Monday, February 25, 2008

Israel's Supreme Court and the "Cycle of Violence"

In an unprecedented criticism by a high government official on Israel's High Court, Professor Daniel Friedman boldly (Justice Minister) notes that the court has become a politicized power center allied with Meretz (a far left party) and the Arabs. When one of these parties becomes frustrated with the democratic parliamentary process in dealing with its agenda, it can appeal to "Bagatz" in order to bypass the government. Not a week goes by without the court ordering the government to do or not do something. The court's judges even lobby by releasing statements and meeting with public officials and journalists in order to influence the political process. This is without parallel in any democratic country. Shame on Israel. We wish Professor Friedman success in his attempts to reform the court.

Lately, we are again hearing statements by some Israeli and European officials regarding the need to stop the "cycle of violence" between Israel and the Palestinians. These statements result from the same "original sin", that error in thinking, that brought about our dismal supreme court behavior: That we are in control of, and subsequently at fault for everything that happens around us. The Arabs hate us? Its our fault. Hamas in power and they're attacking us? Its our fault. The Palestinians' misery? Yep, it's us again. In other words, we're adopting the narrative of our enemy. This is not unlike Europe's appeasement of Hitler before the war.

What does a "cycle of violence" mean? It implies that two sides, unable to control themselves, perpetrate violence against each other, bringing about inevitable reactions. It is a subtle attempt to put Israel on par with the Palestinians, and in fact places most of the blame on Israel, since we are the stronger side and thus in control. But let's look at the situation and see why this is a fallacy.

The Palestinians are divided into 2 main camps: one that is nationalist and strives for a state, and the other which is Islamic and pre-nationalist. The former movement has not renounced violence as a means to achieving its goals, and continues to engage in terrorist attacks. The latter effectively controls the Palestinian public and political atmosphere. This Islamic stream (along with their brethren in other Arab countries) has an ideology and policy of "resistance", i.e. military aggression, violence and terrorism, to achieve its goal of elimination of the Jewish State. In other words, its violence is in response to Israel's existence. So if we can call our existence as "violence" than indeed this is a cycle of violence: we exist and they attack us. I wonder how we can get out of that "cycle". We know what their solution is. It goes without saying that Israel's military reactions are defensive operations, made necessary by Palestinian aggression, whose sole purpose is to defend its citizens. Needless to say, Israel is able to control its actions, unlike the Palestinians who themselves admit that they are unable to control their militants (unless, of course, we give in to their demands).

Occasionally, one can attribute a localized "flareup" to a cycle of action and response. But to attempt to characterize the overall violence as a "cycle of violence", is tendentious and an outright lie. It is an intentional misrepresentation of the conflict whose purpose is to absolve the Palestinians of their responsibilities and to place the burden on Israel to break the "cycle of violence".

Monday, February 18, 2008

Religion and extremism

A recent pronouncement by leading rabbis from the national religious movement calls for exempting religious soldiers in the IDF from participating in army training classes being taught by female soldiers. A careful reading of their p'sak halacha reveals the intellectual dishonesty and the unfortunate trend of Heredization in the national religious movement.

The founding fathers of the national religious would have never dreamt of making such a pronouncement. This movement was dedicated to integrating halacha and the state, and to encouraging religious people to participate in broader national life. In the past 15 years, we have seen a gradual but consistent slide to stricter halachic rulings in various areas, such as kashrut, mixed youth groups and army practices. It is as if they have to prove to the cheredim that they are just as "kosher", but in doing so, they are leading their public into increasing isolation from Israeli society. It also causes "moderates" in the camp to ignore the rabbis altogether (like me).

An analysis of the rabbi's call reveals their halachic thinking. You begin with a point of view, based on your world view, ethics or politics. The position may or may not have merit. (My opinion is that there is logic in their concerns regarding ethical norms in the army). Then you begin to quote biblical verses, taken totally out of context, to support the view and give it halachic validity. This is very similar to how many rulings are derived in the talmud. Note that the rabbis do not quote any classic halachic sources that address the issue, either because there aren't any, or worse, they are not applicable. I wouldn't have a problem with this except for one glaring inconsistency : It is used in one direction only-- in the direction of strictness. If the rabbis truly had the courage to take Jewish law into their own hands, they would use their authority to eliminate all kinds of laws that aren't relevant in our day and relieve significant hardship (extra days of niddah, shimita, and aguna for example). Instead, they simultaneuously adhere to the talmudic rulings (as though they are immutable), while piling on strict rulings based on their own logic and world view and give it the authority of the Torah.

The rabbis think that they are being far-sighted but in fact the opposite is true-- they are further alienating Judaism and religion from the general population and bring disgrace to the national religious movement.