rule in the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank. Indeed, religious Zionism still depends upon secular society, upon government funding, upon an economy powered by hi-tech, and upon the army, even as it seeks to dominate Israeli civil society and Palestinian territories by roping them both together into the settlement project. This begs real questions. For the settlement project to succeed, Yesha needs to take root in Israeli Jewish society as a whole, to win “hearts and minds” inside the State of Israel and secular society. Arguably, religious Zionism and the settlement project was always unable to settle complete inside secular hearts and minds. It is increasingly failing to do, calling negative attention and ire towards itself especially now as it exposes Israeli society to its own harsh face and system of values.  

Bezalel Smotrich underscores the critical demographic weakness in his so-called “Decisive Plan” for extending Jewish sovereignty in the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank. You can read it here. Smotrich knows that to be more than a religious Zionist pipedream, full-on annexation requires massive settlement of Jews in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, where Palestinians represent a massive and disenfranchised demographic majority. Settlement is, for that reason, the first and most important stage of the Decisive Plan.” In his own words, “This stage will be realized via a political-legal act of imposing sovereignty on all Judea and Samaria with concurrent acts of settlement.” Settlement means “the establishment of cities and towns, the laying down of infrastructure as is customary in ‘little’ Israel and [with] the encouragement of tens and hundreds of thousands of residents to come live in Judea and Samaria. In this way, we will be able to create a clear and irreversible reality on the ground” (emphasis added).  

The critical weak point of the annexation plan is that cannot be “realized” if it depends upon the most committed hardcore of ideologues, religious Jews primarily, if not exclusively. It is hard to imagine anyone else invested in the settlement project, if annexation depends upon establishing settlements deep in West Bank territories surrounded by Palestinian towns and villages. Where are the tens and the hundreds of thousands of Israeli or diaspora Jews prepared to move deep into the violent mayhem of this occupied territory? Where are the religious Zionists who live inside the internationally recognized borders of Israel? The precondition for settlement first requires brutal suppression, including expulsion of Palestinians who resist or in anywise reject untrammeled Jewish rule. No political rights, not for Palestinians, just for Jews, no democracy, apartheid, this is the future of Judaism in a non-democratic halakhic state. In the end, the settlement project is not self-sustaining. Settlements depend upon the support of the secular society now being provoked by extremist expressions of religious Zionist and Haredi politics, and increasingly repelled by settler violence against Palestinian villagers.  

The co-authors of a ninety-page report here by Molad – The Center for Restoration of Democracy argue that the illegal settlement project relies on massive state support and are not viable without them. Without the support of the state, the settlements would dry up. This is where religion and the failure to settle hearts and minds of the larger Israeli public comes into play. The authors of the report cite settler leaders going back decades.” From what was then the settler weekly Nekuda (144, October 1990), the report cites poet Arieh Stav, who was the editor of what was the rightwing journal Nativ. Of concern to him was “the rift” between religious settlers and other Israelis. Stav wrote already back then, “If you want to understand why Gush Emunim has failed to extend its reach beyond the boundaries of its narrow camp, and to find pathways to the heart of the general public – not to mention enforcing hegemony and a worldview on the majority – you will, sooner or later, conclude that the structural flaw separating Gush Emunim from the secular environment and threatening a dangerous convergence within the four walls of a spiritual ghetto is based, at heart, on the religious ethos of forming a social structure based on Jewish law (halakha)” (p. 37).

What Kaye, in his book on the idea of Jewish theocracy, underscores is the principle and practice of halakhic-religious supremacy. Against the secular states and courts, religious-legal supremacy has always been at the root of religious Zionism. What Smotrich underscores is that to annex the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank and cement in place the one-state reality, religious Zionism first has to annex the state of Israel to Yesha: the occupied Palestinian West Bank and to the settlement project. The annexation of the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank into the State of Israel depends upon the annexation of the State of Israel into the State of Judea and Samaria. This double-annexation can only happen under the mantle of the anti-judicial and anti-democracy coup, the primary drivers of which are religious society and the extreme and violent political parties representing that society.

About hearts and minds, religious Zionists invariably resent the fact that Israeli society abandoned them during the 2005 withdrawal of settlements from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. The Supreme Court did not intervene on their behalf and the public did not rally to their cause. This is because these were settlements established and maintained under military law outside the Green Line; they were predominantly religious; and were evacuated by a rightwing government led by Ariel Sharon. In contrast, polls consistently indicated that only a small minority today, overwhelmingly religious, supports the anti-democratic judicial overhaul. When a mainstream voice in the religious Zionist community calls for slowing down the anti-judicial coup, it is not out of respect for democracy. As per this statement here by Hagi Segal at Makor Rishon, / the sentiment drips with hatred for the Supreme Court and other secular elites. As the political leadership presses full court, the worry among more farsighted leaders in the religious Zionist community is that the frog in the pot of boiling water, namely secular society, is now severely agitated.

Without a political home, what are moderate religious Zionists to do today? Against the hyphen that was the essence of religious Zionism, courageous liberal and leftwing Israeli orthodox Jews seek to disaggregate their Zionism, a political commitment, from Judaism, a religious or spiritual one. From the Anglo-Israeli Jewish world, these words here, reflecting centrist Zionism and liberal orthodoxy, from Yossi Klein Halevi   touch upon the foundations: democracy, apartheid, orthodox religion, religious Zionism, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, settlements and settler violence, Arab civil rights in Israel. Halevi’s op-ed shows in real time how the radical religious and rightwing government is pushing the Israeli center towards the center-left camp.

Explaining these thoughts from 3:00 AM, Halevi writes, “When Smotrich chose ‘Religious Zionism’ as the name for his extremist party, I was outraged: He had hijacked one of the most noble movements in Zionism for his racist agenda. And yet, given the overwhelming silence within the religious Zionist community toward Smotrich (and toward Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Jewish Power party), I realized that this wasn’t a hostile takeover after all…Religious Zionists need to internalize the difference between a people and a modern state. In Israel’s case, of course, the two overlap. But they are not identical. Zionism not only took responsibility for renewing and re-empowering the Jewish people, but it also created a new people: the Israelis. The Jewish state functions simultaneously on two levels, as the center point for a transnational people, and as the state of all who were born here.”

From the Anglo-Israeli religious and political center, Halevi’s words underscore the basic point made by the left in Israel for decades now. There is no democracy with occupation and settlements; because the settlement project, which is at the heart of the occupation and which sustains it, is inherently anti-democratic. Shown clearly in this harsh little apocalypse that is contemporary Israel under rightwing-religious rule (a genuine state of emergency as viewed by most Israelis) is that, ideologically, religious Zionism and rightwing Judaism in Israel, as presently configured are constitutionally unable to recognize the authority of secular society and governing institutions + wedded to the lawlessness and violent occupation that is the heart of the settlement project + ideologically unable to recognize democratic principles of equality and autonomy regardless of race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.

The meta questions raised by the current anti-democratic nightmare are foundational. Who is a citizen in the State of Israel? What is Judaism and who will represent it in Israel? What is Zionism and who will represent it? Is Judaism nationalist and rightwing and racist? Is Zionism rightwing and religious and racist? How entrenched or how fragile is the political power and social force of rightwing populism, rightwing religious Zionism, the racist Religious Zionism and Jewish Power parties in Israel? How entrenched or how fragile is democracy in Israel? These are the open and most pressing questions today as revealed with such clarity today in the State of Israel under rightwing-religious rule.

[image: in the name of the self-styled majority, an online poster calling for large rightwing religious pro-regime coup protest in Tel Aviv shows a black and yellow Kahanist fist smashing “Srulik” a famous symbol of the old secular Israel: Enough of the Tyranny of the Minority: The Majority Goes Out to the Street]

Posted in uncategorized | 1 Comment

Illegal Settlements Fail To Settle Hearts and Mind in Israel

Based on demography, the fragility of the illegal settlement project in the Israeli Occupied Palestinian West Bank boils down to the failure of the settlement movement to “settle the hearts and mind” of the larger public in Israel. Setting itself apart from and against the larger society that supports it and upon which it depends, a large part of that failure boils down to the religious roots of the settlement project in its current manifestation. This is the thesis claimed in Nonviolent Civil Evacuation: Rethinking an End to Israel’s Settlements in the West Bank. The report by Molad – The Center for the Renewal of Democracy runs some 98 pages and is well researched and documented. It contains a very helpful historical review of the illegal settlement project and runs against the argument made on the right and radical left that the illegal setttlement project is a fixed and established fact on the ground that cannot be undone. Perhaps most interesting are the rich citational network. Going back to the 1980s and the evacuation of Yamit, voices are quoted from mainline settlement thought leaders suggesting that this may, in fact, not be true. The arguement is that, by the 1990s, settlements are steeped in religion, run counter to the larger pragmatic and secular ethos of Israeli political culture, and are actually, isolated. The conclusion is that Israeli hearts and minds are not with the settlements and settlers, and that this endangers the larger settlement project.

Posted in uncategorized | 5 Comments

(Torah Trumps Life) Haredi Response to Covid and Uncivil Religion

I wrote this essay, “Torah Trumps Life,” trying to get a handle on the catastrophic Haredi response to Covid during year-one of the pandemic. It is my contrubution to this special issue on Jewish Thiought in Times of Crisis, edited by Elias Sacks and Andrea Cooper. The basic point is that going back to the locus classicus of this concept in the Babylonian Talmud highlights the fact that Pikuach Nefesh (saving life) is not the most important thing in Judaism. Haredi response to Covid shows how tight-knit communal value-systems lend themselves to communal forms of Uncivil Religion. Tight-knit value systems will always sustain the value-system and the autonomy of the value-system against the larger common good of the secular order upon which it depends and against which it sets itself. In these types of communal forms, the value of the holy way of life is more important than life itself.

These are some basic segments to the essay:

Abstract: “As if by design, crisis reveals basic structural fault lines. In the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, non-Haredi Jews expressed surprise and even outrage about the ultra-orthodox Haredi response to the pandemic. It was not understood how large-scale violations of public health protocols comported with the legal-halakhic principle of Pikuaḥ Nefesh (saving human life). In this essay, I explore Hasidic response to COVID-19 as reported in the secular and Haredi press and in emergent social science literature about this crisis. I place Haredi response to crisis in relation to the clash between two sets of values: the value of saving human life and the value of intensive Talmud study (talmud Torah) and ritual-communal practice. In what Robert Cover called a paideic nomos, there are more important things than human life. What we see already in the Babylonian Talmud is the profound ambiguity of paideic norms vis-à-vis the larger public good.”


“From a distinctly liberal point of view, my own fascination at the particular form of conservative, ultra-religious Haredi paideic nomos is meant to address larger interlocking questions about religion and value. First, I am looking at the basis in the paideic order of Talmud and at Haredi first responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to clarify theoretical questions about Jewish norms and values. Knowing that this will, of course, depend upon the “Judaism” in question, I still want to ask an overarching set of questions. What is the most important thing in Judaism, and what does Judaism value most of all? Second, I am interested in political questions about religion and secularism, about the value of the nomos of a paideic community versus the value of the secular canopy of a liberal political nomos. In these reflections, I will observe how both Talmud and Haredi first response to COVID-19 confounded “common sense” and “conventional wisdom” as represented by the broader liberal public and by public health professionals inside and outside of government. What we learn from Haredi first response to the COVID-19 pandemic is that nothing about Judaism and Jewish ethics is what one thought it was at first glance. The first Haredi response to COVID-19 revealed that the one thing that “everyone” believed that they could agree upon about Judaism was not actually true: namely, that the preservation of human life is paramount in “Judaism.”. Haredi first response to COVID-19 has also shown that liberal political theorists since Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke were right about the perceived need to subordinate religious interests and ecclesiastical authority to state authority and the public good. What becomes clear at a moment of life and death crisis is that the larger life of the paideic nomos is a life-form that seeks to sustain itself in the face of that very crisis: above all and even unto death, paideic nomoi steeped in values value values more than mortal human life itself.”


“With its own special value-set based on holiness or purity, paideic nomos is a “distinct” and crystallized social sphere that is, for all that, not “separate” from society at large. Embedded in political life, its primary sphere of competence and virtue is not political. Regarding the specific form of Haredi paideic community, the perceived distance from profane, conventional life is more or less charming. The attraction is aesthetic and lends itself to romanticism. Haredi nomoi generate aura and attract the gaze of outsiders. At the same time, there is the exclusive devotion to the life of the enclave and to the hard sectarian boundary-making that makes the enclave possible. In this, they prove to be extraordinarily brittle at moments of crisis. Rather than pulling society together, paideic communities are uncivil and asocial in their separation from the larger mainstream, the liberal nomos, where political interests are ordinarily negotiated, accommodated and accommodating, determined pragmatically, contrapuntally in order to secure vital things basic to human life and the life of the polis. In modern times, the common good is a state-political responsibility that trumps the interest of religion when they collide.”

[[Zachary Braiterman, “Torah Trumps Life: Reflections on Uncivil Religion and Haredi Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic” in Elias Sacks and Andrea Cooper (eds.), Religions 14: 946 (18 pp.)

Posted in uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

(Zionism) Secularism Democracy Religion (Israel)

In real-time, Israel has become a huge laboratory-experiment for the study of religion, politics, law, and society; a small and ugly petri-dish for the study of contemporary Judaism and Jewishness. Elected in November 2022 and with passage of the first piece of anti-judicial legislation, the new ultra-national and rightwing-religious government engineered by Benjamin Netanyahu is putting to the test and perhaps proving mainstream bromides concerning Jewishness and democracy in the State of Israel.

The already-old argument against Zionism on the radical political left and the Kahanist religious right is that democracy and statist formations of Jewishness (if not Judaism itself) constitute an irresolvable contradiction. According to this argument, Israel can be either a Jewish state or a democratic state, but it cannot be both. This might be true or half-true. In real-time, we are witnessing today in Israel how the social forces most aligned with “Judaism,” namely Haredi political parties and the Religious Zionism and Jewish Power parties, do so against core tenets of liberal democracy: popular vote, the separation of powers, individual autonomy, and equal citizenship regardless of gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation. There is a lot to be said for the claim that the reactionary power of radical ethno-religion in Israel only underscores how the State of Israel was founded on the basis of a narrow and exclusive form of Jewish ethno-nationalism from day-one of the Zionist project. In this view, reactionary religion reflects reactionary social structure; the problem with Israel is Zionism.

The liberal counterclaim against anti-Zionism and rightwing-religious Zionism starts with the premise that Zionism, a modern form of ethno-nationalism, was always a modern-liberal project, a secular one, not religious and even irreligious, but Jewish all the same. The intertwining of Zionism and democracy entails that the State of Israel is not a viable political form in the long-term outside the framework of liberal democracy. The State of Israel was founded as a modern, secular project and has flourished under conditions that have marked the state as a fraught liberal democracy. In this view, the primary problem in Israel today is not necessarily Israeliness, but Jewishness and Judaism, insofar as they have constituted as reactionary formations of religion and religion in politics, which in the end, undermine the coherence of the Zionist project and threaten the very existence of the State of Israel. (That Jewish religion and relgion itself offer themselves to these kinds of formations is for another conversation.)

For the first time in the political history of the country, the new Likud-Haredi-Settler government engineered by Netanyahu is a completely rightwing and religious government. With no non-religious coalition partners in the new government, the religious partners in the coalition enjoy unprecedented political power. Against the values and norms represented by secular society, against secular society itself, the religious parties (the Haredi and Religious Zionism/Jewish Power parties) and the communities and values they represent in Israel and in the occupied West Bank are the hard core of government and the anti-judicial coup in the Jewish state. For its part, the Likud, no longer a lowercase liberal-secular party, is itself dominated by ethno-national and religious chauvinists. In this government, unprecedented in the history of the country, religious politicians representing reactionary religious communities are in charge and/or maintain positions of considerable influence in all major government ministries (finance, police, defense, education, housing, health, communications).

Setting aside matters relating to belief and ritual, as a sociological force, religion is the pounding heart of the political crisis in Israel today. Without the religious political parties dominant in the government, and without the communities and values they represent, there would be no significant support for either the government or for the anti-judicial coup in Israel today. As polls report consistently, the anti-judicial coup is not widely supported across the broader Israeli society, not even by a great many secular Likud voters. Even leading conservative jurists and legal thinkers enlisted by the government reject the way in which the government is pursuing “legal reform” through legislation.

The primary beneficiaries of the constitutional coup are the religious communities whose political leaders are seeking to overturn the secular character of the country. In setting out to eviscerate the independence of the courts and the rule of law represented by the courts, they seek to [i] entrench the government support that maintains Haredi autonomy and privileges, particularly in relation to funding Haredi yeshivot, exemptions from military service and against introducing common curricular-core studies into Haredi educational institutions, [ii] deepen the hold of chauvinistic and ultra-orthodox forms of ethno-Judaism and undo civil rights in the public sphere, especially against women, the LGBT community, and against Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, [iii] annexation, cementing into place the violent one-state reality of legal apartheid in the Israeli occupied West Bank, the primary pillar of which are mainstream and radical settlements dominated by religious Zionism and their representatives in the government.

In a chain reaction, government dominated by radical rightwing religion immediately creates chaos. Within months of coming to power and for the first time in the history of the country, a government dominated by ultra-orthodox and extreme religious-nationalist political parties has thrown the country into a full-blown constitutional and social and security crisis. In response to the assault on Israeli democracy, a liberal-secular democratic camp forms as if out of nowhere as a determined political force, the country’s credit rating has plunged, capital leaves the country, foreign investment dries up, highways and the airport are blocked, reservists are refusing to serve in the IDF (no one signed up to defend a dictatorial state), half of the infantry forces are tied up policing the West Bank and defending settlements and religious settlers, diplomatic relations with international community and regional states are being undercut, relations with Washington are severely straining. Spikes in Palestinian terror against Israeli civilians and recent anti-Palestinian violence by religious settlers in the occupied West Bank underscores that the Israeli occupied West Bank is a chaotic place of mayhem. Religious politicians and religious settlers verbally and even physically attack the very armed forces sent to protect settlements when the army seeks to maintain a modicum of lawful order. In Israel, the police are unable and/or unwilling to protect Palestinian-Arab citizens of the State of Israel from an ongoing wave of criminal-gang violence. The failure of state bodies now dominated and hardened by religious Zionist parties (Kahanism) to guarantee security for Arab Israeli communities or exercise control of their own citizens in the occupied West Bank is nothing if not a sign of a failed state.

Even before making a second set of claims about democracy and the occupation of the West Bank (about which few Israelis seem to care in any sustained way) and the occupation and religion (about which they should care a lot), the judicial coup underscores that ultra-conservative political religion constitutes an anti-democratic force in society. Because reactionary formations of political religion reject cultural pluralism, the separation of powers, individual autonomy, equality of rights. Because reactionary religion uses democracy to secure non-democratic ends. Reactionary religion in politics poses a threat to general welfare to the degree that religious norms and values and the communities that manifest them are made to trump secular values in the political sphere. Political religion sets itself in opposition to the secular values upon which the State of Israel depends, and that, in doing so, political religion will destroy the very existence of the state itself (as per here by historian Anita Shapira and as per here Yuval Noah Harari).

Against secular Zionism one could always argue that religion and trends in religious society ultimately reflect the larger social structure and culture in which they are enmeshed. Religion mirrors the very secular society which sustains and supports it. But reflectors also distort the thing whose image they reflect. A super-sensitive mirror, religion reflects racism in society and hardens it; reflects social conflict and sharpens it. This has nothing to do with Zionism per se. But under the right conditions, a mirror-reflection can take on a life of its own. Israel today is a clear example of how religion can draw the secular state deeper and deeper into the net of its own machinations. As the country is coming apart at the seams, the political question is whether secular society in Israel has the capacity to isolate, fight and contain religion as a political force inside a constitutional framework.

Religion has always been and will always be a lively part of the larger mosaic of culture in Israel, but the recognition that religion is social is not the same as saying that society is religious, that religion can stamp an entire society. The very notion of a religious society as one dominated by and governed by religion for the sake of religion (society in the mirror of religion) is itself the contradiction in terms.  Essential to lowercase liberal democracy is secularism, a commitment to the broadest domain of the common good and the welfare of society secured by legitimate government. Secular is the universal functioning of the polis itself, the state-functions that buttress public health, law and order, a market economy, private-public safety and national security, infrastructure, clean air and water, housing, public education, support for the poor, support for art and science, universal rights and human dignity. The intention of the religious parties, in Israel and not just in Israel, is to subordinate society to the political sphere, which they seek to subsume in their own image.

Democracy in Israel needs a new social contract to regulate political and legal relations between political, religious, and ethnic majorities and minorities, Jewish and Palestinian-Arab Israeli, as they are all variably constituted in the state of Israel itself; and to do so on the basis of formal and substantive equality and shared citizenship, and a fair resolution of the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For its part, Jewish religion in Israel needs to dis-associate itself from the pragmatics of the political sphere, to set itself inside the four cubits of the law, as part of the larger social mosaic. As an object-lesson in political theory, the constitutional contradiction is not necessarily the one between Jewishness and democracy. Jewishness would stand for Jewish culture, distinct from the religious nationalism and Haredi religion that together dominate Israeli Judaism today. The new government and the social crisis it is creating underscore that the unresolved contradiction is between Zionism and religion, i.e. Jewish religion as currently constituted in Israel, namely ultra-rightwing, orthodox, nationalistic, xenophobic, and in power.

Posted in uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Pro-Coup & Anti-Coup (Israel and West Bank)

These two maps. On the right, the map shows where people can grab a bus for a pro-government, pro-regime coup demonstreation to be held in Tel Aviv. On the left, the map marks points where pro-democracy protests have taken place all over the country. All combined, the new ultra-national and religious government and support for the anti-judicial-anti-democracy coup carve out the West Bank as a distinct political territory, a distinct but inseparable part of the one-state reality in Israel. It’s the occupation that’s ailing Israel, and also Religious Zionism, splitting apart the country and putting its future at risk.

Posted in uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment


Posted in uncategorized | 1 Comment

(Air) Smoke (New York City)

Posted in uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment