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Israel, like Judaism, is for the tribe

Tuesday, April 3, 2012
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One thing that struck me about Judaism on my brief visit to Jerusalem is that it’s a tribal religion. The god that it posits — the ineffable YHWH — is the god of a particular people, his Chosen People, in opposition to other gods of other peoples.

That’s the way it originated in biblical times, when YHWH had to compete with Ba’al and other disreputable types, and that’s the way it still seems today.

Christianity, for all its warts, is at least intended for everyone.

Islam claims to be for everyone, but its god speaks only Arabic and you have to be able to pray in Arabic if you want to have any show with him.

Judaism makes no pretensions to universality.

This matters because Judaism is the heart of the state of Israel. The state is not for everyone either. It’s for members of the tribe, as made clear in its declaration of independence and its national anthem. Its central conceit is that modern-day Jews, whether from Poland or Ethiopia, and regardless of physical type, are all lineal descendants of the Israelites of the Bible.

After 2,000 years they have come home. You hear this all the time in Israel. I heard it most memorably from an aggressive guy in downtown Jerusalem who buttonholed me and tried to get me to sign a petition against the division of Jerusalem, not that any such division is in the works. “We waited 2,000 years!” he shouted at me, though I was not offering any resistance.

It turned out he was from New York, though he could as well have been from Kiev or Marrakech.

“Israel” in the Bible had shifting meanings and uncertain boundaries, but that doesn’t matter. It’s real.

Palestine, however, also of shifting meaning and uncertain boundaries in the Bible, is not real. It does not figure in the archeology presented in the otherwise magnificent Israel Museum, and it doesn’t figure in the national myth.

“There were no such thing as Palestinians,” quoth the former prime minister, Golda Meir. “They did not exist.”

They’re an “invented people,” agrees Israel-booster Newt Gingrich today.

Which of course makes it easier to cut down their trees, demolish their houses and put them in prison without charges. You can go a long way toward understanding Israel’s predation of Palestine by understanding the tribal outlook.

Did I say tribal? Tel Aviv has a government-sponsored counseling program to discourage Jewish girls from dating Arab boys.

A survey in 2007 found that a majority of Israelis considered marriage to non-Jews to be “national treason.”

Not that “marrying out” is even possible under the rule of the Chief Rabbinate, which leaves even reform Jews out in the cold.

The claim of coming back after 2,000 years is reach enough, you might think, but add to it the conceit that the land is theirs because God gave it to them, and you’ve really got trouble. I mean, it might be possible to compromise on a tribal land claim, but how can you compromise on a divine mandate?

But that’s part of the national myth, at least for religious Jews — the Covenant, as recounted in the Book of Genesis. That YHWH gave the land to the seed of Abraham they take as historical fact.

“This country exists as the fulfillment of a promise made by God Himself,” insisted Golda Meir. “It would be ridiculous to ask it to account for its legitimacy.”

That the land was already inhabited when the Jews latterly arrived — by Arabic-speaking people who called it Palestine — was an inconvenience, to be sure, but an inconvenience that they overcame with military might, and an inconvenience that they continue to overcome not only with military might but with the creeping conquest of land occupations called settlements.

Palestinian Arabs, alas, have not entirely acquiesced in their subjugation. They throw rocks, or fire rockets when they get hold of them, and this is taken as further cause for Israeli suppression. “We have to keep our boot on their neck, or they’ll shoot us,” Jews say in effect, which is by no means a faulty analysis.

It’s curious, the taking of the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, as justification for the modern state of Israel. It would be like Greece hanging its national hat on the Iliad and Odyssey. A case of literature being misconstrued as history.

I refer to the mythology of the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark, the captivity in Egypt, the Exodus, the wandering in the desert, the Covenant, down to probably the united kingdom of Solomon and David, which persons of sober disposition recognize as literature.

I do not speak of the downright weird hortatory parts of the Torah — the arrangement of the entrails of sacrificed animals on the altar, the obsession with bodily discharges and skin rashes, the arcane dietary taboos. They can have all that, and they’re welcome to it.

I refer only to the imaginary-history parts. Remember, when Prime Minister Netanyahu visited President Obama recently he presented him a bound copy of the book of Esther, a charming short story about a Jewish girl saving her people from murderous Persians, or Iranians. He described it as “background reading on Iran” as he tried to drum up support for war.

Taking the heat

Of course it pains me that some readers have taken exception to what I have written so far about my adventures in the Holy Land, since there is nothing I desire more than approval, but I can’t help it. I went there and I saw with my own eyes and I thought with my own brain, knowing that a guided tour would be safer, and now I have to take the consequences.

I was especially pained by the letter in yesterday’s paper from the rabbi of Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady, who had graciously counseled me before I embarked on my journey.

Now he says my reports are “bordering on anti-Semitic,” which is a charge so shabby that I will not embarrass either of us by responding to it.

He says my research “fell short of discovering” the truth about Masada, for one thing, though in fact I didn’t do any research at all on that subject but just passed along what the Israel Museum says, which is that no archaeological evidence exists for the tale of mass suicide there.

He also says I “did not follow through” on my personal adventures “by speaking with Israeli authorities,” who presumably would have set me straight, though in fact I had a half-hour meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s international press secretary. And naturally I wonder if he has ever followed through on his own experiences by speaking with Palestinian authorities.

Probably not. In an apparent effort to discredit Palestinians, he tells us that in his synagogue there hangs a poster of an Israeli soldier who was “kidnapped by Hamas terrorists” and another of “hundreds of Israeli citizens murdered by homicide bombers,” wherein we see again the tribal perspective.

No posters of any of the 1,463 Palestinian children killed by Israelis since 2000 (according to the website, as opposed to 124 Israeli children killed in Palestinian attacks.

No posters of Hana Shalabi, the Palestinian woman who fasted 40 days to protest her detention — I saw those posters in Ramallah, land of the other tribe.

Nor posters of any of the other 300 Palestinians that Israel acknowledges holding in what it calls “administrative detention,” without charges, without sentences.

His synagogue honors victims from its own tribe, including a soldier, but ignores the more numerous victims from the other tribe. Then he tells us, eyes heavenward, that he is “one who is empathetic to the plight of Palestinians.”

Let him get squeezed into the holding cage at the Qalandia checkpoint with a few dozen Palestinian men trying to get to work and then come back and talk to us about empathy.

There was a demonstration at that checkpoint a few days after I wrote about it last week, with pictures on the Internet of Palestinian young men throwing rocks, and combat-outfitted Israeli soldiers firing back with rubber bullets and tear gas, and I thought, I have been seeing such pictures for years and they never meant anything to me.

Now, all of a sudden, after being degraded at that checkpoint myself, they mean something, and I give thanks I wasn’t there at the time, or I might have thrown a rock myself. As a result of what I saw, I am one who empathizes with the plight of Palestinians.

Anyway, I have asked the rabbi two questions:

1. Has he toured the West Bank and seen with his own eyes? (He is a regular visitor to Israel, so maybe he has. I just want to know.)

2. Does he have research on Masada not available to the Israel Museum that he can share with me?

I’ll let you know if I get any response.

Meantime, I’m going to keep my head down.

And oh, yes, one more thing I just thought of: Israel last year passed a law to deny funds to any Arab town or organization within its jurisdiction that commemorates what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe, referring to their conquest by the state of Israel.

That strikes me as like modern Germany punishing Jews for trying to commemorate the Holocaust, and surely I am not the only one who revels in the irony.

Now I’m going to keep my head down.

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April 3, 2012
10:43 a.m.
+0 votes
April 3, 2012
12:37 p.m.
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bsmaven says...

I'm jewish and have seen too many of my "tribe" throw accusations of anti-semitism when someone criticizes Israel and judaism. Its a lazy person's response to a well written column. My problem is that what good is Carl's analysis for the mid-east reality. If Israel were to cease being a state that favors one tribe , the Jews, and became part of a larger "democratic" palestine what would happen? You think there would be a more tolerant government or society? Israeli jews live in a tribal world and the other tribes outnumber them and would be happy to kill many more of their adults and children, its just that they are not as effective at it as the Israelis. Yes the tribal mentality and view of the world is not what I believe a nation should be built on, but as they say, what is the alternative in that situation? The other tribes living there didn't start hating the jews when Israel declared independence or after the jews defeated them in war. Unfortunately the tribal hatred and killing has gone on for too long and is whipped up by much of arab society and government. Maybe if tribal and religious identity goes away Israel can become part of a true US style "open for anyone" democracy. How we get to that point is the question, but Carl don't just ask for the jews to change.

April 3, 2012
3:02 p.m.
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Woodrow says...

I am not a Jew, nor have I ever travelled to Israel. But I can't help but marvel at how the state of Israel has survived all these years. "Oh.", Carl might say, "The U.S. provides $$millions in aid, of course Israel survives."

That aid helps, of course, but there's more to Israel, to that tiny state that thrives while surrounded by nations devoted to its annihilation than cash and weapons from the west. Sad that Israel must maintain a police-state, but that is one of the necessities to protect that tiny oasis in the mideast.

April 3, 2012
4:11 p.m.
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capdisgeo says...

Carl Strock deserves a Pulitzer for these reports. For years when I travelled in other countries and read their newspaper accounts of the Apartheid going on in Israel, that our tax dollars support, I would feel ashamed to be an American. Our politicans have been bought and sold by U.S. based Pro-Israel political donations. Our newspapers, until now, have never reported the truth of whats going on over there out of fear of being labelled "anti-semitic". If all Americans understood that we bought the bullets that killed those 1000+ children, our sickening aid to this ruthless regime would end tomorrow. But thanks to and many brave groups, some of which are actually Jewish, the atrocities committed on the Palestinian people by Israeli Army are finally coming to light. Bravo to you, Carl Strock! Be careful. The Israeli Army shot and killed British reporters in 2007, as was documented on HBO.

April 3, 2012
4:45 p.m.
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hodgkinst says...

Neturei-Karta is a group of orthodox Jews that oppose the State of Israel. I first ran into them outside of the Memorial Chapel at Union College when Ehud Olmert gave a speech there in 2010. They were chanting 'Nazi Olmert' as he was leaving out the back door. It took me a second to understand them through their thick Yiddish accents, but their message was clear. They also understood the historical ironies expressed by Strock.

From their website:

Neturei Karta oppose the so-called "State of Israel" not because it operates secularly, but because the entire concept of a sovereign Jewish state is contrary to Jewish Law.

All the great rabbis who in accordance with Jewish Law opposed Zionism at its inception did not do so merely due to consideration of the secular lifestyles of the then Zionist leaders or even for their opposition to Torah heritage and rejection of its values and practices, but due to the fact that the entire concept of a Jewish state is in direct conflict with a number of Judaism's fundamentals.

Condemnation of and segregation from anything connected to or affiliated with the so-called modern day "State of Israel" is based on the Talmud, the key fundamental doctrine of the Oral Tradition handed down by G-d to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The Talmud in Tractate Kesubos (p. 111a), teaches that Jews shall not use human force to bring about the establishment of a Jewish state before the coming of the universally accepted Moshiach (Messiah from the House of David). Furthermore it states that we are forbidden to rebel against the nations and that we should remain loyal citizens and we shall not attempt to leave the exile which G-d sent us into, ahead of time.

Jews are not allowed to dominate, kill, harm or demean another people and are not allowed to have anything to do with the Zionist enterprise, their political meddling and their wars.

Neturei Karta forbid any participation with the so-called "State of Israel" or any of its subsidiaries. Neturei Karta followers do not participate in "Israeli" elections nor do they accept any aid from "Bituach Le'Umi" (Social Security), and the educational institutions of the Neturei Karta reject any form of financial support from the so-called "Va'ad HaYeshivos" (equiv. to Department of Education).

The Zionist state employs a set of chief rabbis and uses religious parties to ornament their state with a clerical image. They study the Torah with commentaries altered to clothe the words with nationalistic nuances. Our rabbis have countless times proclaimed that it matters little which individuals or parties govern in the Zionist state because the very establishment and existence of the state itself is to be condemned and to be deplored.

April 3, 2012
5:10 p.m.
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Woodrow says...

capdisgeo - Tossing around words like, "Apartheid" is careless, don't you think? Well over 20% of the citizens of Israel are Arabs, mostly Palestinians, who have all the same rights as all other citizens.

Interesting how you, and Carl, like to leave out the regular diet of terrorism and missiles that Israel is forced to continually endure. Please remind yourself that Israel is surrounded by nations devoted to her non-existence.

I don't think you're anti-semitic, just misguided and knee-jerk in your thinking.

April 3, 2012
6:54 p.m.
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capdisgeo says...

"Careless"? lol You are loyal, I'll give you that. Informed you're not though. The State of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians has been compared by United Nations investigators, numerous human rights groups and the European Union to South Africa's treatment of non-whites during its apartheid era. Israel has also been accused of committing the crime of apartheid by the European Union, saying that "a system of control" in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including Jewish-only settlements, separate roads, military checkpoints, discriminatory marriage law, the West Bank barrier, use of Palestinians as cheap labor, Palestinian West Bank enclaves, inequities in infrastructure, legal rights, and access to land and resources between Palestinians and Israeli residents in the Israeli-occupied territories resembles aspects of the South African apartheid regime, and that elements of Israel's occupation constitute forms of colonialism and of apartheid, which are contrary to international law. The World Court in the Hague extended the analogy in 2007, to include Arab citizens of Israel, describing their citizenship status as second-class.

April 3, 2012
7:44 p.m.
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Woodrow says...

capdisgeo - I gave you the benefit of the doubt, but you may be an anti-semite after all; a very commited one at that.I bet you think Arafat was worthy of his Nobel prize.

April 3, 2012
11:20 p.m.
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capdisgeo says...

There you go, using the ONLY defense a Pro-Israel supporter has left when confronted with the truth..."you're an anti-semite" lol. Those were not my words genius. Those were quotes directly from published announcements from the United Nations and the European Union. So I guess they are all anti-semites too? Arafat is probably rotting in hell right now. But so will the Israeli soldiers who shoot children.

April 4, 2012
9:31 a.m.
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Woodrow says...

capdisgeo - You're right. It's a weak and careless defense. At least give me credit for saying you "appear to be an anti-semite", and not that you are definitely an anti-semite. I don't think you are. Since we've only conversed in a casual forum very briefly, it's unfair to label one another. All I can fairly say is that from what you've wrote, you are pro-Palestinian, and clearly unwilling to acknowledge anything good about Israel.

If you're willing to look at other views, read the letter to the the editor in today's gazette. I can't recall the name right now who wrote it. Be prepared, though, I think this person disagrees with your sentiments that Carl deserves a Pulitzer.

April 6, 2012
10:32 a.m.
+0 votes
CharlesGeorge says...

It takes real courage to write as you do..


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