Opinion |

Religion, Not Nationalism or Real Estate, Is to Blame in Israel

B. Michael
B. Michael
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Settlers march to the wildcat West Bank outpost of Homesh, this month.
Settlers march to the wildcat West Bank outpost of Homesh, this month.Credit: Amir Levy
B. Michael
B. Michael

No, Gideon Levy, it’s not “nationalism or real estate” that stands behind Israeli evil, as you wrote (Haaretz, Sunday). No, it’s really about religion. It’s almost all about religion. And religion is absolutely not “just scenery,” as you wrote in your op-ed. I wish it was. But this is a religious drama, in which faith is the playwright, the director, the producer, the cast and even the cashier selling tickets.

You wanted to make things look worse than they seem by casting messianic settlers as imposters, cynics and pseudo-believers who in real life are greedy realists pursuing real estate. But that’s not who they are: They are authentic religious lunatics. They really want to “remove the abomination” from the land and to purify it. They really do dream of the day when the blood of the sacrifices will be sprinkled on the altar. Likewise, they are true zealots, in the fullest historic and bloody sense of the word. And zealots, history teaches us over and over, are much more dangerous than cynics.

They are also nationalists, but nationalists of a completely religious kind, a nationalism that comes down from heaven and is sanctified by it. They are also after real estate, about stealing land. But it is holy theft, theft committed at the command of God, to glorify him, to realize his promise of the land and to fulfill his commandments.

Judaism, I need not remind you, is the only religion on the planet that believes that God himself registered a piece of property in its name for its exclusive use. Judaism is the only religion on the planet that is also a nation, a kind of hybrid nation-religion. Three times (at least), this nation-religion tried to become a nationality as well, with territory, a government, an army and a temple. Three times it tried, and each time it was a crazed brand of religion that undid the whole enterprise and led it to catastrophe. It wasn’t nationalism or real estate.

The religious ban on any attempt to renew sacrifices on the Temple Mount or to reestablish a Jewish state is not one of those arbitrary or ridiculous laws that religions often conceive of to tame believers, like the laws of shatnez – Jewish law which prohibits clothes containing a mixture of wool and linen. This is a ban that grew out of bitter experience. It was a ban that righteous scholars imposed because they knew full well the beast that lived in the souls of men. They understood what would happen if the Jews tried again.

To their credit, they sought to lock up the Jewish faith in its proper place (as it is with all other religions) – in the life of the individual, the family and the community. There, and only there, far away from nationalism, and politics, it could do no harm and could even do some good. Judaism flourished and suffered, suffered and flourished, for 2,000 years.

Then, alas, we tried again. After the Holocaust, there was every reason to do so. Again, we forgot the lessons of history, again we failed to separate between religion and state, and again we failed to restrict the priests to the temple. Secularism used to be the order of the day – Mapai, Israel's major labor party established in 1930 was about “nationalism and real estate” only, and for a while, religion was kept in a corner, napping.

But on June 5, 1967, it awoke, stretched its arms and yawned. In April 1968, it celebrated the Passover seder night in Hebron with Moshe Levinger – Hebron settler leader rabbi – and the rest is history. Religion is doing what it is so good at when a state fails to distance itself and falls into its trap: It is then free to bring insanity, evil, racism, religious supremacy, unbridled passion, murder and rot.

Once, not too long ago, there was still a chance to stop it. No more. Many thought we could control it. Many others erred by underestimating its strength. Many more don’t understand even today where it is leading us. Now it’s too late. We can no longer prevent it from completing its mission. It's about religion, not real estate. Religion only, not nationalism. Real estate and nationalism are at the service of faith, not the other way around.

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