JWNED: Anti-Zionism from Babylon to Birobidzhan to Farrakhan

A couple months ago I got around to seeing "Munich" in the theater. The movie was a fictionalized account of the Israeli covert agency Mossad's execution of Operation Wrath of God, a long, systematic program of assassinations of accused Palestinian terrorists. A number of things bothered me about the movie; many of these were intended by its creators to be catalysts for debate. But one thing I would never see myself being bothered by was its portrayal of Palestinians as human beings.

This did bother some people, though. The May 15th, 2006 issue of Newsweek ran a brief article on the topic: Brandeis University, the only Jewish university in the States, founded the same year as the state of Israel (and incidentally the alma mater of both mister_rosen and mrs_rosen), is awarding an honorary degree to Tony Kushner, the film's Pulitzer Prize-winning screenwriter. This apparently has Jewish groups at Brandeis and at large in an uproar. The Zionist Organization of America writes, in a press release dated April 26th, 2006:

[Kushner] called Israel's founding a "mistake," saying "it would have been better if Israel never happened." He also condemned Israel for "ethnic cleansing" [...] It is especially painful to think of the anguish this award to the anti-Zionist Kushner would mean to the ardent pro-Israel Zionist Justice Louis Brandeis.

In an interview on NPR's "Fresh Air" (January 3rd, 2006), Kushner says:

The amount of time that we've given to Palestinian characters to talk about [their perspective], which isn't a whole lot, has made some people on the other side of the equation incredibly angry; people who feel that Palestinians should never be allowed to open their mouths and explain anything, because that's simply "aiding the enemy." [...] Life is contradictory and doesn't really welcome absolute certainty. I think tragedy results more often from absolute certainty than from people being willing to live in complexity.

Of course this did little to stir any introspection among the ranks of the Zionist Organization of America, so when interviewed for Newsweek, Kushner offered his advice in simpler terms:

Anybody who thinks there's a simple line to be taken on the Middle East is an idiot.

LOL! But what's this about Zionism? When I was a kid in Hebrew school, we were asked to give tzedakah, charity, to plant trees in Israel and to help persecuted Russian Jews emigrate to the holy land. This instilled in us at least the vague sense of sanctity and necessity of a Jewish state. Well, twenty years later, it occurred to me that this might be a topic for critical inquiry. So let's rewind.

Three thousand years ago or so, following their mass exodus from Egypt in northeast Africa and a generation of wandering in the Sinai desert, the ragtag Hebrew tribes came upon a lovely plot of beachside property in southwest Asia. It was occupied by Caananites, but the Israelites were undeterred, and were particularly enjoying their relatively newfound freedom from slavery. So they destroyed the Caananite cities and presto, the holy land was born.

The kingdoms of Israel and Judah were strong and prosperous for several centuries, but eventually fell to the Assyrians and Babylonians. It is during this period that the Holy Temple of King Solomon in Jerusalem was defaced, destroyed and subsequently rebuilt, a series of historical events which provide the allegorical backdrop for Masonic ritual. Regardless, by the middle of the first millennium BCE, the Jews were quite solidly homeless. Thus began the Jewish Diaspora.

A thousand years or so passed, and the Jewish intellectual traditionists, the Masoretes, resigned themselves to the consensus that, barring a miraculous act of God -- the coming of the Messiah in particular -- the Diaspora was here to stay. In acknowledgement of the very real potential for cultural dilution -- already visible as the people's access to legitimate religious leadership diminished, and increasing numbers turned to local forms of Gnosticism -- the Masoretes took upon themselves to better codify the Biblical text. From the Bible Society:

The method they adopted was an ingenious blend of ancient tradition with new technology. We have noted that major divisions within verses had been established for at least a thousand years and in general these were followed by the Masoretes [...] A musical tradition for intoning the scriptures had also been established [...] In following these two systems the Masoretes were indeed 'traditionists'. Their innovation was to complete the punctuation of verses in a rigorously mathematical way. The binary division and subdivision of the text of scripture rapidly became the focus of their punctuation, which combined traditional musical notation with a consistent binary analysis of the constituents of every verse of scripture [...] It is a measure of the rigour of these rabbis' work that following the production of the Masoretic Text all manuscripts copied it exactly, and although the first printed Hebrew Bible was not produced until 500 years later it is extraordinarily faithful to the earliest extant manuscripts.

This is verifiable thanks to the preservation of the Leningrad and Aleppo Codices (see also mister_rosen's comments), and is also interesting in the historical context of development and usage of advanced mathematics in Mesopotamia. All such kwak aside, the Masoretes' effort to codify and preserve Jewish tradition in the face of centuries of potential evaporation seems to have been effective. Despite the world's Jewish population eventually dispersing by land as far west as Spain (from which they were expelled during the Inquisition), and as far east as China (an incongruous and amazing fact for me to learn), they kept their books with them, and their culture refused to dilute.

It's not quite fair to say that the Jews should have been happy for all this. Most of the places they inhabited, they were particularly insular by necessity, as the world wasn't a particularly friendly place, and they were a very distinctive minority. But despite prevalent antisemitism they did cling to their religion, an amalgam of academic contemplation of the volumes of accumulated liturgical text and practice of daily ritual. There was that one nagging question, though: when would the Messiah see fit to show up, rebuild the nation of Israel and bring about world peace? Theodor Herzl, an Austrian Jewish journalist not regarded as particularly religious, decided the question no longer possessed any relevance. From the Jewish Virtual Library:

Herzl concluded that anti-Semitism was a stable and immutable factor in human society, which assimilation did not solve. He mulled over the idea of Jewish sovereignty, and, despite ridicule from Jewish leaders, published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State, 1896). Herzl argued that the essence of the Jewish problem was not individual but national. He declared that the Jews could gain acceptance in the world only if they ceased being a national anomaly. The Jews are one people, he said, and their plight could be transformed into a positive force by the establishment of a Jewish state with the consent of the great powers. He saw the Jewish question as an international political question to be dealt with in the arena of international politics.

In the decades following, Herzl's political Zionist movement was taken note of by world leaders. Stalin had a particularly interesting approach. JEW WANNA HOMELAND? HERE'S JOOR HOMELAND: a remote corner of the Russian Far East, sandwiched between coastal Khabarovsk, Siberian Amur, and Chinese Manchuria. The capital of this newly-formed Jewish Autonomous Region was named Birobidzhan, and was home to over 20,000 (though fewer than 30% were actually Jewish).

Adolf Hitler had a different approach from Stalin.

Well, after all these world leaders had had their fun, Herzl's Zionism was no longer considered quite so laughable, particularly by Jews. The tribes had begun descending upon their holy land starting with the Bilu movement from Tsarist Russia in 1882, and in exponentially increasing numbers, particularly after World War I. The British, who at the time had been entrusted by the League of Nations with administering the territory, were inundated with so many Jewish immigrants that by the early 1930s they were forced to initiate strict immigration quotas. But Aliyah, the tenet of immigration so fundamental to Zionism, was unstoppable and the British quotas proved unenforceable.

What had started as a mandate for peaceful, productive and controlled establishment of a Jewish state...

His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

...had become a nightmare for the British. In an interview with the New Statesman dated November 18th, 2002, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says:

A lot of the problems we are having to deal with now, I have to deal with now, are a consequence of our colonial past [...] The Balfour declaration and the contradictory assurances which were being given to Palestinians in private at the same time as they were being given to the Israelis -- again, an interesting history for us but not an entirely honourable one.

Jack Straw isn't that big a figure in the history books yet, though. We can do better; how about Gandhi?

My sympathy [for the Jews] does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me [...] Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood? Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred.

Anyway, the British did make one reasonable choice at the time, given their limited options: in 1947, they Got the Fuck Out. And in 1948 the Jewish inhabitants of the region -- then partitioned into proposed Jewish and Arab areas under United Nations Resolution 181 -- took their sovereignty into their own hands. What followed was the inevitable violence and Balkanization of the region. On top of that, throw in:

  • A quick war between Israel and its Arab neighbors in June of 1967, which decisively expanded and secured Israel's borders;
  • The Israeli constitution's Law of Return, which encourages all the world's Jews to make Aliyah and become citizens;
  • And the Mossad covert agency's stated objective of "bringing Jews home from countries where official Aliyah agencies are not allowed to operate," which to me sounds like a conflict of interests;

...and there you have our current geopolitical situation in a nutshell.

On May 8th, 2006, Iranian President Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to American President Bush, in which he hints at his position on Israel:

Mr. President, I am sure you know how -- and at what cost -- Israel was established: Many thousands were killed in the process. Millions of indigenous people were made refugees. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland, olive plantations, towns and villages were destroyed. This tragedy is not exclusive to the time of establishment; unfortunately it has been ongoing for sixty years now. A regime has been established which does not show mercy even to kids, destroys houses while the occupants are still in them, announces beforehand its list and plans to assassinate Palestinian figures, and keeps thousands of Palestinians in prison.

Man, he sounds pissed. The American media portrays him as a lunatic. But wait, actually, on close inspection it appears everything he writes on this topic is factually correct. A friend of mine (actually, oddly, the girl I took to high school prom) lives and works in Ramallah as a children's rights advocate, and writes that the present situation on the ground in Palestinian territory is essentially as Ahmadinejad describes it.

Well, it looks as though the Arabs are justified in their anti-Zionist views after all. But if you're a Jew whose name isn't Tony Kushner, you should be supportive of Israel regardless, right? You should send your children to Hebrew school and make them give tzedakah to plant trees, because trees mean peace, right? Well, it seems some Orthodox Jews side with Gandhi on this one, and here's where it gets truly awesome.

The Satmar Hasidic Jewish group, stands in staunch opposition to Zionism. Its official position was formulated by the late leader Joel Teitelbaum, who writes:

Everyone ignores the fact that it has been these Zionist groups that have attracted the Jewish people and have violated the Oath against establishing a Jewish entity before the arrival of the Messiah. It is because of the Zionists that six million Jews were killed. The fact is that this is the bitter punishment stipulated in the Talmud, which results in the payment of a spiritual and physical debt from the Jewish People.

Hardcore. But it gets better still. As much as the Satmar Jews believe the Israeli state never should have been formed as it was, they basically pussied out when it came to meeting with the Palestinians affected by the Israeli occupation. When asked whether he would meet with Yasser Arafat, Teitelbaum balked, replying "I do not meet with murderers." Now, the Neturei Karta under the leadership of Rabbi Moshe Hirsch on the other hand, go the distance. At first glance, the Neturei Karta seems to have similar dogma to the Satmars:

The movement known as Zionism and incarnated in the state of Israel [...] should in no way be confused with the millennia-old love of the Holy Land and yearning for Divine redemption. Prior to the late nineteenth century the retaking of the Land by force was unheard of and would inevitably have been shunned.

But wait a second, what's that quote from? "An Introductory Exploration of Zionism, Jewish-Gentile Relations and the Recent Dialogue with the Nation of Islam." The fucking Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan and all! That, ladies and gentlemen, is going the distance. And what was that thing Teitelbaum said about murderers? Hirsch served as Arafat's "Minister for Jewish Affairs." But let's be fair to Arafat; he did win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. If it's murderers we're looking for, let us look no further than Abu Hamza al-Masri, also known as "Captain Hook," one of the more horrifying prominent figures in the world today. [Zachary Smith: do not click that link] Neturei Karta's Rabbi Yoseph Goldstein testified on al-Masri's behalf in his UK terrorism trial. That is going the distance and then some.

Most recently, in March of 2006, several representatives of the organization traveled to Iran to meet with religious and state leaders. Unfazed by President Ahmadinejad's insinuations that the Holocaust never happened, spokesman Rabbi Dovid Weiss said:

Zionism was established by Theodor Herzl -- he and his followers went against God's will [...] The Zionists use the Holocaust issue to their benefit. We, Jews who perished in the Holocaust, do not use it to advance our interests.

Neturei Karta's radical stance makes Iran's policy on Israel look downright moderate. The following is an excerpt from an April 2nd, 2006 interview between CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh:

SOLTANIEH: I want to very briefly remind you that the policy of Islamic Republic of Iran and according to spirit and letter of our constitution is against any sort of school of thought or regime such as apartheid, Zionism, racism, and this is a matter of principle. Therefore, what you are talking about as apartheid was disappeared and it could not be accepted by civilized world, this Zionism and aggression of racism is also condemned.

BLITZER: Does your support for the removal of Zionism mean you want to see Israel destroyed?

SOLTANIEH: If in that region, the divine religion followers of the Jews, Christians and Muslims [...] come with the Palestinians, homeless Palestinians, to come and through following the democratic process will decide on a government and live in peace as they were living a thousand years of coexistence of these divine religions, Iran will support because we are looking for and we support peaceful settlement of the whole issue and peaceful coexistence of these divine religions in the Middle East. Let's hope for the peace.

BLITZER: But should there be a state of Israel?

SOLTANIEH: If Israel is a synonym and will give the indication of Zionism mentality, no. But if you are going to conclude that we have said the people there have to be removed or we they have to be massacred or so, this is fabricated, unfortunate selective approach to what the mentality and policy of Islamic Republic of Iran is.

Sounds just like Gandhi.  o<