Lunacy Now is running Toke for Tolerance, the world’s premier cannabis based interfaith festival, focusing on Jewish-Muslim relations. Since we want to create a space where we can talk openly and honestly about inter-communal issues, there are some needed comments about Israel and Judaism.
In a way Israel is the perfect fascist state. Consider: A volk, united in romantic attachment to an ancient mythical heritage. The sigils of Labour Zionism are the plough and the rifle: blood and soil. The crucible of perpetual war pushes the people to greater unity and excellence, and pacifist dissenters are swept away by the narrative of national rebirth and tribal superiority. There is communal support for the in-group (kibbutzim, healthcare, solid benefits), and an iron fist for the outgroup (air strikes, checkpoints, tanks): Socialist-Nationalism. And all of this underpinned by the twin pillars of the modern centralized state, the army, into which all are conscripted, and the state church. It’s almost too perfect, arising near-literally from the ashes to rebuild our long lost Bronze Age kingdom. This is palingenetic ultranationalism – a narrative of national rebirth, which fascism scholar Roger Griffin identified as the core myth underpinning all fascist movements. Yaakov Cahan wrote “in fire and blood Judea fell, in fire and blood Judea will rise again” and ain’t that the truth. It has many of the qualities that Hitler wanted for his Reich, an outdoorsy culture, family values and a sense of chosenness and destiny. We even have a blood quotient immigration law on the books, mandatory ID cards, and intermarriage is illegal. The fact that the Jew fulfilled Mussolini’s vision better than he did is the final face-stamp of the ignominious defeat of White Nationalism.
For Jews to deny these manifest and obvious facts when negotiating with the Ummah is profoundly dishonest.
Now don’t get twisted.
Israel has what no truly fascist regime has, democracy, freedom of the press, and civilian government. Critical journalists are not disappeared in the middle of the night, the rule of law functions reasonably well, and people are at liberty on the whole to live as they please. There is no supreme leader to whom all must swear loyalty, and no central party with whom all must agree. The threats facing the nation are very real, and there is every reason to suspect that concessions for peace would be met with further violence, as it was after the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. Until and unless Jews are given proper guarantees for our physical safety, Israel cannot countenance any loosening of the jackboot from the necks of the Palestinians. Of course it sucks to be a five year old growing up in Gaza. None of this means that the Palestinians haven’t suffered, or that the occupation is just a big ol’ theme park or that the wars Israel has waged have had no civilian casualties. It just means Israel has to worry about it’s own security first and foremost.
That does not change the calculus one iota. The Palestinian side until now has not acknowledged the 2,000 year history of persecution Jews have faced, nor the reality that Jews were expelled from every Arab country in 1948, including the Iraqi community which had lived there since the Babylonian exile. Safety first.
The world has made it very clear that Jews are on their own, and have to look to their own defences. Jews are not going to do anything that might risk us being murdered in our beds, no matter how much anyone cries about Israel’s policies. Hence the “alleged” nuclear deterrent. Jews are used to being hated. It’s even an article of theology – that “in every generation they try to destroy us, and Hashem saves us from their hands.” So all the insults and slurs (racist, colonialist etc) just slide right off like water off a duck’s back.
And why shouldn’t Israel be there? It has a claim by every metric: indigenous, rights of long standing presence, UN mandate, theological claim, historical connection and (perhaps most importantly), by right of conquest. Everything of importance in Jewish history happened in Israel and Jewish communities have lived there this entire time. It even says in the Quran that God gave Israel to the Jews.
Zionism about securing one country run on Jewish terms, a place to read books and be left alone. Non-Jews have the entire rest of the world to do whatever y’all want. What’s so terrible about a tiny strip of land for Israel?
So that’s the politics. It’s obvious that Israel has done some shady things, but it’s the only country have dammit, and we’re not going to give it up now, not after everything we’ve been through. The only thing is to find a path to move forward in a way that hurts the least number of people. Federated bi-national would even work, but only if Jews get prayer rights on the Temple Mount. Such a symbolic move would be a recognition of our claim and of our national dignity. Failure to give that is a denial of Jewish religious rights.
Which brings us to faith.
An Orthodox Jew is honor bound to say that the Torah is black fire written on white fire by the hand of heaven, immutable and eternal. Yes, that means all of it. Including the part that says death to the gays and to the blasphemers. Including Leviticus’ “you break it you bought it” policy on rape. And it demands that on the eighth day you take your infant son and carve his most intimate flesh, in a covenant to mark devotion to the King of Kings. It is reminiscent of the slogan of the fictional Chaos War God Khorne from the warhammer universe – “blood for the blood God.”
The later writings go further. To take one example it says in the Tanya, one of the foremost works of Chassidic mystical thought:
“The souls of the nations of the world, however, emanate from the other, unclean kelipot which contain no good whatever, as is written in Etz Chayim, Portal 49, ch. 3, that all the good that the nations do, is done out of selfish motives. Since their nefesh emanates from kelipot which contain no good, it follows that any good done by them is for selfish motives. So the Gemara comments on the verse, ‘The kindness of the nations is sin’ — that all the charity and kindness done by the nations of the world is only for their self-glorification.”
It is simply not possible to reconcile the demands of scripture like that with the values of human rights, not now, not ever. The only thing you can do is either fudge it, and say that isn’t really what God meant using tricksy workarounds, say that it doesn’t apply in our generation because we’re waiting for the messiah, or reform it, saying we like the tradition and the culture but we don’t think it’s really the word of God.
A literalist reading of the Torah would lead you to establish a theocratic monarchy in Israel which implements Halacha fully as the law of the land.
But, and here’s the but, Judaism is incredible. It’s got so much wisdom, a framework for life, amazing culture, a rich tradition of learning and so much more. In a world with so much pain, so much uncertainty, the tradition provides lamplights in the dark and a structure. Atheism and secularism are simply not viable alternatives. They do not provide the same depth of meaning, the same community structure and the same rhythm to the year and the life cycle. That’s probably why so many Jews who are deeply uncomfortable with all the things I’ve mentioned above still cling onto it, this religion of ours that we’ve kept alive, pigheadedly, through the most insane circumstances, for hundreds of years. As it is written: “It’s a tree of life to those who hold fast to it and all of its supporters are happy. It’s ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.” (Proverbs 3:18). Religion represents the preserved tactics our ancestors used for survival and life-optimization in a time before psychology. We should think very very carefully before throwing it away. Metaphysics aside, a lot of it is useful because it works.
You may recognize this as essentially Dr. Jordan Peterson’s explanation for why religion is useful and has survived. It isn’t just dumb stories.
If Jews didn’t give it up for Antiochus Epiphanes, and we didn’t give it up for Stalin, we’re certainly not going to give it up for some piddling little human rights activist called Trevor who thinks that furiously writing angry emails for 16 hours straight constitutes a hard day.
This is all very similar to the conundrum the contemporary Western Muslim faces – trying to reconcile the demands of a faith which is decidedly out of step with modern humanist values, while being immersed in a culture that’s pointedly white and Christian.
Politically: It’s true that the White Man has spent the past 500 years on history’s most insane bender, pillaging and colonizing with all the subtlety and kindness of a herd of drunken elephants. But it’s also been 50 years of heroically atrocious government in pretty much any Muslim country you care to name (with a few exceptions here and there) and there is a dire need for drastic improvement.
And then there are the jihadists.
The situation for Muslims looks complex and difficult. It’s highly likely everyone is just trying their best to get through the day and make it work.
How to reconcile the demands of faith, the desire for a comfortable life and to fit in, and the desire for human rights and justice is a tricky play, especially in this ruined hellscape of an economy where one mistake can mean a bounced rent cheque.
We can only control ourselves. Activists in the West are not going to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor are we going to bring a broader peace to the Middle East. We can stop making things worse though. Training children to scream at each other from other sides of a police barricade, and importing foreign conflicts into the West so they can wage these wars by proxy is a destructive, useless habit which has got to stop. Both communities are guilty as hell of this. Don’t write to me with ridiculous denials and protestations that they started it. Jewish and Muslim religious institutions are harming and traumatizing their children and raising them to hate one another.
How much longer do you want to keep doing this?
And now Trump is president. And Brexit is falling apart. And France is burning. And with every fresh outrage people get a little bit angrier, and a little bit more distant from one another.
This is why Lunacy Now co-founded Toke for Tolerance. So we can talk about how to move forward from here. We are not interested in dredging up who killed Mohammed al-Durah or bitching about Sykes-Picot. We want to take as a starting point that we can’t change the past and figure out how Jewish and Muslim communities in the West can stop yelling at each other.
This invitation is for everyone. I don’t care if you’re a signed up member of the BDS movement, a Proud Boy, or a Hamas sympathizer.
Gud shabbos and Happy Hannukah.