(Moral Shock) Hamas (Religion & Politics)

Moral shock constellates into a complex of disbelief, rage, and grief. In response to human violence, it is both an instinctive and normative motor of human action, one that consumes attention and commands action. As a structure of affect, moral shock, in and of itself, is blind; on its own, it determines nothing and comprehends less. It is a brute fact. For its part, the “political” is not the same as moral shock. Political are a distinct and narrow but not separate set of questions regarding action and attribution. What is the cause of an action and what is its end-purpose? Who are the agents to whom one attributes responsibility for an action? What are the internal and external dynamics that determine any particular action or action in general? Questions such as these are painfully acute in relation to catastrophic suffering. What political forces and historical forces lead a people into violent debacle? Under whose leadership and authority do the people suffer, under what ideological conceptions, and according to what kind of strategic calculations and miscalculations?

Setting aside moral shock, the horrific human toll of the October 7 terror-assault on civilians in the south of Israel is entirely legible on its own. The slaughter and mayhem were not irrational acts of irruptive rage, not the “natural” resistance of a people under occupation confined to an open-air prison. Proceeding in logical order from a set of ideological and operative premises, the assault on civilian life was engineered by military-political actors who considered and calculated (miscalculated) the balance of forces and probable outcomes with end-goals in mind. The men who planned and executed this assault understood in advance at least something of the staggering loss of life that the people of Gaza would suffer in the wake of a violent Israeli response. Was this all gamed out? Some here are speculating that the strategic assumption seems to have been that a full-on assault and mass casualty event would catalyze a multi-front war that would draw in Hezbollah in Lebanon and other regional actors, and a mass uprising of West Bank Palestinians all of which would overwhelm Israel.

Bracketing shock at the sheer scale of violence, my own attention to October 7 has been dominated by religion –namely “anti-civil religion” as an analytic category. Anti-civil religion is a type of radical religion. Anti-civil religion usurps by way of violence the public-political sphere which religious actors seek to stamp in their own image. To understand something about this, I found and am posting below in this post reported statements and recorded video clips of open-access interviews with leading Hamas political figures. (The military spokespeople who dominate the movement have said nothing.). For context, I am placing these statements alongside founding ideological declarations of principle by Hamas. Lastly, I would not have dared to draw any conclusions of my own regarding anti-civil religion apart from the work of Palestinian political scientists. The clarity these primary and secondary sources bring together do nothing to dispel, but only magnify the shock of this unfolding human nightmare.


Assuming that religion and religion-in-politics are neither irrational nor epiphenomenal is to recognize that acts of ideologically rooted violence are rational. The rationality of religious violence in politics reveals a cold, anti-human, logical core having nothing to do with “feelings.” Without an iota of sentiment, decisions that affect the life of a ordinary people are made upon the basis of premises stamped in religious language, concepts, and values. These are semi-autonomous in relation to society. Understanding that religion is inherently social and political, what matters first in radical and also anti-civil religion is religion itself. What matters is the religious interest or motive as perceived, not society or the life of the polis or human well-being. Radical religion presses the life of ordinary people into the service of the holy. More than mere rhetoric masking “real” political forces, the radicality of anti-civil religion is a rigid and ungiving political force that destroys from the inside the society in which it settles.

In its non-heroic and everyday aspect, politics is the loose and banal social form of the polis. The first rule of ordinary-profane politics is to maintain and sustain the life and well-being of a political community. “Political” are acts predicated upon the exercise of power and authority intended to protect, preserve, and project the group interest. Political leaders secure the common good as they understand it according to ideological presuppositions and practical formulations. In the exercise of power, they are looked upon to lead the people out of and away from ruin instead of deeper into it. “Religious” is something else, a highly symbolic mode of human-being more-or-less detached from the semblance of ordinary reality as conventionally conceived. The political form of radical religion (religion at its most intensely saturated) remains set apart from the ordinary politics of human well-being. The primary, if not sole, object in radical religion remains the symbol, the sacred or the holy. At this highest pitch, religion, ordinarily a form of social order, is transformed into a force of social disorder with a curious and even antinomian relation to death.


The religious ideology defining Hamas as an uncompromising or radical Islamic-resistance movement explains two things about the violent acts of terror on October 7 against southern Israel and the toll of the Hamas-Israel war on civilian death in Gaza. [1] Shrouded in a religious aura of purification and resistance genocidal violence against Israeli civilians was not simply reactive or passive. It forms an active part of a larger complex of ideological principle and strategic calculation that follow an intentional means-end logic. Violence against Israeli civilians is a purposeful act based on notions and principles having to do with the purity and purification of Palestine under the name of divine greatness. [2] A complement to anti-Jewish violence, the glory of martyrdom is the core ideological concept explaining the intentional decision on the part of Hamas to sacrifice thousands of innocent Palestinian lives in its war against Israel. Strategic and calculated as an expression of “resistance,” religious principle overshadows the general welfare of 2.1 million Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

Political analysts assumed that Hamas was fundamentally split in its identity and internal organization after Hamas took political control over the Gaza Strip in 2007. On the one hand, Hamas remained self-constituted as an Islamic-resistance movement committed to armed struggle and the destruction of Israel. On the other hand, Hamas became and remains a semi-sovereign political authority and governing entity responsible for the well-being of the 2.1 million people in Gaza living under its control. Analysts assumed that Hamas political leadership would seek to secure a tenuous and short-term political modus-vivendi with Israel, modulating long-term ends and religious-ideological principles. It was widely assumed that the responsibility of governance would moderate Hamas as a militant movement committed to the practice and ideology of religious violence or terrorism. Political actors and observers thought that political exigency would be the lever with which to “contain” Hamas, once and for all (see especially Tareq Baconi, Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance; see also Khaled Hroub, Hamas A Beginner’s Guide).

Islamic-resistance and governance are two things, religion a third component power, a switch that determines the balance between them. An offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, by its own self-definition, is a religious movement, the Islamic Resistance Movement as translated from the Arabic acronym. Saturated by symbolism, the worldview of Hamas is composed of concentric circles around a sacred topos. Palestine is the holy trust (waqf) at the very epicenter of this symbolic map. Palestine is nested inside the Arab world that surrounds it, inside the Muslim world that surrounds the Arab world. The centrality of Palestine is a foundational component of the first Hamas Covenant (1988), which boasts about the clarity of its ideology, the nobility of its aim, and the loftiness of its objectives. (I am quoting in part verbatim). Inherently sacred, Palestine is the navel of the globe and the crossroad of the continents. It is necessary to instill in the minds of the Muslim generations that the Palestinian problem is a religious problem and should be dealt with on this basis. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf. It is possible for the followers of the three religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – to coexist in peace and quiet with each other. But peace and quiet would not be possible except under the wing of Islam. The Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] calls on Arab and Islamic nations to take up the line of serious and persevering action to prevent the success of global Zionism, etc.

Claims that the revised Hamas covenant of 2017 moved the Islamic Resistance Movement in any substantive manner beyond its founding covenant are not credible. The 1988 charter was never formally revoked. Crafted for international consumption by the political leadership cadre of the movement, the revised charter seeks to scrub some of the militant and all of the anti-Semitic content in the original charter, including reference to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In 2017, Hamas now claims to promote a model of coexistence, tolerance, and civilizational innovation. It expresses putative willingness to accept a temporary 2 state solution, albeit on a short-term basis. But the rigid core of the basic symbolic structure remains intact in the revised charter. : from the river to the sea, Palestine remains the inner heart of the Arab and Islamic world. Resisting the occupation with all means and methods is a legitimate right guaranteed by divine laws and by international norms and laws, etc. (Here I am again citing in part verbatim)


October 7 makes clear that armed resistance-terrorism against Jewish civilian targets, not governance, remains at the core of the vision and strategy of Hamas as a religious-political-militant movement dedicated to the violent destruction of Israel and armed liberation of Palestine. In a 2014 study published by the Institute for Palestine Studies, political scientist Khaled Hroub describes “a theoretical justification that goes deeper and beyond regrets or adopting a tit-for-tat policy.” Citing Hamas sources, Hroub explains that the strategic vision behind terrorist attacks is to drive Jews out of Palestine. Meant to exhaust and weaken Israel, “Hamas’s goal has been to transform Israel from a land that attracts world Jews to a land that repels them by making its residents insecure.” By targeting civilians, Hamas would be striking at “the weakest and most vulnerable spot in the Zionist body” (Hamas Political Thought and Practice, 247).

The strategy of violence against Jewish and other civilians in Israel carries a religious charge of its own. This symbolic saturation appears in the words attributed to leader of the military wing Mohammed Deif prior to the October 7 assault on southern Israel. Deif is reported here at the NYT to have called on an online audio message, “Righteous fighters, this is your day to bury this criminal enemy. Its time has finished. Kill them wherever you find them….Remove this filth from your land and your sacred places. Fight and the angels fight with you.” About these words and the charge they convey, all the reporter at the NYT can hear is an as-if unthinking expression of rage and vengeance. What this misattribution overlooks is the character of religion formed out of its logical structure. The genocidal rhetoric reflects a coherent ethos based on objectives and calculations steeped in its own version of spiritual values. These are the sense of place as holy, the perception of time as eschatological, a preoccupation with righteousness and purity.

More than mere rhetoric, religious ideology constitutes the symbolic part of action that overwhelms the world of ordinary politics. Commenting on Deif’s remarks reported in the NYT, political scientist Dana El Kurd notes that these words “[speak] to the fact that these kinds of groups or movements have political objectives that they pursue and the human cost will be a secondary consideration to that.” El Kurd’s emphasis on costs bears special attention. In this statement by Deif and other statements and recorded interviews, Hamas leaders raise the value of killing Jews in Palestine to a primary religious principle. In retrospect, the call by Deif and the crimes committed by Hamas terrorists on October 7 echo the apocalyptic thinking in the original Hamas charter from 2008 citing what is today a well-known and infamous hadith (a traditional saying attributed to the Prophet). “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.”

El Kurd’s remark about the secondary value of human life in this ideological matrix is confirmed in comments made by a senior Beirut-based Hamas official in charge of external relations. Ali Baraka brags here in an October 8, 2023 interview with Russia TV about Hamas fooling Israelis into believing that Hamas was interested in securing the welfare of 2+ million people in Gaza, while military leaders were secretly planning for some two years this assault on the south of Israel. In line with Baraka’s euphoric boast and also supporting El Kurd’s analysis, Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist based in Gaza, confirms that Hamas political leadership had actually been left in the dark about October 7 and were not in control. Again relating to human life, according to Abusada, “The Palestinian people in Gaza have a lot to lose. Most Palestinians don’t want to die, and they don’t want to die in this ugly way, under rubble. But an ideological organization like Hamas believes that to die for a just cause is much better than living this meaningless life.”

As a complement to anti-Jewish violence, the strategic logic of resistance combines with the blatant disregard for innocent Palestinian civilians. The strange myopia is also apparent here in this October 27, 2023 interview at Russia TV with Mousa Abu Marzouk, a member of the Hamas Political Bureau. Costing hundreds of millions to construct, the elaborate tunnel system under Gaza was meant for Hamas leaders and fighters. Palestinian civilians were left without protection in a war they did not start. Abu Marzouk states openly that it was the responsibility of the United Nations and the Israeli occupation to protect the people in Gaza, not Hamas.

The disregard for human life is also steeped in religious ideology. Perverting a central topos in Islam, martyrdom is no longer a matter of individual devotion, as would have been traditionally conceived. Martyrdom now turns into the sacrificial act of a political-military leadership cadre putting other people to death. The values of sacrifice are prominent here in a televised interview with former leader Khaled Mashal at Al-Arabiyah news. For Meshal, based in Doha, the strategy behind October 7 was nothing less than to open a regional war including Iran, Hezbollah, West Bank Palestinians, and Palestinian Israelis. Reflecting Hamas ideology, Meshal places Palestine at the center of the Arab and Muslim world.  He compares Hamas to the leadership of the Soviet Union which lost 30 million [sic] of its people during World War II. He compares Palestine to Egypt, a regional power of some 88 million people. Meshal’s comments reflect a religious myopia oblivious to the welfare of a small and battered people whose lives Hamas is willing to sacrifice in the name of resistance and the glory of martyrdom.


About violence and death, Baconi cites an infamous statement by Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh before a violent spike in fighting between Hamas and Israel in 2014 that cost the lives of some two thousand Palestinians and seventy Israelis. Haniyeh is cited as having said, “We are a people who value death, just like our enemies value life.” A few weeks later, another Hamas leader is cited as having called on the people to face the occupation “with their bare chests” and to “embrace death if it came their way.” Regarding statements of this kind, Baconi pushes back against orientalist notions that would identify Palestine itself as a “culture of death.” Against this orientalism, he insists that self-sacrifice in the armed defense of one’s homeland is an almost universal political value(pp.ixx-xx). Baconi, however, remains troubled by religion-based political violence. In the meditation that opens his study, he associates decolonial struggle with carnage and fratricide. About Hamas in particular, he concedes, “One has to grapple with the organic thoughts, emotions, and feelings that give rise to a universe that is often at odds with the dominant Western-centric framing of political violence” (p.xx). Baconi allows us to understand a basic tension. Palestinian society is society steeped in values of human life and human sympathy. But at the axis point of resistance, the callous disregard for civilian life on the part of Hamas is ultimately bound up into a sub-culture of destruction and death that is uniquely religious, not “political.”

What for Baconi is the “marriage of resistance and politics” in the vison of Hamas represents what I would say is a distinct inversion of Clausewitz’s famous maxim about war being an extension of politics (see Baconi, p.75). According to Baconi, Hamas adapted the tool of government as an extension of resistance only after the failure of armed struggle to achieve its military goals in the 1990s (p.80). Baconi cites Khaled Meshal from a press conference from Cairo in 2006, “The world will see how Hamas can encompass resistance and politics, resistance and government.” But then Meshal is cited as saying, “Government is not our goal, it is a tool…Democracy is not a substitute for resistance. Democracy is our internal choice to reform our house, whereas resistance is our choice in facing the enemy. There is no conflict between the two” (pp.104-5). Baconi goes on to identify what is, in fact, a structural contradiction, “Hamas’s aspiration rested on institutionalizing the notion of ‘resistance’ into the very philosophy of the order it envisioned.” He cites Musa Abu Marzouq, another leader in the political cadre, who explained, “We are in government, yes, but the government is not whole. We are a government under occupation. We cannot assume that we have a government similar to others in the world. Or as the Americans demand, that we act only as a government. Hamas’s program in government is one which is aligned, which is compatible, with its program of resistance” (p.105, emphasis added).

If the “marriage of resistance and politics” was always incompatible, it was because the marriage was unequal from the start. Baconi contends that “Hamas failed to understand the balance that had to be struck between government and revolution. It had mistakenly assumed that revolution could be launched from within the very systems that had been created to domesticate the national struggle…With its takeover of Gaza, Hamas effectively merged revolution and state-building. The movement’s approach to governance has been based on an effort to situate the notion of resistance at the heart of the polity within the Gaza Strip” (p.242).The stabilization of society requires the domestication of violence, which is impossible to do as long as violence remains at the heart or core of society. It is there at the core where violence assumes the status of an end, not a means.

My own sense is that the incoherence between resistance and government identified by Baconi is bound up with religion. More than a simple instrument or rhetorical flourish, Hamas ideology of Islamic-resistance rests upon an ideology of purity that hardens political violence. Implacably religious is “the liberation of the entirety of the land of historic Palestine and the reversal of the impact that Zionism has had, and continues to have, on Palestinians.” As maintained by Baconi, the maximalist effect articulates the tenets of Palestinian nationalism in an Islamic framing, imbuing a national struggle with religious meaning. It has always been the case that it was the religious framing that “restricted any ideological maneuverability for the movement’s leaders and defined limitations that would make concessions appear blasphemous” (p. 228).Once raised to a religious-metaphysical principle, the violence of resistance is transformed. It becomes a self-destructive force of purification at odds with mundane politics, which is the art of the impure, a civil power of compromise.


The catastrophic cost in Palestinian life and the corrosive impact on Palestinian life underscore the terrible consequence of political religion. Baconi is unequivocal. Morally bankrupt in and of itself, the targeted killing of Israeli civilians “[threatens] to erode the very social fabric of the Palestinian community under occupation” (p.243). With Gaza in ruins, this now seems more the case than ever. Hamas deliberately subjecting Palestinian society to the crushing power of Israeli state violence constitutes nothing less than an act of auto-genocide that feeds off the lives of innocent people according to a strict sacrificial logic. Isamil Haniyeh, in an October 26, 2023 address, called upon all the “free people of the world” to stop the bombing of Gaza, which he referred to as the “new holocaust.” Then he says, “I have said this before, and I say it time again. The blood of the women, children, and elderly… I am not saying that this blood is calling for your [help]. We are the ones who need this blood, so it awakens within us the revolutionary spirit, so it awakens within us resolve, so it awakens within us the spirit of challenge, and [pushes us] to move forward.” In the same vein here, on October 24, senior Hamas member Ghazi Hamad told Lebanese TV channel LBC that the October 7 massacre was just the first of many, that “there will be a second, a third, and a fourth” attack if the group is given the chance. “Will we have to pay a price? Yes, and we are ready to pay it,” he said at the time. “We are called a nation of martyrs, and we are proud to sacrifice martyrs.”


The first level of moral shock is shock before the ugly reality of death: the crimes against humanity in the south of Israel, the death and destruction in Gaza during the course of the war. Another and deeper level of moral shock follows upon the realization that death and destruction are intentional, a part of a strategic-sacrificial logic. No emotion, no rage is heard in the recorded interviews. As reported here, the death and destruction wrought by Hamas on October 7 upon innocent people in Israel and upon their own civilian population was a pre-calculated and miscalculated act based upon a program of a permanent state of war they believed Hamas would win by marshalling Arab support around the cause of Palestine.  

Religion occupies a strange and stubborn place at the heart of this war by Hamas against Israel. An enduring principle of Enlightenment political philosophy is that the unbridled religious imagination let loose on society is a uniquely destructive force. (I have written before here at the blog in a similar vein about the radical religious right in Israel, how radical Judaism as a destructive and uncivil political force undermines Israeli society.) It is a common and utterly mistaken notion by politicians and political scientists that religion is a malleable, political instrument that can be simply written off as epiphenomenal. If anything, religion assumes a life of its own, a real force in society. Just as religion is shaped by the political, religion shapes the polis. In the Israeli occupied West Bank and in Hamas controlled Gaza, radical formation of anti-civil religion is a source of disorder and violence. Religious-settler mayhem in the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank and the utter violence of the Hamas assault on southern Israel mirror each other. In both cases, the disaster brought to their own people is a pre-determined malfunction of a religious-ideological program. The death and destruction represent a grotesque mutation of religion, where one might have otherwise sought an elementary and vital expression of spiritual life and a human source of moral community in rites and representations before God.

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(Syracuse University) Anti-Israel Protest (Letter to Editor)

Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University organized three vigils relating to October 7 and the Hamas Israel war, responding to the staggering loss of human life. A few other protests have been more narrowly circumscribed as political. I’m sharing here a letter to the editor I wrote that was published here at the Daily Orange. I would not have responded necessarily except for two things. The first was that I wanted to reflect on the genuine insistence by activists that the protests against Israel (the charge of genocide, calls to liberate Palestine from “the River to the Sea,” and that justify “resistance”) are not anti-semitic. I wanted to address that issue about anti-Zionism, also in regards to statements made by individual speakers that crossed very clear red-lines re: intimidating and threatening speech. I wrote the letter and I was going to retract it. I did not want to exercise a heavy hand as a full professor. I was assured by the editors that there was going to be at least one other senior colleague weighing in. And colleagues have been reported at the DO weighing in at faculty Senate. And I thought about my Jewish students at this moment.

The editors chose the title, which I think is pretty much right. Here’s what I wrote. I did not go into long detail about the history of Jewish anti-Zionism. The letter is short and simple.

In response to “After hundreds march to support Palestine, Ritter, Groves address ‘reprehensible behavior’ from protestor.”

Last Thursday, activists on campus protested the staggering loss of human life in Gaza following in the wake of the unprecedented assault and abuse of civilians in Israel on Oct.7 by Hamas, including murder, rape and abduction. Ignoring the crimes against humanity committed by Hamas terrorists, speakers at Syracuse University claimed that anti-Zionism does not constitute antisemitism. They did so without understanding what constitutes antisemitism or how anti-Zionist activism manifests anti-Jewish animus.

Binary settler-colonial rubrics and the hostile cacophony of calls to “free Palestine from river to sea” under the banner of “resistance” mean nothing other than the elimination of the State of Israel. Israel is itself a politically and morally fraught, but a central fulcrum of contemporary Jewish life.

The State of Israel was established as a place of refuge for a long-suffering people. It became a national home for the renewal of Jewish life after the Holocaust, an in-gathering of the Jewish people from across the world, including refugees from Morocco, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere from across the Middle East and North Africa.

As reported by The Daily Orange, SU protestors chanted “Zionism has to go,” accused the SU Administration of aligning with so-called “Zionist donors” and targeted by name all the Jewish organizations at SU at a time of rising antisemitism and antisemitic violence in North America and Europe.

Calling for the destruction of a national entity is included in the very definition of genocide, as defined by the United Nations in 1948. Associating Jews with money and power is an antisemitic staple. The public calling out of Jewish organizations by name is a threatening act. It is safe to assume that most protestors know little about Jewish history or the history of Zionism. Student activists and their supporters seem unable to grasp that it is possible to be pro-Palestine and pro-Israel, anti-Hamas and anti-Netanyahu.

Students and faculty with direct contact with people in the region are reeling from the violence of the Israel-Hamas war, the loss of life in Israel and acute Palestinian suffering. In response, anti-Zionism isolates the larger Jewish student and faculty body while losing sight of principles of mutual human recognition upon which a just and peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict depends.

Zachary Braiterman, Professor, Department of Religion/Jewish Studies Program

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The One-State Reality = Violence + War

This, the utter mayhem today, is the one-state reality. The one-state reality extends over Israel and the West Bank from the River to the Sea, and not excluding Gaza. You can dream about the possibility and the promise of a  better one-state reality. But, in the meantime, there is no other one-state reality. This is what it looks like: violent, unequal, and violent. The one-state reality has no way forward. If the 2ss solution is a delusion, the one-state reality is a horrid place that turns people into human monsters. There is no fair and just 1 state solution to the one-state reality.

The one-state reality was the term proposed a couple months ago by distinguished Middle East and foreign policy analysts based in Washington DC writing about the territory. The article they wrote here at Foreign Affairs dusted up some angry commentary in the rightwing pro-Israel community. But the dustup subsided. Because there is no other way to model the cementing into place a single permanent sovereign state system of rule across these territories. Against but open to agnosticism regarding the possibility of a 2ss, the bottom line for the authors is equality, citizenship, and human rights in the one-state dominated by Israel. But this too feels like a pipedream. Because the one-state reality is inherently violent. The one-state reality is not something natural. It didn’t just happen. The one-state reality is an ugly political object engineered by Netanyahu and the religious right. In concert with Hamas, the one-state-reality is designed to scuttle self-determination for the Palestinian people as a basis of mutual recognition.  As a violent artifact, the one-state reality tears up all the old conceptions that have heretofore determined the last 20+ years of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

–The violence of the one-state reality tears up the old conception of the Israeli right and religious right. Seeking to undermine Palestinian independence in the West Bank, the Israeli right bolstered Hamas while intentionally weakening the Palestinian Authority. Violent and rejectionist, Hamas was an invaluable partner to the Israeli right and religious right in Israel, which is itself not interested in coming to a peaceful resolution to conflict. They thought that Hamas could be contained in Gaza behind a security apparatus and that the occupation could be “managed.” The conception has left Israel radically insecure.

–The violence of the one-state reality tears up the old conception of Palestinian victimhood and resistance. Naïve at best is the notion that explains Hamas violence as a “natural reaction” of a people living in an “open air prison.” Nothing is natural in politics. None of this simply happened. Political communities are, by definition, not passive. This includes political communities that operate under very restricted conditions of possible action. These conditions were engineered by Hamas, part and parcel of horrific terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians that stretch back to the mid-1990s. Those miserable conditions suffered by the Palestinian people might explain support for Hamas terrorism in Palestinian and Arab society without explaining the terrorism itself. Going to war against Israel in 2023 was a deliberate decision. Counting on support from Iran and Hezbollah, Hamas is an active political agent, the junior partner to a political axis, that undermines Palestinian freedom from the inside out.

–The violence of the one-state reality rips up the conception of the anti-Zionist left which promotes the 1ss against Zionism. This conception is committed to colonial postcolonial, settler-colonial, and decolonial paradigms that have eaten the minds of the academic left. Anti-Zionists are left celebrating, defending, or denying the full weight of the indefensible: indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, including babies and old people, use of rape and abducting civilian, young and old alike. These are war crimes, which the hardcore of the anti-Zionist left names under the banner of “resistance” and “decolonialism.” The violence underscores that there is no viable 1ss solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The one-state reality is an unlivable human place.

–The violence of the one-state reality tears up the conception of the anti-Zionist Jewish left whose members must now confront allies in the movement for whom Jewish lives in Israel don’t matter. The anti-Zionist Jewish left centers Palestinian lives. Not an independent Jewish left, the anti-Zionist left looks to create alliances. It sets Jewish life under the banner of Palestine imagined as a place of possibility. Crimes against humanity by Hamas and the non-critical response to it from the anti-Zionist left are a clear index to what the realization of “Palestinian freedom,” “Palestinian liberation.” “Free Palestine,” “from “the River to the Sea” means when put into practice.

The one-state reality is an opaque object. No one can see through its violence into the future. But I do not believe in the possibility of a 1ss as a viable outcome. Because I do not believe that the incoherence of the one-state reality can be made coherent. The violence that marks it is a feature, not a bug. Not for Jews and not for Palestinians, the one-state reality, engineered by malicious actors, Israeli and Palestinian, was never designed to function as a ground of equality and freedom. Undoing the violent one-state reality would have to depend upon the creation of a two-state reality secured as part of a mandate backed up by the authority and power of international and regional actors.

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(Biden) Power & Law (Israel at War in Gaza

President Biden delivered a powerful speech outlining support for Israel in this war against the Hamas terror regime in Gaza. The 12 minute speech, which you can read here was unlike anything said by anyone in the current government in Israel. First, because the government in Israel under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the weakest and most ineffectual government in the history of the country. The government under his leadership has led the country into the worse military fiasco suffered by the State in half a century. Second and not incidentally, this government is the most lawless government in the history of the country

The words by Biden were spoken from the heart and rested on values. They were the words of a true friend of the Jewish people and political ally of Israel, backed up by real power. But what is the source of power? You can see it here in the words of warning from the American President to the leadership in Israel. These words come after a lot bellicose language expressed by political and military leaders in Israel, including the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister.

One doubts that any of the members of this government understand that power is only powerful when it rests on law, in this case international law and laws of war. This was the point made by the President here in the speech. “I just got off the phone with — the third call with Prime Minister Netanyahu. And I told him if the United States experienced what Israel is experiencing, our response would be swift, decisive, and overwhelming.” These lines refer to power. They were followed immediately by these words relating to law. “We also discussed how democracies like Israel and the United States are stronger and more secure when we act according to the rule of law. Terrorists purpo- — purposefully target civilians, kill them. We uphold the laws of war — the law of war. It matters. There’s a difference.”

These are words to remember as Israel hurtles into an abyss in some-to-large part of its own making.

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(Huwara) Religious Zionism is A Community of Violence (Sukkot)

Religious Zionism is a community of violence. As a political community, its sole representation (in the Knesset and coalition) is represented by parties (Religious Zionism/Jewish Power/Noam) that represent these people. They are radical and violent religious Jewish settlers in the Israeli Occupied Palestinian West Bank, sustained by the State and by the a full-on rightwing government engineered by Benjamin Netanyahu, a government of extremists that depends for its life upon the support of the religious Zionist sector.

Over the intermediate days of the Sukkot holiday, Palestinian terrorists tried to murder a Jewish family passing through the flashpoint town of Huwara in the Israeli Occupied Palestinian West Bank. Exacting revenge, settlers stormed the town. Far religious right lawmaker Zvi Sukkot came to set up a Sukkah and hold a Torah lesson in the middle of the road.

As reported here in Haaretz, The IDF said settlers caused property damage, while the Palestinian Red Crescent said that 51 Palestinians were wounded out of which 42 received treatment after inhaling tear gas. One Israeli was also lightly wounded. A Huwara resident told Haaretz that dozens of settlers gathered in the evening hours after MK Sukkot set up a tent in the village, and that they looted shops and damaged property.

That night, 4 settlers were wounded, two Palestinians killed. A Palestinian teen was shot and killed the next day, either by the IDF (as reported by the IDF) or by settlers (as reported by Palestinian sources).

In this vicious circle, Judaism in Israel today is a source of rightwing political voice, rightwing politics a source of Jewish religious violence.

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2 Camps At War/Being Born in Israel


Society is an organism that builds upon the coming together, pulling apart, and coming together of group life. At moments of political crisis, the shifts are vital and volatile. In this light, Israel today would represent a case-study of society transforming itself in real-time on the basis of sudden shifting across the division between two oppositional “camps.” While it includes parts of the moderate secular right and religious liberal-left, the so-called “democratic camp” is dominated by secular liberals and leftists. The other camp is a “national-ethno-religious camp” represented by the new full-on rightwing government-coalition engineered by Benjamin Netanyahu. Including secular and traditionalist rightwing Jews, this camp is utterly dependent upon Haredi and religious Zionist communities.

The rift opened up by the judicial overhaul-coup between these two camps brings to a new and crystal-clear light to old questions about Israeliness and Jewishness, democracy and Zionism, religion and the State of Israel. Who controls society and State? To whom does the public sphere belong? On the one hand is the democratic principle of equality enshrined in the Declaration of Independence regardless of race and gender and religion; on the other hand, there is majoritarian-ethnic supremacy and religious privilege in Israel and the Israeli Occupied Palestinian West Bank.

While Israel has always been a divided country, the divisions were based upon an established consensus that sustained in itself across a variety of changing iterations over time. Among Israeli Jews, a shared sense of an Israeli social-national identity combined with a more or less ambient sense of Jewishness as a national-cultural marker. For all the blind-spots, prejudice, and discrimination defining Israeli society and culture, Israeliness was presupposed upon combinations of formal and substantive commitments to democratic norms and institutions. The social contract papered over and hid from view profound political fault lines at the heart of the Zionist project and the State of Israel regarding religion and society and state, equal burden of military service, Ashkenazi-Mizrachi tensions, settlements and military rule in the Israeli Occupied Palestinian Territories, and civil inequality suffered by Arab/Palestinian Israelis.

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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.

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(This Week) Israel Democracy Protests (NYC)

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Israel (Democracy-Autocracy) Flow Chart

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(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]

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