Israel Must Not Use Judaism to Justify the Occupation

Deputy FM Tzipi Hotovely's appeal to religion is not motivated by a drive to have religion take control over the state, but rather to validate an imperialistic act.

Emil Salman

“It’s important to say that this land is all ours,” the new deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, told her ministry’s staff. Hotovely proves “our” ownership of “this land” through commentary by Rashi, the medieval Jewish scholar, in connection with the story of the Creation in the Book of Genesis. According to Hotovely, Rashi says the Bible begins with that story “so that if the nations of the world come and tell you that you are occupiers, you must respond that all of the land belonged to the Creator of world and when he wanted to, he took from them and gave to us.” In other words, this land is ours because God – the landlord – gave it to us.

Since Hotovely is deputy foreign minister and a member of the Knesset of the State of Israel, and we are in 2015, one can only wonder why the 1947 United Nations Partition resolution in support of the establishment of the state, the Declaration of Independence, the actual creation of the state and 67 years of its existence are not sufficient from her standpoint to justify our right to it.

The reason is that Hotovely is not interested in justifying our right to the State of Israel. After all, the matter under discussion in the field of international diplomacy isn’t Israel’s right to exist. Hotovely is interested in justifying the continued Israeli control over the occupied territories. Her remarks, like the rhetoric of the Habayit Hayehudi party and of religious Zionism in general – which every day has a stronger hold over the language of politics – are seeking to do away with the distinction between the two sides of Israel’s 1967 border, the Green Line.

In an effort to justify the continued control over the territories, they (rhetorically at least) are sacrificing the diplomatic achievements of the Zionist movement, most importantly the actual establishment of the State of Israel. Hotovely is trying to shift the direction of Israeli diplomacy: Stop talking about security considerations and start discussing rights and justice.

Mathematics professor and expert in game theory Robert Aumann – who is to the pro-settlement right wing what scientist and philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz was to the left – was interviewed during last summer’s war in Gaza and explained (on the NRG news website, August 8, 2014) that the security argument that postulates that we need to hold onto the settlements in order to protect Israel within the Green Line is not sufficient. “If you don’t have the right to live where you are living, you don’t have the right to security,” he said.

“Our right to Ramat Hasharon [a Tel Aviv suburb] is our right to Jerusalem. We’ve been praying over Jerusalem for 2,000 years. Our right to the land is not derived from the coastal lowlands. It’s derived from settlement in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank],” he said. According to Aumann, our right to the lowlands, the area southeast of Tel Aviv, is the result of 19th century colonization and therefore not justified. “If that’s our right, then we need to beat a path out of here.”

The logical path is the same: In order to justify Israel’s holding onto the territories, they eliminate the distinction between the occupied territories and the sovereign territory of the State of Israel, and therefore – in practice – damage the validity of the State of Israel itself. For the sake of justifying 1967 they undermine 1948.

It would therefore be a mistake to interpret the introduction of God into diplomatic discourse as an expression of religious takeover of rational discourse. We are actually witness to a reverse development in which God is being used as a mere tool in that same rational discourse.

“Rationality means furthering your goals. It doesn’t mean correct or moral thinking but rather acts that advance your goals,” explains Aumann, the international expert on rationality. He cited an example: “If you spit on a black cat [out of superstition] you are rational, because your goal is to make things good for yourself and you know that black cats can bring you bad luck, so you spit to advance your goals in accordance with your beliefs.”

The problem with Hotovely and her worldview is not in her appeal to religion, as it is a purely utilitarian appeal. It is not motivated by a drive to have religion take control over the state, but rather to validate an imperialistic act. For that reason, we must not concentrate on fighting the injection of religion into the discourse. Instead we need to focus on the goal that such an injection of religion seeks to further: continued Israeli control over the territories and the millions of Palestinians who live there.