Troubling Israeli Religious Fundamentalism
by Stephen Lendman
Islamic fundamentalism is vilified in the West. Extremist Jews are largely ignored. In Israel they're dangerous. They influence government policy. They seek control of Israel's rabbinical system.
Last January, Haaretz  reported that ultra-Orthodox Shas party members used "improper methods bordering on the criminal (to get) its people appointed to key offices."
Israeli Haredim are ultra-Orthodox extremists. They believe their way is the only way. Others are heretics. Israel Shahak's (1933 - 2001) "Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel"  explained its pervasive, destructive influence on Israeli politics, the military and society.
He called all forms of bigotry morally reprehensible, saying:
<blockquote>"Any form of racism, discrimination and xenophobia becomes more potent and politically influential if it is taken for granted by the society which indulges in it."
In Israel, he added:
"The support of democracy and human rights is....meaningless or even harmful and deceitful when it does not begin with self-critique and with support of human rights when they are violated by one's own group."
"Any support of human rights for non-Jews whose rights are being violated by the 'Jewish state' is as deceitful as the support of human rights by a Stalinist…."</blockquote>
Shahak was a holocaust survivor. He discussed Jewish fundamentalist history. He examined its variations and explained dangerous messianic ones. They espouse Jewish superiority. Gentiles are inferior.
Fundamentalist Rabbi Abraham Kook (1865 - 1935) was significant. He preached Jewish supremacy, saying:
<blockquote>"The difference between a Jewish soul and souls of non-Jews - all of them in all different levels - is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the souls of cattle."</blockquote>
He helped create the settler movement. His son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, founded the extremist Gush Emunim. Its slogan is "The Land of Israel, for the people of Israel, according to the Torah of Israel."
Its adherents believe God created the world for Jews. Others are lesser beings. Greater Israel belongs to Jews alone. Holy wars are proper ways to gain it.
Kook was Israel's first chief rabbi. In 1924, he founded Mercaz HaRav (the Rabbi's center). It's one of Israel's largest yeshivas (Talmudic colleges).
It believes "non-Jews living under Jewish law in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) must either be enslaved as water carriers and wood hewers, or banished, or exterminated."
Kook's modern adherents teach these ideas. Jews are genetically superior, they believe. Gentiles are completely evil. God's 10 commandments don't apply to non-Jews. Killing them to defend Israel is acceptable.
Jewish Rabbinic Council Rabbi Dov Lior said:
<blockquote>"There is no such thing as enemy civilians in war time. The law of our Torah is to have mercy on our soldiers and to save them….A thousand non-Jewish lives are not worth a Jew's fingernail."
Rabbi David Barsri called Arabs "a blight, a devil, a disaster - donkeys, and we have to ask ourselves why God didn't create them to walk on all fours. Well, the answer is that they are needed to build and clean."
In 2007, Israel's former chief Sephardi Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu called for mass-murdering Palestinians, saying:
"If they don't stop after we kill 100, then we must kill 1,000. And if they don't stop after 1,000, then we must kill 10,000. If they still don't stop we must kill 100,000. Even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop."
In March 2009, Safed's chief rabbi/Chief Rabbinate Council member Shmuel Eliyahu called for "state-sponsored revenge" to restore "Israel's deterrence."
"It's time to call the child by its name: Revenge, revenge, revenge. We mustn't forget. We have to take horrible revenge for the terrorist attack at Mercaz Harav yeshiva."</blockquote>
He referred to an earlier incident. Eight students died. These views aren't exceptions. Minority Haredim make things hard for others. Representing about 8% of Israeli Jews, their influence greatly outweighs their numbers.
<blockquote>Eliyahu said he wasn't "talking about individual people in particular. I'm talking about the state. (It) has to pain them where they scream 'Enough,' to the point where they fall flat on their face and scream 'help.' "</blockquote>
Ethnicity in Israel defines religious segments. Sephardic Jews originated from the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. Ashkenazi ones are from Eastern Europe. They differ in religious and cultural traditions.
Both communities attend separate synagogues in different neighborhoods. Israel has two chief rabbis, one Ashkenazi, the other Sephardic. Extremists believe in Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel).
<blockquote>Thirteenth century Rabbi Moses Ben Nachman was their spiritual godfather. He said Jews "should settle in the land and inherit it, because He gave it to them, and they should not reject God's inheritance." Our rabbis say it's "a mitzvah (commandment) to settle in the land and it is forbidden to leave it."</blockquote>
Similar dogma persists today. Extremist zealots believe Jews alone have rights. Palestinians are enemies for wanting their own land. All Arabs and Gentiles everywhere are lesser beings. Killing them is acceptable to serve Jewish interests.
Shas party spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef once called for annihilating Arabs. On August 17, he met secretly with senior Israeli defense and government officials. He heads Shas' Council of Torah Sages. He formerly served as Israel's chief Sephardic rabbi.
He's 91 but still active. In an earlier sermon , he called the Palestinians "snakes (and) accursed, wicked ones." He claims God regrets creating Arabs.
<blockquote>He later said it's "forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable." He considers Katrina God's wrath against Godless Blacks. He claims God said "let's bring a tsunami and drown them."</blockquote>
He compares non-Jews to farm animals. They're only fit to serve Jews, he said. According to the Jerusalem Post :
<blockquote>"Goyim were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel."
Yosef believes only Jewish lives matter. He interprets the chosen people notion dangerously.
'In Israel, death has no dominion over (Gentiles). They need to die, but (God) will give them longevity. Why? Imagine that one's donkey would die, they'd lose their money."
"This is his servant….That's why he gets a long life, to work well for this Jew.'
'Why are gentiles needed? They will work. They will plow. They will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat. That is why gentiles were created."</blockquote>
Compassion isn't Yosef's long suit. Nor is reason and belief about everyone deserving equal rights.
Friday's discussion focused on Iran. Netanyahu wants Yosef approval for war. Perhaps he also sought his spiritual blessing. So far it's not clear where he stands. However, a day after the meeting, he said in his weekly sermon :
<blockquote>"You know what situation we're in. There are evil people (in) Iran (wanting) to destroy us….We must pray before (God) with all our heart."</blockquote>
Shas party members have considerable influence in Israel. They're part of Netanyahu's governing coalition. Yosef must be reckoned with. Twenty years ago Hosni Mubarak invited him to his private residence. He thanked him for supporting peace. He also sought personal ties.
Mubarak knew what others do now. Yosef's views matter. If he's against attacking Iran, Netanyahu may have to rethink policy. If he supports it, Netanyahu and other hardliners will be freer to act.
Yitzhak Rabin met with him three times before finalizing the Oslo Accords. Ariel Sharon saw him twice before announcing his Gaza disengagement plan. Thousands of Gush Katif residents were moved unwillingly to new homes.
In 2007, before attacking Syria's alleged nuclear site, Ehud Olmert discussed it with Yosef. He did again before attacking Lebanon in 2006.
Last October, Netanhayu sought Yosef's approval on Palestinian prisoners to be exchanged for Gilat Shalit. US Israeli ambassador Dan Shapiro established a friendly relationship with him before assuming his post. He went out of his way to meet with him on arrival. Other meetings followed.
On August 17, Yosef met privately with Netanhayu, Shas party Interior Minister Eli Yishai and National Security Council head Ya'akov Amidror.
Yishai opposes war. Amidror supports it. He's hardline against Iranian influence. He calls its peaceful nuclear program threatening.
Yishai expressed concern after the meeting ended. Perhaps Yosef endorsed Netanyahu's plan. Whatever his previous views, he may have been manipulated to believe Iran poses an existential threat. He addressed other views in Israel, saying:
<blockquote>"They (Iran) are capable of bringing about mass destruction, God forbid. May God nullify their thoughts. We cannot sit idly by. The nation of Israel is in danger. We are not in regular times."</blockquote>
In 2010, Yosef asked God to hit Abu Mazen (Abbas) and Palestinians with a plague. These "evil people should perish from this earth," he said. "God should strike them and these Palestinians, evil haters of Israel…."
Other extremist rabbis say similar things. Their views matter. They influence policy. If Yosef urged war Iran, expect it.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled "How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War"
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.