Stop, in the Name of God

Karl Marx was wrong when he termed religion 'the opiate of the masses.' The escalating violence proves that in the Holy Land, religion is the gunpowder of the masses, and elected officials on both sides are putting matches to it.

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Israeli Arab lawmakers from the Joint Arab List in front of the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem's Old City July 28, 2015.
Israeli Arab lawmakers from the Joint Arab List in front of the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem's Old City July 28, 2015.Credit: Reuters
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

The mass-circulation Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth recently added an Israeli flag and the words “fighting terror” to its masthead. This week it gave readers the opportunity to take an active role in the fighting, by coloring in the hand-shaped hamsa printed on an insert (“Say thanks to our heroes”).

Let’s set aside the embarrassment for a moment, and the irony. (The hamsa symbol apparently came to Judaism from Islam, where it is called the Hand of Fatima, after the daughter of the prophet Mohammed). What really drives me to despair is the final abdication to the realm of magic. Once, Israelis would send their fighters care packages and letters; today, they arm them with amulets and incantations.

“The country’s newspaper,” as usual, is simply trying to reflect and cater to the dominant mood. What does it reflect? That Israel is being dragged into a nationalist/religious war at a time when it is more nationalist and more religious than ever.

Haaretz recently published an opinion poll with astounding findings: Fully 76 percent of Israelis believe in God. The figure is shocking, almost disheartening. Nobody felt comfortable discussing it seriously.

Three out of four adults believe in an imaginary friend. That’s hard to digest in a state that purports to belong to the free, progressive, democratic world, even if the number of respondents who are genuine believers is a bit lower.

MK Uri Ariel visiting the Temple Mount.Credit: Michal Fattal

Odeh Bisharat wrote here earlier this week (Oct. 12) that were Theodor Herzl to come to Israel today he would be expelled for his universal ideals. I’m afraid that even before that could happen, Israelis would have denounced and repudiated the “visionary of the state” for his atheism.

The current outbreak of violence, on both sides of the Green Line, also has roots that aren’t religious (nationalism, the occupation, economics, demography, despair, frustration, populism), but religion serves as the chief instigator. Karl Marx, who was right about so many things, was wrong when he termed religion “the opiate of the masses.” Opiates have a calming effect. In the Holy Land, as in other places, religion is the gunpowder of the masses, and elected officials on both sides are putting matches to it.

Arab Knesset members, some of them totally secular in belief and practice, are suddenly hung up on Al-Aqsa Mosque. Jewish politicians compete with each other to sink the most deeply into fundamentalism.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, as usual, ran to kiss the Western Wall. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, until yesterday the leader of “the secularists’ party,” seems always to be wearing a kippah and a prayer shawl. It turns out that on this fateful issue as well, “there’s no coalition and opposition.” It’s not just pathetic; it’s also educational irresponsibility of the highest order.

Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and his colleagues in the endeavor of practical, secular Zionism would today be called eccentric. They’d be sent to Berlin, pigeonholed as “Garbuzes.”

Let’s talk for a moment about Yair Garbuz, who before the last election despaired that “amulet-kissers, idol-worshippers and people who prostrate themselves at the graves of saints” controlled the state. Now that’s allowed; after all, even representatives of the right held a ceremony of forgiveness for him in the spirit of the walk to Canossa, whose climax involved affixing a mezuzah to his door. Garbuz admittedly made a political error, in terms of place, time and tone. But not in terms of the content of his pointed warning about the age of amulets and incantations.

Take your imagination on a flight over bleeding Jerusalem with the clichéd alien beside you. Explain to him that here stands a mosque famous because a winged horse which the clergyman Mohammed rode to heaven was tethered to one of its stones. Next to it stands a wall of sacred stones that surrounded a temple where sacrifices to the Jewish God were brought and slaughtered. Tell him that the new intifada erupted from this place, and the previous one as well.

Take him from there to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv and the Palestinian village of Duma. Tell him that here, innocent adults and children were murdered in the name of God, by people who believe in God. At this point, he’d activate his ejector seat.

One nation lost six million of its members within six years, but continues to believe that God “chose us from among the nations.” The second nation sees its brothers being slaughtered and beheaded in the spirit of jihad and the Islamic State, but goes out to murder and die in the name of Allah.

It’s a strong brand, God. If He existed, there’s not a chance he would permit this madness.

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