How They Do It– ‘Why Religious Zionism Is Growing Darker’
Certain people in this camp, Betzalel Smotrich among them, turn to Jewish identity and use a mythic narrative to enlist support for anti-liberal ideas
ed note–Everything taking place in the Middle East right now vis a vis Israel and her insatiable thirst for the shedding of Gentile blood and territorial expansion–was as difficult to predict as New Year’s Day falling on January 1st. Being ‘the Jewish state’ means that it is based upon ‘Jewish values’ that emanate exclusively from the Torah, which has made explicitly clear now for thousands of years how Gentiles are to be ‘dealt with’ in terms of creating the ‘Jewish state’, to wit–
‘On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abraham, saying “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river Euphrates”…–Genesis, 15:18
“The sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you, and all those who despised you will bow themselves at the soles of your feet; And they will call you the city of the LORD, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel–Isaiah 60:14
‘When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are to possess and casts out the many peoples living there, you shall then slaughter them all and utterly destroy them…You shall save nothing alive that breathes…You shall make no agreements with them nor show them any mercy. You shall destroy their altars, break down their images, cut down their groves and burn their graven images with fire. For you are a holy people unto the LORD thy God and He has chosen you to be a special people above all others upon the face of the earth…’–Book of Deuteronomy
‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly…’–Leviticus 25:44-46
“Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you…Your gates will always stand open, day and night, so that the Gentiles may bring you the wealth of their nations and their kings led in triumphal procession, for the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish; it will be utterly destroyed.”–Isaiah 60:10-12
Therefore, the notion that there can be a ‘Jewish state’ without the violent, rapacious, racist underpinnings that do in deed emanate from the Torah is as pointless an argument as trying to take the hydrogen out of water and expect it to still be water.
BUT, the ‘good Jews’ of the left understand that the entire ‘Jewish state’ venture is existentially threatened by the out-in-front/no-holds-barred/bare-bones honesty that those ‘bad Jews’ on the right display with their flagrant application of those same laws from the Torah without which no ‘Jewish state’ can exist, and therefore must from time to time throw smoke grenades on the battlefield of discourse in order to sow confusion amongst the Gentiles lest then begin to figure out just how dangerous a mess into which they have gotten themselves.
At a gathering of religious Zionist public figures two weeks ago, Deputy Knesset Speaker Betzalel Smotrich talked about his diplomatic plan, which he dubbed “The subjugation plan.” The purpose of the plan, he said, was “to erase all Palestinian national hope.”
Under the plan, the Palestinians will be given three choices – to leave the country; to live in Israel with the status of “resident alien,” because, as Smotrich made sure to note, “according to Jewish law there must always be some inferiority,” or to resist, “and then the Israel Defense Forces will know what to do.” When the deputy Knesset speaker was asked if he intended to wipe out whole families, including women and children, Smotrich replied, “In war, as in war.”
Smotrich presented the Book of Joshua as the source for his remarks. According to the Midrash, Joshua sent the residents of the land of Canaan three letters in which he set out the three aforementioned conditions. Maimonides explains that if the non-Jews do not flee, they must have limitations imposed on them “so they should be despised and lowly, and not raise their heads in Israel.” If they resist, he says, “not a soul must be left among them” – in other words, kill them all.
How many of those who sat and listened to these horrible things – learned men and women, Torah scholars and community leaders – agreed with him? It’s impossible to know. There were protests raised during the question period, in which some of those in attendance expressed shock. But not everyone was shocked.
I thought back to the op-ed by Yossi Klein last month that raised such a storm. Does “religious Zionism” want to “seize control of the state and cleanse it of Arabs,” as he wrote? No, definitely not. Are there people in that community who indeed want to do this? Yes, absolutely. The question is how numerous they are, or, in other words, where to place Smotrich. Is he on the margins, part of an extremist, fundamentalist and zealous minority, who isn’t taken too seriously – or in the center, a future leader of a large public?
One of the characteristics of fundamentalist religiosity is the reduction of religious tradition into a rigid and simplistic framework of principles. It’s generally joined by a monolithic perception of history, as if all eras are identical and what was true 2,000 years ago is still valid today, and a strong desire to renew our days as of old, i.e., to bring the past into the present. All these together create a one-dimensional surrender to the authority of Scripture. This is generally done in a very unconventional manner, since fundamentalist obedience hews closely to the literal meaning of the text, while non-fundamental religiosity recognizes that religious truth is complex (“There are 70 faces to the Torah”), provides interpretations of Scripture, and integrates other considerations into its approach to faith.
Religious Zionism is not fundamentalist. Most of the community leads a traditional religious life of interpretation and flexibility. Most live in the center of the country, in Jerusalem and Petah Tikva, Kfar Sava and Ra’anana. We’re talking about a middle-class, solid, bourgeois, satisfied community. Judaism for them is a deep identity and a way of life, but they don’t dream at night about rebuilding the Temple and they are pleased to live in a democracy.
But Smotrich understood something when he spoke with this community’s representatives. Because he was speaking to a totally observant audience, he allowed himself to expose the religious-mythic underpinnings of his ideas. He hoped that speaking about Jewish law and the Book of Joshua would lead to an automatic identification with his remarks that would be reinforced by the dormant foundations of a deeply rooted tradition. He hoped that his religious language would make his ideas much harder to oppose. Unfortunately, that hope is not unfounded.
Democracy, like liberalism, is an ethos. Religious tradition, like nationalism, is the foundation of identity and narrative perception. In a contest between them, it’s very difficult for the former to triumph. If during the 20th century Western nationalism substantively included democracy and liberalism (and thus also moderated religion), in recent decades there’s been a gap emerging between them. As we can see from the refugee crisis in Europe and the Brexit vote, when the masses feel that liberalism is undermining the foundations of nationalism, the response is to boost nationalism at the expense of liberalism. Narrative and identity trump ethos.
Certain people in the religious-Zionist camp, Smotrich among them, turn to Jewish identity and use a mythic narrative to enlist support for anti-liberal ideas. In a situation in which liberalism is perceived as opposing identity, or in a situation in which there is no answer defending liberalism that’s based on identity, they will succeed in drawing many after them, first and foremost those who are deeply connected to tradition. Only a position that emerges from one’s identity toward liberalism, that reunites nationalism and liberalism (and even religion and democracy), can prevent many religious Zionists and others from being drawn to the insane ideas of Smotrich and his ilk.
The fact that Smotrich is a dangerous fundamentalist who seeks to give the Palestinians a choice between transfer, apartheid or genocide is horrifying. It’s hard to complain to the Palestinian Authority about their encouragement of terror when the deputy Knesset speaker of the State of Israel supports this type of “subjugation plan.” He should be removed from his post and thrown out of the Knesset.
But even if this were to happen, the important question is what kind of response we, the religious and secular Zionists, proffer to his ideas. Until there is such an answer, he will continue to move from the margins to the center.
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