When I was young, I was taught that the purpose of religion was to foster compassion through lovingkindness, to seek peace by example, to perform with human hands the work of angels.
Then I moved to the Holy Land.
If ever the history of religion were written in blood, it was here. If ever religion has drowned history in blood, this is the venue. If ever the sword has beaten the plowshare, whether brandished along with the Old Testament, the New, or the Koran - we can show you the spot. And, more recently, if ever religion has succeeded in keeping peace, reconciliation, even the United Nations and the United States, at bay, ours is the place and time.
So it should have come as no surprise, I suppose, that a cluster of people here, people who cloak themselves in the garb of the pious, have decided to marry their furious loathing of Barack Obama to the custom of their faith, and to do what some in America have been doing for more than a year now: Hating Barack Obama as a new form of religious observance.
Once, on the holiday of Lag B'Omer, which falls this Saturday night, children cast into bonfires images of Adolf Hitler and others who have preached and in some cases practiced the mass killing of Jews.
This year, ahead of the Saturday night observance, professed followers of Meir Kahane have openly boasted of preparing effigies of the American president for distribution and incineration in bonfires across the country.
"There is no doubt that now the enemy of the Jewish people is Barack Hussein Obama," said pro-Kahane activist Noam Federman, a leader of the campaign.
"Obama is the most anti-Semitic president the U.S. has ever had," Federman told Maariv daily's website last week. "The time has come for our blind politicians to wake up and understand that you can't make policy according to the obsession of an Israel-hater."
These are not the rational people who oppose, take issue and disagree with Obama over his policies, his views, his performance. Not at all. These are the people who execrate the man, who despise him with every cell of their being, whose rage at his very name roars like napalm.
These are people who speak in a new spiritual language, that of ritual terrorism.
The irrational, some might say, rapturous hatred of Obama is not new, of course. Nor are the sulphur and the poison which inform Obama's revilers in the pro-Israel hard right.
Until now, though, many in the Obama-hate movement have confined their religious revivals to the relative privacy and safety of the Mother Church of All Satans, the internet.
The Kahanists, the dedicated Luddites of Zionism, have little use for discretion. They take their obscenity public at every opportunity. This one, however, is, even for them, a whole new level of low.
Part of it is the imagery. Fire is to the Jewish imagination what rope is to the African-American.
But that is only part of it. Because, wherever it is - whether the issue is health care, student loans, immigration policy or settling East Jerusalem - when taken to the extreme, the religion of reviling Obama is, at its core, the sacrament of hatred.
For that reason, it matters little that extremists can practice co-existence in hating Obama's guts, whether they may see themselves as God-fearing Jews or God-fearing anti-Semites.
What has Barack Obama done to the Kahanists, or, for that matter, to Israel and the Jews as a whole? He has endorsed a two-state solution - something which George Bush also did. Obama has pushed for a settlement freeze [Bush's road map, Phase One, includes the clause: "Israel also freezes all settlement activity"]. And, in a precedent which somehow also managed to draw the ire of Obama-haters, he has held Passover seders at the White House, which neither Bush nor any other president ever had.
What the Kahanists are saying, in effect, is that there is no longer any difference between the Occupation on one hand, and Judaism on the other.
In that sense, one may reasonably view the pro-Kahane camp as among the worst anti-Semites of all.
"That Hussein Obama who wants to freeze construction in Jerusalem every minute, he would even like to just freeze Israel over. He pretends to be a friend but actually he loves Islam. He is an anti-Semite, nothing less," Kahane disciple and effigy maker Bentzy Gobstein told Israel Army Radio last Thursday.
"We want to educate children while they are small," Gobstein continued. "When you burn it, have a Lag B'Omer bonfire with children - education begins with children.
"We want to teach them that we have to trust God, not Obama."
What is it in the hearts of these people, who call themselves religious, whom the love or the fear of God should have filled with an openness toward humankind, that makes them hate this man with such fury?
Why is this President different from all other presidents?
They call him every manner of names - Communist, Muslim, racist, Jew-hater. They call him all manner of names, and he is none of these.
Curious, isn't it, that they never mention what he actually is. Which is, for many of them, enough reason to revile him, all by itself: Black.
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