(Critique of Violence) Judaism & Zionism

Israel has always been a laboratory for political theory and Jewish Studies; always also, and especially now, a laboratory for the study of Judaism in relation to the politics of extreme ethno-national religion and political violence. The elections of November 2022 shed uniquely bright light on this quandary now that Benjamin Netanyahu has engineered a coalition utterly dependent upon far-right ethno-national religious and Haredi parties, his only “natural allies,” who have been placed at the center of political power. Critics from the political and religious left, such as they are, will argue with good reason that Political Zionism and the State of Israel have poisoned Judaism. It is just as true, if not more so, that “Judaism” has poisoned Zionism and the State of Israel at the root.

Two theories map the relation between religion and society, in general, and between the relation between religion and violence in Israel, in particular.

On the one hand, the violence and racism saturating the anti-democratic-national-religious camp in Israel is a mirror of Israeli state structure itself and of Zionism as an ideological form of ethno-nationalism. This is to assume that religion is not an actant. Religion would rather be but a mere function of society, violent religion a function of a violent and militarized society, the superstructure of ethno-religion a function of an ethno-state-national structure. The violent and anti-civil forms of religious-national and Haredi religion in Israel are epiphenomenal to the material workings of state or sovereign power. This is theory suggests two possibilities, one critical, the other apologetic. Human emancipation comes first, which will free it from either religion writ large or from the false form of reactionary religion writ small. In either case, the problem in Israel is primarily political, not religious, Zionism, not Judaism.

On the other hand, religion, and the religion of Judaism, demands a cold critical, even caustic look as an anti-democratic and violent force in society. Beliefs are actants that ramify out into society in which they are embedded. Sociological surveys and studies show consistent correlations between modern religion and political conservatism, and between extreme religious orientations and political violence. Data also correlate secularism with liberal and progressive politics. Not religious values, but secular values are the ones that underpin equality across lines of racial and religious difference and without prejudice to sex-gender and sexual orientation. Religion is a reactive and reactionary force when conjoined to state power and let loose on its own in the public domain. Anti-pluralist and socially dysfunctional, at the core of religion are the rites and representations of the “negative cult.” According to this theory, the sacred is set in opposition apart from that which lies outside its own domain. The sacred includes in its structure the violence with which religious actors seek to dominate and co-opt society in conformity to its own image. Lest religion destroy society, the task of government would be to contain if not co-opt the social energy that is unique to religion.  

An active force in its own right and not a simple social reflex, rightwing nationalist-religion lends itself to the second theory. We see this in Israel where religion has been conjoined with a state power that does nothing to constrain it. The religious form of nationalism dominating the proliferation of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank has always been a unique source of lawlessness and political violence in Israel. It was true then as it is now today. Going back to the early days of Gush Emunim, private Palestinian lands and properties were seized by non-state religious actors; or they were seized by the state for the ostensible purpose of creating military outposts, which were then transferred to civilian settlement. In some cases, the seizure of private Palestinian properties and lands was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court only to be accommodated by the government. The virulent appearance of religious ultra-racist Meir Kahane on the political scene in Israel in the 1980s was not in itself unique. There was the anti-Palestinian violence and racism of settler leader Moshe Levinger, a leading rabbi in Gush Emunim. There was the so-called Jewish Underground in 1984, organized from among the crème de la crème of the religious Zionist settlement movement. The members of the Jewish Underground were an organized band of religious terrorists; they set off car bombs, attempting to murder West Bank Palestinian mayors; they conducted an armed attacked against Palestinian students at an Islamic college in Hebron, killing three and wounding thirty-three; they sought to blow up a bus carrying Palestinian workers in East Jerusalem, and came close to blowing up the Dome of the Rock on the Temple  Mount. In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a religious Jew from Kiryat Arba in 1994, murdered on the holiday of Purim twenty-nine and wounded one hundred and thirty five Muslim-Palestinian worshipers in a massacre at the Ibrahimi Mosque in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron; His grave yard is a place of pilgrimage and, along with Kahane, he is revered to this day by members of the radical religiiys right, including members of the government. Religious Zionsits were among those against the Oslo Accords leading violent protests whipped up by Benjamin Netanyahu, inciting against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, his effigy dressed up in a Nazi uniform. A legendary figure in the history of Israel, Rabin was murdered in 1995 by a religious Zionist student from Bar Ilan University; based on a halakhic principle (din rodef), the murder of Rabin was and was encouraged by radical West Bank rabbis. Religious Jews, the so-called Hilltop Youth, in 1998 followed the lead of then-Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon when he urged settler youth, “Everyone that’s there should move, should run, should grab more hills, expand the territory. Everything that’s grabbed will be in our hands. Everything we don’t grab will be in their hands.” Encouraged by inflammatory anti-Arab religious teaching by extremist West Bank rabbis, young religious Jews continue to engage in “price tag” attacks against Palestinian farmers, shepherds, and villagers, the arson attack in 2015 in the village of Duma, murdering in their sleep a Palestinian family, including an eighteen-month-old baby, Ali Dawabsheh. They were defended in court by Ben-Gvir who has provided counsel for other figures on the radical and racist religious right. Radical rabbis like Yitzchak Ginzburg publish racist screeds like Tipul Shoresh (Treading the Root), which calls for the Arabs to be expelled from Israel in order to purify the Land. Yitzhak Shapira write Torat Ha’melech (The Torah of the King) in 2009 that called for killing Palestinians, including children.

While religion is a function that binds the social group together, it is sectarianism that defines the active and violent political force of religion in society. Here worth noting is the controversial distinction made by Hannah Arendt between “power” and “violence.” As understood in this schematization, power “corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert.” It always “belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together.” But, if the purpose of power is power itself, violence, in contrast, is merely instrumental. According to Arendt, violence as such and in its pure form is the action of a sub-group. Representing the One against the All, violence and rule by violence is bound up with the waning of power (On Violence, pp.44-56, 86-7). In line with this theory, state power and the use of violence to maintain and project state power in Israel reflects the action of the larger group acting in concert. In the West Bank, violence by the armed forces is an instrument of state power, whereas the settler violence in the West Bank unique to religious Zionism is a sectarian mutation that eats away at state power.

If it was only a wild weed, radical and violent religious settler-nationalism in the West Bank would have been ripped up a long time ago by secular state institutions and by the mainstream Jewish settlement leadership and religious Zionist community. That has not happened because religious settler violence is embedded in the DNA of the settlement project. It is tolerated by the state and largely ignored by the general public. The most violent of the religious radicals are themselves led by leading public figures and West Bank rabbis. The most radical and violent religious-party leaders in the coalition elected in November 2022 are themselves from settlements like Kedumim, Kiryat Arbah, and the Jewish settlement in Hebron that are dominated by religious radicals. Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leaders of the Religious Zionism Party and the Jewish Power party, both have criminal records related to charges involving incitement to racism and terrorism. They are the radical fringe who won support, not simply from the radical fringe, but from the majority of so-called ordinary, mainstream religious voters who want to prove that Jews, not Arabs, are the “landlords” in the Land of Israel. Religious Zionism and Jewish Power are the only political homes of religious Zionism and national-religious voters with Knesset representation today.

Normally, religion constitutes a symbolic superstructure and form of social organization that legitimate state power and economic relations. Not normal is the inversion of that ratio in Israel. In the ideology of religious Zionism, the secular Zionist project and the secular State of Israel were always but mere instruments that legitimate Judaism. And not just in religious Zionism. The inversion began with the status quo forged between religion and state by Ben-Gurion after the establishment of the state. Instead of religion serving the public good as organized by the state, the monopoly given to orthodox Judaism and exemptions and privileges proffered to Haredi Judaism are today embedded in the social structure of the country. In due course, secular state actors were the ones who legitimated, surreptitiously or not, and in violation of international law, even radical Jewish settlements in the early days of the occupation. First under Labor governments and more or less limited, this legitimation accelerated with the rise of the Likud under Begin in 1977. What was not predicted in 1948, 1967, and 1977 was the way religious nationalism would radicalize in tandem with Haredi Judaism, while dislodging secular Zionism as an ideological force at the center of state power.

Judaism is at the root of the problem in Israel. All the powerful ethno-religious strains in Bible, Talmud, Kabbalah, and Hasidism are there: hostility to gentiles, the subordination of women, the contempt for non-observant Jews. These are the excremental flavors boiling over and seeping into the metal pot of the state structure. Since the early days of the occupation, they have been stewing in that cauldron for half a century.

We know that, historically, the religion of the rabbis was never this active. Always a minor political force, rabbinic power was always contained by gentile sovereign rule and by the power of Jewish lay leadership, as well. While religious values saturated Jewish society, they did so in loose ways not really ruled, at least not consistently, by rabbis. Rabbinic authority was more or less restricted to the study hall, synagogue, and the domestic sphere. We know also that there is zero basis in the history of religion or in the history of Judaism for modern things like value-pluralism, equality before the law, human rights, the establishment of the citizen as free and sovereign in a democratic state. Indigenous to religion are less abstract and human values like compassion, derech eretz, charity, kindness, humility, justice, modesty, human dignity, tikkun olam –which all stand outside the political as such.

I am not trying to argue that Judaism is the “cause” of violence in the West Bank or in the history of Zionism so much as to say that religion cements and hardens in place political violence. Religion is more unbending in the medium-term than secular nationalism. Based on the idea of the holy, religion is a force of disruptive or divine violence that aggravates and makes more radical the ordinary state creating and state maintaining violence of state power.

The cultural logic leading up to that hardening in the modern Jewish history and the history of Zionism follows a crude dialectic: thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Traditional forms of Judaism and Jewishness would be the thesis at the core of Jewish belonging at the beginning of the modern period. Modern secular Zionism is the antithesis. It responds to unprecedented historical crises that shook Jewish modernity. Political Zionism comes from the outside in as an opposition force meant to free Jewish life from the heavy burden of tradition and Jewish religion. As a historical movement, religious Zionism is the synthesis creating a new thing in the history of Judaism. But the synthesis has done nothing to resolve and sublimate ideological conflict so much as to make it worse. Predicted by Arendt against Hegelian dialectic, violence begets more violence. Generated by violent conflict, Religious-Zionism-Jewish-Power is a violent mutant.

Once upon a time secular state actors in Israel thought they could control religion and religious Zionism. There was confidence that religious Zionism represented and advanced state interests, that Religious Zionism subordinated religion to the state it sacralized, and that it would restrict its claims to a few basic things relating to the public and private sphere which it would more or less leave alone. With more seats in the Knesset, today Religious-Zionism-Jewish-Power and Haredi political parties are subordinating the State of Israel to Judaism. Never before in the history of the state has a ruling coalition depended for its existence solely on religious parties. One wonders about the lifespan of this misbegotten creature as the religious element enters into the harsh world of political reality that would under normal circumstances not leave religion unconstrained and out of the box.

Since the Enlightenment, liberal theorists have always maintained that religion needs to be constrained by overarching civil-constitutional social contracts. But in Israel today there are no roughly agreed upon contracts between religion and state, between Haredi Jews and society, between Arab and Jews in Israel, and no democratic rights for West Bank Palestinians in either a 1 or 2 state federated compact under recognized regional and international rubrics. There is zero prospect that Jewish religion in Israel can contribute to democratic solutions to the ideological fissures that are the essence of pluralism. Judaism cast in the form of Jewish Power and Religious Zionism holds out nothing but conflict and violence.

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(2023) Tel Aviv (Secular City)

80,000+ people came out to protect rule of law and secular society in Israel against the far-right ethno-religious-Haredi-national government. Uncivil religion unites civil society against it.

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Regime Change in Israel (Jewish Religion Identity State)

Illiberal democracy rests on bare majoritarian rule without checks and balances. In contrast, liberal democracy conjoins the general will of citizens with rule of law and the principle of judicial and legal autonomy and separation of powers, including limits on executive and parliamentary branches. Essential are a robust and variegated civil society sphere, codified rights, and equal protections respecting the dignity and autonomy of all citizens. For all its faults and contradiction, the State of Israel used to be a liberal democracy, more or less. The new government engineered by Benjamin Netanyahu represents a radical threat to the old regime. The combination of majoritarian power, anti-Arab racism, Jewish ethnic supremacy, rightwing Religious Zionism, settlements (all of them illegal) in the occupied West Bank, and Haredi power was always eating away at liberal structure. The mutation promises to render incoherent once and for all the formula of a “Jewish + democratic” state. It eats away at the very coherence of the secular state itself.

Before the establishment of the state and in the early days of the state, secular rightwing or Revisionist Zionism represented the minority against the political and cultural hegemony of Labor Zionism. Even after he was elected to power in 1977, Menachem Begin and his people understood the importance of the secular rule of law and the neutrality of state institutions as essential to protecting their own political voice and power. Netanyahu has since then turned the Likud party into a populist party based on a crude majoritarianism. Having mastered the arts of mob rule and gutter politics, the Likud under Netanyahu has purged itself of any trace of the lower-case liberal rule-of-law conservativism that once characterized rightwing, secular Revisionist Zionism. To secure his place in power, Netanyahu and the Likud needed coalitional allies. The only ones left were religious. Regime actors and apologists lay claim to a pseudo majoritarian principle. “The new government is acting in accord with the will of the people.” The claim is arguably not true. The unprecedented confluence of illiberal ethno-politics and illiberal religion in the State of Israel under the new government elected in November 2022 and its transformation into something that looks like theocracy.

Engineered by incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to secure his hold on power, all of the parties that have been joined to this coalition are exclusively radical and religious. There are three rightwing religious factions that ran together under the Religious Zionism Party: Religious Zionism, Jewish Power, and Noam. There are also 2 Haredi parties representing at least three sectors in Haredi society: United Torah Judaism and Shas. Netanyahu probably thinks he can control them, but they reflect his own worst instincts. All of the religious parties are committed to narrow, socially divisive sectoral interests. Religious parties have now been given unprecedented power to advance sectorial religious interests. These interests include [1] deepening the hold of the settlements in the occupied West Bank, [2] cementing the character of Haredi Jewish society as a separate and autonomous enclave, and [3] extending the hold of rightwing and orthodox Judaism into the public sphere. Apart from the Likud, which represents half of the coalition, there are no secular parties in this coalition.

The threat to liberal political governance under what is a new ethno-religious regime will be directed against the separation of powers made possible by the relative independence of the judiciary, media, education, police, and army. It concentrates power in the Knesset and Prime Minister’s office. It works to politicize the entire structure of the state by placing partisan party operatives in charge of the entire governing apparatus. The new regime puts a rightwing religious stamp on Jewish identity and a racist, political stamp on Judaism. From liberal democracy to populist theocracy, the new regime in the State of Israel institutes a new mutation.

[You can read more below]

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American Rabbis Draw A Red Line (Political Racism & Uncivil Religion in Israel)

As reported here, over 300 American rabbis have signed on to this statement calling to boycott members of the incoming government of Israel. One can argue about the statement itself; if it goes far enough in this way or that, if it should have said this or that in this way or not. Cynics will also observe that representatives of Religious Zionism and Jewish Power have no intention to visit liberal synagogues to begin with. But the statement on its own is remarkable as a clarifying document. Worth noting are three things. To date there is no sign-on from orthodox rabbis. The liberal rabbis here committ to speaking out when the representatives of these racist parties appear in other community fora. Jewish values are universalistic, namely democratic and in “the image of God.”

A CALL TO ACTION FOR CLERGY IN PROTEST OF ISRAELI GOVERNMENT EXTREMISTS

In 1984 when Meir Kahane was first elected to the Knesset, an outpouring of condemnation came from almost the full breadth of US Jewish organizations. Israel’s most recent election saw the Religious Zionist Party (RZP) and the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit faction together receive a shocking 11 percent of the vote, becoming crucial partners with Likud in the formation of a new Netanyahu-led government.

Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, the leaders of the respective parties, have been arrested for incitement, trespassing and intimidation – with Ben Gvir being a former member of the now-defunct Kach group, which was designated as a terrorist organization by both Israel and the United States.

Their policy proposals are anathema to the tenets of democracy, contradicting the spirit and intent of Israel’s own Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, their implementation will cause irreparable harm to the Israel-Jewish Diaspora relationship, as they are an affront to the vast majority of American Jews and our values. These proposals include:

● changing the Law of Return–including the refusal to recognize Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist converts and their descendants – a policy that negates the Jewish identity of the majority of Diaspora Jewry;

● eroding LGBTQ rights and the rights of women, causing irreparable harm and disenfranchisement among these communities;

● subjecting Israeli Supreme Court decisions to the whims of the Knesset, a policy clearly intended to erode individual and minority rights;

● annexing the West Bank without giving Palestinians the right to vote, thereby further undermining Israeli democracy;

● and expelling Arab Israeli citizens who are seen as opposing the government, challenging the democratic right to freedom of speech.

We, the undersigned, who care deeply about the security and well-being of the democratic State of Israel, are signing this letter of protest, pledging to not invite any members of the RZP bloc–including but not limited to Otzma Yehudit leaders–to speak at our congregations and organizations. We will speak out against their participation in other fora across our communities. We will encourage the boards of our congregations and organizations to join us in this protest as a demonstration of our commitment to our Jewish and democratic values.

When those who tout racism and bigotry claim to speak in the name of Israel, but deny our rights, our heritage, and the rights of the most vulnerable among us, we must take action. We must speak out. We must show the world that we are a people whose founding principles require us to see every person as B’tzelem Elohim –in the image of God.

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(You Are Not A Jew) Samson Raphael Hirsch (Modern Orthodox Kulturkampf)

In order to become a Jew… you must observe the commands of your God. By faith you become a man, by the Law you become a Jew, (“Jerusalem”, pp. 256, 261, 264); and indeed he has never seriously looked into the Bible who thinks that the demands of Judaism are satisfied by a few abstract ”religious truths”. And even if you recite “Hear, 0 Israel” not only on the Day of Atonement but even twice daily, you are still not a Jew. And even if you not only recite it but profoundly and sincerely believe and take to heart that the Lord thy God the Lord is One –this too, does not yet make you a Jew.Only if you seal this belief…by deeds, by the devotion of your entire life to the fulfilment of His  Commands; only if “thou lovest the Lord thy Godwith all the powers of thy life and might, takest the Commands of thy God to heart at home and by the wayside, when thou risest up and liest down, raisest up thy children to obey them, dedicatest to it thy hand and thy head and thy heart, thy domestic and thy public life, thy house and thy gate”: if, that is, you not only acknowledge the Lord your God but also serve Him by the fulfilment of His Commandments — only then may you call yourself a Jew.

(Samson Raphael Hirsch, “Religion Allies to Progress” in  Judaism Eternal, pp.230-1)

In Israel, the Jewish people are entering into a Kulturkampf, a war by rightwing orthodox Jews led by corrupt politicians and violent men against secular society and liberal Judaism. The shockwaves will reverberate in North America and Europe. The war is a war of religion. Not about God, there are two component parts to the logic of this polemic. What is Judaism and who is a Jew?

What is Judaism

For the orthodox Judaism represented by Hirsch, Judaism is total commitment to a way of life. As he claims it elsewhere in his polemical masterpiece, “Religion Allied to Progress,” Judaism is not even a “religion,” if by that one means a special and set apart annex of life.

The notion is coherent and even appealing. “Judaism is not a religion, the synagogue is not a church, and the Rabbi is not a priest. Judaism is not a mere adjunct to life: it comprises all of life. To be a Jew is not a mere part, it is the sum total of our task in life. To be a Jew in synagogue and the kitchen, in the field and the warehouse, in the office and the pulpit, as father and as mother, as servant and as master, as man and as citizen, with one’s feelings and one’s thoughts, in word and in deed, in enjoyment and privation, with the needle and the graving tool, with the pen and the chisel-that is what it means to be a Jew. An entire life supported by the Divine idea and lived and brought to fulfilment according to the Divine will (p.237).

About a Jew in the parliament, in the ministry of Interior, or Finance, or Transportation, or Defense was beyond Hirsch’s ken.

Who is a Jew

Of course, most Jews are not orthodox Jews. They never were and are still not to this day. Always a minority in modern Jewish history, even in the State of Israel where they have now grabbed a hold on political power, the representatives of orthodox Judaism fight nasty with other Jews.

With undisguised contempt, leaders of Reform Judaism in the nineteenth century looked down on orthodox Judaism as an unbending form of heartless rote observance. Writing in the 1920s, Franz Rosenzweig, in his own discourse on the commandments, called the pseudo law of Hirsch ugly. But in “Religion Allied to Progress,” Hirsch gave as good as he got. The view from the orthodox camp is that Reform Judaism is not really Jewish, that Reform Jews are not really Jews. This line of thought echoes to this day. The position pushed by Hirsch in regard to the mitzvot was all or nothing. Every single positive and negative commandment, every prescription and interdiction is essential and without which there is no Judaism. This line of thought also echoes.

Hirsch misrepresents the gentle Moses Mendelssohn. To be sure, Hirsch and Mendelssohn shared the notion that what is unique to Judaism is the law. By this Mendelssohn meant ceremonial law. But even here, Mendelssohn rejected the notion that a religious body has the right to excommunicate or otherwise write off its members who dissent. And he rejected theocracy, the notion that ecclesiastical authorities have the right impose religion onto the public and political spheres. Religious law has only the power to persuade, not coerce. In contrast, the logic of Hirsch’s argument extends Judaism across the entire social sphere while anathematizing the majority of Jews. A creature of the nineteenth century, Hirsch was not a Zionist. Not even a proto-Zionist. What Hirsch was unable to anticipate is how that logic plays out when Jews assume sovereign power and orthodox Judaism takes control over the institutional organs of a Jewish majority state.

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(Necropolis) Haredi Political Wish List (Omnipotence of Thought)

The United Torah Judaism party in Israel issued a new set of demands prior to the formation of the next government under Benjamin Netanyahu. The demands entail a combination of more Haredi influence and control in the public sphere, special privileges for Haredi communities, and massive infusions of money to Haredi sectors.

As reported here at the TOI, the wish list includes:

–Passing a law to regulate the exemption of ultra-Orthodox youth from enlisting in the army

–Having a Chief Rabbinate representative on any panel weighing permits for work on Shabbat

–Barring electricity production on Shabbat

–Funding special archives known as a “genizah” — to preserve documents and papers containing God’s name, which according to Jewish law must not be thrown away

–Forming and funding bodies to provide answers to the public on questions of halacha, or Jewish law

–An agreement to increase the number of gender-segregated beaches

–Discounting public transportation in predominantly ultra-Orthodox cities

–Providing Haredim with affirmative action when applying for jobs in state-controlled bodies

–Allowing hospitals to ban hametz, or leavened wheat products, on Passover

–Allowing any citizen to demand in-ground burial, instead of above-ground structures known as vertical cemeteries established to battle overcrowding.

–Requiring more religious studies in the state’s secular school system

–Weighing the closure of the new Reform department in the Diaspora Affairs Ministry

–Mandating that all online government services also be provided via phone for those who shun internet use, as many ultra-Orthodox do

–Raising government payouts to yeshiva students

One can assume that not all of the items will be approved, perhaps some in abbreviated form. But the list is instructive in and of itself for the surreal vision of society it reflects. The demands reflect the world of illusion stamped by the omnipotence of thought in Haredi circles as Haredi political parties reach for real power in the actual world beyond their enclave.

In terms of a picture of a vision of a holy society, it was this particular item that caught my attention. As reported in the TOI, former Religious Services minister Matan Kahana argued that the agreement giving everyone the right to have an in-ground burial plot “would turn the center of the country into one giant cemetery….If it wasn’t so insane, it would be laughable.” Kahana pointed out that there are today 2.5 million graves in Israel. In eighty-three years there will be 9 million.  “Whoever thinks we can continue in-ground burials is delusional.”

Death, of course, is a foundation stone of religion. Not a benign social force, the vision of Haredi political religion is necropolitical.

By “necropolitical” I mean less, as per Achille Mbembe and other critical theorists, about the capacity of sovereign state power to let live and make die. I am more focused on the internal organization of a polis, this particular polis, and the transformation of the polis into a necropolis (νεκρόπολι, city of the dead). A necropolis forms around death and the dead, It is a place where the dead overwhelm the living. A scaled up necropolis would be surreal, no longer recognizably organic. Under these conditions, the polis and its demos are brought by religious actors up to the gates of death and thrown back down into a terrestrial abyss.

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(Normal) Nazi Adjacent and Ethno-Religious Fascist Politics in the United States and Israel (Not Normal)

These things are not separate: Nazi adjacent politics and a surge of anti-Semitism in the United States, ethno-religious fascism in Israel, and their mainstreaming in society by rightwing media platforms. It remains to be seen if this institutes the new normal or if there are things so abnormal as to resist any attempt to normalize them? The jury is still out.

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Red Line (American Jews Boycotting Ethno-Theocratic Government of Israel)

It’s an interesting experience watching in real time the emergence of a vast inflection. Liberal and progressive American Jewish normative redlines against theocratic fascism in Israel. These are lines reported here and here regarding mainstream liberal rabbis, community leaders, and Washington type policy-people who will refuse all contact with members of the oncoming coalition government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, Bezalel Smotrich, and Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Historically, Jewish communities have always been marked by intense lines of collective solidarity, if not always around the edges. While nasty intra-Jewish discord is not a new thing, all of this in and about Israel now is unprecedented in scope and not normal. “To those who view such steps as alarmist, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, says she would argue that there is ‘not enough of an emergency atmosphere’ among American Jews regarding the next Israeli government.'”

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(Israel) Deputy Minister of “Jewish National Identity” (Theocratic and Anti-Jewish)

More on religion and state and the state of orthodox Judaism in Israel. From the religious Zionist Noam party, homophobe and misogynist Avi Maoz will be appointed deputy minister in the Office of the Prime Minister promoting “National-Jewish identity.” Under the potential control of the deputy minister include changes to who counts as a Jew for Israeli citizenship under the the Law of Return, the participation of Arab-Israeli teachers in public schools, the service of women in the IDF, egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, stricter national observance of Shabbat, the Orthodox rabbinate’s monopoly over religious life, injecting religious law into broader society, and promoting “family values.” You can read about him here and here raising the banner of “normative Judaism” against “post-modernism.”

According to the signed coalition agreement, the “Jewish National Authority” established inside the Prime Minister’s Office will be given a 150 million shekel ($44.1 million) budget and a 15-person staff. More significant is the control being granted over external educational programs with a 2 billion shekel ($588 million) budget.

About this you can read here.

Not only is [Maoz] being handed education programs focused on religion, the Bible, and Jewish culture and identity, Netanyahu also gave him authority over some 100 other subjects, including civics, art, history, army preparation, human rights, social studies, Jewish thought, computer science, technology, space, economics, Arabic, philosophy, psychology and gender equality. And that’s not all. Netanyahu pledged in the coalition agreement with Maoz that he would not only have to make do with the 15 employees under the Jewish identity authority, but that rather all the activities of the Education Ministry’s unit for external programs, including dozens of its employees and its budgets, will be handed over to him, along with a unit in the Prime Minister’s Office responsible for government collaboration with civil society groups. In other words, not only will Education Ministry employees be subordinate to Maoz, but so will several hundreds of people who work for businesses and nonprofits tasked with developing educational material and programming for schools. Maoz will also be able to give big financial incentives to schools that agree to use programming developed by his Jewish identity authority.”

The appointment of Maoz represents more than an insignificant government post with little actual authority. Symbolically, he represents a part of the face of a new government in the making that seeks to control “Jewish identity” in the State of Israel. Practically he is being allotted a major role in the inculcation of “Jewish values” in the Israeli educational system, while funneling millions of shekels towards ultra-rightwing Jewish non-profits. These governing authorities to be given to Maoz, and with him to Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich are unprecedented in scope and mark a significant inflection point in Jewish/Israeli society. Religious Zionism has turned into an uncivil mutation. Against the identity as constellated by most Jews in Israel and the diaspora, against a pluralist civil society in Israel including Arabs and Jews, the new religious government as it is taking shape in Israel is arguably theocratic and anti-Jewish.

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Rightwing Religious Threats to Democracy in Israel (Leena Dallasheh and Dana Golan)

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For anyone interested, I am posting an overview of the ultra rightwing-religious government that Benjamin Netanyahu is now in the process of cobbling together. Shaul Magid sent me a 15 page document by Drs. Leena Dallasheh and Dana Golan at Ofek: The Israeli Center for Public Affairs. I am embedding the a pdf of the document below. I think the document could have been more strongly worded. What I would have highlighted is the direct threat to Israeli democracy and to liberal and human values posed by a theocratic regime based on Jewish ethnic supremacism and righting orthodox Judaism. The document includes direct statements illustrating radicalized voices of extreme hatred and violence that shape this new direction.

Even mainstream liberal Jews in America will have to boycott this government and its representatives.

I am paraphrasing the three basic components identified by the authors to which I am adding a fourth and a fifth more focused on religion:

–Direct assault on the separation of powers, namely the independence of the judiciary in Israel, including the independence of the Supreme Court, and the independence of the national police from ministerial control. The legal protections enjoyed by the citizens of Israel enjoined by the Supreme Court will all be subject to the override of a simple majority in the Knesset. This includes rights and protections enjoyed by women, members of the LGBTQ community, Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, civil society activists, as well as protections meant to secure freedom from religious coercion.

–Anti-Palestinian incitement, including incitement against citizens of Israel. Threats to deport Arab-Palestinian citizens accused of “disloyalty” to the Jewish State should be taken seriously. Plans include loosening of open-fire restrictions on Arab-Palestinian protesters and people suspected of criminality.

–Entrenching the Occupation, annexing settlements, and cementing the Apartheid regime in the West Bank. Plans include expanding [illegal] settlements and authorizing settlements that are considered illegal even under Israeli law. Enormous sums of money will be transferred to [illegal] settlements. Governing authority of West Bank territories will be transferred from the military and Defense Ministry to ministries under the civil control of the Religious Zionism and Jewish Power parties. Plans include the transfer of control of the Border Police to the civil ministry of “National Security.” Encouraging and turning a blind eye to violence by religious settlers against West Bank Palestinians and leftwing Israeli activists, and loosening open-fire protocols.

–The domination of Israeli society and the economy by the ultra-orthodox and religious ultra-nationalists includes plans to keep yeshiva students out of the army, keep Haredi school systems free from secular curricula, double stipends for yeshivot and advanced yeshiva students, more incitement against and restricting limits on the expression of Judaism on the part of Reform and Conservative Jews, introducing more rightwing religious content into the secular school system.

–Profound and dangerous changes to the status quo re: Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount that threaten to engulf the entire region in an unholy religious war.

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