Leibniz and the best of all one-monad universes

Gottfried_Wilhelm_Leibniz,_Bernhard_Christoph_Francke

Portrait of Gottfried Leibniz by Christoph Francke Bernhard (before 1729)

 

By Richard Mather

 

A Thought Experiment

In philosophy, a thought experiment typically presents an imagined scenario with the objective of making a conjecture about the way things are. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy succinctly puts it: Thought experiments are devices of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things (Brown & Fehige, 2014 [1994], para. 1). I make no pretense that my thought experiment contains new empirical data; it doesn’t. On the contrary, this is a purely speculative exercise, an attempt to think the nature of being by creating a space of compossibility, so to speak, between two thinkers separated by some two hundred years: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler.

So the purpose of this essay is to make the case for a heterodox reading of Leibniz’s The Monadology (published 1720) through the lens of Professor John Wheeler’s hypothesis of the one-electron universe (proposed in 1940).

My conjecture is this: That there exists in the knowable universe only one monad; that this monad traverses time in both directions, eventually criss-crossing the entire past and future history of the universe; and that this singular monad interacts with itself countless times, thereby filling the universe with simultaneous appearances of itself. In the course of this article I will consider the possibility that our solitary monad is synonymous with Leibniz’s God, or if the monad in question is rather a created substance that is alone with God, a notion that gains some traction thanks to Leibniz’s admiration for the solipsism of Saint Teresa of Avila. I will also consider whether the one-monad hypothesis is consistent with Leibniz’s own views on harmony, simplicity and perfection.

What is an Electron?

Before delving into either The Monadology or Professor Wheeler’s hypothesis, it is worth asking an obvious, if crucial, question. What is an electron and what are its properties? Put simply, an electron is a negatively charged subatomic particle that is located around (but not in) the nucleus of an atom. Having no known components or substructure, electrons are usually considered to be elementary particles. In fact, electrons exhibit properties of both particles and waves, and they play an essential role in physical phenomena such as electricity, gravity, thermal conductivity, and magnetism. Furthermore, all electrons are identical.

In a telephone call made in the spring of 1940 to his doctoral student Richard Feynman, Professor John Wheeler claimed to have arrived at a solution as to why all electrons are identical. Why do electrons have the same mass, the same electric charge, and the same spin? Wheeler’s answer: Because they are all the same electron; moreover, they are the same electron traveling forwards and backwards in time.

Feynman gave an account of this telephone call in his December 1965 Nobel Lecture:

I received a telephone call one day at the graduate college at Princeton from Professor Wheeler, in which he said, “Feynman, I know why all electrons have the same charge and the same mass.” “Why?” “Because, they are all the same electron!” And, then he explained on the telephone, “suppose that the world lines which we were ordinarily considering before in time and space – instead of only going up in time were a tremendous knot, and then, when we cut through the knot, by the plane corresponding to a fixed time, we would see many, many world lines and that would represent many electrons, except for one thing. If in one section this is an ordinary electron world line, in the section in which it reversed itself and is coming back from the future we have the wrong sign to the proper time – to the proper four velocities – and that’s equivalent to changing the sign of the charge, and, therefore, that part of a path would act like a positron.”

In other words, all electrons are manifestations of a single entity — a single electron — moving through time, both backwards and forwards. When it moves backwards in time, it is a positron. So not only are all electrons the same electron but all positrons are also the same electron [see endnote 1]. If Professor Wheeler is right that this one electron is able to travel forwards and backwards in time over and over again, it effectively means it is able to appear in many different places simultaneously. This one electron moving back and forth some 1080 times (10 to the power of 80 times) looks very much look like all the electrons in the knowable universe [see endnote 2].

According to Wheeler’s theory, the single electron traces out a unique path through spacetime and this is known as its world line. (In physics, the world line of an electron is the sequence of spacetime events that correspond to the history of that electron.) The world line is simply the line traced by the electron as it makes its way through space and time. This inevitably means that half the world lines are directed forward in time, while the other half are curved round in the opposite direction.

Some Similarities

Although a Leibnizian monad is immaterial, it does shares some similarities with an electron. Both are elementary insofar as they have no known subcomponents; neither can be broken apart. Leibniz opens The Monadology with the assertion that the monad “is nothing but a simple substance,” and he clarifies this by pointing out that by “simple” he means “without parts.” A little further on, in §3, Leibniz proclaims that “where there are no parts, there can be neither extension nor form [figure] nor divisibility,” before adding that monads “are the real atoms of nature and, in a word, the elements of things.”

As I explained earlier, a positron is simply an electron moving in the opposite direction; it is not a different entity. We can, however, label the electron/positron as a pair. And it is on the subject of the electron/positron pair that Japanese-American physicist Yoichiro Nambu says something rather interesting. According to Nambu there is “no creation or annihilation” of the electron/positron pair, “but only a change of direction of moving particles, from past to future, or from future to past” (1950, pp. 82-94).

This is illuminating because Leibniz says something similar regarding monads. Leibniz states that a monad is neither created or annihilated, except by God: “No dissolution of these elements need be feared, and there is no conceivable way in which a simple substance can be destroyed by natural means” (The Monadology §4). Leibniz continues with the following assertion: “For the same reason there is no conceivable way in which a simple substance can come into being by natural means …” (The Monadology §5).

In other words, not only do electrons and monads lack parts, neither can come into being or be destroyed by natural means. While most scientists rule out supernatural or divine causes, Leibniz concedes that only God has the power to create or annihilate a monad. Without God, it would seem that monads and electrons alike are left to their own devices.

Having outlined the one-electron theory and pointed out some similarities between an electron and a monad, my conjecture is this: All the monads that seemingly populate Leibniz’s universe are actually the one and the same monad making simultaneous appearances. In this conception, our singular monad traverses the entire cosmos, interacting with itself innumerable times as it moves back and forth in time, its world line unfolding and refolding over and over, creating what Professor Wheeler describes as a “tremendous knot” [see endnote 3]. 

Perfection, Variety and Simplicity

According to Leibniz, God chose this world because it offered the best possible balance between the simplicity of the laws of nature and the abundant variety of phenomena. This is the reading of Leibniz that is accepted by scholars such as David Blumenfeld, who claims that it is with reference to the “variety/simplicity criterion” that “God makes his infallible choice of the best possible world” (Blumenfeld, 1995, p.383).

According to Blumenfeld, “the actual world has the greatest variety of phenomena governed by the simplest laws that are compatible with maximum variety” (1995, p.387). He adds, “Although more complex laws would accommodate as much diversity, by choosing the simplest ones that do so, God maximizes harmony without trading-off any variety at all.” Notably, Blumenfeld suggests we should understand “simplicity” as “harmony.”

Another Leibniz scholar, Nicholas Rescher, believes that for Leibniz, what makes this the best possible world is the remarkable balance between the the simplicity of the rules needed to govern nature and the plenitude of phenomena. Indeed, it is Leibniz himself who writes:

[W]e may say that in whatever manner God might have created the world, it would always have been regular and in a certain order. God, however, has chosen the most perfect, that is to say the one which is at the same time the simplest in hypotheses and the richest in phenomena. (Discourse on Metaphysics §6).

And in The Monadology he states, “And by this means there is obtained as great variety as possible, along with the greatest possible order; that is to say, it is the way to get as much perfection as possible” (The Monadology §58).

As well as correlating the greatest variety of  phenomena with the harmony or simplicity of the laws that deliver such diversity, Leibniz asserts (again in Discourse on Metaphysics) that the that the most perfect of beings are “those that occupy the least possible space.” He continues:

When the simplicity of God’s way is spoken of, reference is specially made to the means which he employs, and on the other hand when the variety, richness and abundance are referred to, the ends or effects are had in mind. Thus one ought to be proportioned to the other, just as the cost of a building should balance the beauty and grandeur which is expected. It is true that nothing costs God anything, just as there is no cost for a philosopher who makes hypotheses in constructing his imaginary world, because God has only to make decrees in order that a real world come into being; but in matters of wisdom the decrees or hypotheses meet the expenditure in proportion as they are more independent of one another. The reason wishes to avoid multiplicity in hypotheses or principles very much as the simplest system is preferred in astronomy. (Discourse on Metaphysics §5)

In other words, the best world is that which boasts the simplest rules and the utmost diversity of things. As such, we get the greatest possible variety, with the fewest possible materials, and with the greatest possible order.

Leibniz afficianado Gilles Deleuze (1993 [1988], p.66) remarks there are two basic movements between two poles in Leibniz’s philosophy: “[O]ne toward which all principles are folding themselves together” (that is, everything is always the same thing), and “the other toward which they are all unfolding, in the opposite way” (everything differs by manner). In other words, there is a folding movement toward the identical oneness of the solitary monad, and an unfolding movement towards the apparent multiplicity of the its manifold appearances, which presumably form aggregates, eventually giving rise to empirical entities. In the words of Deleuze, “No philosophy has ever pushed to such an extreme the affirmation of a one and same world, and of an infinite difference or variety in this world” (1993 [1988], p.66).

Is God the Solitary Monad?

The hypothesis so far is that Leibniz’s infinity of monads is actually just one monad. But what, or who, is this solitary monad?  

The solitary monad could, of course, be God. According to Leibniz, God is a special kind of monad: a monad without a body, a monad sui generis, a monad that knows everything because it has total and clear knowledge of everything. This is the God particle par excellence. In The Monadology, Leibniz talks of the “greatness” of God,” and slaps down those critics, such as Pierre Bayle (writer of Dictionnaire Historique et Critique), who accuse Leibniz of “attributing  too much to God” (The Monadology § 59).

If God is the monad in question, this monad would undoubtedly be unique, universal and “sufficient” [see endnote 4]. Indeed, we can imagine the God-monad ‘smeared’ (to use a physics term) across the universe, both forwards and backwards in time:

We may also hold that this supreme substance, which is unique, universal and necessary, which is further a pure sequence of possible being, must be incapable of limitation and must contain as much reality as possible.  (The Monadology §40) [emphasis mine]

In this conception, the God-monad contains maximal reality, and is infinitely perfect. It alone has the prerogative that it must necessarily exist (The Monadology §45). As the postmodernist philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, in his essay “Time Today” (1991 [1988], p.60), says: “God is the absolute monad to the extent that he conserves in complete retention the totality of information constituting the world. … As consummate archivist, God is outside time, and this is one of the grounds of modern Western metaphysics.”

And in The Monadology, Leibniz states:

Thus God alone is the primary unity or original simple substance, of which all created or derivative Monads are products and have their birth, so to speak, through continual fulgurations of the Divinity from moment to moment ….” (The Monadology §47)

Is the Solitary Monad a Created Monad?

But what if the solitary monad is not God, but a created monad? Indeed, Leibniz makes the assertion that “each created Monad represents the whole universe” (The Monadology §62). By its very name and nature, a created monad is alone in some sense. After all, the word “monad” comes from the Greek word for alone: μόνος, monos.  If the monad in question is created, and if this monad is alone as its name suggests, we can say with some confidence that our solitary monad is the sole medium through which the entire universe is created.

It is well known that a monad in Leibniz’s system exists as an independent point of will and is windowless (The Monadology §7), thereby giving rise to the suspicion that the monad is a solipsistic entity. The word “solipsism,” as with the word “monad,” derives from a word meaning “alone,” (this time Latin, solus).

Taken to extremes, if a single solipsistic monad has no windows, and if it creates its own sense perceptions and acts on its own authority, what need is there for any other created monad? In a sense, then, our singular created monad is the universe in that it contains everything required for creation. And so it is this monad (and not the God-monad) that is smeared across the universe.

As such, this monad, which makes up the created world and represents the entire universe from its own perspective, is in a causal relationship only with God, its creator. The spiritual imperative of the monad’s solitary relationship with God is outlined by Leibniz in his Discourse on Metaphysics. He writes:

It can be seen also that every substance has a perfect spontaneity (which becomes liberty with intelligent substances). Everything which happens to it is a consequence of its idea or its being and nothing determines it except God only. It is for this reason that a person of exalted mind and revered saintliness may say that the soul ought often to think as if there were only God and itself in the world. Nothing can make us hold to immortality more firmly than this independence and vastness of the soul which protects it completely against exterior things, since it alone constitutes our universe and together with God is sufficient for itself. (Discourse on Metaphysics  §32) [emphasis mine]

“Only God and itself in the world … since it alone constitutes our universe and together with God is sufficient for itself” sounds very much like our monad’s situation, namely, its unique aloneness with God.

According to the University of Chicago’s Professor Michael Kremer, the “person of exalted mind” cited in the above passage from Discourse on Metaphysics is the 16th century Spanish mystic and Carmelite nun, Saint Teresa of Avila. Indeed, in a letter to Andreas Morell, “a mystically minded correspondent” [see endnote 5], Leibniz says:

As to St. Teresa, you have reason to esteem her works, I found there one day this lovely thought that the soul must conceive of things as if there were only God and itself in the world. This even yields a considerable reflection in philosophy, which I usefully employed in one of my hypotheses [emphasis mine].

As Kremer helpfully points out, Leibniz’s source was probably the biography The Life of Teresa of Jesus, written sometime before 1567. In chapter 13, we find the following statement: “[F]or the utmost we have to do at first is to take care of our soul and to remember that in the entire world there is only God and the soul; and this is a thing which it is very profitable to remember” (ed. Peers, 1946, p.77).

Following St Teresa, we can say that besides God, there is only the created monad, “since it alone constitutes our universe and together with God is sufficient for itself” (Discourse on Metaphysics  §32). Indeed, this monad (if we extend the religious analogy) is a kind of arche-soul or Logos in the sense that not only does it act as an intermediary between the transcendent Creator and creation, but it populates (or seminates) the universe with countless appearances of itself, thereby bringing the created world into being.

Conclusion

I don’t pretend that my hypothesis of a single monad that fills the universe with countless appearances of itself is anything other than an exercise in poetic speculation. Moreover, there are plenty of problems in the original hypothesis put forward by Professor Wheeler, such as why there are so many more electrons than positrons [see endnote 6]. According to Feynman he raised this issue with Wheeler, who speculated (probably half-jokingly) that the missing positrons might be hiding in protons in the nucleus of atoms [see endnote 7]. (Of course, there is also the possibility that the positrons needed to account for this shortfall might exist somewhere in the universe.)

Although Feynman found Professor Wheeler’s one-electron universe theory hard to believe, the idea that positrons were electrons traveling backwards in time intrigued him.  Years later, Feynman included the theory of the electron/positron pair in his 1949 paper “The Theory of Positrons” (1949, pp.749-759) and he incorporated the theory of reversibile time into his famous Feynman diagrams, which are are pictorial representations of the interactions of elementary particles.

Despite problems in both the original hypothesis of the one-electron universe and my own one-monad conjecture, the idea that we may live in a one-monad universe has certain advantages, one of which is that it goes some way in reconciling the granular and the smooth. Nature is both discrete (thanks to the manifold appearances of the point-like monad) and continuous (because of the unfolding and refolding of the world line). It could even be said that nature is an enfolded continuum of the one monad. Indeed, it is worth noting that Leibniz’s axiom “la nature ne fait jamais des sauts” (“nature makes no leaps” or “nature does not jump”) embodies the idea that natural processes occur continuously (Leibniz, 1896 [1765], p.50).

Another advantage of the theory is the balance between the apparent plenitude of  monads (which presumably give rise to empirical objects) and the metaphysical minimalism of the one created monad. That it may be possible to obtain a world with the greatest possible variety of phenomena from the fewest possible materials, and featuring the greatest possible order, gives the one-monad theory a strange but elegant quality. To reiterate a comment made by Deleuze in The Fold, “No philosophy has ever pushed to such an extreme the affirmation of a one and same world, and of an infinite difference or variety in this world” (Deleuze, 1993 [1988], p.66).

Endnotes

  1. A positron is the antimatter counterpart of an electron.
  2. According to a physics article on website io9, if the one electron universe theory is correct, that particular particle will travel through the universe 1080 times (10 to the power of 80 times) and will, by the end of its journey, have clocked up a staggering 10105 years, that is 10,000 googol years, or 10 to the power of 105 years (Wilkins, 2012, para. 11).
  3. All this talk of lines reminds me of the term “line-of-flight” made famous by postmodernist and Leibniz aficionado Gilles Deleuze. (See Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p.9-10).
  4. “…there is only one God, and this God is sufficient” (The Monadology §39).
  5. Michael’s Kremer’s phrase. On the topic of Leibniz and St Teresa, I am indebted to Kremer and his 2004 paper on philosophy and solipsism, “To What Extent is Solipsism a Truth?”
  6. Many more electrons have been observed than positrons, and electrons are thought to easily outnumber their antimatter counterparts.
  7. In his memoir, Wheeler made it clear that the positrons-hiding-in-protons idea was not meant to be taken too seriously: “I knew, of course, that, at least in our corner of the universe, there are lots more electrons than positrons, but I still found it an exciting idea to think of trajectories in spacetime that could go unrestricted in any direction — forward in time, backward in time, up, down, left, or right” (1998, p.117).

Reference List

Blumenfeld, D. (1995) “Perfection and happiness in the best possible world,” The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz. Edited by Nicholas Jolley, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, J.R. and and Fehige,Y. (2014) [1994] “Thought Experiments,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [online], viewed 15 May 2018, <https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/thought-experiment>

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1987) [1980] A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by B. Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, G. (1993) [1988] The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Translated by T. Conley. Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press.

Feynman, R. (1949) “The Theory of Positrons,” Physical Review, 76(6), pp. 749–759.

Feynman, R. (1965) “The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics,” Nobel Lecture 1965. Available at https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1965/feynman-lecture.html

Kant, I. (1855) [1781] Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by J. M. D. Meiklejohn. London: Henry G. Bohn.

Kremer, M. (2004) “To What Extent is Solipsism a Truth?,” Post-Analytic Tractatus. Edited by B. Stocker. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company.

Leibniz, G.W. (1896) [1765] New Essays Concerning Human Understanding. Translated by A.G. Langley. New York: MacMillan.

Leibniz, G.W.  (1898) [1720] The Monadology. Translated by R. Latta. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Leibniz, G.W. (1908) [1686] Discourse on Metaphysics. English translation by G. R. Montgomery. Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Co.

Lyotard, J-F. (1991) [1988] “Time Today,” The Inhuman. Translated by G. Bennington and R.Bowlby. California: Stanford University Press.

Nambu, Y. (1950) “The Use of the Proper Time in Quantum Electrodynamics I,” Progress in Theoretical Physics, 5(1), pp. 82–94.

Teresa of Avila, St (1946) [n.d.], “The Life of Teresa of Jesus, Complete Works St. Teresa Of Avila (Volume 1). Translated and edited by E.A Peers. Reprinted 2002. London & New York: Burns and Oates.

Wheeler, J.A  and K. Ford (1998) Geons, Black Holes & Quantum Foam, New York & London: Norton.

Wilkins, A. (2012) “What if every electron in the universe was all the same exact particle?,” viewed 20 May 2018, <https://io9.gizmodo.com/5876966/what-if-every-electron-in-the-universe-was-all-the-same-exact-particle>

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Thinking of being without heaviness or depth (continued)

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‘Guitar and Fruit Bowl on a Table’ (1918) by Juan Gris

 

By Richard Mather

Part 2: Being-without-depth

Sartre in his masterwork Being and Nothingness rejects the duality of appearance and being, saying that “the dualism of being and appearance is no longer entitled to any legal status within philosophy. The appearance refers to the total series of appearances and not to a hidden reality.”

Sartre renounces the Kantian notion of things-in-themselves and rejects the Platonic depreciation of appearances: “But if we once get away from what Nietzsche called ‘the illusion of worlds-behind-the-scene,’ and if we no longer believe in the being-behind-the-appearance, then the appearance becomes full positivity.”

Appearances are neither interior or exterior; they are all equal, according to Sartre. “[T]hey all refer to other appearances, and none of them is privileged.

§

Sartre offers a critique in Being and Nothingness of Freud’s theory of the unconscious, based on the claim that consciousness is essentially self-conscious. For Ludwig Wittgenstein, the notion of the unconscious is untenable precisely because nothing is unconscious. As Jacques Bouveresse writes in the preface to Wittgenstein Reads Freud, Wittgenstein “regarded the unconscious as really no more than a manner of speaking which creates more philosophical difficulties than the scientific ones it claims to resolve.”  According to Bouveresse, Wittgenstein assumes that “there is nothing ‘hidden’ to exhume, that everything is in principle immediately accessible to the surface, and that we already know, in a way, everything we need to know.”

§

As Italo Calvino’s Mr Palomar observes, “lt is only after you have come to know the surface of things […] that you can venture to seek what is underneath. But the surface of things is inexhaustible.”

§

Plato’s distinction between phenomena (appearances) and being (Forms) not only devalues the sensible world but runs the risk of producing nihilism. For if phenomena are counted as nothing and if the hidden world of Forms turns out to be absent, then what is left? In short, nihilism.

§

The following characteristics are typical of the postmodern, according to Fredric Jameson: depthlessness, ahistoricity, a focus on surfaces, flatness, the image and the simulacrum.

§

For Nietzsche, the Apollonian, which is expressed through the arts of painting and sculpture, represents the world as representation. Dismantling Nietzsche’s Dionysian-Apollonian dichotomy releases the Apollonian from the limited role of individual object as mere appearance or phenomena. The Apollonian – without the metaphysical baggage of the Dionysian – is free to be concrete and real.

§

For Nietzsche’s eternal return to work, everything must be brought to the surface. That means no repression, no overlooking of the smallest thing. As Judith Norman in “Schelling and Nietzsche” (chapter 4 of The New Schelling) points out, “Zarathustra cannot become the advocate of return until he has overcome repression and pulled all thoughts onto the same plane.”

Henceforth, there will be no need to  adopt a binary model of surface/depth because everything will necessarily be at the surface.

§

According to Jacques Derrida, words and signs can never fully bring forth what they mean; they can only be defined via reference to words from which they differ. Meaning, therefore, is endlessly deferred through a chain of signifiers. In other words, the traditional depth/vertical model of meaning is abandoned in favour of the surface/horizontal.

§

Nietzsche, in Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (The Joyful Science) says, “What is required is to stop courageously at the surface, the fold, the skin, to adore appearance, to believe in forms, tones, words, in the whole Olympus of appearance! Those Greeks were superficial – out of profundity!

§

“There is nothing more disenchanting to man than to be shown the springs and mechanism of any art,” according to Robert Louis Stevenson in his essay “On some technical elements of style in literature.” Rather, all our arts and occupations “lie wholly on the surface” because “it is on the surface that we perceive their beauty, fitness, and significance.” To pry below the surface is to be “appalled by their emptiness and shocked by the coarseness of the strings and pulleys.”

§

In a rebuttal of a negative review of their paintings at Macy’s department store in New York City in 1942, Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb issue a manifesto, which includes this assertion: “We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth.”

§

“You live on the surface,” Casaubon is told by his lover in Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. “You sometimes seem profound but it is only because you piece a lot of surfaces together to create the impression of depth, solidity.”

§

According to Jean Baudrillard, a simulacrum is not a copy of the real but is itself a truth (a sign) in its own right without an original referent. This is the hyperreal. Hyperreality, Baudrillard says, is “the generation by models of a real without origin or reality.”

§

Baudrillard warns of how simulacra arouse the suspicion that “ultimately there has never been any God,” that “God himself has only ever been his own simulacrum.” Indeed, religious iconoclasts are unhappy about simulacra because images ultimately mask the knowledge “that deep down God never existed, that only the simulacrum ever existed.”

§

Biblical Judeans and classical Greeks believed that images contain the power to replace the divine. The apparent life and efficacy of images are the result of demonic possession (see Deuteronomy 32: 16-17). Not surprisingly, the Hebrews prohibited “graven images” (especially images of the divine) out of their fear of idolatry. Interestingly, the Greek term for image, idolon, can be translated as “simulacrum” or “idol.”  

§

The Roman poet Lucretius says words are like clusters of atoms, with a letter being like an atom. He talks of the simulacrum, that is, the image or “idol” of a thing, traveling at high speed through the void. His poem is a simulacrum of nature in which his Latin letters are deployed (like atoms) to construct the world. One critic interprets this as meaning not that we see the simulacrum but that we see because of the simulacrum. The rapid succession of many simulacra together produce an effect: the image.

§

Does this mean that a translation of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura (and there are many) is a copy of a copy and that each translator has to ‘create’ or ‘recreate’ Lucretius’ world with a different set of atoms, a creation that somehow imagines both the poem and the world? But, of course, the world in itself is uncreated and yet Lucretius’ poem is a creation.

§

In §154 of Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein remarks that the “problems arising through a misinterpretation of our forms of language have the character of depth.” What is essential, however, is “not hidden beneath the surface.” That is, instead of looking for some hidden source, we should pay more attention to what what happens on the surface. “Try not to think of understanding as a ‘mental process’ at all. For that is the expression which confuses you,” he writes

§

“The idea of thinking as a process in the head, in a completely enclosed space, gives him something occult” (Wittgenstein, Zettel, 606; my italics). That is, occult as in: hidden, cut off from view, not accompanied by readily discernible signs or symptom, with the implication that what lies beneath the surface is mere superstition.

§

According to the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, “the kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it” (§113). In other words, the kingdom is in plain sight; it is not occult.

§

Gilles Deleuze’s concept of “the fold” allows us to think beyond the categories of inside/outside and surface/depth because the inside is simply a fold of the outside.

§

Cubist artists typically represent all of the surfaces of pictorial objects simultaneously. The single picture plane in a cubist painting allows us to appreciate what may be called a flat ontology of things.

§

In object-oriented ontology, there is no underlying principle, no underlying or transcendent being. There are only objects. There is no melting of individual objects into some kind of universal and amorphous Dionysian principle. Additionally, there is no vertical chain-of-being with God or man at the top and quarks at the bottom. Rather, objects are horizontally spread out so that there is no top, bottom or even middle object. A star, a human, a plank of wood and an atom could be placed next to each other without any sense of priority or significance.

§

Our revels are now at an end. The baseless fabric of this text shall dissolve, melt into the air, and like this insubstantial life will fade, leaving nothing behind. We are such stuff / As dreams are made on.

Thinking of being without heaviness or depth

Flying-Eagle-Wallpaper-1

By Richard Mather

Part 1: Being and heaviness

People who suffer from depression often complain of a feeling of heaviness; not just in the emotional or mental sense, but as something physical  — a visceral sensation pressing on the chest or wrapping itself around the body and the legs. Some sufferers say it is like having lead weights on their legs.

Among the DSM-IV criteria for atypical depression is: “Leaden paralysis (i.e. heavy, leaden feelings in arms or legs).”

§

René Descartes proposes that we think of the action of mind on body as we think of heaviness impelling a body towards the earth. Before Descartes, the scholastics believed that there was a thing called heaviness that caused objects to fall to the ground.  As Daniel Garber (in his book Descartes’ Metaphysical Physics) explains:

“Heaviness, as conceived by the scholastics, is thus mentalistic in a number of ways. It is imagined to be diffused throughout a body, yet capable of acting on a single point, just like the Cartesian soul, which is somehow thought to be diffused throughout the human body while, at the same time, it is especially connected to the pineal gland.

§

The prophet Isaiah refers to “the spirit of heaviness” as a mental/emotional affliction that separates men from God. Isaiah, who is blessed with a different spirit (i.e. the spirit of the Eternal Elohim), proclaims that his mission is to spread joyful thanksgiving as a means to offloading the burden of heaviness. The Eternal One has done this, Isaiah says, in order to:

“…appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the mantle of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called terebinths of righteousness, the planting of the Eternal One, wherein He might glory.” (Isaiah 61:3; my italics)

§

John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is a story that focuses on a man named Christian who is weighed down by “a great burden upon his back” — the knowledge of his sin. The heaviness is so unbearable that he leaves his family and sets out into the world to seek deliverance, which comes in the form of an encounter with the Cross. In real life, however, there is no Cross and no divine aid — and yet the burden is real enough.

§

What a relief. According to Jean-Paul Sartre, existence precedes essence. There is no human nature, no weight of human nature. And consciousness is a void, a nothingness, making holes in being-in-itself.

§

There’s a lot to be said for surfaces, for the depthless, for fleetness of foot, of flying through the void where atoms fall and swerve, where composites split apart, reform.

§

The homonym “light” (as in not dark and not heavy) shares the same Old English etymological root. Light as in “not heavy, having little actual weight” comes from the Old English leoht (West Saxon) or leht (Anglian). Likewise, light as in “not dark” comes from Old English leoht (West Saxon) and leht (Anglian).

§

Ilam (pronounced i-la-am) is the Akkadian word for “shining,” a divine power. It is linked to the Akkadian word ellu (which is related to the biblical concept of Elohim or god/s), meaning cleanliness, brilliance, luminosity. It is a literal shining, a literal cleanliness (not just a metaphor for perfection). “Cleanliness is next to godliness”: This proverb (which is popularly credited to a sermon by John Wesley in 1778) is an echo of similar assertions in the Talmud and some Babylonian texts. Surfaces are there to be seen, which is hard to do when you are distracted by dirt.

§

Whatever is to be seen must be seen at the surface level. If it is to exist at all, it must first exist as surface. Depth is the simulacrum of surface and not the other way round as is usually thought.

§

On the subject of weight, the neo-Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Carlo Michelstaedter (1887 – 1910) makes some remarkable remarks in his doctoral thesis known as Persuasion and Rhetoric. Socrates, says Michelstaedter, “resented being subject to the law of gravity. And he thought the good lay in independence from gravity, because it is this, he thought, that prevents us from rising to the sun. Being independent from gravity means not having weight, and Socrates did not allow himself rest until he had eliminated all his weight. But having consumed together the hope of freedom and slavery, the independent spirit and gravity, the necessity of the earth and the will for the sun, he neither flew to the sun nor remained on earth; he was neither independent nor a slave, neither happy nor wretched.”

Plato, says Michelstaedter, was disquieted by this state of affairs for he had the same great love of liberty, though “he was not of so desperate a devotion.” So Plato concentrated on meditating, according to Michelstaedter: “He had to find … a ‘mechanism,’ to raise himself to the sun, but, deceiving gravity, without losing weight, body, life. He meditated for a long time, and then invented the macrocosm.” [Michelstaedter’s italics].

§

Contra Nietzsche, the novelist Milan Kundera posits the “unbearable lightness of being.” Assuming that Nietzsche is wrong about the possibility of eternal return, Kundera believes we would experience an “absolute absence of burden,” and that a lack of weight of meaning would make us “lighter than air.”

A life “which does not return” is “without weight.” Whether life is horrible or beautiful ultimately “means nothing.” Individual life lacks significance. Our decisions do not matter precisely because they are light, without weight.

§

The grandfather of Western philosophy, Parmenides, sees the world divided into opposite pairs: light/darkness, warmth/cold, being/non-being etc. One half of the opposition he characterizes as positive (light, warmth, being), the other as negative (darkness, cold, non-being). But which one is positive, weight or lightness? What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness? Kundera asks. Parmenides responds that lightness is positive, weight negative.  

§

The Italian writer Italo Calvino explores lightness in the first of his Six Memos for the Next Millennium. After forty years of writing fiction, Calvino decides that the time has come for him to look for “an overall definition of my work.” He goes on to suggest that his working method “has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight”:

“I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.”

§

Calvino again:

“Whenever humanity seems condemned to heaviness, I think I should fly like Perseus into a different space. I don’t mean escaping into dreams or into the irrational. I mean that I have to change my approach, look at the world from a different perspective, with a different logic and with fresh methods of cognition and verification. The images of lightness that I seek should not fade away like dreams dissolved by the realities of present and future…”

§

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Experience” opens with him navigating the emotional trauma over the death of his son. But is he talking about heaviness or depth?

“There are moods in which we court suffering, in the hope that here, at least, we shall find reality, sharp peaks and edges of truth. But it turns out to be scene-painting and counterfeit. The only thing grief has taught me, is to know how shallow it is. That, like all the rest, plays about the surface, and never introduces me into the reality, for contact with which, we would even pay the costly price of sons and lovers. […] I grieve that grief can teach me nothing, nor carry me one step into real nature. […] Nothing is left us now but death. We look to that with a grim satisfaction, saying, there at least is reality that will not dodge us.”

Next time: Being-without-depth

Thoughts on language and truth

“All social conflicts have to be waged, ultimately, by means of language.”
–Boris Groys, Introduction to Antiphilosophy p.98.

By Richard Mather

Ludwig Wittgenstein observed that our intelligence is bewitched by language. Language weaves a magic circle around us and draws a veil over the Real. The further we move away from the Real, the wider the distinction between subject and object. This is what Walter Benjamin referred to as the fallen nature of language.

For Benjamin, “the Fall marks the birth of the human word.” No longer mimetic, words have become mere signs.

Benjamin yearned for a messianic break with (rather than in) history, and for a messianic language in which the post-Babel babble of tongues (multiplicity of languages) is superseded by a perfect language, wherein word and object are reconciled.

We vainly hope that one day there will be a “happy conjunction of idea and reality” (to quote Baudrillard), but the innocence of the Real is gone for good. Only with the coming of the messiah will meaning be restored to the world. Only with the messiah will language regain its purity of function by which the knowledge of things is made straight.

And they [the languages] will continue to be so confused until the coming of the redeemer, when the entire land will return to the only clear language, as it is written: ‘For then I will turn to all nations a pure language, that they may all call upon the Name of God and serve Him with one consent, with One Name.’ (Zephaniah, Tanakh, 3:9)

Media mediates reality for us and in doing so masks the truth of the thing-in-itself with a constructed appearance or simulacrum that may bear little relation to the thing-in-itself. The first thing we have to ask ourselves when we pick up a newspaper article by any left-wing publication is, ‘What is its agenda?’. Answer that, and then you’ll know the purpose of the mediation.

Languages are outposts on the outskirts of the wilderness of the Real. By means of language, we attempt to perform raids on the Real, but it is impossible to capture the Real in its entirety. That we know. But these language-raids hide a darker truth: Language is a kind of magic, a pantomime, a delirium, a bewitchment, used to conceal the truth of the Real. And the truth of the Real is this: there is no the Real. Media has killed the Real. Nietzsche declared the death of God. Now we must mourn the loss of the Real.

But is it enough to describe Truth? Evidently not. In a world where everything is commodified and packaged for consumption, so must the truth be re-presented and not simply presented. In other words, the Real must enter the world of ideas. With the death of the Real, we must recreate it, re-present it in a way that is distinguishable from the False. 

Truth is trans-being, the extra-being of being that rises out of the void of being. Truth is not being at all. Neither is it a being. Truth is an event that is perilously close to the nothingness of being. As a concession to truth, and to hide the fact that being is void, nothing more than an hypnotic incantation, language will occasionally try to reveal truth. Sadly, attempts to reveal truth often conceal more than it is possible to reveal. Indeed, apart from the occasional concession to truth, the concealment of truth is language’s main function.

We should not think of language, let alone any kind of reportage or medium as transparent. It is not like placing a perfectly clear screen over the Real. It may in fact be a screen in another sense: a screen that hides the Real so that the screen itself is the message.

The further away words are from the Real the more they take on the form of an incantation. Language, more often than not, is a kind of trick. Having said that, many people are only too willing to be duped by the magical properties of language and the way reality is manipulated, deformed, reformed by words and syntax.

My criticism of empty, communicative language is the abuse to which language is put in Palestinianist and Arab-Palestinian Nationalist propaganda. Here language becomes a means for producing a certain result; it becomes the ‘big lie’ for the sake of reactionary political gain. Anti-Zionism is reactionary because it is a move against the event of 1948, which was an event of pure difference, an event that that stands out (Greek: ek-static) from the sameness or indifference of history.

In a sense, what we have is a kind of dualism: being-in-general, which is indifferent, neither with nor without truth; and  the truth-event which ruptures and exceeds being.

In the ontology of Western metaphysics, Dasein is the shepherd of being (Heidegger). Moses, by contrast, is the shepherd of being-Jewish. The Burning Bush is a rupture in being, something entirely unexpected; in short, an event. Moses picks up on the ‘evental’ nature of the Burning Bush episode when he asks God’s name. The event is named literally in the sense that God reveals his name to Moses. Moses, although touchingly human in his uncertainty, shows himself to be faithful to the event by going back to Egypt to rouse the Israelites and confront Pharaoh.

The creation of the State of Israel was — and still is — an event: a radical and unique event that exceeded being-in-general by gathering all the elements (Jews) excluded from indifferent-being or being-in-general and then creating a new multiple that is at the same time one.

The truth-event, like the creation of the modern Israeli state, is a radical break from the normal course of being. Truth is a rarity, a singularity. It is not one mere occurrence among many. It does not belong to being-in-general. It is something that must be discovered among the ruins of indifferent-being and declared. And the one who declares the truth is himself true because he is willing to commit to the truth-event and live for something other than public approval.

Meanwhile Zionism has to be aesthetically, socially and politically recreated in order to be understood. In other words, truth has to enter the realm of fiction. Zionism has to take its place on the metaplane of ideas/discourses. It is not enough to point to the truth and say there it is! It must be re-presented. Only the idea of truth has any currency in our media-saturated world. And further: the work of re-presentation is ongoing; it never ends because the idea of truth (unlike truth-in-itself) is always contingent, always under construction.

[I will add to this blog post in due course. Think of it as a kind of ongoing scrapbook of thoughts]

Spinoza’s puzzling attributes

spinoza diagram

By Richard Mather

Spinoza’s theory of the attributes is perhaps the most tricky aspect of his ontology. The attributes play a crucial role in Spinoza’s Ethica, ordine geometrico demonstrata, otherwise known as Ethics. “By attribute I understand what the intellect perceives of substance as constituting its essence,” Spinoza says. Also: “An absolutely infinite being must necessarily be defined as consisting in infinite attributes.” The attributes help us to understand the world in terms of thoughts and things. Furthermore, their relation to the unity of being (which Spinoza calls “substance” or “God/Nature”) goes a long way to solving the Cartesian mind–body problem.

Background

Spinoza argues that there is only one and unique substance in existence, a substance that is infinite, self-caused, and eternal. This substance is the spatio-temporal world. But it is also God, the self-caused Being. As Spinoza says, “God is one, that is, only one substance can be granted in the universe.” Spinoza famously said that God is Nature. Things and facts are “modes” or modifications of the single substance that is God, conceived under the attribute of extension. Likewise, thoughts, desires, beliefs, ideas etc, are modes of God, conceived under the attribute of thought.

Spinoza argued that mind and matter are not two opposite substances but are two different ways of conceiving one and the same substance. But the attributes of mind and matter do not exhaust God’s attributes. According to Spinoza, God has infinitely more attributes — it’s just that we’re not aware of them. This raises puzzling questions, such as: ‘How many attributes are there?’ To which the answer may be ‘two’ or ‘an infinity.’ If there are an infinity of attributes but we only know two of them, are the other attributes hidden? Are they even thinkable? And we must also ask whether the attributes are what the finite intellect perceives of substance as if (but not in fact) constituting its essence. There may be no definite answer to that question because of the unfortunate ambiguity of a particular Latin word, tanquam. Indeed, there is little agreement among Spinoza scholars regarding the best way to interpret the theory of attributes and some of this confusion can be attributed to Spinoza himself, whose own definitions of attributes can be perplexing.

Here are some of the focal quotes from Ethics regarding the attributes:

— By attribute I understand what the intellect perceives of substance as constituting its essence. (1D4)

— By God I understand a being absolutely infinite, that is, a substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence. (1D6)

— It is thus evident that, though two attributes are, in fact, conceived as distinct — that is, one without the help of the other — yet we cannot, therefore, conclude that they constitute two entities, or two different substances. … it is abundantly clear, that an absolutely infinite being must necessarily be defined as consisting in infinite attributes, each of which expresses a certain eternal and infinite essence. (1P10Schol)

— Thought is an attribute of God, or God is a thinking thing. (2P1)

— Extension is an attribute of God, or God is an extended thing. (2P2)

Some queries (in no particular order)

Spinoza asserts in 1D6 that God is “a substance consisting of infinite attributes.” The fact that he doesn’t he say “infinite number of attributes” is interesting. Does infinity mean a numerical infinity or not? Or does it mean that each attribute is itself infinite (insofar as it expresses substance’s eternal and infinite essence)?

In support of numerical infinity is the following:

— Therefore whether we conceive Nature under the attribute of Extension, or the attribute of Thought, or any other attribute, we shall find one and the same order, or one and the same connection of causes, that is the same things follow one another [emphasis mine]. (2P7Schol)

This is known in the secondary literature as parallelism. But it raises the question as to how the hidden/unknown attributes are parallel to the known attributes of thought and extension. Do the other attributes form pairs like thought + extension? Must all attributes necessarily be parallel to the attribute of thought?

The fact that Spinoza speculates but is unable to identify and name the unknown attributes should make us pause. Are the unknown attributions merely metaphysical speculation? Are the unknown attributes merely unknown or are they hidden from thought and hence unthinkable? And if the two attributes known to us – thought and extension – signify God’s indwelling in the universe, are the hidden attributes also immanent or do they signify God’s transcendence?

It is tempting to solve the riddle of the attributes using a kind of Wittgensteinian therapy. The claim that there are an infinity of attributes could then be categorized as a pseudo-statement insofar as it is neither true nor false, but simply meaningless. Should we therefore conclude that these unknown attributes are einfach Unsinn (“simply nonsense”) in the sense meant by Wittgenstein: a statement that cannot be independently verified.

Even if we dissolve the riddle of the extra attributes, other questions remain:

Does Spinoza’s God have attributes or do the attributes inhere in God? The former option would suggest there is a real distinction between substance and attributes, but I’m not sure that is right because is threatens to undermine the unity of God.

On a similar note, is there a real distinction between the attributes of thought and extension, or is it the mind’s way of carving reality at the joints?

And finally, do the attributes really constitute the essence of substance?

In E1d4 Spinoza states that “by attribute I understand what the intellect perceives of a substance as constituting its essence.”  The Latin original is per attributum intelligo id, quod intellectus de substantia percipit, tanquam ejusdem essentiam constituens. The word tanquam can be translated both as ‘as if’ and as ‘as.’  If it is the former, then it suggests that the attributes are not really the essence of substance but only seem to be. If, however, tanquam is translated as ‘as’, we might conclude that each attribute really is the essence of substance. But if so, we then have to explain how God can have more than one essence.  

Some answers (in no particular order)

Because Spinoza never talks of more than two attributes (i.e.extension and thought), Jonathan Bennett, author of A Study of Spinoza’s Ethics, argues in favor of the claim that Spinoza’s God has only two attributes. Contrary to the view that Spinoza’s infinity is numerical, Bennett says Spinoza sometimes equates infinity with totality. That is, when Spinoza says that God has all possible attributes, perhaps he means that the two attributes of thought and extension are in fact the totality of attributes. Similarly, G.W.F. Hegel says Spinoza’s claim that there are “infinite attributes” should be interpreted as “infinite in character” and not in number. This is a pleasing solution but it fails to account for the times when Spinoza explicitly mentions the existence of other (nameless) attributes.

Hegel is surely right when he says extension and thought are only the two attributes known to finite minds. But Hegel’s interpretation puts the stress on finite minds and not infinite intellect. This seems right but it does beg the question: Is the infinite intellect capable of perceiving more than two attributes? As far as I can understand it, infinite intellect is essentially the mind of God. So the answer is yes. God’s infinite intellect comprehends all of God’s attributes. (Interestingly, the human mind is a part of the infinite intellect of God (see 2P11_Corollary), but it is only the collective whole — i.e. the mind/intellect of God — that is able to comprehend  the other attributes.)

So when Spinoza says that the human mind “possesses an adequate knowledge of the eternal and infinite essence of God” (2P47), this might at first suggest that the attributes of thought and extension are all there is to know about God’s infinite essence, thereby putting into doubt the existence of other attributes. However, as we have seen, this does not rule out the possibility that God can comprehend the other attributes, even if we can’t.

Another way of looking at it is to conclude that multiplicity is attributed to infinite substance precisely because of the limitations of the finite mind, when in truth the infinite substance is simple and unitary, that is, one. In other words, attributes are what the finite intellect (individual minds) perceives of substance as if (but not in fact) constituting its essence. This is confusing but it connects with a particular line of interpretation by the so-called subjectivists who argue that each attribute is not really the essence of substance but merely seems to be, and that any multiplicity of attributes is merely apparent. In other words, the terms attribute of thought and attribute of extension are only different ways of expressing the same being of substance. Or to put it another way, the attributes refer to how our minds categorize and rationalize our experiences.

If we can only think of God under the attributes of extension and thought, this presumably means that every other attribute (presuming they really do exist) are not available to human thought and hence unthinkable. And so the claim that there are an infinity of attributes is neither true nor false, but simply meaningless in the sense meant by Wittgenstein: a statement that cannot be independently verified.

And so, in the end, we arrive at an impasse or aporia (to use a term favored by post-structuralists). The issue, as far as I can tell, is undecidable. So it is fortunate that Spinoza’s system manages perfectly well with or without the additional attributes. Indeed, the unknown attributes seem to me to be a kind of vestigial structure, a feature that was either never properly developed or lost its original function. My theory is that the unknown attributes are from an earlier stage in Spinoza’s thinking and were perhaps influenced by the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy found in Judaism or (and this is more likely) Descartes’ notion of God’s attributes as including infinitude, necessary existence, eternality, immutability, benevolence, omniscience, and omnipotence. Descartes, of course, was Spinoza’s foremost intellectual predecessor, and Spinoza’s philosophy can be interpreted as a radical correction of Descartes’ ideas about God, mind, matter, substance, modes and attributes. I suggest, then, that Spinoza’s ideas about God’s unknown attributes are remnants of his early encounters with Descartes’ philosophy.

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A REMINDER: The one-day conference “Contemporary and Historical Perspectives on Spinoza and Culture” will be held on August 3 at Manchester Metropolitan University, Geoffrey Manton building, room 230, starting 09:30.

‘It is a place, Makom, where each man may be called up’: Being and time in Barnett Newman’s art

vir heroicus

Vir Heroicus Sublimis (painted in 1950-51)

‘Even if you don’t know Newman’s place in art history, walking into a space full of his paintings can inspire contemplation. They give you nothing and everything to look at, these huge canvases whose only subject is themselves, enveloping you in the moment, confronting you with seemingly pure fields of color and contrast.’ (Molly Glentzer, “A different stripe,” Houston Chronicle)

By Richard Mather

In an 1965 interview with art critic David Sylvester, Jewish-American artist Barnett Newman stated that his overwhelming Vir Heroicus Sublimis (painted in 1950-51) “should give man a sense of place: that he knows he’s there, so he’s aware of himself.” The notion of place rather than space plays an important role in Newman’s work. Space is relatively unimportant to him because it is common property, without identity. Place, by contrast, takes into account both time and consciousness. It is place that generates in the viewer a “feeling” of his or her own “totality,” of their own “separateness” and “individuality” as they stand before his painting:

“[T]he painting should give man a sense of place: that he knows he’s there, so he’s aware of himself. In that sense he relates to me when I made the painting because in that sense I was there … To me that sense of place has not only a sense of mystery but also has a sense of metaphysical fact. I have come to distrust the episodic, and I hope that my painting has the impact of giving someone, as it did me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality and the same time of his connection to others, who are also separate.”

That Newman was given to metaphysical pronouncements will not be surprising to those who are familiar with his writings on art. Newman had a philosophical background and was later exposed to some of the existential ideas of Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. Indeed, Heidegger and Sartre’s preoccupation with being (being-in-the-world, being-for-itself etc) can be seen in some of the titles of Newman’s work: Right Here; Here; and Not There-Here, among others.

Many critics have noted the significance of place and its Hebrew correlate, makom, which means “place” but is also a name of God (ha-makom) in Judaism. The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 68:5) explains that God is the place of the world, and yet the world is not his place. This idea resonated with Newman, according to Harry Cooper, curator and head of modern and contemporary art at the National Gallery. “He hoped such a place would be created between his art and the viewer,” Cooper remarked. (Quote taken from “His Cross To Bear” in the Jewish magazine Forward.)

Indeed, Newman used the term makom in 1963 when describing his design for a synagogue:

“It is a place, Makom, where each man may be called up to stand before the Torah to read his portion … My purpose is to create a place, not an environment … Here in this synagogue, each man sits, private and secluded in the dugouts, waiting to be called, not to ascend a stage, but to go up to the mound [bimah]where, under the tension of that “Tzim-tzum” that created light and the world, he can experience a total sense of his own personality before the Torah and His Name.”

The space between the viewer and the artwork (or in this case the bimah) is no longer just space, but sanctified place where the physical and metaphysical meet. This meeting is what might be termed presence, a term that captures the sense of physical location (here), time (the present) and awareness of self (here I am). It seems that with the design of the synagogue, Newman intended the worshipper to have a real sensation of “being there,” that is, the consciousness of being present before the Torah. This awareness of being-there, this awareness of presence, is what Newman elsewhere calls “sublime.”

Time and the il y a

It happens that the materiality or sheer presence of Newman’s paintings exposes us to what Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas calls the il y a: literally, “there is,” “the horror of being,” existence without being. Levinas describes the il y a as impersonal, anonymous, as something that deprives consciousness of its subjectivity. The experience of the il y a is an experience of existence in which nothing happens.

But it would be a mistake to think Newman’s chromatic abstractions represent the il y a and nothing else. On the contrary, Newman’s mature paintings boast a particular and distinguishing feature: the Newmanesque zip.

The zip is a vertical band of color, often made with the aid of masking tape and palette knife. Newman introduced the technique in the late 1940s and it remained a constant feature of his work throughout the remainder of his life. Paintings in which the zip went down the middle of the canvas (as in Onement 1) developed into paintings where the zip was off-center, and others in which there were several vertical zips. In some paintings, the zip is up to eleven feet tall. (There are a few instances of horizontal zips, but the vast majority of his paintings feature the vertical bands.)

Newman’s zips act as a kind of intervention or temporal event that differentiates the canvas, preventing Being from falling into the anonymous and impersonal il y a. The zip is what might be described as ecstatic temporality (ecstatic from the Ancient Greek ek “out” + histanai “to place, cause to stand out”). Time not only gives sense or meaning to Being, it marks the emergence of sensation, the physical materiality of something or someone. Humans, in particular, but also some animals, are not just in time, they are conscious of time and take account of time. As Claude Cernuschi points out (in Barnett Newman and Heideggerian Philosophy), “Humans exist in the present, with the past, and in anticipation of the future.”

Time is a physical experience: To those of brought up under the influence of Greek philosophy (which is most of us), the past is behind us; the future ahead of us, while the present is where you are located at this exact moment (hence the words presence and present). The ancient Hebrews, by contrast, thought of the past as something in front of them, as something that can be seen, while the unknown future is hidden from our view, as something behind us, hidden from our eyes.

Time was a dynamic process for the ancient Hebrews. Whereas the Greeks tended to think in terms of space and stasis, the Hebrews conceived of time as activity, the unfolding of events. In fact, this dynamic sense of time is embedded in the four-letter Hebrew name of God: yhwh, which is a derivation of yhyh (future), hyh (past) and hwh (present)

I mentioned earlier Newman’s association of makom with the synagogue. Interestingly, inscribed over the Ark in the sanctuary of many synagogues throughout the world are the Hebrew words דע לפני מי אתה עומד — da lifnei mi attah omed — “know before whom you stand” — which is based on a phrase found in the Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 28b. This, in turn, recalls God’s words to Moses at the site of the burning bush: “…the place [ha-makom] upon which you stand is holy soil.” And it is here that God reveals the temporal nature of his name: yhwh.

And so we have a close proximity of place (makom), time (yhwh) and event (burning bush). It is also here that Moses emerges as a particular someone, a someone who stands in unique relation to the Divine:

“The Lord saw that he had turned to see, and God called to him from within the thorn bush, and He said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am! [hineni]’.”

Hineni: Here I am. With the word hineni, Moses emerges from anonymity into the self-consciousness of being-there in the presence of God. It is here, at this time, in the presence of God, that generates in Moses what Newman might have described as the feeling of “totality,” of his own “separateness” and “individuality.” In fact, this brings us full circle to the beginning of this essay where I cited Newman’s assertion that his painting Vir Heroicus Sublimis “should give man a sense of place [makom]: that he knows he’s there, so he’s aware of himself.”

To experience space fully, we must have a sense of time. Newman once remarked that the sensation of presence “is the sensation of time.” “Each person must feel it for himself,” he remarked. “The concern with space bores me. I insist on my experiences of sensations in time — not the sense of time but the physical sensation of time.”

It is the awareness of time (yhwh) that turns space into place, into makom or holy ground. This, I think, is what Newman successfully captures in his huge canvases (but also in his design for a synagogue and his sculptures). And it is why Newman deserves to be seen not just as a New York modernist but as a distinctly Jewish painter who manages to represent the sheer presence of being and time without resorting to pictorial representation (“do not make graven images”). Newman’s chromatic abstractions are, in my view, the finest examples of a bold Jewish art that aims for the heights of the Hebraic sublime.

1200px-Barnett_Newman_Broken_Obelisk_Rothko_Chapel_(HDR)

Broken Obelisk (designed between 1963 and 1967) in front of Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas 

END

Is Spinoza’s pantheistic ontology a template for authoritarianism?

BARUCH SPINOZA IMAGE

 

OVERVIEW:

  • The pantheist ontology of Baruch Spinoza (b.1632 – d.1677) is an attempt to deny the accountability of political evil.
  • Spinoza’s instinct for statist control and his distrust of the common man are displayed in Theological-Political Treatise (published 1670). His masterwork, Ethics (published posthumously in 1677), is a bold attempt (in the guise of ontology) to classify minds and bodies as attributes of the State.
  • In Ethics, Spinoza ‘outlaws’ any vantage point from which we can address or protest the kind of ‘perfect power’ — and its attendant evils — that constitute the essence and existence of the State.

 

By Richard Mather

Little work has been done on the potentially negative effects of perfection and power in Spinoza’s Ethics and how his pantheistic ontology not only devalues theodicy, but affirms a model of power that resists accountability. Spinoza scholar Yitzhak Melamed has suggested there is a logically transitive relation between God’s essence, existence and attributes, but not much is said about how this relates to perfection and power. Brandon C. Look has examined the relation between power and perfection, but he concerns himself largely with the type of (positive) perfection experienced by the individual (e.g. joy as the transition from lesser perfection to greater perfection). There is still work to be done in examining the negative political implications of Spinoza’s system.

In Ethics, Spinoza draws the opposite conclusion from his Jewish intellectual forebear, Philo of Alexandria. Philo advances a theory of the transcendence of the Existent One, creator of the Good (but not evil). Philo makes a crucial distinction between God’s existence (which can be ascertained) and his essence (which is unknowable). For Spinoza, however, the essence of God does not exist in a transcendent dimension. Rather, “God’s existence and his essence are one and the same” (E1p20). And unlike Philo, Spinoza not only assigns everything to God, he says everything is God. Spinoza says there can only be one “substance,” a substance that is both the cause of itself and whose essence involves existence. Spinoza collapses the ontological difference between God and the world, a radical assertion of pantheism that eradicates transcendence and ushers in, perhaps for the first time, a philosophy of immanence.

(I have previously argued on this blog that Spinoza was a panentheist because of his assertion that God has an infinite number of attributes. However, all but two of these attributes are unknown, and they lie beyond the limits of language. And if there is nothing to be said about these unknown attributes (other than Spinoza’s speculative assertion that they exist), then it begs the question whether we should concern ourselves with them, especially if they contribute nothing to the political implications of Spinoza’s ontology.)

By collapsing the ontological difference between God and the world, Spinoza devalues the problem of evil because his pantheism outlaws the idea of a transcendent moral God. Ergo, evil cannot be explained; we can only describe its effects. Moreover, Spinoza’s rejection of transcendent values and the collapse of the God/Nature distinction leaves us (as “modes”) without any vantage point from which to critique power. All we have is a closed system of immanent causation in which God/Nature is the source of power, the expression of power (via the attributes), and the effects of power (modes). Not only is this power necessarily perfect, it is a permanent and ongoing state of affairs for the simple reason that substance is infinite. Spinoza’s refutation of teleology offers us nothing but an endless expression of this state of affairs. Human beings are likewise constrained in that they are simply modifications of substance.

One would mind less if Spinoza’s all-pervasive substance was good rather than icily perfect. But as Spinoza himself admits, God’s perfection is not the same as saying God is good. Far from it. Besides, what we judge to be good or bad is not true in any absolute sense, according to Spinoza: Good is merely whatever agrees with our nature.

And there is certainly no sense that Spinoza’s pantheistic God suffers, unlike Schopenhauer’s Will or William C. Lane’s pandeistic God who commits an act of self-emptying for the sake of love and suffers as part of the creation he has become. On the contrary, how things are in the world is a matter of complete indifference to Spinoza’s pantheistic God, because God is how things are in the world. Indeed, for Spinoza, it is not so much why (bad) things happen but how things happen.

True, Spinoza holds out the hope that some of us may reach a blessed state in which we are able to intuitively grasp the world as a whole “under the aspect of eternity,” but we know from Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise that this is realistically only available to an elite few. The common man and woman, by contrast, have to suffice with Spinoza’s seven dogmas of popular religion.

Tellingly, one of the reasons Spinoza elaborated his seven laws was the need for a popular religion to ensure discipline. Not only was this popular religion to be under the control of civil authorities, this state religion would be (by Spinoza’s own admission) a lie. It is important, Spinoza says, “that he who adheres to them [the doctrines of faith] knows not that they were false” [italics mine] because otherwise “he would necessarily be a rebel.”

Spinoza’s instinct for statist control can be seen in the assertion, “Whatever is, is in God and nothing can exist or be conceived without God” (E1p15). Or to put it another way: Whatever is, is in the State, and nothing can be conceived without the State. Spinoza’s substance-as-State expresses itself equally in things and in ideas (via the twin attributes of “extension” and “thought”), an astonishing concept when one realizes that ideas, thoughts and minds belong to substance/State as much as bodies do. In fact, the very concept of thought (not just individual thoughts) emanates from the State and belongs to the State.

None of which sits well in our post-Holocaust, post-Soviet world, in part because we have seen how power without accountability — a power that apparently constitutes substance’s “very essence” (E1p34) — can have barbaric consequences. This is of particular interest from a Jewish viewpoint, firstly because of Spinoza’s own troubled relationship with Judaism but also because any attempt to explain or justify evil in the wake of genocide and terrorism is morally and conceptually problematic.

Contrary to a competing claim (made by Antonio Negri) that Spinoza gives us an effective ‘other’ to power, Spinoza’s ontology is actually a closed system, a system that invites moral indifference because there is simply no place from which we, as modes, can critique power. Moreover, we are all guilty by implication because each of us is a modulation of this power, both mentally and physically. (Alain Badiou is closer to the truth of the matter when he says that “Spinoza represents the most radical attempt ever in ontology to identify structure and metastructure.”)

More work needs to be done to develop the suspicion that Spinoza’s pantheist ontology is a political ruse designed to bolster the power and reach of the State. But what kind of State? It seems to me that Spinoza is much less interested in social and economic policy than in the ontological apparatus needed to uphold civic and religious institutions with the supreme aim of ensuring discipline. Indeed, Spinoza’s system looks very much like a political and bureaucratic metastructure that manages people. 

There is no doubting that Spinoza is an impressive philosopher, perhaps one of the greatest-ever thinkers, but his icy metaphysics and his patent distrust of the common man and woman are troubling. Of course, Spinoza could not have foreseen the degree to which excessive and murderous statism would blight Europe’s political landscape during the the first half of the 20th century,  but he can (I think) be taken to task for lending credence to the type of managerial politics espoused by superbodies such as the European Union. And for that reason, it is worth reappraising Spinoza’s contribution to political thought.

Hermann Cohen: ethics, messianism and sin

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This is a collated version of parts one, two and three of my mini-series on the Jewish neo-Kantian ethicist Hermann Cohen.

Hermann Cohen (1842 – 1918) was a German-Jewish philosopher, one of the founders of the Marburg School of Neo-Kantianism and an intellectual precursor to the 20th century Jewish existentialist humanism of Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and Emmanuel Levinas. Starting from the proposition that ethics had to be universal, Cohen outlined a Kantian (and non-Marxist) ethical socialism rooted in the prophetic vision of the Hebrew bible.

By Richard Mather

Universal ethics

Hermann Cohen agreed with Immanuel Kant that ethics must be directed towards the well-being of humanity. The essential feature of this is its universality. As Cohen saw it, progress was (or at least ought to be) moving towards universal suffrage and democratic socialism. Following Kant, Cohen defended the so-called categorical imperative; that we should treat humanity in other persons always as an end and never as a means only. (Kant’s famous definition of the categorical imperative is to “act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”)

The categorical imperative contains, in Cohen’s words, “the moral progress of a new era and the entire future world history.” Although Cohen’s socialism owed more to Kant and the Hebrew prophets than it did to Karl Marx, he was nevertheless critical of capitalism because the individual worker runs the risk of being treated as a mere means for the ends of the employer.

Judaism as the religion of reason

According to Cohen, the human desire for universal ethics is the foundation for religious belief. God is the eternal source of moral law and provides humankind with the imperative to act ethically.

Cohen proclaimed Judaism as the historical source of the idea that humanity can be unified by a single set of ethical laws. He defined Judaism as a “religion of reason” — a revealed type of rationality. And since reason is something that belongs to all people everywhere, a religion of reason must therefore posit a single, unique God for all humanity. In short, a religion of reason must be monotheistic.

Judaism, as interpreted by Cohen, is a set of rational principles that are grounded in God. Not only is revelation given through reason, but a rational religion is necessarily a moral religion. As Kenneth Seeskin describes it in his book Autonomy in Jewish Philosophy, “God represents the highest moral standard possible: a being who wills the moral law for its own sake all the time.”

To know God is to accept the duty of fulfilling the moral law, and this involves imitating God’s attributes of mercy and forgiveness. In other words, holiness is morality.

Messianism

Cohen believed that it is the duty of the Jewish people to teach universal ethics and he cited the Seven Noahide Laws (the Seven Laws of Noah) as an example of a universally-applicable moral code that is rooted in the bible and in rabbinical thought. It is Judaism’s role to point to the ideal of fulfilled humanity and to draw others to it. Cohen asserted that “the general love for mankind is the messianic consequence of monotheism, for which the love of the stranger paved the way.”

Interestingly, Cohen played down the notion of brotherly love as the underlying principle of the biblical commandment to love one’s neighbor. He instead identified law as the basis of the moral subject. Although “neighbor” in German has generally been understood as “one who is near,” Cohen argued that “neighbor” should be translated as “Other” or “Another.” As such, a man’s “neighbour” is actually the stranger or foreigner. We are commanded to protect the stranger because we are all equal before the law. As Jean-Paul Sartre was to write in Being and Nothingness, “To live in a world haunted by my neighbour is … to encounter the Other at every turn of the road.”

According to Cohen, since Jewish monotheism has an ethical dimension, it inevitably culminates in what he characterizes as prophetic messianism, which is “the dominion of the good on earth.”

He added: “Morality will be established in the human world. Against this confidence, no skepticism, no pessimism, no mysticism, no metaphysics, no experience of the world, no knowledge of men, no tragedy, and no comedy can prevail.”

For Cohen, messianism was no longer a hope for God to intervene in history. In fact, he dismissed the notion of a miraculous coming of the messiah. Messianism is simply a factor in world history. Rather than being a supernatural or eschatological event, it is an expression of faith that humanity is making progress towards the end of injustice. If the messianic future can be thought of as eternal, it is only in the sense that the progress of mankind and world history are eternal.

Ethics, law and autonomy

Convinced that ethics must be law-based, and that law and the State must be restored to the realm of ethics, Cohen called for legal rights to be the duty and goal of economic and cultural life. Indeed, in Cohen’s system of ethical jurisprudence, morality, rights and the law are very closely intertwined. Ethics must find its completion in the philosophy of law.

For Cohen, the ethical subject is a legal subject. Man is a moral actor when his actions can be held accountable in court and when he can claim or bring an action for his rights. As Robert Gibbs explains in his essay “Jurisprudence is the Organon of Ethics,” “action means not a claim simply to a right, but a claim to bring the claim to court.” Cohen’s assertion that each person not only has a claim to his rights but “the claim to a court’s judgement” should be seen in the context of the Seven Noahide Laws because one of those laws is the commandment to establish courts of justice.

Cohen was concerned that legality had for too long been empty of ethical content, partly as a result of the Apostle Paul’s polemics. Indeed, Cohen was highly critical of those who pursue a definition of legality that is divorced from what Gibbs terms “the inner freedom and ethical insight of duty done for its own sake.” By creating a suspicion of law by splitting it away from ethics, the likes of Apostle Paul and Martin Luther contributed to an unfortunate caricature of the Torah as emptily legalistic.

In Cohen’s view, the law becomes self-contradictory when ethics and legality are severed, and that is because we are left with laws arising through force. When legality is separated from the notion of duty done for its own sake, the only recourse by the State is coercion. When divorced from ethics, the law has to be imposed from the outside because it is no longer in our hearts and minds. The ethical-legal subject cannot be a free moral agent if he is coerced by the State into acting ethically.

Ethics, then, must unite inner freedom and law. Autonomy means we are free, but with respect to our will this means only that we may “impose on it a universal law” — the law of the categorical imperative. As Kenneth Seeskin points out in his book Autonomy in Jewish Philosophy, “[I]n the [Kantian] kingdom of ends, where everyone is rational and every subject’s humanity is respected, no one will follow any orders other than the ones she imposes on herself.”

So it seems that the ethical state is where the will of the individual finds the full meaning and expression of his or her freedom, protected from compulsion by the State. Andrea Poma, in her excellent book Yearning for Form, explains it thus:

“From the ethical viewpoint, however, this individual is, in the situation described, the bearer of the authority of the law; therefore he represents the State, and opposes any powerful, violent subject, though devoid of all authority, since the law only receives authority from itself: it produces the ethical subject and only this task justifies it.”

Science and ethics 

Cohen made a distinction between the logic of science and the ideal of ethics, and noted that the natural world and the world of ethics are perceived very differently. This is because the order of the physical world is unchangeable (e.g, the sun sets in the west, night follows day, etc), while in the ideal world ethical rules can be accepted or rejected. It seems there should be one explanation for science, which is empirically self-evident, and another for ethics, which is something that is open to debate. Cohen reasoned there must be something that allows science and ethics to coexist and interrelate.

Cohen’s answer was to call on God as the inevitable and ultimate ideal coincidence of what is (science, nature) with what ought to be (ethics). Or to put it another way, God is the eventual coincidence of human culture with nature; the real with the ideal. And because God stands outside nature and ethics, He points to the rapprochement between is and ought, thereby helping to bring about moral action in the world, the same moral action that is recommended by the Hebrew prophets as seen through the prism of the Kantian categorical imperative.

As Andrea Poma explains in Yearning for Form and Other Essays on Hermann Cohen’s Thought, the advantage of having a transcendent God is that neither nature nor morality can claim priority over the other, meaning that just as ethics must conform to science, so science must conform to ethics. Poma adds: “The idea of God establishes this connection [between nature and morality] securely. This connection, this unity is grounded in the two members of the system of philosophy, in accordance with its distinction from identity.”

For Cohen, then, scientific praxis and moral praxis must become reciprocal. Furthermore, and congruent with Cohen’s own prophetic messianism, it is in the future that ethical principles will be fully realized, at which time the ethical will merge with the ontological, so that being and morality no longer contradict each other. As Phillip Homburg remarks in Towards a Benjaminian Critique of Hermann Cohen’s Logical Idealism, Cohen aims “to assign ethics a status that raises it to the same level of dignity as the concepts of logic or mathematics.”

As well as bridging science and ethics, the Cohenian notion of correlation extends to the relationship between mankind and God. For Cohen, humans are rational creatures, and our ability to reason demands a particular kind of relationship with God. In fact, God’s awakening of reason in humans is God’s revelation to humanity; reason is how God communicates with mankind. (As a neo-Kantian, Cohen knows that reason is our faculty of making inferences, allowing us to move from the particular and contingent to the global and universal.)

It is important to note that the correlative relationship between God and humanity (which Cohen characterizes as the ‘Holy Spirit’ or ‘Spirit of Holiness’) is respectful of God’s separateness. As Norman Solomon explains in his essay “Cohen on Atonement, Purification and Repentance,” God and man in Cohen’s system of thought are “the inevitable counterpart of the other, mirroring but not merging.” Solomon goes on to say that merging “would obliterate the distinctiveness of God and human; it would verge on pantheism. God’s holiness demands human holiness as its correlate.”

Indeed, Solomon is right to refer to the bogeyman of pantheism because Cohen was markedly antagonistic towards the pantheistic doctrine that identifies God with the universe (or regards the universe as a manifestation of God). Cohen was adamant that while God is the capstone of both logic and ethics, He nevertheless transcends both. Cohen had nothing but disdain for any form of pantheism or mysticism in which God is equated with the world. In this respect, Cohen was very different from Spinoza, for whom God and Nature are virtually synonymous.

To recap, we see that Cohen defined God as the synthesis (albeit a transcendent synthesis) of nature and ethics, which will ultimately unify all humanity into a Kantian “kingdom of ends,” a world in which all human beings are treated as ends in themselves and not the mere means to an end for other people. The realization of the ideal, which is grounded in God and finds its ultimate fulfilment in Him, is mankind’s historic task, his ethical project.

And since the ethical task is distinguished from the immutable logic of being, the ethical task-as-project is thus not determined, only envisioned and recommended by the Hebrew prophets. As such, the ethical task is free to become realized by human beings. While for Sartre, the undefined, non-determined nature of man can never coincide with the brute reality of being-in-itself, for Cohen, the closing of the gap between the real and the ideal is mankind’s historical task, and he envisioned Judaism as fundamental to this duty.

The redemptive potentiality of sin

Anticipating Martin Buber, Cohen said we must recognize the living, breathing individual as a “Thou,” and not just as a generic example of humanity. As significant as the universal ethical ideal is for Cohen, he recognized that ethics is concerned with individuals only insofar as they are members of humanity as a whole. Ethics can’t always deal with individual moral feelings or with sin. In other words, it is religion — rather than ethics — that concerns itself with the sin of the individual.

It is the prophet Ezekiel whom Cohen singled out as bringing a new and important aspect into early Judaism: the sin of the individual for which he alone stands responsible before God. This is Cohen’s interpretation of Ezekiel’s “Cast away from yourselves all your transgressions whereby you have transgressed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” (18:31). Whereas ethics offers a collective but not individual self-transformation, Ezekiel’s Judaism promises personal liberation from sin through repentance.

It is only when we acknowledge our own moral failings that it is possible for us to atone and to strive for moral improvement. This act of atonement establishes an intimate and personal relationship between the individual and God. And in relating to God, the individual becomes a unique moral and religious self:

“The apex of monotheism is Messianism, but its center of gravity lies in the relation between God and the individual. At this point Ezekiel deviates from the mainstream of Messianism, insofar as he ceases to look at the world and turns to an inward look into the individual. Ezekiel transmitted to religion the God of the individual man” (Cohen, Religion of Reason: Out of the Sources of Judaism).

Moreover, it is through Ezekiel that God informs us that the fateful correlation between sin and punishment is now broken, and so the punishment of death is abolished. In Jewish Writings, Cohen stated that to “sever the connection between suffering and guilt – to discard, that is, the notion that suffering is a punishment for guilt – is one of the most far-reaching consequences of monotheistic thinking, and of momentous significance for man’s approach to the social problem.”

As well as breaking the old connection between sin and punishment, Ezekiel tells us that teshuvah (repentance) now stands as a substitute for public sacrifice. The prophetic rejection of burnt offerings leads to the religious birth of the individual who, instead of performing a public act of sacrifice, now engages in an inward sacrifice of introspection, private repentance and moral improvement. “In myself, I have to study sin, and through sin I must learn to know myself […] I am permeated by the thought that I do not know any man’s wickedness as deeply, as clearly, as my own,” Cohen wrote in Religion of Reason: Out of the Sources of Judaism.

Interestingly, Cohen offered the view that sin and its subsequent repression has the effect of making a person unique: it lifts him or her out of the impersonal totality of nature. Indeed, it is through sin — and in the recognition of sin — that man first becomes an authentic individual. Nevertheless, the sinner has a choice: stay unique in your sin (we are uniquely bad rather than uniquely good, it seems), or repent and return to the ethical community.

“[For Ezekiel] the individual raises himself up out of his social environment, and indeed through his own sin,” Cohen said. But this sin “is not an end-station for man, but rather an ever repeated beginning of an ever-opening new life.” A new beginning “must be joined” to the public realm, that is, a return to the world.

In other words, sin, introspection and repentance ought to be followed with a renewed commitment to the messianic task of raising up humanity and helping to relieve the suffering of the exploited and the abused, so that they may live better lives. Or as the prophet puts it: God does not desire the death of him who transgresses; rather, God wants you to “turn away and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32)

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END

 

 

Hermann Cohen and the redemptive potentiality of sin

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This is the concluding part of a three-part series on the Jewish ethicist Hermann Cohen.

Hermann Cohen (b.1842 – d.1918) was a German-Jewish philosopher, one of the founders of the Marburg School of Neo-Kantianism and an intellectual precursor to the Jewish existentialist humanism of Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and Emmanuel Levinas. Starting from the proposition that ethics had to be universal, Cohen outlined a Kantian (and non-Marxist) ethical socialism rooted in the prophetic vision of the Hebrew bible.

By Richard Mather 

Do I desire the death of the wicked? says the Lord God. Is it not rather in his repenting of his ways that he may live? […] Therefore, every man according to his ways I will judge you […] Cast away from yourselves all your transgressions whereby you have transgressed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit, and why should you die […] For I do not desire the death of him who dies, says the Lord God: so turn away and live! (Ezekiel chapter 18, verses 23, 30a, 31, 32)

Anticipating Martin Buber, Hermann Cohen said we must recognize the living, breathing individual as a “Thou,” and not just as a generic example of humanity. As significant as the universal ethical ideal is for Cohen, he recognized that ethics is concerned with individuals only insofar as they are members of humanity as a whole. Ethics can’t always deal with individual moral feelings or with sin. In other words, it is religion — rather than ethics — that concerns itself with the sin of the individual.

It is the prophet Ezekiel whom Cohen singled out as bringing a new and important aspect into early Judaism: the sin of the individual for which he alone stands responsible before God. This is Cohen’s interpretation of Ezekiel’s “Cast away from yourselves all your transgressions whereby you have transgressed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” (18:31). Whereas ethics offers a collective but not individual self-transformation, Ezekiel’s Judaism promises personal liberation from sin through repentance.

It is only when we acknowledge our own moral failings that it is possible for us to atone and to strive for moral improvement. This act of atonement establishes an intimate and personal relationship between the individual and God. And in relating to God, the individual becomes a unique moral and religious self:

“The apex of monotheism is Messianism, but its center of gravity lies in the relation between God and the individual. At this point Ezekiel deviates from the mainstream of Messianism, insofar as he ceases to look at the world and turns to an inward look into the individual. Ezekiel transmitted to religion the God of the individual man” (Cohen, Religion of Reason: Out of the Sources of Judaism).

Moreover, it is through Ezekiel that God informs us that the fateful correlation between sin and punishment is now broken, and so the punishment of death is abolished. In Jewish Writings, Cohen stated that to “sever the connection between suffering and guilt – to discard, that is, the notion that suffering is a punishment for guilt – is one of the most far-reaching consequences of monotheistic thinking, and of momentous significance for man’s approach to the social problem.”

As well as breaking the old connection between sin and punishment, Ezekiel tells us that teshuvah (repentance) now stands as a substitute for public sacrifice. The prophetic rejection of burnt offerings leads to the religious birth of the individual who, instead of performing a public act of sacrifice, now engages in an inward sacrifice of introspection, private repentance and moral improvement. “In myself, I have to study sin, and through sin I must learn to know myself […] I am permeated by the thought that I do not know any man’s wickedness as deeply, as clearly, as my own,” Cohen wrote in Religion of Reason: Out of the Sources of Judaism.

Interestingly, Cohen offered the view that sin and its subsequent repression has the effect of making a person unique: it lifts him or her out of the impersonal totality of nature. Indeed, it is through sin — and in the recognition of sin — that man first becomes an authentic individual. Nevertheless, the sinner has a choice: stay unique in your sin (we are uniquely bad rather than uniquely good, it seems), or repent and return to the ethical community.

“[For Ezekiel] the individual raises himself up out of his social environment, and indeed through his own sin,” Cohen said. But this sin “is not an end-station for man, but rather an ever repeated beginning of an ever-opening new life.” A new beginning “must be joined” to the public realm, that is, a return to the world.

In other words, sin, introspection and repentance ought to be followed with a renewed commitment to the messianic task of raising up humanity and helping to relieve the suffering of the exploited and the abused, so that they may live better lives. Or as the prophet puts it: God does not desire the death of him who transgresses; rather, God wants you to “turn away and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32)

*

This was the concluding part of a three-part series on the Jewish ethicist Hermann Cohen.

To read part 1, click here

To read part 2, click here

 

 

 

 

The correlation of science and ethics in Hermann Cohen’s philosophy

Hermann_Cohen picture2

Part two of a series on the philosophy of Hermann Cohen

Hermann Cohen (1842 – 1918) was a German-Jewish philosopher, one of the founders of the Marburg School of Neo-Kantianism and an intellectual precursor to the Jewish existentialist humanism of Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and Emmanuel Levinas. Starting from the proposition that ethics had to be universal, Cohen outlined a Kantian (and non-Marxist) ethical socialism rooted in the prophetic vision of the Hebrew bible.

By Richard Mather

Hermann Cohen made a distinction between the logic of science and the ideal of ethics, and noted that the natural world and the world of ethics are perceived very differently. This is because the order of the physical world is unchangeable (e.g, the sun sets in the west, night follows day, etc), while in the ideal world ethical rules can be accepted or rejected. It seems there should be one explanation for science, which is empirically self-evident, and another for ethics, which is something that is open to debate. Cohen reasoned there must be something that allows science and ethics to coexist and interrelate.

Cohen’s answer was to call on God as the inevitable and ultimate ideal coincidence of what is (science, nature) with what ought to be (ethics). Or to put it another way, God is the eventual coincidence of human culture with nature; the real with the ideal. And because God stands outside nature and ethics, He points to the rapprochement between is and ought, thereby helping to bring about moral action in the world, the same moral action that is recommended by the Hebrew prophets as seen through the prism of the Kantian categorical imperative.

As Andrea Poma explains in Yearning for Form and Other Essays on Hermann Cohen’s Thought, the advantage of having a transcendent God is that neither nature nor morality can claim priority over the other, meaning that just as ethics must conform to science, so science must conform to ethics. Poma adds: “The idea of God establishes this connection [between nature and morality] securely. This connection, this unity is grounded in the two members of the system of philosophy, in accordance with its distinction from identity.”

For Cohen, then, scientific praxis and moral praxis must become reciprocal. Furthermore, and congruent with Cohen’s own prophetic messianism, it is in the future that ethical principles will be fully realized, at which time the ethical will merge with the ontological, so that being and morality no longer contradict each other. As Phillip Homburg remarks in Towards a Benjaminian Critique of Hermann Cohen’s Logical Idealism, Cohen aims “to assign ethics a status that raises it to the same level of dignity as the concepts of logic or mathematics.”

As well as bridging science and ethics, the Cohenian notion of correlation extends to the relationship between mankind and God. For Cohen, humans are rational creatures, and our ability to reason demands a particular kind of relationship with God. In fact, God’s awakening of reason in humans is God’s revelation to humanity; reason is how God communicates with mankind. (As a neo-Kantian, Cohen knows that reason is our faculty of making inferences, allowing us to move from the particular and contingent to the global and universal.)

It is important to note that the correlative relationship between God and humanity (which Cohen characterizes as the ‘Holy Spirit’ or ‘Spirit of Holiness’) is respectful of God’s separateness. As Norman Solomon explains in his essay “Cohen on Atonement, Purification and Repentance,” God and man in Cohen’s system of thought are “the inevitable counterpart of the other, mirroring but not merging.” Solomon goes on to say that merging “would obliterate the distinctiveness of God and human; it would verge on pantheism. God’s holiness demands human holiness as its correlate.”

Indeed, Solomon is right to refer to the bogeyman of pantheism because Cohen was markedly antagonistic towards the pantheistic doctrine that identifies God with the universe (or regards the universe as a manifestation of God). Cohen was adamant that while God is the capstone of both logic and ethics, He nevertheless transcends both. Cohen had nothing but disdain for any form of pantheism or mysticism in which God is equated with the world. In this respect, Cohen was very different from Spinoza, for whom God and Nature are virtually synonymous.

*

To recap part two of this series on Cohen’s thought, we see that Cohen defined God as the synthesis (albeit a transcendent synthesis) of nature and ethics, which will ultimately unify all humanity into a Kantian “kingdom of ends,” a world in which all human beings are treated as ends in themselves and not the mere means to an end for other people. The realization of the ideal, which is grounded in God and finds its ultimate fulfilment in Him, is mankind’s historic task, his ethical project.

And since the ethical task is distinguished from the immutable logic of being, the ethical task-as-project is thus not determined, only envisioned and recommended by the Hebrew prophets. As such, the ethical task is free to become realized by human beings. While for Sartre, the undefined, non-determined nature of man can never coincide with the brute reality of being-in-itself, for Cohen, the closing of the gap between the real and the ideal is mankind’s historical task, and he envisioned Judaism as fundamental to this duty.

*

[Coming soon: Hermann Cohen and the redemptive potentiality of sin]   

To read part 1, click here

 

 

The ethical idealism and prophetic messianism of Hermann Cohen

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Hermann Cohen (1842 – 1918) was a German-Jewish philosopher, one of the founders of the Marburg School of Neo-Kantianism and an intellectual precursor to the 20th century Jewish existentialist humanism of Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and Emmanuel Levinas. Starting from the proposition that ethics had to be universal, Cohen outlined a Kantian (and non-Marxist) ethical socialism rooted in the prophetic vision of the Hebrew bible.

By Richard Mather

Universal ethics

Hermann Cohen agreed with Immanuel Kant that ethics must be directed towards the well-being of humanity. The essential feature of this is its universality. As Cohen saw it, progress was (or at least ought to be) moving towards universal suffrage and democratic socialism. Following Kant, Cohen defended the so-called categorical imperative; that we should treat humanity in other persons always as an end and never as a means only. (Kant’s famous definition of the categorical imperative is to “act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”)

The categorical imperative contains, in Cohen’s words, “the moral progress of a new era and the entire future world history.” Although Cohen’s socialism owed more to Kant and the Hebrew prophets than it did to Karl Marx, he was nevertheless critical of capitalism because the individual worker runs the risk of being treated as a mere means for the ends of the employer.

Judaism as the religion of reason

According to Cohen, the human desire for universal ethics is the foundation for religious belief. God is the eternal source of moral law and provides humankind with the imperative to act ethically.

Cohen proclaimed Judaism as the historical source of the idea that humanity can be unified by a single set of ethical laws. He defined Judaism as a “religion of reason” — a revealed type of rationality. And since reason is something that belongs to all people everywhere, a religion of reason must therefore posit a single, unique God for all humanity. In short, a religion of reason must be monotheistic.

Judaism, as interpreted by Cohen, is a set of rational principles that are grounded in God. Not only is revelation given through reason, but a rational religion is necessarily a moral religion. As Kenneth Seeskin describes it in his book Autonomy in Jewish Philosophy, “God represents the highest moral standard possible: a being who wills the moral law for its own sake all the time.”

To know God is to accept the duty of fulfilling the moral law, and this involves imitating God’s attributes of mercy and forgiveness. In other words, holiness is morality.

Messianism

Cohen believed that it is the duty of the Jewish people to teach universal ethics and he cited the Seven Noahide Laws (the Seven Laws of Noah) as an example of a universally-applicable moral code that is rooted in the bible and in rabbinical thought. It is Judaism’s role to point to the ideal of fulfilled humanity and to draw others to it. Cohen asserted that “the general love for mankind is the messianic consequence of monotheism, for which the love of the stranger paved the way.”

Interestingly, Cohen played down the notion of brotherly love as the underlying principle of the biblical commandment to love one’s neighbor. He instead identified law as the basis of the moral subject. Although “neighbor” in German has generally been understood as “one who is near,” Cohen argued that “neighbor” should be translated as “Other” or “Another.” As such, a man’s “neighbour” is actually the stranger or foreigner. We are commanded to protect the stranger because we are all equal before the law. As Jean-Paul Sartre was to write in Being and Nothingness, “To live in a world haunted by my neighbour is … to encounter the Other at every turn of the road.”

According to Cohen, since Jewish monotheism has an ethical dimension, it inevitably culminates in what he characterizes as prophetic messianism, which is “the dominion of the good on earth.”

He added: “Morality will be established in the human world. Against this confidence, no skepticism, no pessimism, no mysticism, no metaphysics, no experience of the world, no knowledge of men, no tragedy, and no comedy can prevail.”

For Cohen, messianism was no longer a hope for God to intervene in history. In fact, he dismissed the notion of a miraculous coming of the messiah. Messianism is simply a factor in world history. Rather than being a supernatural or eschatological event, it is an expression of faith that humanity is making progress towards the end of injustice. If the messianic future can be thought of as eternal, it is only in the sense that the progress of mankind and world history are eternal.

Ethics, law and autonomy

Convinced that ethics must be law-based, and that law and the State must be restored to the realm of ethics, Cohen called for legal rights to be the duty and goal of economic and cultural life. Indeed, in Cohen’s system of ethical jurisprudence, morality, rights and the law are very closely intertwined. Ethics must find its completion in the philosophy of law.

For Cohen, the ethical subject is a legal subject. Man is a moral actor when his actions can be held accountable in court and when he can claim or bring an action for his rights. As Robert Gibbs explains in his essay “Jurisprudence is the Organon of Ethics,” “action means not a claim simply to a right, but a claim to bring the claim to court.” Cohen’s assertion that each person not only has a claim to his rights but “the claim to a court’s judgement” should be seen in the context of the Seven Noahide Laws because one of those laws is the commandment to establish courts of justice.

Cohen was concerned that legality had for too long been empty of ethical content, partly as a result of the Apostle Paul’s polemics. Indeed, Cohen was highly critical of those who pursue a definition of legality that is divorced from what Gibbs terms “the inner freedom and ethical insight of duty done for its own sake.” By creating a suspicion of law by splitting it away from ethics, the likes of Apostle Paul and Martin Luther contributed to an unfortunate caricature of the Torah as emptily legalistic.

In Cohen’s view, the law becomes self-contradictory when ethics and legality are severed, and that is because we are left with laws arising through force. When legality is separated from the notion of duty done for its own sake, the only recourse by the State is coercion. When divorced from ethics, the law has to be imposed from the outside because it is no longer in our hearts and minds. The ethical-legal subject cannot be a free moral agent if he is coerced by the State into acting ethically.

Ethics, then, must unite inner freedom and law. Autonomy means we are free, but with respect to our will this means only that we may “impose on it a universal law” — the law of the categorical imperative. As Kenneth Seeskin points out in his book Autonomy in Jewish Philosophy, “[I]n the [Kantian] kingdom of ends, where everyone is rational and every subject’s humanity is respected, no one will follow any orders other than the ones she imposes on herself.”

So it seems that the ethical situation is where the will of the individual finds the full meaning and expression of his or her freedom, protected from compulsion by the State. Andrea Poma, in her excellent book Yearning for Form, explains it thus:

“From the ethical viewpoint, however, this individual is, in the situation described, the bearer of the authority of the law; therefore he represents the State, and opposes any powerful, violent subject, though devoid of all authority, since the law only receives authority from itself: it produces the ethical subject and only this task justifies it.”

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[Coming soon: The correlation of science and ethics in Hermann Cohen’s philosophy]

‘Our English Zion’: Oliver Cromwell and the Jews

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“Build up the breaches, and re-establish the bulwarks of our English Zion” – Sir Walter Scott, Woodstock

Oliver Cromwell. Statesman, soldier, Puritan, Lord Protector and friend of the Jews. Contemporary accounts show that European Jewish intellectuals in the 1650s saw Cromwell’s philosemitism and his efforts to readmit Jews in England as proof that the great man was on a godly mission to save Jews and establish Zion – both in England and in the ancient boundaries of Israel. In 1657 – 360 years ago – the newly-confident Jewish community commenced synagogue services in London.

By Richard Mather

In 1655, a rabbi named Menasseh ben Israel arrived in London from Amsterdam. His purpose was to petition the English head of state, Oliver Cromwell, concerning the return of the Jews to England. “I am not come to make any disturbance … but only to live with my Nation in the fear of the Lord, under the shadow of your protection, while we expect with you the hope of Israel to be revealed,” wrote Manasseh in his petition.

Cromwell’s favourable attitude toward Jews was so marked that at least one of Manasseh’s retinue was said to have identified Cromwell as the Messiah. A Jewish delegation was sent to examine Cromwell’s baptismal records in Huntington, to see if he descended from King David. Did Jews really believe Cromwell was the messiah? Perhaps it was a case of wishful thinking on the part of some Jews. More likely it was a case of mischief-making by royalists and foreign agents who wished to sow discord among the English by falsely claiming that Cromwell was Jewish. Either way, it seems clear that continental Jews – especially Manasseh – were in awe of Cromwell. Indeed, Jewish fondness for Cromwell runs deep. Centuries later, Jewish psychiatrist Sigmund Freud named one of his sons Oliver out of gratitude for Cromwell’s protection of the Jews, and in 2006, 350 years after their return to England, Jewish communities throughout the country celebrated three and a half centuries of British Jewish life.

Changing attitudes

The first written record of Jewish settlement in England dates from 1070. According to William of Malmesbury, William the Conqueror brought Jews from Rouen to England. But anti-Jewish sentiment was never far away. Anthony Julius finds that the English were endlessly imaginative in inventing anti-Semitic allegations against the Jews, most infamously the blood libel. (In this regard, not much has changed in England judging from today’s excruciating amount of Jew-hatred on the Left and in the Muslim community.) Things came to a head in 1290, when Edward I issued the Edict of Expulsion, whereby the Jews were formally expelled from England. Apart from a handful of secret Jews, England was Judenfrei (Jew-free) for almost four hundred years.

The first half of the seventeenth century saw a modest change in English attitudes towards Jews thanks to the Puritans’ high regard for the Hebrew scriptures and their contempt for Hellenism and paganism. There was a fashion for biblical Hebrew names. Paul, Peter, Anne and Mary were out; Habakkuk, Amos, Enoch, Rebecca and Sarah were in. A Hebrew dictionary (the most complete to date) was produced by the parliamentarian Edward Leigh. The poet and pamphleteer John Milton (whose Christian epic Paradise Lost was published 350 years ago in 1667) recommended the teaching of Hebrew in English grammar schools. And in 1653, a radical overhaul of English law was proposed, including the institution of Mosaic Law, with England modelled on biblical Israel. Although nothing ever came of the idea, there was still a drive to create a godly society – an English Zion – where pagan holidays and festivities (Christmas, maypole dancing etc) were abolished.

Common to both Puritans and Jews was the widely-held belief that the year 1666 was going to a decisive year (think of the pseudo-messiah Shabetai Tsvi) – perhaps the restoration of the Jewish commonwealth in its ancient boundaries and the arrival of the messiah. Indeed, some Puritans were moved to help Jews recreate the Jewish commonwealth in Eretz Israel. And there was also a tradition held by Jews and Puritans that the Jewish diaspora must be extended to all corners of the world – and this included England – before the ingathering of the exiles could begin.

Exploding the myth of Puritan intolerance

Contrary to the popular and untrue portrayal of Puritans as intolerant, many Puritans (Cromwell among them) were quite liberal in matters of freedom of religion. True, one of the first acts of censorship by the Commonwealth in 1649 had been to seize an edition of the Quran printed in London, but attitudes towards Jews and other protestant sects were remarkably liberal. Cromwell, it seems, sought a union of “godly people” comprising Jews, Puritans and other gentiles. “Is it ingenuous to ask for liberty, and not to give it?” asked Cromwell somewhat rhetorically.

There was a small but influential community of Marranos (Jews who converted to the Christian faith to escape persecution but who continued to practice Judaism secretly) in London, living outwardly as Spanish Catholics, who wanted legal recognition. In the atmosphere of philosemitism, it was only natural that they wanted to legalize their position. At the same time, European Jews were already coming back to England, albeit illegally. The expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal at the end of the fifteenth century had made England a place of refuge for Marranos who settled in York, Dover and London.

There were also economic considerations. Cromwell was aware of the Jewish community’s involvement in the economics of the Netherlands, now England’s leading commercial rival. All of which led to his encouraging Jews to return to England in the hope that they would help speed up the recovery of the country after the disruption of the Civil Wars.

Enter the Jews

Menasseh ben Israel, an Amsterdam-based rabbi, author, bookseller and scholar, arrived in London in September 1655, with a delegation and members of his family. He personally petitioned Cromwell for the readmission of the Jews, for government protection, for the withdrawal of all laws against Jews, as well as a new synagogue, a cemetery, and the right to trade. It was agreed that a conference should be convened to discuss the issues.

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Menasseh ben Israel

Those summoned to attend the Whitehall conference of 1655 included Puritan religious leaders and merchants, as well as some of the most eminent judges and lawyers in the country who declared that there was no law preventing Jews from residing in England, as the 1290 expulsion had only applied to Jews who were then resident in England. However, both religious leaders and merchants – for very different reasons – opposed the readmission. After debating for a fortnight, no decision could be reached. Disgusted, Cromwell berated the participants and dismissed them. All was not lost, however. Unofficially at least, he had decided to readmit the Jews. Cromwell’s personal sympathies were manifested in the pension of £100 granted to Manasseh ben Israel.

And so Cromwell permitted Jews to reside and trade in England, albeit informally. A lease for Creechurch Lane Synagogue was acquired on 16 December 1656 and services commenced January 1657. This was the first synagogue to be established following the readmission of the Jews to England. In February, the community acquired a lease of land in Mile End, to the east of the city, for use as a cemetery, the first Jewish cemetery in England since the expulsion of the Jews in 1290. Meanwhile, Solomon Dormido, a nephew of Menasseh ben Israel, was admitted to the Royal Exchange as a duly licensed broker of the City of London, without taking the usual oath involving a statement of faith in Christianity.

And so began a renewal of Jewish life in England.

Ironically, it was following the collapse of Cromwell’s godly republic that the Jews were legally admitted to England. In 1664, King Charles II issued a formal written promise of protection, and in 1674 and 1685 further royal declarations were made confirming that statement. In 1698, the Act for Suppressing Blasphemy granted recognition to the legality of practicing Judaism in England. William III knighted the first Jew, Solomon de Medina, on June 23, 1700.

The Jewish Naturalisation Act of 1753 was an attempt to give foreign-born Jews the ability to acquire the privileges of native Jews, but it was quickly rescinded due to anti-Jewish agitation. In 1846, the obsolete statute “De Judaismo,” which prescribed a special dress for Jews, was formally repealed. In 1858 came the emancipation of the Jews and a change in the Christian oath required of all members of Parliament (since 1858, Parliament has never been without Jewish members). There was significant Jewish immigration from eastern Europe in the nineteenth century, and in the 1930s and 1940s, some European Jews came to England to escape the Nazi menace.

Today, the Jewish population in the UK stands at just under 300,000 – the fifth largest Jewish community in the world and the second-largest Jewish population in Europe. About two-thirds of the UK’s Jews live in the south-west of the country, with substantial communities further north, particularly in Greater Manchester, Leeds, Gateshead and Glasgow. Indeed, Manchester’s Jewish population is said to be the fastest-growing in Europe. Much of this can be attributed, at least in part, to the remarkable Oliver Cromwell, described by the poet Milton as “our chief of men.”

Final thoughts

In 1658 Cromwell was struck by a sudden bout of malarial fever, followed by a urinary or kidney complaint. He died aged 59 at Whitehall on Friday 3 September 1658. His death was a great loss to England and the republican cause. Fast forward three-and-a-half centuries, and British Jews (republicans and monarchists alike) view Cromwell with admiration for his religious tolerance and his fair-mindedness. Still, one question needs to be asked and that is, should Cromwell have legally readmitted the Jews instead of just allowing an informal arrangement?

Perhaps. But as it turned out, Cromwell’s informal decision was a good thing because when Charles II came to the throne in 1660 there was no statute to cancel and so things carried on as they were. Besides, the informal nature of the resettlement meant that opposition to Jewish readmission was unable to coalesce. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains it this way: “The fact that there was no formal legislation readmitting the Jews, which we could view negatively, actually worked out rather positively because other countries which enacted specific legislation found that this became subject to enormous public debate, and sometimes these countries took several steps backwards, sooner or later revoking those laws.” (Quote given to a Financial Times journalist in 2006.)

It should also be remembered that although many Puritans lauded the Hebrews as the noblest race in the world, acceptance of actual flesh-and-blood Jews was still a novel position in seventeenth-century England. There was opposition from religious figureheads who feared Judaism, and there was economic opposition from merchants. In addition, Cromwell’s royalist enemies (and there were many) drew a parallel with the political execution of Charles I, saying that the killing of the king was akin to the death of Jesus Christ, and that Jew and Puritan alike were deserving of exile. It was against this background that Cromwell somehow managed to pave the way for the political, religious, economic and cultural emancipation of the Jews in England. His outlook was largely shaped by the biblical traditions of the Hebrew scriptures, and combined with his passion for liberty of conscience, this predisposed him to regard the Jewish people with favor. And for this, we are extremely grateful.

Spinoza was right: Free inquiry means piety and peace

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By Richard Mather/Israel News Online 

The political outlook of Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632–77) is much like that of Thomas Hobbes, writes Middlebury College Professor Emeritus Victor Nuovo in the Addison County Independent.

“This is not surprising, for he schooled himself in Hobbes’ writings and appropriated most of his ideas from them. Yet on one theme in particular, he far exceeded Hobbes — the topic of free inquiry into the nature of things, or as Spinoza described it, the freedom to philosophize and to publish one’s thoughts and discoveries,” says Nuovo.

Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise (published in 1670) makes the claim that this freedom not only does no harm to domestic tranquility and religion, but that the peace and piety of a society depends entirely on it, Nuovo says.

Nuovo points out that Spinoza fastened upon this claim while reading Hobbes. In chapter 12 of his major text Leviathan, Hobbes explains the origin of religion. Hobbes observes that humans are curious creatures and are inquisitive about the causes of things, especially those things that are potentially beneficial or harmful.

From painful experiences we know that these causes often occur without our knowledge, much less our bidding.

“Ours, then, is an anxious and perpetual curiosity, motivated by fear of what may come, by fear of the unknown. In this anxious state of mind we imagine causes, powerful unnatural forces, which we personalize, hoping that by offering them homage we might gain their favor and insure ourselves against misfortune. Thus arise, in the human imagination, the panoply of Gods, demons, invisible spirits, who are taken to be our guardians or destroyers,” writes Nuovo.

Sadly, there are those who exploit our anxieties by inventing magical rites, religious cults and assorted superstitions.

Nuovo continues, “But, Hobbes remarks, there is another kind of human curiosity, which is disinterested and impartial; it is a purely intellectual desire to know and that leads the mind to conclude that there is a first cause of existence that is eternal and infinite, and a supreme power of nature that is omnipotent and inexhaustible.”

This search is impartial and fearless. And it results in the conclusion that there is a single and ultimate power of nature, which is the source of everything, and which we call God.

“This is a purely intellectual notion of God, unaccompanied by neither fear nor hope, but seasoned by pure wonder,” says Nuovo.

Nuovo believes that Spinoza pored over Hobbes’ Leviathan, and did so because he was led there by the central belief of his own monist philosophy, which is that God and Nature (Deus, sive Natura) are one and the same, and that God is the ultimate and rational principle of everything, whose ways can explained. And in the light of this discovery, we learn that the world was not created for the sake of human beings.

Nuovo continues, “The search after truth is an act of pure piety. We honor truth, we respect it, not because it is something we can own, like riches or power that we can use to our advantage, but because truth has no owner. It offers no advantages to anyone. Truth offers only itself, and it is the ultimate judge of all our reasoning and judgments concerning it.”

Truth is clear and transparent. It is enlightening, the very opposite of mystery. It is also joyful.

“Moreover, a society founded on the principle that free rational enquiry shall not be abridged will be free of internal conflict. It will not be plagued by internal conflicts between zealous advocates of rival orthodoxies, whether religious or secular, or by the machinations of predatory demagogues, because every claim to truth will be subject to rational scrutiny, to a calm and dispassionate enquiry by everyone everywhere,” Nuovo says.

According to Spinoza, the commitment to free inquiry manifests itself in our right to change our minds whenever we discover that our beliefs are in error. And in so doing, we will have discovered for ourselves that truth is something to be honored.

“This is the surest means to peace and piety,” concludes Nuovo. “I believe Spinoza had it right.”

To read Victor Nuovo’s article on Spinoza and Hobbes visit here

Spinoza’s intellectual love of God

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Baruch Spinoza

It is a popular misconception that Spinoza was a pantheist or even an atheist. He was not. Like the medieval Kabbalists, Spinoza was a panentheist.

By Richard Mather 

Panentheism, meaning “all-in-God,” is situated somewhere between pantheism and classical theism. For pantheists, the world is identical to God, while for classical theists, the world is completely external to God. Panentheists believe  three things: that the world is within God, that God is in all things, and that God is also supernaturally transcendent. To put it another way, God is ontologically at one with the universe and yet remains greater than the universe. The universe does not exhaust what it means to be God.

To use the terminology of mathematical set theory, the universe – the totality of facts, ideas and things – is a subset of God.

If the word panentheist seems alien to Judaism, a synonymous term is available: monistic monotheism. Either way, such a conception of God can be found in medieval esoteric Judaism (Kabbalah), in the writings of seventeenth-century Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza, and in hasidut (Hasidic Judaism) and even in yahadut mitkhadeshet (Reconstructionist Judaism).

In his youth, Spinoza was exposed to Abraham Cohen de Herrera’s Gate of Heaven, a widely influential work of Jewish mysticism written in Spanish and translated into Hebrew. This work was apparently used by Spinoza’s Talmud teachers, Manasseh ben Israel and Saul Levi Morteira. According to de Herrera, God is not just hidden in himself but is also immanent in the universe. Indeed, the material universe “is actually nothing but the revealed and unveiled God.”

A classic Judeo-panentheistic formulation is memaleh [filling] kol almin u’sosev kol almin – that God fills and surrounds all worlds. This formulation is found in ha-Zohar (the Zohar) and the twelfth-century hymn Shir HaYichud, which contains the words: “All of them are in You and You are in all of them” and “You surround all and fill all and when all exists You are in all.” Similarly, the kabbalist Hayyim Ibn Atar writes in his commentary Or Ha-Hayyim, “The world is in its Creator and the light of the Creator is in the whole world.”

According to hasidut (which emerged as a popular movement less than a hundred years after Spinoza’s death), God both transcends and indwells the universe. The phrase, “The whole earth is full of His glory,” from Sefer  Yeshayahu (Isaiah) is taken to mean that God is in all things.

Hasidic Jews believe that the multiplicity of things we observe in the universe , including ourselves, is due to the screening of the divine light that prevents us from perceiving God as He is in Himself. Similarly, Spinoza refers to things, including ourselves, as “modes” or modifications of God. Both Hasidic Jews and Spinoza believe that only God is substantial. There can be no other substance in the universe but God. That is not to say that individual things aren’t real, just that they are modifications of God and are dependent upon God for their existence.

For Spinoza, because God is infinite, He therefore has infinite attributes, including mind and matter. But the attributes of mind and matter do not exhaust God’s attributes. Because God is infinite, God must have an infinite number of attributes, of which we know nothing. There must be an infinity of other divine attributes that are hidden from us, that transcend our senses and our knowledge.

Spinoza has been erroneously characterised as a pantheist because he asserted Deus sive Natura, which means “God or nature.” But he did not mean that God and nature (i.e. the universe) are synonymous terms, but rather that nature is God, but not God in His entirety. The  two attributes known to us – mind and matter – signify God’s indwelling in the universe. But His transcendence is secured by his infinitely many attributes, of which we can only guess.

As such, there are two inter-related aspects of God in Spinozism. First, there is the active, productive aspect, which is God and his attributes, from which all else follows. This is what Spinoza calls natura naturans (“nature creating”), which is wholly identical with God. Secondly, he employed the term natura naturata (or “nature created”) to describe the aspect of God when it is predicated into “modes” such as the laws of motion and rest, logic, the Milky Way, cats, buildings, rocks, minds, beliefs and so on.

Likewise, mystical Jews sometimes envision two aspects of God: Firstly, the impersonal Ein Sof (meaning “there is no end”), which is God in essence, absolutely transcendent, unknowable and limitless, hidden. Secondly, there is God in manifestation, the revealed aspect of God, which is accessible to human perception, and is dynamically interacting through spiritual and physical existence.

It would be a mistake to think of this as a dualistic conception. If so, the Kabbalists wouldn’t have been able to remain true to the strict monotheism of rabbinical Judaism. Rather, they sought (as they still do) to make the universe holy by unifying God-as-Other with God-as-immanent. Like the Kabbalists, Spinoza made a subtle distinction between two aspects of God, and like the Kabbalists, he also had the  fundamental insight that God is one substantial whole. Indeed, God is the only substantial whole.

Like the Kabbalists, Spinoza believed that there is nothing external to God, nothing outside of Him. And like the Kabbalists, Spinoza held that everything that exists is a part of God and is brought into being by God.

Because God is everywhere, and because holiness is literally in the world, religious Jews often emphasise simcha or joy. A popular teaching by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov is mitzvah gedolah le’hiyot besimcha tamid – “it is a great mitzvah to always be in a state of happiness.” Similarly, Spinoza talks of the “intellectual love of God,” which is when the mind perceives God not only as essence but as the immanent causal power of the universe.

Spinoza writes of the person who has attained the intellectual love  of God that he “is hardly troubled in spirit, but being, by a certain eternal necessity, conscious of himself, and of God, and of things, he never ceases to be, but always possess true peace of mind.” Spinoza refers to this as “blessedness,” which is similar in meaning to shalem (and hence shalom), a Hebrew word-concept signifying wholeness, harmony, prosperity, delight, peace.

Whether we call it blessedness or shalem, the webbing together of God, humans and  creation is at the heart of both Spinozism and rabbinical mystical Judaism.

 

On the UK terror spree: We need to talk about Islam

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Photo by Katie Chan

Rather than labelling Islam’s critics as racist, we need an honest conversation about Islam. 

By Richard Mather

It’s a strange time to be alive. We live in a world that flies into self-righteous fury when a Jew builds a conservatory in his indigenous homeland, only to decline back into idleness when the footsoldiers of Allah slaughter men, women and children. In the UK there have been two major terrorist attacks in as many weeks, plus the Westminster attack in March. That’s 36 innocent people dead, and 217 injured, many critically. The response? A concert, balloons, candles, hashtags, expressions of love, and lots of waffle about Islamophobia.

The rush to reassure Muslims that they are “loved” now forms a major part of the post-attack ritual. Also part of the ritual is the eagerness to protect Islam from criticism. Indeed, political leaders and the media go to extraordinary lengths to avoid offending Muslims in the wake of each terrorist atrocity. As Brendan O’Neill, editor of spiked magazine, rightly points out, this “censorious privilege” is very dangerous, because it encourages Muslims to become intolerant. “You license their intolerance. You inflame their violent contempt for anyone who questions their dogmas. You provide a moral justification for their desire to punish those who insult their religion.”

Just as one might say about the Cold War that we knew how to make distinctions between what worked (democracy, capitalism) and what didn’t (totalitarianism, communism), the present age does not make distinctions at all: there is no difference anymore, it seems, between the massacred Manchester concert-goer and the terrorist who carried out the atrocity. Why do I say this? Because liberals argue that the terrorist is also a victim – a victim of borders, of capitalism, of the prison system, of colonialism, of global warming, a victim of everything except the ideology of Islam. This is censorious in the extreme. And we have allowed this daft narrative to take hold because we have collectively given Islam a free pass.

In what is shaping up to be the ideological war of the 21st century, we need to accept that there is a serious problem with intolerant Islamic beliefs about non-believers, martyrdom, jihad, sharia law, sexuality and the ummah. We also need to ask why so many criminals are drawn to Islam (especially in prison). More needs to be done to tackle non-violent Muslim fundamentalists who legitimize, excuse and passively allow jihadi extremism. For example, a recent opinion poll of British Muslims found that a mere 34 per cent said they would report to the police anybody they thought was involved with jihadi extremism. And we must not overlook university campuses, which are breeding-grounds for extremism and anti-Semitism. Indeed, universities that turn a blind eye to extremism (or worse still, actively promote such behaviour) must be called to account.

Of course, not all Muslims are extremists (this is a politically-correct cliche we trot out after every terrorist attack) but this does not mean that the religion of Islam itself is unproblematic. Far from it. Most people accept this fact; it’s just that the media won’t allow them to say it. Suppressing criticism of Islam and Islamic beliefs is not only very bad for democracy, it is a gift to the Far Right, which capitalizes on people’s frustration with the political system and thrives on the message that politicians and lawmakers do not speak for (or even care about) the majority.

Rather than labelling Islam’s critics as racist, we need honest conversations about Islam, censorship, and so-called Islamophobia. Such conversations may be embarrassing (for some), and they will no doubt expose some very unsavory truths about the doctrines, ideology and history of Islam. But we need to get this sorted if we are to avoid decades of terrorist attacks. Turning the other cheek in the face of Islamist malice may make liberals and the snowflake generation feel good about themselves, but in actuality it is a kind of enslavement – the enslavement of non-Muslims by religious extremists who think non-believers are whores, apes and pigs, or even worse, sub-human and deserving of death.

First published by Israel News Online and Arutz Sheva 

 

Unearthing the past for the sake of Zion

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Photo: Assaf Peretz / IAA

Generally speaking, ancient artifacts tell a particular story of a particular people. Tellingly, there are no archaeological Palestinian Arab sites – but there are plenty of Jewish ones. By unearthing and reconstructing meaning from a fragmentary past, the Israeli state is secured. Zion is very literally embedded in the mud and clay, in the strata of rock and soil.

By Richard Mather

Shortly before attempting to escape from Vichy France in 1940, the German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” which has been described as one of the most insightful analyses of the failure of Marxism ever produced. Benjamin, who described himself as a cultural Zionist, claimed that every generation is endowed with a “weak messianic power,” which is the power to fulfill the messianic hopes of previous generations. His vision is best represented by thesis IX, which employs Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus (1920) as the “Angel of History,” with his back turned against the future. Where humans see history as a linear chain of events, the Angel of History sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble.

The liberal view of history that the full meaning of freedom can be found only progressively has been a cruel illusion, especially for the Jews of Europe. The Enlightenment idea that the human condition can be improved by advances in technology, science, and social organization surely died in the gas chambers. And if Marxists see history as a class struggle that will one day culminate in a classless society, Zionists, on the other hand, tend to see history as a catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage: the Babylonian exile, the Sacking of Jerusalem, the Holocaust, and all the disasters in-between.

This is not to say that the future doesn’t matter. But it does mean that we ought to be more sceptical of progress and human perfectibility, which after the horrors of the twentieth century, are no longer tenable. Benjamin writes, “It is well-known that the Jews were forbidden to look into the future.” He adds, “The Torah and the prayers instructed them, by contrast, in remembrance.” By engaging in ritualized memory – that is, redeeming history through acts of remembrance – the future is stripped of its idolatrous magic. And the “soothsayers” who promise enlightenment inevitably lose their power to enchant the gullible.

The existence of the Nazi death camps and the Soviet gulags ought to be enough to make us incredulous towards the grand narratives of progress, enlightenment, universal reason and emancipation. Benjamin’s solution is to break with any faith in the imminence of political salvation, preferring instead to redeem fragments of the past. He offers ‘messianic time’ as an alternative temporal model to so-called historical progress. Past events are given their historical meaning retrospectively, in messianic moments. “The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer,” says Benjamin, he also comes as the “subduer” of the enemy whose historical processes crush minorities such as the Jews. The task of the (Jewish) historian, then, is to engage in a kind of tikkun olam – repairing the world by “fanning the spark of hope in the past” (to quote Benjamin), of rekindling the fragments of light buried in the wreckage. For unless the past is recognised and saved, “even the dead will not be safe from the enemy.”

This is why acts of remembering are so important in Israel. Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron are two examples. And it is also why archaeology is so crucial. The metaphor of the past as an artifact that can be recovered out of the ground and recontextualized in the living present is essential to the Zionist project. Generally speaking, ancient artifacts tell a particular story of a particular people. Tellingly, there are no archaeological Palestinian Arab sites – but there are plenty of Jewish ones. By unearthing and reconstructing meaning from a fragmentary past, the Israeli state is secured. Zion is very literally embedded in the mud and clay, in the strata of rock and soil.

I started out with Benjamin’s claim that every generation is endowed with a “weak messianic power,” which is the power to fulfill the messianic hopes of previous generations. Today’s Zionists are doing just that, by uncovering artifacts in the Land of Israel. Not so long ago, a rare document mentioning the name of Jerusalem from the time of the First Temple was discovered when the Israel Antiquities Authority took action against a band of antiquities robbers who had plundered the papyrus from the Judean Desert. It is the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing. And it is 2,700 years old.

Zionism has always been associated with redemption of the land, and the very existence of Israel (that ‘old-new land’ to quote Theodor Herzl) goes some way in rectifying the damage done to Jews by the “storm” of progress. As Benjamin states, “For we have been expected upon this earth. For it has been given us to know, just like every generation before us, a weak messianic power, on which the past has a claim.” 

 

UK: Labour’s view of Jews is an antisemitic caricature worthy of Soviet Russia

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Labour antizionism is an USSR-inspired propaganda doctrine that aims to unsettle Anglo-Jewry and to exclude individual Jews from British political life

By Richard Mather

Under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is the British political party that is most hostile to Jews, more dangerous than the extreme right-wing but insignificant British National Party, which tends to attract former Labour voters.  Given that most Jews in Britain are Zionists and that most Zionists are Jews, Labour’s disdain for the vast majority of Anglo-Jewry is incontestable. The main thrust of Labour’s antizionist message is this: Zionism is a form of racism, Zionists are similar to Nazis, and Israel is a tool used by both diaspora and Israeli Jews to foment imperialism and militant chauvinism.

This is the politics of anti-Jewish contempt, a variation of the contempt that has echoed down the centuries – from John Chrysostom’s fourth-century Adversus Judaeos homilies, through the medieval blood libel (invented in England) and Martin Luther’s demonization of Jews, and into the twentieth century’s pan-German and pan-Arab nationalisms, and the Soviet Union’s suspicion of ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ (code for ‘Jews’).

Labour’s anti-Jewish nastiness not only has centuries of historical precedence, it is cynically deliberate in its intent. Like the Soviets before them, the Labour Party has evolved a species of antizionist propaganda that aims to rob Anglo-Jewry of their security and to oust them from political discourse. Why? In part because the Left has always had an awkward relationship with what they see as Jewish exceptionalism and also because it plays well with the growing Muslim electorate.

It’s true that antisemitism in the British Labour Party is not new. It was evident in the foreign policy decisions of the post-WW2 Labour government. But there has always been (at least until now) a significant and sizeable pro-Israel, pro-Jewish contingent within the party: advocacy groups such as Labour Friends of Israel, and important individuals such as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown who stood alongside the Jewish state and spoke out against antisemitic prejudice and bigotry.

But Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to power has done more than just embolden the minority of antisemitic cranks already within the party; he has enthused a new generation of antisemites who have joined Labour in droves. Labour Zionists are now marginalised, and Jewish Labour MPs are routinely abused and bullied by militant Corbynistas. As a result, financial donations from Jewish donors have all but dried up and Jews are abandoning the party.

But anti-Jewish hostility is not just a problem for Jewish members inside Labour. It is an issue of concern for Jews in the UK more generally. The ascendancy of Corbyn and the militancy of Labour’s recently-formed Momentum group are reminders that left-wing extremism did not die out in the 1980s but remains an ongoing threat to the well-being and security of Anglo-Jewry. The rise in antisemitic attacks in the UK suggests that Labour and the rest of the British Left, in allegiance with Islamist radicals and a few nutjobs on the Far Right, now pose an existential threat to British Jews.

Corbynistas are a lot like the antizionist Soviet propagandists who studied Zionism in order to uncover its secrets. In Soviet lore, Zionism was the politics of the wealthy Jewish bourgeoisie which had closely allied itself with monopoly elites in the USA and the UK. The writers who specialized in the Soviet doctrine of Zionology considered any expression of Jewishness as Zionist and therefore subject to suppression and persecution.

In 1983, the Soviet Union established the Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public (AZCSP). Its manifesto (which was endorsed by a handful of self-hating Soviet Jews) stated:

“…By its nature, Zionism concentrates ultra-nationalism, chauvinism and racial intolerance, excuse for territorial occupation and annexation, military opportunism, cult of political promiscuousness and irresponsibility, demagogy and ideological diversion, dirty tactics and perfidy… Absurd are attempts of Zionist ideologists to present criticizing them, or condemning the aggressive politics of Israel’s ruling circles, as antisemitic…”

This radical caricature of Zionism accords very well with the views of Labour antisemites. Like the Soviets before them, the Corbynistas are convinced that Israel is home to several million racists, and that Zionists around the world serve as “the front squad of colonialism and neo-colonialism,” to quote the third edition of the thirty-volume Great Soviet Encyclopedia.

Even when there isn’t a flesh-and-blood Jew in sight, Labour antizionists are still tormented by the idea of ‘the Jew.’ Lacking political depth and therefore unable to distinguish between the real and the imaginary, the typical Labour antisemite is driven by the idea of the Zionist Jew, albeit a false idea.

It was the same with the Brownshirts and the Stalinists, the Lutherans and the medieval Catholic Church. The thought or image of the nefarious Jew is enough to engender a pogrom, a Stalinist show trial, an inquisition, a boycott. It is no wonder that the Corbynistas are irrational and abusive. They imagine themselves living in a world controlled by Jew-Zionists. And this is why Labour’s focus in the past couple of years has been to cleanse the party (and the country) of undesirable Zionist Jews.

More than that, party members are well aware that they do not need to be in government in order to do this. They already have the power and the resources to perpetuate their dirty war against Jews, not only through the media, but also by means of organized protests, marches and demonstrations, by the boycotting of Jewish businesses and individuals, and by aiding and abetting Islamist extremists.

If the Soviets learned a great deal from the Nazis about how to slander Jews, so the contemporary Far Right is taking lessons from the Labour Party. Last year, Nick Griffin, former leader of the extreme right-wing racist British National Party, took to Twitter to defend Ken Livingstone’s repugnant suggestion that Adolf Hitler was a Zionist:

“Hitler started war wanting to send all Jews to own homeland outside Europe & armed Zionist terrorists to fight Brits in Palestine. #RedKen,” wrote Nick Griffin, who then tweeted a message reading, “One day the world will know that #RedKen was right.”

Consider, too, the Far Right website deLiberation, which has hailed Corbyn as the “antidote to the Blairite virus and Zionist snake-bite”:

“Many certainly can see Corbyn as Prime Minister – a very different and totally new style of PM, to be sure […] he’s a man to look up to and identify with […] a man who is not tempted by the Israeli shekel. If any of his opponents lands the leadership Labour will remain under the yoke of Zionist ambitions and enslave by the gangster regime in Tel Aviv.”

The phrase “gangster regime in Tel Aviv” is a favorite on both ends of the political spectrum. It is sometimes used by the nefarious and divisive George Galloway, who manages to straddle both the economic Far Left and the Islamist Far Right.

The Far Right’s fascination with the Labour Party is what happens when a once-major political party is taken over by lunatics who transform their irrational fixation with Jews into party policy. The trouble is, even if Corbyn and his cronies lose the general election on June 8, there’s not much evidence that the party will recover anytime soon. The rot may be too wide and too deep.

The party is, on average, fifteen points behind the Conservative Party. As things stand, there is no chance of Labour doing well in the next general election. But that doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters to the Corbynistas is the cleansing of the party of Zionists and of other political foes. Purity of belief is everything to the Left. Under its current leader, Labour has been reduced to a social media/student union protest body that proffers a seemingly endless proliferation of callow opinion from the foolish, the extreme and the dangerous.

Thanks to Corbyn and his communist apparatchiks, Labour is limping through a catastrophic and unprecedented collapse of meaning and intellectual malaise, propped up solely by its Sovietesque obsession with Jews and Zionism, an obsession that is shared by the racists on the Far Right. If Labour is abandoned by a disgusted electorate on June 8, nobody can say Corbyn wasn’t warned.

Contra Corbynomics: Why we should be incredulous towards Labour’s economic statism

 

By Richard Mather

People are themselves. They are not objects to be pushed around by the State, which is what Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, proposes. This is why the British public shouldn’t be seduced by Corbyn’s vision of economic statism in which individualism, hard work and enterprise are demonised by expensive and controlling government.

Corbynomics, which is characterised by social ownership of the means of production and of the economy, is inefficient, unrealistic and reactionary. Corbynomics will not transfer power from the top of society to the bottom. It will merely hand power to (and enrich) apparatchiks, trade unions, politicians and state bureaucrats. In other words, a Corbyn government means power will be centralised and controlled by an overstaffed elite.

Corbyn’s economic statism reduces everything to the banality of the One: a one-size-fits-all economic narrative that ignores regional, local and competitive differences. The notion of the State as a single essence was a twentieth century experiment that failed. Look at the continental catastrophes of communism or fascism, or the public sector battles in the UK during the 1970s. It was only with the formation of a new British consensus in the 1980s and 1990s –  first under Thatcher and then Blair – that taxes were lowered and the monopoly of public sector power was broken, thanks in part to the privatisation of some industries/services.

Social mobility in the twenty-first century will not be helped by a return to an outdated economic public sector model. Contrary to popular opinion, the free market is not a reductive enterprise; rather, it is the guarantor of aspiration and progress. There is nothing immoral about people buying goods and services produced for profit. We need entrepreneurs, businesses and companies to invest in our local and regional economies, and to create new jobs. And of course, profits can be reinvested, fuelling economic growth and reducing prices for consumers.

Corbyn’s vision of the State comprises an unworkable trinity of nationalisation, people’s quantitative easing and higher taxes. But this trinity will not result in some kind of utopia. In the land of Corbyn, our democratic rights over state services will be endlessly deferred in a chain of bureaucracy and political obfuscation. Our frustrations with the railways will not diminish if the State steps in. On the contrary, our concerns will grow because of less choice, higher costs, below-par service and unionised public sector strikes.

Higher tax rates, for example, do not necessarily yield more revenues because they reduce incentives to work. What Corbyn fails to understand is that the UK is actually becoming more equal. The top one per cent of earners in the UK now shoulder a greater share of the income tax burden than at any time in the country’s history. Corbynomics is regressive and will generate less income for the country.

Corbynomics is a fantasy. It is an illiterate and ideologically-driven economic metanarrative that elevates and enshrines the grand role of the State and punishes the virtues of localism, eclecticism, enterprise, healthy competition and personal aspiration. These virtues help make Britain a modern and exciting country. Corbynomics, by contrast, is a return to the old and defeated arguments of the 1970s when high inflation, government inefficiency, bad services, trade union militancy and low growth turned the UK into the sick man of Europe.

Labour needs to get real and reach out to the British people with sensible and moderate policies. The electorate is neither stupid nor naïve. Given that the country rejected Ed Miliband in May 2015 and voted for a Conservative majority government for the first time since the 1990s, they are unlikely to vote for Labour’s dangerous economic statism on June 8.  But stranger things have happened and the Conservatives cannot afford to be complacent or indecisive on economic matters as the country prepares for this snap General Election.

 

On the London terror attack: What must be said

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(Photo credit: ktanaka / Wikimedia Commons)

Islam breeds terror. It’s an unsavory truth but it has to be said. Only then can it be confronted.

By Richard Mather 

The present age is essentially one of denial and misunderstanding; it is an age devoid of common sense; an age that judges the victims not the perpetrators; an age that flies into self-righteous fury over the descendants of Holocaust survivors building houses in Judea, only to decline back into idleness when men, women and children are broken into pieces by the Islamist menace. Our age is also one of resentment. The past is judged and found guilty for not being what it should have been. Many Muslims resent the fact that Islamic empire building has come to nothing. Every caliphate in history has failed. Moreover, there is not a single really successful Islamic country anywhere in the world. And since the past cannot be changed, the resentful individual settles his scores by wreaking revenge on the present by driving into crowds of people in London, Berlin, Nice and Jerusalem.

The West, which has become increasingly secular in recent decades, is blind to this kind of religious resentment. Western Europeans, in particular, are inept in their understanding of current conflicts. They misread the Israeli-Arab dispute as a clash over land, and they think that acts of terrorism on European soil are symptomatic of capitalism’s failure to cater for the global poor. Both views are wrong. What Westerners (particularly those on the Left) fail to see is that Islamic terrorism is rooted in religiously-inspired rancor and malice. This is where the Islamists have the advantage. They understand only too well that the war against Jews and the West in general is not just a religious conflict, but one that is born from utter malice and failure. If the Islamists ever do defeat Western democracy, it won’t be out of strength, but simply because Europe proved weaker and sicker than the Islamists.

Actually, such a scenario is possible. Since the end of the Second World War, Europe has rid itself of its Judeo-Christian-Enlightenment heritage and burdened itself with so much colonial guilt that Angela Merkel and her EU sidekicks now lack the political will to protect their own citizens because they no longer think Europeans are worth saving. Israel, by contrast, embarrasses the European Union by insisting on its own ethno-cultural heritage and by protecting its own citizens. This is why Israel is strong and Europe is weak. Of course, the situation might not be so bad if Europeans had embraced a robust humanism, which emphasises critical thinking, freedom and progress. Unfortunately, many in the West have become politically-correct automatons who tolerate the intolerable by creating ‘safe spaces’ on campuses for unpleasant people who wish to kill Jews and Europeans, and who undermine pluralistic values by allowing Islamist supremacists to flood into towns and cities.

Just as one might say about the Cold War that we knew how to make distinctions between what worked (democracy, capitalism) and what didn’t (totalitarianism, communism), the present age does not make distinctions at all: there is no difference anymore, it seems, between the murdered Londoner and the terrorist who carried out the atrocity. Why do I say this? Because liberals argue that the terrorist is also a victim – the victim of borders, of capitalism, of Israel, of the prison system, of colonialism, a victim of everything except the ideology of Islam. Even in the face of terrorism, left-wing liberals and globalists continue to call for an end to borders because they do not make a distinction between an Islamist from Tunisia and a secular Parisian. And yet anyone with any common sense can see that there is a distinction to be made, and that making sensible is a desirable thing to do. It is not racist.

By declaring that refugees are welcome after mass sexual attacks in Cologne or vehicular attacks in France, Germany and the UK, the West is showing itself to be weak and sick, that Europeans have given up on their own values and relinquished their own cultures, out of fear of appearing racist or colonialist. But when we no longer believe in anything, we may end up believing anything. Kindness, humility, and sympathy are all well and good, but if resentful Islamists exploit our values, then there will be nobody left to extol these virtues. Turning the other cheek in the face of Islamist malice may sound noble in theory, but in actuality it is a kind of enslavement – the enslavement of non-Muslims by religious extremists who think non-believers are whores, apes and pigs, or even worse, sub-human and deserving of death.

It would help if politicians stopped denying the link between Islam and terrorism. British prime minister Theresa May says it is wrong to describe the recent London attack as Islamic terrorism and that the attacker’s ideology was a “perversion of a great faith.”  As political commentator Melanie Phillips writes, “Since 9/11 the British political establishment has refused to acknowledge that the jihadi terrorism being conducted in the name of Islam is actually inspired by… Islam. Islamic jihadi terror has instead been called ‘un-Islamic’ or even ‘anti-Islamic’ or ‘a perversion of Islam’ or ‘a warped ideology.’ Everything but what it actually is: terrorism inspired by a fanatical but legitimate interpretation of Islam.”

Terrorism inspired by a fanatical but legitimate interpretation of Islam. Let’s be honest, it’s getting harder to avoid the conclusion that terrorism carried out in the name of Islam is a natural expression of Islamic beliefs (perhaps not the only expression, but nonetheless a legitimate one.) But politicians and the mainstream media refuse to concede this point. As another commentator says, “mainstream politicians cannot agree with this, not least because they (and Merkel in particular) are responsible for the massive upsurge of Muslim migration into Europe that is fundamentally changing its future. But this is a gap which they must at some point bridge.” So says Douglas Murray in The Spectator.

In what is shaping up to be the ideological war of the 21st century, we need to accept that that there is a serious problem with Islamic beliefs about non-believers, martyrdom, jihad, sharia law, sexuality and the ummah. We also need to ask why so many criminals are drawn to Islam (especially in prison). More needs to be done to tackle non-violent Muslim fundamentalists, who legitimize, excuse and passively allow jihadi extremism. (In a recent opinion poll of British Muslims, a mere 34 per cent said they would report to the police anybody they thought was involved with jihadi extremism.)

The general public in Britain, France, Italy and so on are thoroughly sick of being told there isn’t a problem with Islam. Unless the liberal elites come to their senses, the disconnect between citizens and the establishment will grow ever wider. Not only is this very bad for democracy, it is a gift to the Far Right, which capitalizes on people’s frustration with the political system and thrives on the message that politicians and lawmakers do not speak for (or even care about) the majority. People aren’t stupid. It’s time that the liberal elites in London, Berlin, Brussels and Paris cease sneering at the masses and concede that the belief system of Islam breeds terror. It’s an unsavory truth but it has to be said. Only then can it be confronted.

 

Exposing deception: The cult of Palestinianism

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It is crucial that the Palestinian deception is exposed for what it is – an anti-Semitic, terroristic, racist cult that spreads Jew-hatred, legitimizes murder and destabilizes societies.

By Richard Mather 

The term cult usually refers to a social group defined by their religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs, or common interest in a particular personality, object or goal. Cults range in size from local groups with a few members to international organizations with millions. Sub-categories of cults include doomsday cults, political cults, racist cults, polygamist cults and terrorist cults.

The Palestinian movement is a political cult, but it is also a racist and terroristic cult. Its goal is the advancement of the dishonest Palestinian narrative, the destruction of the historic Jewish homeland and the implementation of a racist sharia-state called Palestine, achieved through terroristic means. Cult members, who number in the millions, deny or falsify the Jewish people’s historical, legal and biblical ties to the land of Israel. They use the weapons of delegitimization, defamation, disinformation, anti-Semitic propaganda, faked news footage, sanctions and boycotts to achieve their aims.

The Palestinianist cult can be traced back to two men: Yasser Arafat and Mohammed Amin al-Husseini. The latter is the father of Palestinian Islamic nationalism who believed it was a religious impossibility for Muslims to share the Land of Israel with Jews. Even areas where Jews formed a majority were considered to be a kind of religious defilement. Husseini, who was complicit in the Holocaust, called on his fellow Arabs to “not forget that the Jew is your worst enemy and has been the enemy of your forefathers.” Not surprisingly, his bombast resulted in various pogroms, massacres and terrorist atrocities. 

Husseini’s political successor was Yasser Arafat. From the 1960s, Arafat toured the world, converting people to his cause, acquiring recognition and financial backing until his movement was a global phenomenon. Thanks to Arafat, Palestinianism has become a ‘new religious movement’ (NRM) that appeals to people of all faiths and none, including Christians, Muslims, hardcore communist atheists, agnostics, liberals and even some Jews (who are sometimes the most fanatical converts).

This particular NRM (another term for cult) offers all the benefits of mainstream religion, such as community and social action, but without any of theological ‘baggage’ such as the Trinity, Torah or Islam’s Pillars of Faith. Even the quasi-religion of Marxism can be included within the framework of this new interfaith ideology because it, too, turns a finite, limited ideal (a world without Jews/the classless society/the end of capitalism) into an object of absolute and murderous godlike devotion. 

Paradoxically, BDS is an egalitarian cult; it is not closed, secret or hierarchical. It doesn’t matter where you come from or which god you may (or may not) worship; all that is required is that you express genocidal disdain for Jewish political autonomy. In fact, proponents of the ideology are keen to make new converts. They routinely brainwash young minds on Western university campuses, and in colleges and in mosques; their literature demonizes Jews and the Jewish state; and opponents are slandered and condemned using conspiratorial language, usually involving words like “Rothschild,” “Nazi,” and “Satanic.”

Indeed, Jews are routinely described in abusive and cult-like language (sometimes reminiscent of medieval Christian theologians): Jews as satanic murderers, baby-killers, well-poisoners, harvesters of organs and stealers of land. The charge of deicide (killing God) has been resurrected in modified form and is now presented as the charge of genocide against the so-called Palestinians. Of course, such claims made against the Jewish people are scandalous nonsense, propaganda designed to both demonise and legitimize murder. But in the minds of cult members, any justification to kill Jews or force them into permanent exile will suffice. 

This is a very dangerous cult indeed. What’s worse is that it has the backing of many governments, international organizations, NGOs and charities. It is a movement of global proportions, bigger than the Nazi cult that killed more than six million Jews. But unlike the Nazis, the Palestinianists face very little opposition. This is why it’s crucial that the Palestinian deception is repeatedly exposed for what it is – an anti-Semitic, terroristic, racist cult that spreads Jew-hatred, legitimizes murder, undermines social cohesion and destroys any prospect of peace. It is only by constantly challenging, scrutinizing and revealing the sick ideology of Palestinianism that we stand any chance of ending this horrific movement.

 

Purim: Where is God in all this?

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Megillah Benedictions and Illuminations, painting on parchment, Italy, 18th century (via jewishvirtuallibrary.org)

The Purim story shows us that God expects the Jewish people to take the initiative, to act for themselves and to rely on their own talents and skills in order to ensure their long-term survival.

By Richard Mather 

Megillat Esther (the Scroll of Esther) narrates the story of a Jewish girl who becomes Queen of Persia and saves the Jewish people from a genocide decreed by the wicked Haman. The story takes place in 473 BCE. The Persian kingdom is a huge and sprawling empire, and all the Jews are its subjects. When King Ahasuerus deposes Queen Vashti for disobedience, he arranges a beauty parade to find a new consort. Esther is chosen and she becomes the new queen of Persia. However, she does not reveal her Jewish identity.

A wicked man called Haman is appointed first minister of the Persian empire. Haman becomes enraged when Mordechai, leader of the Jews, refuses to bow to him. Spitefully, Haman convinces the King to issue a decree ordering the genocide of all the Jews on the 13th of Adar. The date is chosen by lottery, hence the word Purim, which means “lots,” from the word Hebrew word פור.

Esther takes practical action. She reveals her Jewish identity to the King. Haman is hanged and Mordechai is appointed first minister in his place. A new decree granting the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies is issued. On the 13th of Adar the Jews kill many of their enemies. On the 14th, they rest and celebrate. The Jews of Shushan wage war on both Adar 13th and 14th, and rejoice on the 15th, which explains the celebration of Shushan Purim in Israel on the 15th.

The holiday of Purim is a time of merriment. Celebrants are allowed to drink alcohol to the point where they are unable to differentiate between the phrases ‘Bless Mordecai’ and ‘Curse Haman.’ Another feature of Purim is the Purimspiel, which is a dramatic retelling of the story of Esther, often involving costumes, masks, music, dance and humour. Traditionally, the Purimspiel was performed by poor students, actors and acrobats. These days, the Purimspiel is often acted out by children who dress up as characters from the story.

But there is a darker side to Purim. Megillat Esther depicts an existential threat to the Jews. Genocide hangs over them like the sword of Damocles. The Jews are saved and their enemies slain, not because God intervenes but because the Jews themselves take decisive action to eradicate the threat. Purim seems to be about the role of Jewish self-reliance in a universe where God has apparently disappeared from the stage.

This is why the story of Esther is particularly relevant in our post-Holocaust era. For many people, God’s goodness cannot be taken for granted. Elie Wiesel, the prize-winning writer and Holocaust survivor, has refused to shy away from the difficult subject of God’s absence during the Shoah. Perhaps his most famous book is Night. But for me, one of Wiesel’s most striking works is his play The Trial of God.

The Trial of God is set in 1649, and is a Purimspiel within a Purimspiel. But it is not the kind of Purimspiel we would recognise. This is a brief outline of the story:

Three wandering minstrels, three Purimspielers, come to a city called Shamgorod in the Ukraine. It is Purim eve, and they want to perform a play in order to get food and drink. The minstrels are unaware that a recent pogrom has killed all of the local Jews except for Berish the innkeeper and his daughter Hanna who was gang-raped and is now in a state of nervous collapse.

But the minstrels insist on performing and finally Berish relents and says, ‘All right. Under one condition – that I will give you the idea. The theme will be a “din torah,”  a trial of God. I want you to indict God for what he has done to my family, to my community, to all these Jews.’ The performers accept. In the first act the decision is made to hold a trial. In the second act there is a problem because there is nobody to play the role of God’s attorney. In the third act an attorney is found and we have the trial itself.

Wiesel’s play is based on an event that occurred in Auschwitz. According to Wiesel, three rabbis – all erudite and pious men – decided one winter evening to indict God for allowing his children to be massacred. The trial at Auschwitz lasted several nights and culminated in an unanimous verdict of guilty. And then, after a few moments of silence, one of the rabbis looked towards the heavens and said “It’s time for evening prayers.”

Given the subject matter, it is not surprising that Wiesel’s Purimspiel rejects the usual carnivalesque atmosphere of Purim. Mendel, one of the Purim minstrels, frequently asks the question, ‘And where is God in all of this?’ To which Berish the innkeeper answers: ‘Why don’t you ask where Berish is in all this? Let me answer you that one. God sought me out and God struck me down. So let Him stay away from me.’

In Wiesel’s text, God is accused of hostility, cruelty and indifference. Over the course of the trial, a number of arguments are made, both for and against God’s guilt. Wiesel’s play ends darkly, with the victory of Satan (who is God’s defendant) and the imminent massacre of the town’s remaining Jews by a mob of bloodthirsty gentiles.Megillat Esther is the only book in the Tanakh –  except for Shir Hashirim or the Song of Songs –  that does not mention the name of God. The Trial of God, however, makes God the central character, although like Godot in Beckett’s famous play, He never actually makes an appearance. And while Purim is generally a time of merriment, Wiesel’s play plumbs the depth of theological inquiry, asking, ‘Where is God in all this?’

In a world where the Holocaust was allowed to happen, the question of ‘Where is God in all this?’ remains pertinent. Of course, even before the Holocaust, Jewish experience was one of exile, alienation and violence – a sign perhaps that God’s power has rarely been some awesome force. Indeed, for much of history, God has hidden his face from us. The concept of hester panim (“hiding of the face”) is sometimes used to explain the absence or eclipse of God during times of suffering. The concept of divine concealment is based on words from Sefer Devarim: “I will become very angry at them on that day, and I will abandon them and hide My face from them. They will be devoured, and plagued by many evils that will distress them, and will say, ‘Do we not suffer because God has left us?’.”

In the case of Purim, the importance of hester panim is implied by the name of the heroine. Note the similarity between the words hester and Est(h)er. The Babylonian Talmud tractate Hullin 139B states, “From where does the Torah bring the name Esther? From the verse ‘But I [God] will surely conceal my face [“haster astir panai“] on that day for all of the ill that they have done–for they turned to other gods.”

In our post-Holocaust era, it can be difficult to subscribe to the notion of God as a transcendent Supreme Being who intervenes in history. Doesn’t the Esther story, and the story of the Jews in general, suggest that God’s power is not some ‘top-down’ affair but is conducted through the actions of individuals and groups, like Moses and the Israelites or Theodor Herzl and the First Zionist Congress? Isn’t it perhaps the case that God’s power is channelled through the Jewish people themselves?

In 1948 when Palestine’s Jews declared independence, there occurred a unique rupture in the history of colonialism and imperialism. But this declaration also ruptured the long-held hope of a messianic king or priest who would gather the Jewish people and end the exile. It wasn’t God or the Messiah who restored the Jewish nation. It was the Jews themselves. To paraphrase Rabbi Eleazar (Megillah 15a), the moment the Jewish people decide to cloak themselves in royalty and declare independence is the moment in which the Jews cloak themselves in the spirit of God.

This is why I strongly disagree with those ultra-religious Jews in Israel who refuse to serve in the army because it detracts from Torah study, which (they say) is Israel’s best protection. Unfortunately, history shows us that no amount of Torah study or prayer prevents pogroms or genocides; nor will Torah study protect the State Israel from future attacks. Likewise, it’s wrong of anti-Zionist religious Jews to argue that the State of Israel is a usurpation of the Messiah’s role. My answer to them is simple: for too long we waited for the Messiah, but he never came. And he may never come for one simple reason – because the Jewish people themselves already function as a messianic community.

In other words, it is not God or Messiah, but the Jews themselves who determine what to do, and when and how to do it. As Rabbi David Blumenthal says, God “has all eternity to make up His mind. We do not have all eternity; we have now.”  The example set by Esther shows us that God expects the Jewish people to take the initiative, to act for themselves and to rely on their own talents and skills in order to ensure their long-term survival. The success of the State of Israel and the fact that the majority of Jews are prepared to defend themselves in a world full of Hamans is testament to the spirit of Megillat Esther.

 

So-called Palestinians have no history in Israel – except as terrorists

Until it is acknowledged by the UN and other bodies that the Jewish people and not the Arabs are the indigenous inhabitants of Eretz Israel, it is going to be difficult to break the impasse of anti-Jewish prejudice that is the real obstacle to peace.

By Richard Mather

In 1714, Hadriani Relandi, a mapmaker from Utrecht, published Palestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata. The book was a record of Relandi’s trip to Eretz Israel in 1695-96. On his travels he surveyed around 2,500 places that were mentioned in the Tanakh and Mishnah, and he carried out a census of the people who resided in such places. He made some very interesting discoveries. For a start, he discovered that not a single settlement in Eretz Israel had a name that was of Arabic origin. Instead the names derived from Hebrew, Roman and Greek languages.

Another interesting discovery was the conspicuous absence of a sizeable Muslim population. Instead, he found that most of the inhabitants were Jews, along with some Christians and a few Bedouins. Nazareth was home to less than a thousand Christians, while Jerusalem held 5,000 people, mostly Jews. Gaza was home to around 250 Jews and about the same number of Christians.  The only exception was Nablus where around 120 Muslims lived, along with a handful of Samaritans, whose ancestors belonged to the northern tribes of Israel.

Relandi was not alone in discovering the lack of Muslims in the Land of Israel. Drawing on work by statistician and demographer Roberto Bachi, it is estimated that there were only 151,000 non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine in 1540. (Some sources indicate that many of these were descendants of Jews who had remained in Palestine following the failed Bar Kokhba revolt in 136 CE but had been forced to convert to Islam). By 1800, the non-Jewish population had grown to around 268,000, rising to 489,000 by 1890, 589,000 in 1922 and just over 1.3 million in 1948. The vast majority of these non-Jewish migrants were Muslims. All of which suggests that most of the Muslim (and Christian) inhabitants of Palestine were recent immigrants and had not been living there for generations as is sometimes suggested. Moreover, the figures show that Arab immigration was a fast-growing trend, propelled by external circumstances. But what?

Firstly, several thousand peasant farmers had come to Palestine in the first half of the 19th century to escape Egypt’s military draft, forced labor and taxes. Secondly, the Ottoman authorities transferred a great many people from Morocco, Algeria and Egypt to Palestine in the early part of the 20th century, partly in an effort to outflank Jewish immigration. Thirdly, the Zionist project was very attractive to Arabs who were drawn to Palestine by the good wages, healthcare and sanitation offered by the Jews.  Indeed, the Muslim infant mortality rate in Palestine fell from 201 per 1,000 in 1925 to 94 per 1,000 in 1945. Meanwhile, life expectancy rose from 37 to 49 years.

Furthermore, the Arab population of Palestine increased the most in cities where there were large numbers of Jews, which is a strong indication that Arabs were drawn to Palestine because of the Zionists. Between 1922 and 1947, the Arab population grew by 290 per cent in Haifa, 158 per cent in Jaffa and 131 per cent in Jerusalem. Tellingly, the growth in Arab-majority towns was far less dramatic: 37 per cent in Bethlehem, 42 per cent in Nablus and 78 per cent in Jenin.

During the British civil administration in Palestine (1920 to 1948), restrictions were placed on Jewish immigration in order to appease Arab troublemakers. However, the situation regarding Arab settlement was much more lax. Historian and author Freddy Liebreich claims there was significant Arab immigration from the Hauran region of Syria during the Mandate era – and that the British authorities turned a blind eye.

However, some people were taking notice. The Hope Simpson Enquiry (1930) observed  there was significant illegal Arab immigration from Egypt, Transjordan and Syria, which was negatively affecting prospective Jewish immigrants and contributing to Arab violence against Jews. The British Governor of the Sinai between 1922 and 1936 substantiated the view that unchecked Arab immigration was taking place, with most of the immigrants coming from the Sinai, Transjordan and Syria. And the Peel Commission reported in 1937 that a “shortfall of land” was “due less to the amount of land acquired by Jews than to the increase in the Arab population.”

Immigration continued at a pace until the Jews declared independence in 1948. The fact that Arab (largely Muslim) immigration continued right up until Israeli independence is borne out by the United Nations stipulation that any Arab refugee who had lived in Palestine for a mere two years prior to Jewish independence was entitled to refugee status. According to the UN Relief and Works Agency, Palestine refugees are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”

What happened to the Arab invaders of 629 CE?

If there were very few non-Jewish inhabitants in Palestine in the 16th and 17th centuries, what happened to the Arab invaders who arrived in 629 CE? Well, for a start, very few of the invaders actually stayed in Palestine. Many became absentee landlords who used native tenants to cultivate their estates and to pay the dhimmi tax. This is why Palestine, along with Egypt and Syria, remained overwhelmingly Christian for several more centuries. It is possible, however, that following the Muslim reconquest in 1187, many Jewish and Christian inhabitants of Palestine were forced to convert to Islam, thereby pushing up the number of Muslim inhabitants. However, Palestine’s population went into decline from the mid-14th century – in large part due to the Black Death, which swept in from eastern Europe and north Africa, travelling to Gaza, and making its way to Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. With no one to care for the land, many areas became malarial, especially in northern Palestine, which became largely uninhabitable. Depopulation continued as a consequence of the invasion of Palestine in 1831 by Muhammad Ali of Egypt and the ensuing Peasants’ Revolt of 1834, which reduced the male population of Palestine by about twenty per cent, with large numbers of peasants either deported to Egypt or drafted into Egypt’s military. Many others abandoned their farms and villages to join the Bedouin.

Clearly it would be futile to argue that there were no Arabs living in Eretz Israel in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries, but the figures do show that the Arab population had been in state of flux for centuries and that the overwhelming majority were migrants from the rest of the Arab world and/or the Ottoman empire. This is important because it tells us that the popular notion of a deep-rooted Palestinian Arab history/culture is bogus. All the evidence points to the conspicuous absence of Arab culture in late 17th century Palestine; and even in the 18th and 19th centuries the Arab inhabitants were not indigenous but were latecomers. This explains why, historically, Arabs never talked about Palestinian identity – because there wasn’t one. They were Egyptian, Syrian, Moroccan, Iraqi and Ottoman Arabs, and many of them expressed allegiance to the concept of a Greater Syria.

It wasn’t until the mid-1960s – nearly two decades after Israel declared independence – that a semi-coherent (and terroristic) Palestinian Arab identity came into being. Until then, the Arabs had refused to call themselves Palestinians because it was a name reserved for the Jews. When people today talk of a Arabic Palestinian culture or history, they are being disingenuous: the only Palestinian culture or history of any note is Jewish. Arabic-speaking Palestinianism started as late as the 1960s and was couched in fervently anti-Zionist and Judeophobic terms. Despite their successful efforts in deceiving the world, many Arab Palestinian leaders know the truth about the origins of their people. Egyptian-born Yasser Arafat made this very clear when he said, “The Palestinian people have no national identity. I, Yasser Arafat, man of destiny, will give them that identity through conflict with Israel.”

Even as late as the 1970s, the notion of a Palestinian people was still nothing more than a terrorist construct designed to undermine Jewish claims to the land of Israel. In a conversation with Dutch newspaper Trouw in March 1977, the leader of the pro-Syria as-Sa’iqa faction of the PLO, Zuheir Mohsen, remarked: “It is only for political reasons that we carefully underline our Palestinian identity […] yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity serves only tactical purposes. The founding of a Palestinian state is a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel.”

Why else do the people who claim to be Palestinians regularly turn down the possibility of an independent state alongside Israel? It is because the Arabs themselves don’t really believe in a State of Palestine. Their only interest is abolishing the Jewish presence between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Jewish self-determination is anathema to many Muslims who, since the time of Muhammed, have tried to keep the Jews in a state of subjugation and dhimmitude. When Arab and/or BDS protestors call for Palestine to be free “from the river to the sea,” what they are really calling for is the genocide of the Jews.

Many of the problems experienced by the State of Israel stem from something very simple but profound –  the change of name. While it is totally understandable that the leaders of the Yishuv chose the name Israel for their state (New Judea was another option), it has had unfortunate consequences. By rejecting the labels Palestine and Palestinian, the Jews circumvented their own local history and identity, and bequeathed both the name and heritage of Palestine to the Arabs. What’s worse is the fact that the latter now claim to have been the indigenous people of Palestine all along – and the world (which has always been a sucker for anti-Jewish conspiracy theories) believes it.

It is surely time to remind the Arabs and the international community that Jews are the true Palestinians. Why else would there be a Palestinian Talmud or a Jewish newspaper called The Palestine Post. Why, until the creation of Israel, were the Jews known as Palestinians? Why did philosopher Immanuel Kant refer to Jews in Europe as “the Palestinians among us”? Why did Jewish campaigners in the early 20th century produce posters calling for Jews of America to register as members of the Zionist Organisation of America “for the freedom of Palestine”? Why does the 1939 flag of Palestine have a Star of David on it?

Now some critics might say, “Well, all this may be true, but the people who claim to be Palestinians are indeed Palestinians because they say  they are and they deserve our sympathy.” The trouble is, the so-called Palestinians make no attempt to explain who they really are but continue to perpetuate the antisemitic conspiracy theory that they are the primitive and indigenous people of Palestine who were/are cruelly oppressed by the wicked Zionists. The world believes this because they are told the lie often enough and because the Israeli state has done a poor job of communicating the truth.

And because of the big Palestinian lie, Jew-hatred is now at its highest level since the end of the Second World War and the United Nations has just passed Resolution 2334, one of the most antisemitic rulings in recent years. Until it is acknowledged by the UN and other major organizations that the Jewish people are the indigenous inhabitants of Eretz Israel – from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea – it is going to be difficult to break the impasse of stubborn anti-Jewish prejudice that is the real obstacle to peace.

 

 

 

 

 

The nations hate Jews – and that’s why they want a Palestinian state

A Palestinian state is in contention only because it satisfies the world’s antisemitic bloodlust

By Richard Mather

Syria is dying, Islamists are murdering European civilians, ISIS and affiliated groups are on the rampage in the Middle East, food and water are in short supply in Africa. And so it is remarkable that the nations of the world have gathered against tiny Israel in order to dispossess Jews of what little land they have in order to create a twenty-third Arab state called Palestine.

Indeed, it is all the more remarkable when one considers the fact that the Palestinians have no historical, cultural or legal rights to the land of Israel.

That the Palestinians are endowed with so much international and economic patronage by the United Nations, the United Kingdom, the European Union and the Obama White House is testament to the world’s perpetual hatred towards the Jews. How did the Palestinians and their international backers manage to achieve such a feat? Why does the world revolve around the Palestinians?

There are several answers to this. One is the Palestinians’ cynical calculus of terror. They have learnt that violence is rewarded by the international community. Palestinians do not want a peaceful political solution, not when terrorism reaps dividends. That’s why Yasser Arafat instigated the second intifada. He did it to mask his rejection of the Camp David deal in 2000. And what happened? The world blamed Israel for the “occupation,” which garnered further sympathy for the Palestinians.

Fatah and Hamas know that terrorism focuses worldwide attention on Israel. The Palestinians  want the conflict and the boycotts to continue because they exert unbearable pressure on the Jewish state. Should a Palestinian state come into being, don’t expect terrorism to go away. On the contrary, a Palestinian state will be the launchpad for further attacks on the shrinking Jewish state.

Indeed, ethnic cleansing of the Jews is the ultimate aim of the Palestinians. A Palestinian state does not entail a peaceful political or diplomatic solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. When Palestinians and their supporters chant “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea,” they are calling for the genocide and/or mass expulsion of millions of Israelis – not just Israelis in the so-called West Bank but Israel in its entirety.

There is another reason why the world wants a Palestinian state: it is an opportunity for the nations to eradicate thousands of years of Jewish history. Places of importance have already been appropriated by our enemies. Me’arat ha-Makhpela (the Cave of the Patriarchs) and Kever Rakhel (Rachel’s Tomb) are now considered integral to a future State of Palestine.

Worse still, the Palestinians have appropriated the Kotel – the Kotel! – as an Islamic holy site named Al-Buraq. Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, has said that the Western Wall and “all its various parts, structures and gates, are an inseparable part of the al-Aqsa compound.”

And PA-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ekrima Sa’id Sabri, believes that Kotel belongs to the Muslims alone. In an interview with German magazine Die Welt, he stated: “There is not a single stone in the Wailing Wall relating to Jewish history. The Jews cannot legitimately claim this wall, neither religiously nor historically. The Committee of the League of Nations recommended in 1930, to allow the Jews to pray there, in order to keep them quiet. But by no means did it acknowledge that the wall belongs to them.”

Since it is clear that the Palestinians are not interested in peaceful co-existence with Jews; since the decay of Arab nations in the Middle East looks set to continue; since Jewish holy sites are in grave danger; and since it is highly likely that a Palestinian state will be a human rights disaster, wouldn’t it be better for the international community to put aside childish notions of a State of Palestine and lavish their time and resources on more important matters?

Evidently not. Kurdish independence, the Syrian crisis, chronic starvation in Africa, Islamic State, child sex slavery, and so on, are apparently (and shamefully) very low down on the world’s list of priorities. Given that there are so many pressing issues, it is deliberately perverse of the nations to pursue the creation of an autocratic state (or worse still an Islamist republic) called Palestine, which will be the only place on the planet that is officially Judenrein, i.e. “cleansed of Jews.”

It is clear that the world’s desire to create an antisemitic Palestinian state – regardless of the human cost and at the expense of more urgent issues – is driven by an obsessive hostility towards the Jewish people and Jewish culture, as well as a hatred for Judaism. To put it another way, it is racially and religiously-inspired antisemitic bloodlust.

 

Op-ed: UN vote may actually accelerate Israeli sovereignty in Judea-Samaria

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The Security Council votes on resolution reiterating its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities. The vote was 14 in favour, with one abstention (United States). UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

The UN condemnation of “settlement activities” may actually accelerate Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria – and rightfully so, because the correct interpretation of international law reveals the so-called settlements are, in fact, legal.

By Richard Mather – Israel News Online

The message is loud and clear. Despite residing in the land of Judea and Samaria for millennia, UN Security Council Resolution 2334 says Jews are forbidden to live on their own land. Arabs, on the other hand, are endowed with a natural entitlement to “Palestine.” The fact that the United States – under the guidance of Obama – allowed the vote to go ahead adds insult to injury.

However, it is plausible that the shameful vote at the UN may actually accelerate Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, especially as the incoming US president, Donald Trump, is staunchly pro-Israel and will probably not oppose Israel if the Jewish state formally annexes Judea and Samaria. Naftali Bennett, Tzipi Hotovely and others are publicly calling for the application of Israeli law in most or all of the so-called West Bank.

Indeed, Hotovely sums up the mood of many Israelis and Jews when she says that “History shows there are events which create drastic changes in Israel’s response. History will remember the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2334 as the one which brought about Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria. No decision will cause Israel to stop building on its own land.”

Obama is on his way out. With nothing better to do, he should take the opportunity to educate himself on the legality of Israel’s position in Judea and Samaria, as well as in east Jerusalem.

Israel’s appropriation of land is both practically and legally comprehensible. If Obama knew his history (and he obviously doesn’t), he would already know that the “West Bank” is unclaimed land. Contrary to popular opinion, Israeli settlements are entirely legal as long as they are within the parameters of the 1922 Mandate of Palestine. This is the same mandate that legalized and encouraged the immigration of Jews to all parts of historic Israel.

Israel’s critics may be surprised to know that the 1922 Mandate has never been superseded in international law, not even by the United Nation’s 1947 partition plan. Because the Arabs refused to recognize the partition of “Palestine,” the legal status of Judea and Samaria reverted back to the 1922 law . The capture of Judea and Samaria from Jordan in 1967 was the first step in the restoration of the territory’s true legal status. It also means that Israel’s settlements are actually the fulfilment of the original 1922 Mandate.

Quoting the Fourth Geneva Convention to argue that the settlements are in fact illegal is nonsensical. The Fourth Geneva Convention pertains only to cases of occupation of a sovereign entity. Because of the Arab refusal to reach an agreement between 1947 and 1949, the area popularly referred to as the West Bank never became the legal territory of any sovereign entity – not even Jordan, despite its occupation of the territory until 1967. Only Israel has a legal entitlement to Judea and Samaria.

If anyone is in any doubt, they would do well to consult a document boasting the signatures of over 1,000 respected diplomats and legal experts from around the world, ranging from South Africa and Canada to Norway and Brazil. The file was delivered to the EU’s then foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in the form of a petition around three years ago.

According to these legal experts, it is factually incorrect to refer to the settlements as illegal for the simple reason that the term “1967 lines” does not exist in international law. The pre-1967 lines are in fact 1949 armistice lines, and are not recognized lines or security lines. Moreover, the issue of borders is on the agenda of the peace talks and is subject to final status negotiations.

All of which means that the Palestinian/UN claim that Palestinian statehood is an unassailable right should not be taken at face value. Arab hatred of Israel has never been about the settlements or even about land. The primary obstacle is an ideological refusal to recognize the Jewish people’s deep-rooted historic, cultural and legal connections to the entire land of Israel.

Jews have an inalienable and legal right to live in east Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and no number of sordid anti-Jewish UN resolutions can change this fact.

Resist or submit: Europe’s dilemma in the face of Islamist malice

capture

Turning the other cheek in the face of Islamist malice is a kind of enslavement – the enslavement of Europeans by Muslim extremists who think Westerners and Jews are pigs, apes and whores.

By Richard Mather

The present age is one of Palestinianism, antisemitism, liberal hypocrisy, ‘safe spaces’ and Islamism; an age that lacks historical understanding, devoid of common sense, an age that flies into enthusiasm over Gaza, only to decline back into indolence when the bodies of Jews and Europeans are broken.

The present age is an age of ressentiment, a French word adopted by Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to denote a sense of bitter malice directed at a scapegoat (usually the Jews) in order to insulate themselves from self-responsibility. Who are the most resentful people on earth today? The Palestinians, left-wing liberals and Islamists.

The spirit of revenge that fires the Palestinianist desire to overthrow Israel – as well as the liberal’s desire to overturn Brexit or Trump’s victory – also colors and warps his view of the past. The past is judged and found guilty for not being what it should have been.

And so the Arabs say that the Balfour Declaration should never have happened. And liberals in Britain and the United States say that Brexit and Trump should never have happened. But since the past cannot be changed, the resentful individual settles his scores by wreaking revenge on the present by murdering Jews or trying to sabotage the outcome of democratic decisions made by ordinary people in the UK and United States.

Meanwhile, Islamists everywhere resent the fact that Islamic empire building has come to nothing. Every caliphate in history has failed. Moreover, there is not a single really successful Islamic country anywhere in the world. And so resentful jihadists drive trucks into crowds of people in France and Germany out of revenge for their own failings.

The West, which has become increasingly secular in recent decades, is blind to this kind of religious resentment. Western Europeans, in particular, are inept in their understanding of current conflicts. They misread the Israeli-Arab dispute as a clash over land, and they think that acts of terrorism on European soil are symptomatic of capitalism’s failure to cater for the global poor.

Both views are wrong. What westerners (particularly those on the Left) fail to see is that Islamist terrorism is rooted in religiously-inspired rancor and malice. This is where the Islamists have the advantage. They understand only too well that the war against Jews and the West in general is not just a religious conflict, but one that is born from utter malice and failure. If the Islamists ever do defeat Western democracy, it won’t be out of strength, but simply because Europe proved weaker and sicker than the Islamists.

Actually, such a scenario is possible. Since the end of the Second World War, Europe has rid itself of its Judeo-Christian-Enlightenment heritage and burdened itself with so much colonial guilt that Angela Merkel and her EU sidekicks now lack the political will to protect their own citizens because they no longer think Europeans are worth saving.

Israel, by contrast, embarrasses the European Union by insisting on its own ethnocultural heritage and by protecting its own citizens. This is why Israel is strong and Europe is weak.

Of course, the situation might not be so bad if Europeans had embraced a robust humanism, which emphasises critical thinking, freedom and progress. Unfortunately, many in the West have become politically-correct automatons who tolerate the intolerable by creating ‘safe spaces’ on campuses for unpleasant people who wish to kill Jews and Europeans, and who undermine pluralistic values by allowing Islamist supremacists to flood into our towns and cities.

Just as one might say about the Cold War that we knew how to make distinctions between what worked (democracy, capitalism) and what didn’t (totalitarianism, communism), the present age does not make distinctions at all: there is no difference anymore, it seems, between the murdered Berliner and the terrorist who carried out the atrocity. Why do I say this? Because liberals argue that the terrorist is also a victim – the victim of borders, of capitalism, of Israel, of colonialism, a victim of everything except the failed ideology of Islamism.

Even in the face of terrorism, left-wing liberals and globalists continue to call for an end to borders because they do not make a distinction between an Islamist from Tunisia and a secular Berliner. And yet anyone with any common sense can see that there is a distinction to be made, and that making sensible is a desirable thing to do. It is not racist.

By declaring that refugees are welcome after mass sexual attacks in Cologne or truck attacks in France and Germany, the West is showing itself to be weak and sick; that Europeans have given up on their own values and relinquished their own culture, out of fear of appearing racist or colonialist. But when we no longer believe in anything, we may end up believing anything.

Kindness, humility, and sympathy are all well and good, but if resentful Islamists exploit these virtues, then there will be nobody left to extol these virtues. Turning the other cheek in the face of Islamist malice is a kind of enslavement – the enslavement of Europeans by Muslim extremists who think Westerners and Jews are pigs, apes and whores.

Who will stand up for Europe? Not Angela Merkel. Not the EU. Who will stand up for Europe? The answer is clear: Like the Israelis, we Europeans must stand up for ourselves.

 

 

Palestinianism: When people of all faiths (and none) conspire against Israel

People who call for Jews to be exiled from the Land of Israel are evangelists for a new quasi-religion called Palestinianism, which has positioned itself as the most contemporary of interfaith ideologies.

For Christians, Muslims, atheists and even radical left-wing Jews, Palestinianism offers a new kind of replacement theology in which Palestine is the True Israel and Israeli Jews are cast out of the family of nations because they remain loyal to their historic homeland.

By Richard Mather  

Replacement theology or supersessionism is the Christian teaching that the Church has replaced Israel regarding the plan, purpose and promises of God. It has been a core tenet of the Christian faith for the best part of 2,000 years and it holds that the Church replaced the Israelites/Jews as the Chosen People and that the New Covenant replaced God’s covenant with Moses.

From very early on, the Church Fathers taught that the Mosaic Covenant had been fulfilled and replaced by Christ. Tertullian, for example, taught that the “old law” and “carnal circumcision” had been “obliterated” by the “new law.” One of the implications of this theological standpoint is that the Jews are seen as an accursed people stubbornly clinging to an outmoded set of rituals that serve no divine purpose.

In fact, so the argument goes, just by continuing to exist, the Jews are recalcitrant sinners. Worse, their refusal to embrace Christ is an obstacle to God’s salvational plan for the world.

After the Shoah, some Christian theologians started to de-emphasise supersessionism. But replacement theology has never gone away. Far from it. In fact, it has re-emerged in a new guise, with all the evangelical fervor of a brand new religion. That religion is Palestinianism. I don’t just mean Christian Palestinianism which ludicrously seeks to “de-Zionize” the Tanakh and “Palestinianize” Jesus. Nor do I merely mean the Islamic tendency to use the Palestinian issue as a recruiting sergeant in the mosques.

Rather, I am talking about Palestinianism in its fullest sense: a wide-ranging quasi-religious ideology that appeals to all faiths and none. It appeals to Christians, Muslims, and even some Jews. It appeals to hardcore communist atheists and religious fanatics alike. It is the belief system of anti-Semitic movements like BDS and the International Solidarity Movement. It is a unifying belief system that blames all the world’s problems on the Jews and promises salvation by promising to eradicate Zionism and establish a State of Palestine between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

This new religion can be traced back to one man – Yasser Arafat, Palestinianism’s anti-apostle to the nations. Arafat toured the world, converting people to his cause, acquiring recognition and financial backing until his movement was a global phenomenon. As with Christianity, Palestinianism has become an almost-universal faith that appeals to gentiles and even some Jews, who are usually the most fanatical converts. It is because of Arafat (with the help of the Soviet Union) that contemporary Zionism is portrayed in much the same way that the Mosaic Covenant was/is depicted by some Christians – as corrupt, outdated, superstitious, carnal, evil.

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Following Emperor Constantine’s declaration of Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire, theologians began to teach that Jews were solely responsible for the crime of murdering God, of deicide. John Chrysostrom (354-407), Archbishop of Constantinople, stated that Jews were murderers and destroyers, a people “possessed by the devil.”

If hostility to the Torah motivated early anti-Semitism, it was the Talmud that soon became an object of anti-Jewish hate. Full-scale attacks on the Talmud began in France during the thirteenth century. The Talmud was said to make Jews stubborn and superstitious. If only the Jews would relinquish their superstitious rituals, argued their opponents, then they’d convert to Christianity and conform to societal norms.

In the midst of all this anti-Talmud hysteria, Christian anti-Semites were accusing Jews of using the blood of Christian children for ritual purposes. It began in England in 1144 when the Jews of Norwich were accused of ritual murder after a boy was found dead with stab wounds. Thomas of Monmouth erroneously claimed that there was a Jewish prophecy that stated the killing of a Christian child each year would ensure Jewish restoration in Eretz Yisrael. This must be one of the earliest instances of a Jew-hater using the blood libel to smear the Jews for their dream of national restoration. In fact, the blood libel, or variations thereof, continue to this day.

After Israel committed the cardinal sin of winning the 1967 Six Day War, Jews have been routinely described in the language of medieval Christian theologians: Jews as satanic murderers, baby-killers, well-poisoners, harvesters of organs and stealers of land. The charge of deicide has been resurrected in modified form and is now presented as the charge of genocide against Palestinians. Of course, such claims made against the Jewish people are scandalous nonsense, propaganda designed to demonise and then to kill. But in the minds of Palestinianists, any justification to kill Jews or force them into permanent exile will suffice.

So: First the Torah and the polemical arguments against the Mosaic covenant; then the Talmud and the blood libel as justifications for persecuting Jews. Now, the object of hate is Zionism and the State of Israel. Under the banner of the new Palestinianist theology, Palestine is portrayed as the True Israel, just like the Church was described as the True Israel.

While Christian covenant theologians claim that Jews have been cast off and are no longer pre-eminent in the plans of God because they continue to abide by their Mosaic traditions, so the State of Israel is to be cast out of the family of nations because it stubbornly clings to the “carnal covenant” of Zionism. There is an eschatological aspect at play that demands the passing away of the old heaven and earth (Zionism) and the arrival of the new heaven and earth (the State of Palestine).

The sooner Zionism and the Israeli state pass into history, say the Palestinianists, the sooner there will be peace in the Middle East. Despite the obvious drawbacks to this scenario, such as the oppression of women and minorities in a Palestinian state, the imprisonment of journalists and dissidents, and the political legitimisation of far right Islamist groups like Hamas, Palestinianists remain zealous in their commitment to the creation of a twenty-third Arab state.

III

And then there are the Jewish apostates. Once upon a time we had to endure people like Titus Flavius Josephus, the writer-historian who defected to the Romans in 69 CE during the First Roman-Jewish War; and Nicholas Donin, a Jewish convert to Christianity, who pressed thirty-five charges against the Talmud to Pope Gregory IX; and Abner of Burgos, the fourteenth-century Jewish philosopher who converted to Christianity and wrote Mostrador de Justicia, one of the longest polemics against Judaism ever written.

Now we have people like Ilan Pappe, Paul Eisen, Shlomo Sand, and Noam Chomsky, who spend their days writing anti-Zionist and/or anti-Jewish polemics in order to ingratiate themselves to the non-Jewish world. It seems that some Jews, both then and now, are unable to resist the lure of either Christianity or Palestinianism.

(To complicate matters, there are some very religious Jews who believe that continued exile is part of God’s plan. The Christian view that the destruction of the Second Temple was a punishment for killing Christ has been absorbed in a modified way by some ultra-Orthodox Jews such as Neturei Karta who believe that because of their sins, the Jewish people went into exile and that human recapture of the Land of Israel is a violation of divine will. If Christians believe in replacement theology, it seems some Jews, both religious and secular, subscribe to what might be called displacement theology – the displacement of themselves.)

Because it appeals to many Christians, most Muslims and a minority of Jews, Palestinianism is the latest example of the postmodern exercise in interbelief cooperation, which can be defined as the (de)constructive interaction between people of different religious traditions and/or spiritual or humanistic beliefs. In a sense, Palestinianism is the most democratic and egalitarian of faiths. It doesn’t matter where you come from or which god you may (or may not) worship; all that is required is that you express genocidal disdain for Jewish political autonomy.

Indeed, Palestinianism is now a substitute faith for post-Christian European liberals. It offers all the benefits of mainstream religion, such as community and social action, but without any of theological baggage such as the Trinity or Islam’s Pillars of Faith. Even the quasi-religion of Marxism can be included within the framework of this new interfaith ideology because it, too, turns a finite, limited ideal (a world without Zionism/the classless society/the end of capitalism) into an object of absolute and murderous godlike devotion.

Given that Palestinianism draws on Christianity and Islam, it is perhaps no surprise that it borrows heavily from Abrahamic salvation history. This helps explain the Palestinianist preoccupation with the status and fate of the Jews, with ownership and boundaries of the land of Israel, with the importance of Jerusalem, with the identity of Jesus, and with the messianic goal of peace in the Middle East. Even the concept of “original sin” is employed to describe the creation of the State of Israel, as if pre-Zionist Palestine was the Garden of Eden!

In other words, Palestinianism offers the world a set of religious symbols that are reassuringly infused with the comfort of Bible imagery (“new wine in old skins”). Hence the myth of a Palestinian lineage that goes all the way back to the Canaanites; the “Satanic” intrusion of Zionism; the “crucifixion” of Palestine and the arrival of “Isra-hell”; and the awaited return of Palestine as a land of milk and honey. All these concepts and word-ideas are used in Palestinianist discourse.

In this salvation story, the Jews may have a role to play, but only as a people who are about to be expunged from history as the prelude to the arrival of a new world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “Salvation is of the Jews.” But for many people – Christian, Muslim or atheist – it seems that salvation is not of the Jews, but of the Palestinians. It is a terrifying thought.

Britain’s Jews must urge UK government to uphold its commitment to Israel

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By Richard Mather

Following discussions with government ministers and Jewish leaders in the UK, the British government endorsed the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine. The decision, dated November 2 1917, was made public in a letter from British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild. It became known as the Balfour Declaration and was incorporated into the Sevres peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire, and the Mandate for Palestine, which was ratified by the League of Nations on July 24 1922.

Fast forward ninety-nine years and we have witnessed the shameful spectacle of an anti-Israel/anti-Balfour event hosted by the House of Lords and chaired by the notorious anti-Semite Baroness Jenny Tonge, during which Israel was compared to Islamic State, and Jews were blamed for pushing Hitler over the edge and thereby bringing the Holocaust on themselves.

The event, which was organised by Baroness Tonge and the London-based hate group Palestine Return Centre, marked the launch of the so-called Balfour Apology Campaign ahead of the Balfour Declaration centenary, which occurs in November 2017. A couple of months ago, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas told the UN General Assembly that Britain should apologise for the Balfour Declaration. We can expect much of the same absurd and offensive rhetoric over the coming year as anti-Zionist campaigners in Britain and abroad continue to urge the UK government to show remorse for so-called “colonial crimes” in the Middle East.

Indeed, next year, 2017, may well be the high water mark of British anti-Semitism. The situation for Jews in Britain has been getting steadily worse over the past ten to fifteen years. It reached an unprecedented level in the summer of 2014 (during Operation Protective Edge) and has been worsening ever since. The centenary of the Balfour Declaration may see the biggest avalanche of hatred on the Anglo-Jewish community since the medieval period, especially if Abbas’ proxies in Britain fill the airwaves and newspapers with vile slanders against the Jews.

To attack Israel’s very existence is appallingly anti-Semitic but don’t expect the mainstream media in the UK to point this out. On the contrary, the majority of media outlets in Britain will very likely take a very strong pro-Arab line and single out Jews for condemnation.  Even so, Jews must continue to affirm and celebrate the role Britain played in the reestablishment of Israel. And Britain’s Jews must urge the UK government to uphold its historic commitment to Israel, without apology or remorse.

 

UK’s despicable liberals owe Israel an apology

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By Richard Mather

We have just witnessed the shameful spectacle of a Jew-hating event hosted by the House of Lords and chaired by the notorious anti-Semite Baroness Jenny Tonge, who co-organised the event with the Palestine Return Centre. During the session, Israel was compared to Islamic State and Jews were blamed for pushing Hitler over the edge and bringing the Holocaust on themselves. Baroness Tonge appeared to enjoy the sessions. Her only concern was that someone might overhear them. There may be “Zionist ears in the room,” she warned her audience.

Baroness Tonge is no stranger to anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist paranoia. A purveyor of the modern-day blood libel, she accused the Israel Defense Forces’ medical team in Haiti in 2010 of harvesting organs. Two years later, she appeared at an Israeli Apartheid Week event and called for an end to the Jewish state, which she described as an “aircraft carrier.” She has also expressed support for Arab suicide bombers and has repeatedly railed against the so-called pro-Israeli lobby, which “has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips.”

Baroness Tonge represents everything that is wrong with left-wing liberalism in Britain. Arrogant, elitist, self-righteous, smugly comfortable, she is completely out of touch with the lower middle and working classes (she is, after all, a Baroness in the House of Lords). She is also one of those ‘anti-racist anti-Semites’ who sees racism everywhere except when it presents itself as Jew-hatred. Baroness Tonge, like many left-wing liberals, believes that history is on their side when it comes to multiculturalism, the demise of national borders and the annihilation of Israel. In a word, she is despicable.

Left liberals like Baroness Tonge would like you to believe there’s a substantial difference between classical anti-Semitism and post-Shoah anti-Zionism. The assertion that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are somehow different is a cynical and deliberate ruse designed to both normalize Jew-hatred in Britain and to delegitimise the State of Israel. It is redolent of the state-sanctioned anti-Semitism prevalent in Russia, as part of the anti-Western campaign of Zhdanovshchina. The Soviet people were told that the Jews had to be excluded from Soviet life because they had a tendency to glorify the West. Now, left-wing liberals are making it clear that Jews must be excluded from British political discourse because they are linked to the State of Israel.

Baroness Tonge and her band of anti-Zionist campaigners in the House of Lords want the British government to apologize for the Balfour Declaration of 1917. What these people fail to understand is that the Balfour Declaration was the outcome of decades of campaigning by Jews whose vision was to secure international legitimacy for the right of the Jewish people to a build a safe homeland. Anti-Semites like Baroness Tonge fail to see that the Balfour Declaration was about building a sanctuary for the world’s most persecuted people. Instead, she appears to derive her definition of Zionism from the notorious anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purports to describe a plan by Jewish interest groups to accumulate as much power as possible.

The House of Lords event was shameful, but not particularly surprising. There is a long tradition in the West of denouncing Jews, Judaism and the nation of Israel. It is called Adversus Judaeos (so-called because of a series of fourth century anti-Jewish homilies called Ioudaion, “against the Jews”). Early Christian anti-Jewish polemics have become the pattern for twentieth and twenty-first century anti-Jewish tirades, in which Jews/Israelis are falsely accused of murdering Arabs or stealing land. These false accusations, bad enough in themselves, have been grafted onto age-old prejudices about Jews and money, Jews and power, etc. The end goal of all this, of course, is the annihilation or displacement of six million Israeli Jews, plus the discomforting and political marginalization of Diaspora Jews.

Whereas the early anti-Jewish polemicists were convinced they were agents of Christ, people like Baroness Tonge believe themselves to be agents of liberalism (hence the smug self-righteousness that is common on the Left). Jenny Tonge et al claim to act in the name of universalism, to safeguard and respect everyone equally, with Jews being the obvious exception. If liberal universalism has become aligned with the Palestinian Arabs, the Jewish people inevitably emerge as betrayers of that universalism. The existence of a distinct people – the Jews/Israel – produces intense anxiety in the minds of liberals like Baroness Tonge.

By singling out Jews for political condemnation, and by infecting public discourse with anti-Semitic poison, Baroness Tonge and her despicable left-liberal friends are trying their hardest to destroy the post-war consensus that Anglo-Jews form an integral part of British society. Thanks to people like Baroness Tonge, anti-Semitism is once again an immutable factor in Britain. British Jews deserve better than this. And Israel deserves an apology from the UK Parliament for the shameful episode at the House of Lords.

 

Whose land is it anyway? A survey of immigration into pre-state Israel

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By Richard Mather

There is an old and rare book called Palestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata, written by Hadriani Relandi (a mapmaker and scholar from Utrecht) and published in 1714. It documents Relandi’s trip to Eretz Israel/Palestine in 1695-96. On his travels he surveyed around 2,500 places that were mentioned in the Tanakh and/or Mishnah, and he carried out a census of the people who resided in such places. He made some very interesting discoveries. For a start, he discovered that not a single settlement in Palestine had a name that was of Arabic origin. Instead the names derived from Hebrew, Roman and Greek languages.

Another interesting discovery was the conspicuous absence of a sizeable Muslim population. Instead, he found that most of the inhabitants of Palestine were Jews, along with some Christians and a few Bedouins. Nazareth was home to less than a thousand Christians, while Jerusalem held 5,000 people, mostly Jews. Gaza was home to around 250 Jews and about the same number of Christians.  The only exception was Nablus where around 120 Muslims lived, along with a handful of Samaritans, whose ancestors belonged to the northern tribes of Israel.

Intrigued by the findings in Relandi’s book, I looked at other first-hand sources, such as travelogs, governmental reports and censuses. I wasn’t sure I would find anything. But there is a surprising quantity of data and anecdotal evidence. And all the evidence suggests that the majority of non-Jewish (i.e. Arab Muslim and Christian) immigration to Palestine began in the mid or late 1800s.

Drawing on work by statistician and demographer Roberto Bachi, it is estimated that there were 151,000 non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine in 1540. (Some sources indicate that many of these were descendants of Jews who had remained in Palestine following the failed Bar Kokhba revolt in 136 CE but had been forced to convert to Islam). By 1800, the non-Jewish population had grown to around 268,000, rising to 489,000 by 1890, 589,000 in 1922 and just over 1.3 million in 1948. The vast majority of these non-Jewish migrants were Muslims. All of which suggests that most of the Muslim (and Christian) inhabitants of Palestine were recent immigrants and had not been living there for generations as is sometimes suggested. Moreover, the figures show that Arab immigration was a fast-growing trend, propelled by external circumstances. But what?

Firstly, several thousand peasant farmers had come to Palestine in the first half of the 19th century to escape Egypt’s military draft, forced labor and taxes. Secondly, the Ottoman authorities transferred a great many people from Morocco, Algeria and Egypt to Palestine in the early part of the 20th century, partly in an effort to outflank Jewish immigration. Thirdly, the Zionist project was very attractive to Arabs who were drawn to Palestine by the good wages, healthcare and sanitation offered by the Jews.  Indeed, the Muslim infant mortality rate in Palestine fell from 201 per 1,000 in 1925 to 94 per 1,000 in 1945. Meanwhile, life expectancy rose from 37 to 49 years.

Furthermore, the Arab population of Palestine increased the most in cities where there were large numbers of Jews, which is a strong indication that Arabs were drawn to Palestine because of the Zionists. Between 1922 and 1947, the Arab population grew by 290 per cent in Haifa, 158 per cent in Jaffa and 131 per cent in Jerusalem. Tellingly, the growth in Arab-majority towns was far less dramatic: 37 per cent in Bethlehem, 42 per cent in Nablus and 78 per cent in Jenin.

During the British civil administration in Palestine (1920 to 1948), restrictions were placed on Jewish immigration in order to appease Arab troublemakers. However, the situation regarding Arab settlement was much more lax. Historian and author Freddy Liebreich claims there was significant Arab immigration from the Hauran region of Syria during the Mandate era – and that the British authorities turned a blind eye.

However, some people were taking notice. The Hope Simpson Enquiry (1930) observed  there was significant illegal Arab immigration from Egypt, Transjordan and Syria, which was negatively affecting prospective Jewish immigrants and contributing to Arab violence against Jews. The British Governor of the Sinai between 1922 and 1936 substantiated the view that unchecked Arab immigration was taking place, with most of the immigrants coming from the Sinai, Transjordan and Syria. And the Peel Commission reported in 1937 that a “shortfall of land” was “due less to the amount of land acquired by Jews than to the increase in the Arab population.”

Immigration continued at a pace until the Jews declared independence in 1948. The fact that Arab (largely Muslim) immigration continued right up until Israeli independence is borne out by the United Nations stipulation that any Arab refugee who had lived in Palestine for a mere two years prior to Jewish independence was entitled to refugee status. According to the UN Relief and Works Agency, Palestine refugees are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”

*

If there were very few non-Jewish inhabitants in Palestine in the 16th and 17th centuries, what happened to the Arab invaders who arrived in 629 CE? Well, for a start, very few of the invaders actually stayed in Palestine. Many became absentee landlords who used native tenants to cultivate their estates and to pay the dhimmi tax. This is why Palestine, along with Egypt and Syria, remained overwhelmingly Christian for several more centuries. It is possible, however, that following the Muslim reconquest in 1187, many Jewish and Christian inhabitants of Palestine were forced to convert to Islam, thereby pushing up the number of Muslim inhabitants. However, Palestine’s population went into decline from the mid-14th century – in large part due to the Black Death, which swept in from eastern Europe and north Africa, travelling to Gaza, and making its way to Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. With no one to care for the land, many areas became malarial, especially in northern Palestine, which became largely uninhabitable. Depopulation continued as a consequence of the invasion of Palestine in 1831 by Muhammad Ali of Egypt and the ensuing Peasants’ Revolt of 1834, which reduced the male population of Palestine by about twenty per cent, with large numbers of peasants either deported to Egypt or drafted into Egypt’s military. Many others abandoned their farms and villages to join the Bedouin.

Clearly it would be futile to argue that there were few Arabs living in Palestine in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries, but the figures do show that the Arab population of Palestine had been in state of flux for centuries and that the overwhelming majority were migrants from the rest of the Arab world and/or the Ottoman empire. This is important because it tells us that the postmodern notion of a deep-rooted Palestinian Arab history/culture is bogus. All the evidence points to the conspicuous absence of Arab culture in late 17th century Palestine; and even in the 18th and 19th centuries the Arab inhabitants of Palestine were not indigenous but were latecomers. This explains why, historically, Arabs never talked about Palestinian identity – because there wasn’t one. They were Egyptian, Syrian, Moroccan, Iraqi and Ottoman Arabs, and many of them expressed allegiance to the concept of a Greater Syria.

*

It wasn’t until the mid-1960s – nearly two decades after Israel declared independence – that a semi-coherent (and very violent) Palestinian Arab identity came into being. Until then, the Arabs had refused to call themselves Palestinians because it was a name reserved for the Jews. When people talk of a Arabic Palestinian culture or history, they are being disingenuous: the only Palestinian culture or history of any note is Jewish. Arabic-speaking Palestinianism started as late as the 1960s and was couched in fervently anti-Zionist and Judeophobic terms. Despite their successful efforts in deceiving the world, many Arab Palestinian leaders know the truth about the origins of their people. Egyptian-born Yasser Arafat made this very clear when he said, “The Palestinian people have no national identity. I, Yasser Arafat, man of destiny, will give them that identity through conflict with Israel.”

Even as late as the 1970s, the notion of a Palestinian people was still nothing more than a terrorist construct designed to undermine Jewish claims to the land of Israel. In a conversation with Dutch newspaper Trouw in March 1977, the leader of the pro-Syria as-Sa’iqa faction of the PLO, Zuheir Mohsen, remarked: “It is only for political reasons that we carefully underline our Palestinian identity […] yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity serves only tactical purposes. The founding of a Palestinian state is a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel.”

Why else do the people who claim to be Palestinians regularly turn down the possibility of an independent state alongside Israel? It’s because the Arabs themselves don’t really believe in a State of Palestine. Their only interest is abolishing the ample Jewish presence between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Jewish self-determination is anathema to many Muslims who, since the time of Muhammed, have tried to keep the Jews in a state of subjugation and dhimmitude. When Arab and/or BDS protestors call for Palestine to be free “from the river to the sea,” what they are really calling for is the genocide of the Jews.

Many of the problems experienced by the State of Israel stem from something very simple but profound –  the change of name. While it is totally understandable that the leaders of the Yishuv chose the name Israel for their state (New Judea was another option), it has had unfortunate consequences. By rejecting the labels Palestine and Palestinian, the Jews circumvented their own local history and identity, and bequeathed both the name and heritage of Palestine to the Arabs. So we are now in a perverse situation where the indigenous Semites of Palestine call themselves Israelis and the people who flocked from the Ottoman and Arab regions call themselves Palestinians. What’s worse is the fact that the latter now claim to have been the indigenous people of Palestine all along – and the world (which has always been a sucker for conspiracy theories) believes it.

It is surely time to remind the Arabs and the international community that Jews are the true Palestinians. Why else would there be a Palestinian Talmud or a Jewish newspaper called The Palestine Post. Why, until the creation of Israel, were the Jews known as Palestinians? Why did philosopher Immanuel Kant refer to Jews in Europe as “the Palestinians among us”? Why did Jewish campaigners in the early 20th century produce posters calling for Jews of America to register as members of the Zionist Organisation of America “for the freedom of Palestine”? Why does the 1939 flag of Palestine have a Star of David on it?

Now some critics might say, “Well, all this may be true,  but the people who claim to be Palestinians are indeed Palestinians because they say  they are and they deserve our sympathy.” The trouble is, the so-called Palestinians make no attempt to explain who they really are but continue to perpetuate the antisemitic conspiracy theory that they are the primitive and indigenous people of Palestine who were/are cruelly oppressed by the wicked Zionists. The world believes this because they are told the lie often enough and because the Israeli state has done a poor job of communicating the truth.

And because of the big Palestinian lie, Jew-hatred is now at its highest level since the end of the Second World War. Given that the Palestinians themselves are unlikely to admit to themselves and to the world that Palestinianism is an antisemitic hoax,  it is down to us to do it for them.

The Noahide Laws: A universal code for peace and unity

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‘Noah and His Ark’ by Charles Willson Peale, 1819, oil on canvas

 

The Noahide Laws: A universal code for peace and unity 

And God spoke unto Noah, and to Noah’s children with him, saying, And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you, and with your seed after you.’

By Richard Mather  

Judaism is not a religion that seeks converts. Although conversion is not prohibited (far from it), Maimonides and other authorities teach that the Seven Noahide Laws, or Sheva Mitzvot B’nai Noach, are the sacred inheritance of all humanity. Those gentiles who observe the Seven Noahide Laws in accordance with the Torah will merit a share in the World to Come.

What are the Seven Noahide Laws? As enumerated in Sanhedrin 56a of the Babylonian Talmud, they comprise one positive commandment and six negative commandments given to Noah and his offspring after the Flood, and are as follows: to establish courts of justice; to refrain from blasphemy, idolatry, adultery, bloodshed and robbery; and to never eat flesh cut from a living animal. This last commandment is usually interpreted as behaving compassionately towards animals.

All descendants of Noah, which means all of humanity, are required to follow these laws. Gentiles who actively follow the Seven Laws of Noah are called B’nai Noach or Noahides. Sometimes they are referred to as “righteous gentiles” or “the pious among the nations.” Historically, the term B’nai Noach applied to all gentiles as descendants of Noah. These days, however, it is used to refer specifically to gentiles who observe the Seven Noahide Laws.

The Noahide Laws were give to Moses and also preserved by the sages of the Talmud. It is important to note that B’nai Noach observe the Seven Laws because they were reaffirmed at Mount Sinai and not because the sons of Noah received them previously. As a priestly nation, the Jewish people are to safeguard these universal principles and to teach them to the nations. According to Maimonides, “Moses was commanded by the Almighty to compel all the inhabitants of the world to accept the commandments given to Noah’s descendants.”

(Also worth noting is that a Noahide is only considered righteous if he or she accepts the Seven Noahide Laws as coming from God. A person who derives the laws from his or her own intellect is not considered righteous.)

Interestingly, the Seven Noahide Laws are more than just seven commandments. They are actually seven category headings or headlines under which a number of other commandants are compiled. For instance, the injunction against theft includes the prohibition against defrauding your neighbour. The commandment to establish laws and courts of justice includes the injunction not to kill a suspected murderer before he stands trial. Depending on the rabbinical authority, there are not just seven laws, but thirty or even sixty-six commandments.

Gentiles who acknowledge and observe the Seven Noahide Laws are not in the business of creating another religion, which is forbidden by the Torah. Rather it is about acknowledging the LORD as the One God of both Jews and gentiles, and recognising that He is a righteous and loving God, Who is intimately concerned with His creation.

Some Noahides attend synagogues and most study under a rabbi. B’nai Noach reject pagan holidays such as Christmas and Easter. But they are not supposed to create new religious festivals; nor are they allowed to observe Jewish religious holidays in the manner of their Jewish brethren.

However, there are a number of prayers and blessings that have been especially written for Noahides. Rabbi Moshe Weiner, the overseeing rabbi of Ask Noah International, has published a number of suitable prayers. These prayers do not encroach on the spiritual heritage of the Jewish people, and no attempt is made to establish additional obligations for gentiles beyond the Noahide Code.

The Noahide Way is gaining in popularity in the West, especially among former Christians who wish to have a relationship with God without the baggage of Christian dogma (such as the trinity) and two thousand years of Church-sanctioned anti-Semitism. In fact, not since the days of the Second Temple when God-fearing gentiles regularly attended synagogues throughout the Diaspora, has the Torah played such an important part in the lives of non-Jews.

It is probably fair to say that Chabad Lubavitch has done the most in recent years to reach out to gentiles. In my home city of Manchester, England, for example, Hasidic Jews have been known to hand out Noahide literature to members of the public. In Manchester, London and other English cities, there are small Noahide study groups, which discuss the Torah and Halachic matters.

There are also Noahide groups and communities in Australia, Europe and North America. Significantly, in 1991, President George H. W. Bush signed into law an historic Joint Resolution of both Houses of Congress recognising the Seven Noahide Laws as the “bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization.”

And in 2006, the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel met with a representative of Chabad to sign a declaration calling on all non-Jews in Israel to observe the Noahide Laws. A year later, Chabad brought together ambassadors from Poland, Japan, Ghana, Latvia, Mexico and Panama, who all championed the Noahide Laws.

The late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who launched the global Noahide Campaign, commented that a particular task of Chabad (and of religious Jews in general) is to educate and to encourage the observance of the Seven Laws among all people. “The religious tolerance of today and the trend towards greater freedom gives us the unique opportunity to enhance widespread observance of these laws,” he said.

The Seven Noahide Laws – given to the sons of Noah after the Flood and reaffirmed to Moses at Mount Sinai – are not only an expression of God’s divine goodness, they also help to ensure that human beings are united and bound by a common moral responsibility to God, and to each other. As it says in Midrash Tanchuma, “God gave the Torah to the Jewish people so that all nations might benefit from it.”

 

 

 

Labour’s view of Jews is an antisemitic caricature worthy of the USSR

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Anti-Zionist caricature from the Soviet magazine “Krokodil”, № 15, 1972 | Source: Mikhail Sychyov

Labour’s view of Jews is an antisemitic caricature worthy of the USSR

By Richard Mather 

The UK Labour Party is no longer in the business of winning elections. The party’s reticence stems from a more radical political desire, which is to “address the Jewish question” (to quote one of its activists) and to deZionize the party.

Even something as innocuous as a Jewish holiday message is subject to Labour’s obsessive scrutiny, with claims circulating that Labour’s communications director Seamus Milne apparently tried to ban the use of Hebrew in a Passover message because he felt it implied support for Zionism.

Under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is the British political party that is most hostile to Jews. Given that most Jews in Britain are Zionists and that most Zionists are Jews, Labour’s disdain for the vast majority of Anglo-Jewry is incontestable. To paraphrase British PM Theresa May, Labour is the “nasty party” par excellence.

This nastiness is deliberate. Like the Soviets, Labour antizionism is a crafted propaganda doctrine that aims to rob Jewry of their security and to oust them from political discourse. The main thrust of Labour’s antizionist message is this: Zionism is a form of racism, Zionists are similar to Nazis, and Israel is a tool used by Jews to foment imperialism and militant chauvinism. This is the politics of anti-Jewish contempt.

It’s true that antisemitism in Labour is not new. It was evident in the foreign policy decisions of the post-WW2 Labour government. But there has always been (at least until now) a significant and sizeable pro-Israel, pro-Jewish contingent within the party: advocacy groups such as Labour Friends of Israel, and important individuals such as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown who stood alongside the Jewish state and spoke out against antisemitic prejudice and bigotry.

Corbyn’s rise to power has done more than just embolden the minority of antisemitic cranks already within the party; he has enthused a new generation of antisemites who have joined Labour in droves. Labour Zionists are now marginalised, and Jewish Labour MPs are routinely abused and bullied by militant Corbynistas. As a result, financial donations from Jewish donors have all but dried up and Jews are abandoning the party.

But anti-Jewish hostility is not just a problem for Jewish members inside Labour. It is an issue of concern for Jews in the UK more generally.

The ascendancy of Corbyn and the militancy of Labour’s recently-formed Momentum group are reminders that left-wing extremism did not die out in the 1980s but remains an ongoing threat to the well-being and security of Anglo-Jewry. The rise in antisemitic attacks in the UK suggests that Labour and the rest of the British Left, in allegiance with Islamist radicals, now pose an existential threat to British Jews.

The ‘idea’ of the Jew

Corbynistas are a lot like the antizionist Soviet propagandists who studied Zionism in order to uncover its secrets. In Soviet lore, Zionism was/is the politics of the wealthy Jewish bourgeoisie which had closely allied itself with monopoly elites in the USA and the UK.

Like the Soviets before them, the Corbynistas are convinced that Israel is home to several million racists, and that Zionists around the world serve as “the front squad of colonialism and neo-colonialism,” to quote the third edition of the thirty-volume Great Soviet Encyclopedia.

Even when there isn’t a flesh-and-blood Jew in sight, Labour antizionists are still tormented by the idea of ‘the Jew.’ Lacking political depth and therefore unable to distinguish between the real and the imaginary, it is the idea of the Zionist Jew– albeit a false idea – that keeps their hatred alive.

It was the same with the Brownshirts and the Stalinists, the Lutherans and the medieval Catholic Church. The thought or image of the nefarious Jew is enough to engender a pogrom, a Stalinist show trial, an inquisition, a boycott.

It is no wonder that the Corbynistas are irrational and abusive. They imagine themselves living in a world controlled by Jew-Zionists. And this is why Labour’s focus is not on winning seats at the next general election but on cleansing the party (and the country) of undesirable Zionist Jews.

More than that, party members are well aware that they do not need to be in government in order to do this.

They already have the power and the resources to perpetuate their dirty war against Jews, not only through the media, but also by means of organized protests, marches and demonstrations, by the boycotting of Jewish businesses and individuals, and by aiding and abetting Islamist extremists.

Labour and the Far Right

Another recurring theme in Soviet antisemitism was the allegation that the Zionists and the Nazis collaborated against the Jewish people because Zionist leaders viewed ‘Palestine’ as the only legitimate place for Jewish immigration.

This view formed the basis of Mahmoud Abbas’ PhD dissertation. It is also the view of Labour’s Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, nicknamed Red Ken.

If the Soviets learned a great deal from the Nazis about how to slander Jews, so the contemporary Far Right is taking lessons from the Labour Party. Earlier this year, Nick Griffin, former leader of the extreme right-wing racist British National Party, took to Twitter to defend Ken Livingstone’s repugnant suggestion that Adolf Hitler was a Zionist:

“Hitler started war wanting to send all Jews to own homeland outside Europe & armed Zionist terrorists to fight Brits in Palestine. #RedKen,” wrote Nick Griffin, who then tweeted a message reading, “One day the world will know that #RedKen was right.”

Consider, too, the Far Right website deLiberation, which recently hailed Corbyn as the “antidote to the Blairite virus and Zionist snake-bite”:

“Many certainly can see Corbyn as Prime Minister – a very different and totally new style of PM, to be sure […] he’s a man to look up to and identify with […] a man who is not tempted by the Israeli shekel. If any of his opponents lands the leadership Labour will remain under the yoke of Zionist ambitions and enslave by the gangster regime in Tel Aviv.”

The end?

The Far Right’s fascination with the Labour Party is what happens when a once-major political party is taken over by lunatics who transform their irrational fixation with Jews into party policy.

The trouble is, even if Corbyn and his cronies are overthrown by sensible Labourites on September 24 (the date of the leadership conference), there’s not much evidence that the party is in a fit state to govern, even at a local or regional level. The rot may be too wide and too deep.

So is the Labour Party finished? The party is, on average, eleven points behind the Conservative Party. As things stand, there is no chance of Labour doing well in the next general election because the anticipation of election victory in 2020 is absent.

The only thing that matters to the Corbynistas is the cleansing of the party of Zionists and other political foes.

Yes, the Labour Party exists – but only just. Under its current leader, it has been reduced to a social media/student union protest body that proffers a seemingly endless proliferation of callow opinion from the naïve, foolish, the extreme and the dangerous.

Thanks to Corbyn and his communist apparatchiks, Labour is limping through a catastrophic collapse of meaning and intellectual malaise, propped up only by its Sovietesque obsession with Jews and Zionism.

 

Adam by Barnett Newman

Barnett Newman and the art of not making graven images

Barnett Newman and the art of not making graven images

By Richard Mather 

Barnett Newman was born in 1905 to Abraham and Anna Newman, Jewish immigrants from Poland who came to New York City in 1900. Although not religious, Barnett’s father was a passionate Zionist and a supporter of the National Hebrew School of the Bronx. As well as attending Hebrew school, Barnett and his brothers and sisters were educated at home by Jewish scholars from Europe. He went on to study philosophy at the City College of New York and later made a living as an art teacher, writer and critic.

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Barnett Newman

In the 1930s he made a number of paintings but eventually destroyed all these works. Newman started painting again in 1944 and he made a number of chalk drawings but it wasn’t until 1948 that he produced his artistic breakthrough: Onement 1 was a major achievement and it was this artwork that earned him the reputation as a pioneer of color field paintings.

It was around this time that Newman became preoccupied with Judaic creation stories. Art critic and friend Thomas B. Hess has described how Newman immersed himself in the Torah and Kabbalistic writings in the mid-1940s. Newman began to evolve a distinctive pictorial image: a vertical band, zip, or what Newman called a “streak of light” running from the very top to the very bottom of the canvas. The vertical strips of light (usually created by the ripping away of masking tape from the canvas) are thought to relate to the Kabbalistic notion of a ray of infinite light (kav) used to create the world. The form of the divine produced by this first ray of light is known as Adam Kadmon, literally, “Primordial Adam.” Perhaps this is why some critics regard the zip to be a representation of man, indeed, of the first man, Adam, who walks upright.

Thomas B. Hess regards the vertical bands of colour as “an act of division, a gesture of separation, as God separated light from darkness, with a line drawn in the void.” Newman himself claimed that the artist begins with the void. As Newman remarks in his essay “The Plasmic Image,” “It can be said that the artist like a true creator is delving into chaos. It is precisely this that makes him an artist for the Creator in creating the world began with the same material, for the artist tries to wrest truth from the void.”

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‘Adam’ (1951-2) by Barnett Newman

In 1951 Newman created Adam, an abstract expressionist colour field painting, complete with multiple zips or “streaks of light.” Adam is dominated by two colours: red and brown, blood and earth. The name Adam derives from the Hebrew word adamah (ground), but also adom, (red) and dam (blood). As it says in the Torah, “the Lord God formed man [ha-adam] of dust from the ground [adamah].” Newman makes no attempt to depict Adam in any natural or literal sense. As with many of his paintings, there is a conspicuous lack of literal representation. Art critic Arthur Danto suggests that Newman was moved by the Judaic injunction against the making of graven images. The Shulkhan Arukh (a codification of Jewish law) states that “it is forbidden to make complete solid or raised images of people or angels, or any images of heavenly bodies except for purposes of study.” The Shulkhan Arukh takes the literal meaning of פסל pesel as “graven image” (from the root פסל P-S-L, “to engrave”). The prohibition is seen as applying especially to some forms of sculpture and depictions of the human face.

Newman’s Adam is a “body-without-organs” (to borrow a curious phrase from philosopher Gilles Deleuze). It is pure surface, a plane of immanence, or what Newman calls the “the picture plane.” Newman’s streaks of light or zips do not destroy or collapse the painting; they unite it into a totality, into a plane of consistency. And yet there is just enough movement, just enough God-given possibility, to ensure that Adam isn’t congealed into a lumpen artwork devoid of energy.

Adam has a companion piece, Eve, painted at the same time. In a letter to the Tate Gallery (dated April 6, 1983), Newman’s widow Analee writes: “I think he thought of them as a pair because he worked on the first painting and then on the second continuously until they were finished and then named them ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’.”

Eve 1950 by Barnett Newman 1905-1970

‘Eve’ (1950) by Barnett Newman

Like Adam, Eve is a color field painting, with one of Newman’s vertical bands or zips at the right side. Adam is slightly larger than Eve. It is different in colour. Whereas Adam is predominantly brown with red zips, Eve has a vast expanse of red, interrupted by a single, narrow band of purplish-brown running the length of the canvas’ right edge. The two paintings were the last Newman completed before his second one-man exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in April–May 1951. At that time, Adam featured two stripes, but Newman added a third one down the left centre a year later, which is why it’s now inscribed with the double date of 1951-1952.

Both Adam and Eve are in the possession of the UK-based Tate art institution, but neither artworks are currently on display.

 

richard-mather2Richard Mather is a writer and journalist. He writes for Israel News Online and Arutz Sheva, and occasionally blogs for JPost. He has also written for the Jewish Media Agency, Poetica Magazine, Drash Pit, Voices Israel, The Best of the Manchester Poets, The Holiday Times Magazine (Chabad Lubavitch) and Triggerfish Critical Review.

Antisemitism in modern Britain is nothing new

By Richard Mather  

It has emerged that almost 5,850 people have been reported to the UK Labour Party’s executive, more than 3,000 of them for allegations of abuse, with the rest accused of antisemitism and of supporting other political parties, according to The Daily Telegraph.

This is hardly a surprise. Antisemitism has been rampant on the British Left for decades, although it has accelerated in the past year due to Jeremy Corbyn’s dismal leadership of the Labour Party. But Labour’s woes should not be seen in isolation. They are the inevitable outgrowth of hundreds of years of English and British Jew-hatred, augmented by the recent importation of Islamic anti-Semitism.

Antizionists in the UK would like you to believe there’s a qualitative difference between pre-Holocaust antisemitism and post-Shoah antizionism, but there isn’t. The assertion that antisemitism and antizionism are somehow different is a cynical ruse designed to both legitimise Jew-hatred in Britain and to delegitimise the State of Israel.

English antisemitism goes back to the first half of the twelfth century when King Stephen burned down the house of an Oxford Jewish man because he refused to pay a contribution to the king’s expenses. It was also around this time that the first-ever recorded blood libel/ritual murder charge against Jews was brought (in the case of William of Norwich).

Antizionism is, of course, a more recent phenomenon, but even this actually precedes the creation of Israel by several decades. An example: British journalists began a campaign accusing “Zionists” of fomenting the Turkish Revolution. This was in 1911/1912. Clearly, antizionism in 1912 wasn’t about Israel but was a paranoid reaction to a rumours of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.

It is worth recalling that Britain’s blockade of Palestine during WW2 prevented the rescue of hundreds of thousands of Jews. And Labour’s postwar hostility towards Jews almost scuppered the creation of the State of Israel. (UK foreign secretary Ernest Bevin not only made plans with Jordan for the annexation of Palestine into the Hashemite kingdom, but he embargoed arms shipments at a time when the new Jewish state was fighting for its life.)

Throughout the ages, Jew-hatred in Britain has taken on different forms at different times. At times it has been religious in nature; other times it has been motivated by race or economics. All of these variants have one thing in common: demonisation, which in colloquial usage refers to propaganda or moral panic directed against any individual or group; more literally it is the imputing of diabolical influences.

Most sane people in the UK no longer believe Jews are agents of the devil who conspired to kill Christ, although a British-Pakistani Muslim in Manchester did once accuse me of killing Jesus(!). Once upon a time a great many people subscribed to this view. Indeed, Catholics were still being taught this up until the 1960s.

Now, instead of deicide (killing God), Jews are charged with a new and outrageous libel – the genocide of Arab Palestinians. In twenty-first century Britain, many people cling to this absurd but deeply-held belief. The long tradition in the West of Adversus Judaeos (“Against the Jews/Judeans”) apparently continues in the guise of irrational antizionism.

It’s true that Jews in England are no longer forbidden from entering certain professions (I’m thinking of Edward I’s Statutum de Judaismo, 1275, for example);  but it is the case that a large number of Brits boycott Israeli products and call for Israel to be expelled from the family of nations. And if most people in Britain have rejected Christian anti-Semitism, they have instead embraced Islamic antisemitism, which is equally nasty and virulent.

Antizionism is the superstition par excellence of modern Britain. As with the antisemites of old, the contemporary antizionist is immune to reason. Facts and statistics mean nothing to your typical antizionist bigot.

As the English novelist and social commentator George Orwell once said, “If you dislike somebody, you dislike him and there is an end of it: your feelings are not made any better by a recital of his virtues.”

 

‘3412 Kafka’: Out-of-this-world Jewish writing

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Kafka: Penguin Modern Classics book covers

By Richard Mather…

Earlier this month, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the manuscripts of Czech-Jewish novelist Franz Kafka are the property of the National Library of Israel. The manuscripts have been in the possession of the family of Esther Hoffe, the secretary of Kafka’s friend Max Brod. The family had argued that it rightfully owned the manuscripts after her death, but the Supreme Court disagreed. The Court has asked Israel’s National Library to make the manuscripts accessible to the general public.

Franz Kafka was born July 3 1883 into a German-speaking, middle-class, minimally-observant Jewish family in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now the Czech Republic). His Jewish upbringing was limited mostly to his bar mitzvah and going to the synagogue four times a year. Although professing to be an atheist in his teenage years, his interest in Judaism grew as he got older. While fascinated by the piety of the Hasidic Jews in eastern Europe, he felt alienated from his own Jewish tradition, once declaring that he had nothing in common with his fellow Jews.

One of the difficulties was Kafka’s relationship with his domineering father. Kafka felt that his father – and his family more generally – clung to their Jewish heritage in a superficial way. Kafka was in fact dismissive of western Jews who tried to integrate and assimilate into gentile society. Indeed, the sporadic outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence exposed the failure of assimilation and helps to explain why so many of Kafka’s friends were interested in Zionism.

Kafka himself was ambivalent about the Zionist project, which was still in its infancy. Although Kafka considered moving to British Palestine (he even studied Hebrew while living in Berlin), he never did visit the land of Israel.

However, we know from his diaries and letters that from the age of twenty-eight, Kafka was becoming increasingly interested in Jewish (especially Yiddish) history, folklore,  literature and theatre. He was so impressed by a travelling Yiddish theatre company from Poland, that he delved into the history of Yiddish literature and wrote extensively in his diary about Yiddish theatre productions.

Kafka does not make overt references to Judaism in his fiction, but some critics detect Jewish themes in his work. According to Lothar Kahn, “the presence of Jewishness in Kafka’s oeuvre is no longer subject to doubt.” And in the words of Harold Bloom, “despite all his denials and beautiful evasions, Kafka’s writing quite simply is Jewish writing.”

Some scholars speculate that some of Kafka’s works are allegories for larger Jewish issues. Karl Erich Grözinger believes there is a connection between Kafka’s writing and the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “Whenever Kafka speaks in them of judgment, sin, atonement and justification,” says Grözinger, “he is working from the direct context of a Jewish theology.”

Kafka’s novella Metamorphosis may be a bitterly ironic midrash on the Akedah, also known as the “binding of Isaac.” Whereas in the Genesis story Isaac is substituted by a ram caught in the thicket, the anti-hero of Metamorphosis is turned into a ungeheueren Ungeziefer or “monstrous vermin” – an unclean animal that is not suited for sacrifice. And if Isaac is disqualified for sacrifice because he is more precious in G-d’s eyes than the ram, Kafka’s ant-hero (called Gregor) is wholly unfit for sacrifice because he is vermin, an insect.

Darwinism, which in its fascist guise was to have catastrophic consequences for Europe’s Jews, plays a part in the thematic thread running through Metamorphosis. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, human differences were often described in racial or biological terms. Jews in particular were depicted as inferior, as other. And what could be more inferior or other than vermin or an insect?

Gregor’s transformation into “monstrous vermin” mirrors the anti-Semitic tendency to reduce Jews to some kind of specimen that can be killed off. Gregor is the embodiment of this perceived racial inferiority, and his death is a pointless and meaningless event, not at all sacrificial.

Similarly, there was nothing sacrificial about the imminent genocide of European Jewry. The word “holocaust” is inappropriate because the word comes from the Greek word holókauston, referring to an animal sacrifice offered to a god in which the whole (olos) animal is completely burnt (kaustos). This is why Jews tend to use the term Shoah, which means “Catastrophe.”

Kafka didn’t live long enough to see the murderous destruction wrought by the Nazis. He died in 1924, aged forty, of starvation brought on by laryngeal tuberculosis, which affected his ability to swallow. His remains are buried alongside his parent’s under an obelisk in Prague’s New Jewish Cemetery.

His fellow Jews in Prague were even more unlucky. They died in their thousands in the gas chambers and concentration camps of Europe, thereby bringing an end to ten centuries of Jewish life in Prague. The historical sources are confused, but it seems that Kafka’s three sisters were also killed by the Nazis – in the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto in 1944 or the Nazi concentration camps, possibly Auschwitz.

Few of Kafka’s works were published during his lifetime. The story collection Meditation was published in 1912 and A Country Doctor in 1917. A few individual stories (most notably Metamorphosis) were published in literary magazines. Kafka finished none of his full-length novels. In fact, his unfinished works, including his novels The Trail, The Castle and Amerika, were ordered by Kafka to be destroyed by his friend Max Brod. Fortunately, Brod ignored his friend’s request and published them after Kafka’s death.

In 1999, a committee of 99 authors, scholars, and literary critics ranked Kafka’s unfinished The Trial and The Castle the second and ninth most significant German-language novels of the 20th century. Harry Steinhauer, a professor of German and Jewish literature, says that Kafka “has made a more powerful impact on literate society than any other writer of the twentieth century.”

Curiously, an asteroid/minor planet from the inner regions of the asteroid belt (discovered by astronomers in January 1983) is named after Kafka. It is called ‘3412 Kafka.’

 

 

 

Planet Palestine: Why does the world revolve around the Palestinians?

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Red vs Blue/Fire and Ice. Image courtesy of Pininterest

Planet earth appears to turn on a Palestinian axis. The amount of time and money lavished on the creation of a State of Palestine has produced zero results, except the spilling of a great deal of Jewish blood.

By Richard Mather…

Planet earth appears to turn on a Palestinian axis. It is remarkable that the Palestinian Arabs, who have no historical, cultural or legal rights to Eretz Israel, are endowed with so much international and economic patronage by the EU, the UK, the USA and the UN, as well as charitable organisations such as Oxfam and Christian Aid. How did the Palestinian Arabs and their international backers achieve such a feat? Why does the world revolve around the Palestinians?

There are two answers to this. One is the Palestinian Arabs’ calculus of terror. They have learnt that violence is rewarded by the West. Acts of terror against Jews only strengthen the West’s belief that a Palestinian Arab state built on Jewish territory is the answer. Hence the two-state solution based on the so-called pre-1967 borders. But the West is being fooled. Palestinian Arabs do not want a political solution – not when terrorism and bloodshed reap dividends. This is why Yasser Arafat instigated the second intifada. He did it to mask his rejection of the Camp David deal in the year 2000. And what happened? The world blamed Israel for the “occupation,” which garnered further sympathy for the Palestinian Arabs.

Hamas and PA president Mahmoud Abbas know that terrorism focuses worldwide attention on Israel. Should the Palestinian Arabs ever have their own state, Western leaders and newspapers would lose interest and turn to other matters, such as Kurdish autonomy and Saudi human rights abuses. This is not what the Palestinian Arabs want. They want the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to continue because it exerts unbearable pressure on the Jewish state.

The second reason why the Palestinian Arabs enjoy so much international privilege and patronage is because they appeal to Western sympathy for the underdog (although this sympathy rarely extended to Jews during the 1930s and 1940s). They have achieved this by doing something rather remarkable. And that is to appropriate another people’s history and suffering.

First of all they stole the name. The word “Palestinian” was a designation given to Jews in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For example, the Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant, who lived in the latter half of the eighteenth century, referred to European Jews as “Palestinians.” It acquired its modern connotation in the 1960s when Arafat began talking of “the Palestinian people.”

Arafat and his Soviet backers then appropriated and inverted the Holocaust so that the Arabs of Palestine could project themselves as the “new Jews” and the Israelis as the “new Nazis.” Then they appropriated places of importance to Jews. The biblical name of Judea-Samaria became “The West Bank” or “Occupied Territory.” And Judaism’s holiest city, Jerusalem, is called Al-Quds. To add insult to Jewish injury, the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb are now considered integral to a future State of Palestine. And there are attempts by the Palestinian Authority and Unesco to appropriate the Kotel as an Islamic holy site.

Appropriation on its own would not be enough, however. The Palestinian Arabs had to invent an entire backstory in order to fool the world. Claims that the Palestinians are descendants of the Jebusites, Philistines or Canaanites are risible. In truth, most of the people who now call themselves Palestinians descend from migrants who left Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the Balkans (among other places) in the eighteenth century onwards. Even the UN has acknowledged that many of these so-called Palestinians had only lived in Palestine for two years prior to Jewish independence in 1948. By contrast, there has been a continuous Jewish presence in the land for thousands of years.

So the Palestinians have managed to convince the world that they are an indigenous people who are now in exile because of Zionism. Some of the credit for this elaborate hoax should go to the Kremlin. In the 1960s, Soviet authorities and their Arab allies dreamt up the fiction of a Palestinian human rights struggle in order to destabilise Israel and its American ally. According to Major General Ion Mihai Pacepa (the highest ranking Soviet bloc defector), the Kremlin’s vision was to create an international anti-Zionist movement that would “instil a Nazi-style hatred for the Jews.” In other words, the Palestinian cause was a Cold War strategy to win the Middle East for Moscow.

This “Nazi-style hatred for the Jews” has a name. It is called Palestinianism. The ideology draws strength from a number of anti-Semitic canards, archetypes and sources, including the religious (“Jews are forsaken by God”), the conspiratorial (“the Israeli government is infecting Palestinians with Aids”), and the economic (“Zionists control international finance,” “Boycott Israeli products”). The interchangeability of “Zionist” and “Jew” in Palestinianist political discourse is, of course, indicative of its anti-Semitic nature.

The ideological similarity to other Jew-hating phenomena such as Lutheranism, medieval Catholicism and Nazism should not surprise us. Palestinianism is just the latest manifestation of an age-hold hatred. Christians and the Nazis were just as convinced as the Palestinianists of the righteousness of their causes. Indeed, each generation believes it has the answer to the so-called Jewish problem. Palestinianism is just the Final Solution by another name.

Because that’s what Palestinianism is about: genocide. When Palestinian Arabs and their supporters chant “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea,” they are calling for the genocide and/or mass expulsion of millions of Israelis. This is what Western leaders fail to realise. Or they overlook it in the hope that boycotting Israeli goods will bring the Jewish state to the negotiating table. But this is not how Abbas and his acolytes view the boycotts. Abbas et al see the boycotts as economic warfare against the Jews, with the ultimate aim of bringing down Israel.

But there is another reason why Western leaders need to wise up. The Palestinian issue has resulted in decades of terrorism and a new wave of anti-Jewish prejudice.

Westerners suffer from cognitive dissonance. Most are horrified by images of the Holocaust but are unable to support a country that is run by Jews for Jews. If Israel was any other country – that is to say if it wasn’t a Jewish state – most people would gladly support a young, innovative, multicultural and thriving democracy. The only explanation as to why liberals, Christians and leftists are apologists for far-right Islamist terror groups like Hamas is that they harbour (perhaps unconsciously) unsavoury attitudes about Jews.

The rise in anti-Semitism in contemporary Europe has received little attention or sympathy because much of the abuse is carried out by Muslims and left-wing fanatics, who do not conform to the image of the anti-Semite as National Front skinhead. But the new anti-Semitism is more dangerous and more nuanced than the neo-Nazi thuggery of the 1970s. In addition to the hijackings, suicide bombings, shootings and knife attacks, Jews face a barrage of anti-Semitic propaganda emanating from pressure groups, universities, political institutions, charities, churches and media outlets.

The rise in anti-Semitism has started to attract some (belated) attention. David Cameron, when he was British prime minister, condemned Islamist Jew-hatred. But the issue of Jew-hatred is not a priority for most policy-makers, party leaders, international bodies or newspapers. In fact, some politicians and opinion-makers are complicit in the murder of Jews because they tell lies about Israel and/or turn a blind eye to Palestinian incitement and/or whitewash the issue.

The situation cannot continue. Not when Jews living in Jerusalem and Paris are being abused, attacked and butchered. So much for “never again.” Even before the Gaza conflict of July/August 2014 when anti-Semitism was at its highest since World War Two, around half of all Jews living in France, Belgium and Hungary were considering emigrating because they no longer felt safe.

So perhaps influential people in the West should be asking themselves one simple question: Is Palestinianism really worth so much Jewish suffering?

Let’s look at the facts: There have been over half a dozen opportunities since 1937 for the Palestinian Arabs to create their own state. Since the start of the 21st century, the Palestinian leadership has had three major opportunities to establish an independent state. In 2008, for example, the Israelis put forward a proposal in which the Palestinian Arabs would receive Gaza, the majority of the so-called West Bank, parts of east Jerusalem, safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza, and the dismantling of settlements in the Jordan Valley and eastern Samaria. Abbas did not give a final response on the matter and negotiations ended.

Another fact: Palestinian Arab figureheads and organisations – from the Grand Mufti Amin al-Husseini to Hamas – have been murdering Jews under the banner of Islam since the 1920s. So is the creation of a predominantly Sunni Muslim state between Israel and Jordan really a good idea, especially in our age of ultra-violent Islamic extremism?

And how likely is it that a State of Palestine will make peace with Israel?

And will homosexuals and lesbians in a Palestinian state be given equal rights or thrown off tall buildings? Will women have equal rights? Will there be a free press or will journalists be imprisoned and silenced?

In short, will a State of Palestine be a blessing or a curse?

Since it is clear that Jewish blood is flowing; since it is clear that the Palestinian Arabs are not interested in peaceful co-existence; since it is clear that the decay of Arab nations in the Middle East looks set to continue; and since it is highly likely that a Palestinian state will be a human rights basketcase, wouldn’t it be better for the international community to put aside childish notions of a Palestinian Arab state and lavish their time and resources on more important matters?

The liberation of the Kurds in Iraq from Islamist imperialism may be a good place to start. Or what about putting an end to the Syrian crisis? An end to sex slavery or bonded labour? There are so many pressing issues that require our immediate and full attention, that it seems absurd to pursue the creation of a State of Palestine when it is obvious that the Palestinian Arabs themselves don’t want a state.

It is time to tell the Palestinian Arabs and their fellow travellers that enough is enough. The world should not revolve around them any longer.

 

Europe’s anti-Zionists must share some of the blame for terror in France, Belgium and Germany

Terrorism-Word-Cloud

Terrorism word cloud vector (image by Boris15)

Europe’s anti-Zionist leftists have the sown the wind of Islamic extremism by aiding and abetting the worst elements in Arab Palestinian society, and now Europe is reaping the whirlwind.

By Richard Mather

For decades, Europe’s anti-Zionist leftists have castigated and demonised the State of Israel, urging the Jewish state to relinquish territory to Arab enemies whose refusal to negotiate with Israelis can be attributed to the fact that Islam – and not land – is at the core of their rejectionism.

Anti-Jewish violence in the Middle East has always been religiously-motivated. Documents, news reports and speeches from the 1920s and 1930s clearly show that Arab invective was couched in extreme religious terms. The anti-Jewish rhetoric of Amin al-Husseini is a case in point. A democratic Jewish state, where Jews run their own affairs, is anathema to the supremacist instincts of those Arabs want either a pan-Arab nation or an Islamic caliphate where Jews and other minorities are stripped off their rights and/or murdered.

The West, which has become increasingly secular in recent decades, is blind to the religious warfare being waged against Jews and other so-called infidels. Europe’s left-wing idealists are inept in their understanding of religious conflict. They attribute acts of terror not to religion but to poverty, alienation, mental illness – anything but Islam. They are simply incapable of recognising the Islamist character of terrorism when it occurs in Nice, Paris, London and Madrid.

This is where the Islamists have the advantage. They understand only too well that the war against Jews and the West is an imperial-religious, even apocalyptic, war of conquest. Europe, by contrast, is ignorant of this reality because it is embarrassed by its own colonialist past and has rejected religion as a way of life. The near-total destruction of Jewish life in the 1930s and 1940s, combined with the post-1945 deChristianisation of Europe, has left the continent without a religious counter-ideology on which to base a comprehensive response to Islamist supremacism.

The situation would not be so bad if Europeans had embraced a robust and confident humanism, which emphasises critical thinking, freedom and progress. Sadly, many Europeans, again mainly on the Left, have become politically-correct automatons who tolerate the intolerable by creating “safe spaces” on campuses and institutions for anti-Semites and Islamists. And anyone who dares to criticise this sordid set-up is branded “Islamophobic,” “racist,” “a neo-con,” “a Blairite war-monger,” “a Zio-Nazi” or “Tory scum.”

But there is one thing that Europeans could do, while it is still possible. And that is to stop cosying up to the Jew-hating, misogynistic and homophobic elements within Arab Palestinian society, and instead stand alongside the democratic, secular and pluralistic Israelis who have enshrined so many things leftists are supposed to care about – workers’ rights, animal welfare, religious freedom, gender equality and equal rights for the LGBT community.

If Europe’s leftists really believe in tolerance, progress and equality, then they should support the Jewish state, not pander to Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which regularly incite violence against Jews, murder gay people and lock up dissidents. But it seems the leftists’ obsessive anti-Zionism prevents them from seeing things clearly.

The Left’s betrayal of Israel is possibly one of the worst ethical missteps since the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact of 1939. By demonising and delegitimising the State of Israel, Europe has not only emboldened Muslim fascists in the region, it has also stiffened the resolve of Islamists around the world who smell the decay of Western moral failure and go on to attack civilians in European schools, cafes, promenades, bars, workplaces, supermarkets, nightclubs, trains and buses.

In other words, by picking the wrong side in what is shaping up to be a global conflict between liberal democracy and Islamism, Europe’s anti-Zionist leftists have helped unleash a very bitter whirlwind, which the rest of Europe is paying for. In other words, they are morally complicit in the Islamist attacks on the people (Jew and gentile alike) of France, Belgium and Germany.

 

All things are possible: The life of Lev Shestov

 

Eighty years ago, a Jewish-Russian philosopher called Lev Shestov was invited by the Histadrut to give a series of lectures in Eretz Israel. He was warmly received by audiences in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv. But Shestov and his writings are now largely forgotten. Here is his story.

By Richard Mather

“Nearly every life can be summed up in a few words: man was shown heaven – and thrown into the mud” – Lev Shestov

Lev Shestov (born Yehuda Leyb Schwarzmann) was a Jewish-Russian polemicist, philosopher, theologian, literary critic and existentialist thinker. He was born on January 31, 1866, in Kiev, which was then part of the Russian empire. In his childhood and teenage years he immersed himself in Jewish and Russian literature. After attending Moscow University and working in his father’s textile business, he temporarily left the Russian Empire and made his way to Rome.

The following year (1896) he married Anna Eleazarovna Berezovsky, a Russian medical student. It was around this time that he discovered the philosophy of Nietzsche, which had a transformative effect on Shestov’s thinking. Very soon he had completed two book-length manuscripts: Shakespeare and His Critic Brandes and Good in the Teaching of Tolstoy and Nietzsche.

Shestov’s interest in Nietzsche prompted a third book, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche: The Philosophy of Tragedy, which was published in St Petersburg in 1903. His next work, The Apotheosis of Groundlessness (published 1905), was a sardonic critique of academic philosophy and scientific positivism, and it was written in an aphoristic style reminiscent of his hero Nietzsche.

The Apotheosis of Groundlessness was translated into English and published in 1920 under the title All Things Are Possible. In the foreword to this edition, D. H. Lawrence said of Shestov: “’Everything is possible’ – this is his really central cry. It is not nihilism. It is only a shaking free of the human psyche from old bonds. The positive central idea is that the human psyche, or soul, really believes in itself, and in nothing else.”

The book contains the assertion that because no grand theory can solve the mysteries of life, everything is questionable. “We know nothing of the ultimate realities of our existence, nor shall we ever know anything,” he writes. In other words, the world does not make sense and philosophers should not hope to find reason in it.

In the years leading up to the First World War Shestov and his family moved between Russia, Switzerland and Germany. In 1915, his illegitimate son, Sergei Listopadov, was killed in action in the service of the Russian military.

In the wake of the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, Shestov and his family moved to Paris where he was to live for the next decade. Although virtually unknown in French literary circles, his 1921 article commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of Dostoevsky’s birth enthused the local literary scene.

During the 1920s he continued his literary endeavours, including a complete edition of his works in French. He taught and he lectured, and he was invited to speak in Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Netherlands. In 1929, Shestov acquainted himself with the work of Kierkegaard, whom Shestov immediately recognised as a kindred spirit.

Shestov struck up a friendship with Martin Buber in the late 1920s, which continued through the next decade. In a conversation with Buber (dated 1934), Shestov proclaimed that sin came into the world when man ceased to be nourished by the tree of life and instead took sustenance from the tree of knowledge.

“The very moment man ate from the forbidden fruit, he gained knowledge and lost his freedom,” he told Buber. “Man does need to know. To ask, to beg questions, to require proofs, answers, means that one is not free. To know means to know necessity. Knowledge means that man is not free.”

To stave off despair and to achieve victory over nature’s law of irreversible necessity (which dictates that certain things are unchangeable and impossible), we must believe that “all things are possible.” But this requires faith – faith that things can be radically different.

As Bernard Martin, a professor of Jewish studies, explains, “Faith, for Shestov, is audacity, the daring refusal to accept necessary laws […] it is the demand for the absolute, original freedom which man is supposed to have had before the fall, when he still found the distinction between truth and falsehood, as well as between good and evil, unnecessary and irrelevant.”

This notion of moving beyond and good evil is intimately tied to God’s groundlessness. According to Shestov, God is not limited by moral sanctions or reasons; God is someone in whom everything is possible. God does not need a reason, a support, or firm ground. He is groundless. He is the personal God of the Bible in whom there is no subordination, no limit; and therefore, once again, all things are possible. (This groundlessness is what Shestov describes as “the basic, most enviable, and to us most incomprehensible privilege of the Divine.”)

Consequently, our moral struggle will bring us to emancipation not only from moral valuations, but also from logic, reason and limited knowledge. “I know that this ideal of freedom in relation to truth and the good cannot be realised on earth – in all probability does not even need to be realised. But it is granted to man to have prescience of ultimate freedom.”

“Before the face of eternal God, all our foundations break together, and all ground crumbles under us, even as objects – this we know – lose their weight in endless space, and – this we shall probably learn one day – will lose their impermeability in endless time,” writes Shestov.

II

In 1936, Shestov was invited by the Histadrut (the Jewish trade union organisation) to deliver a series of lectures in Israel. His appearances in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa were met with an enthusiastic response and Shestov was lauded as a great Jewish thinker. This was the fulfilment of a life-long dream for Shestov, whose grandfather was buried on the Mount of Olives.

The following year, Shestov finished the manuscript of his final masterpiece Athens and Jerusalem, in which he rejects the impersonal metaphysics of the European philosophical academic tradition (Plato, Hegel, Kant) in favour of the personal God of the Bible. As Shestov states in Athens and Jerusalem, “to find God one must tear oneself away from the seductions of reason, with all its physical and moral constraints, and go to another source of truth. In Scripture this source bears the enigmatic name ‘faith,’ which is that dimension of thought where truth abandons itself fearlessly and joyously to the entire disposition of the Creator.”

On November 14, 1938, he was taken to the Boileau Clinic in Paris where he died six days later. He was buried in Boulogne-Billancourt, where his mother and brother are also buried.

That Shestov is relatively unknown today is partly because he had no real disciples to continue his work. The exception was Benjamin Fondane, a young Jewish poet who was killed by the Nazis in 1944. Fondane had kept notes of his conversations with Shestov and they were found among his papers after his death.

However, Shestov’s work was influential in his lifetime. The writings of George Bataille, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus bear the marks of Shestov’s influence. And Hillel Zeitlin wrote that “if someone asked me who was the true successor of Friedrich Nietzsche, I would answer without hesitation, L. Shestov.”

Given Shestov’s enthusiasm for Nietzsche’s work, he would have considered this very high praise indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

Operation Protective Edge: A Report

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It is two years since the launch of the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, also known as Operation Protective Edge.

By Richard Mather  

On July 7 2014 the IDF initiated Operation Protective Edge (Hebrew: Miv’tza Tzuk Eitan, literally “Operation Strong Cliff”). Since Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, Hamas had increased the size and strength of its rocket arsenal. By July 2014, Hamas and other Islamic terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip possessed around 10,000 rockets including long-range missiles such as the M-302.

The situation was intolerable, especially for Israeli communities near the Gaza border, most notably Ashdod and Ashkelon. In fact, almost 70 per cent of Israelis were within range of Hamas’ rockets, including the people of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The rockets used by Gazan militias varied in range and size. They included the Syrian-made (Chinese-designed) M-302 and the locally-made M-75, which had the range to target Tel-Aviv. Other rockets included the Katyushas and Qassams.

The stated aim of Operation Protective Edge was to stop rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, which had increased after an Israeli crackdown on Hamas in Judea and Samaria following the June 12 kidnapping (and subsequent murder) of three Israeli teenagers by two Hamas members.

As the IDF bombarded targets in the Gaza Strip with artillery and airstrikes, Hamas continued to fire rockets and mortar shells, using populated areas of Gaza to launch their attacks. The terrorist group fired rockets from mosques, school, hospitals and other civilian areas. Hamas did this despite knowing that rocket launching sites would be the targets of Israeli counterstrikes.

Under different circumstances, the IDF would have limited attacks to military targets. Unfortunately, Hamas never ceased to fire from populated civilian areas. In order to target these terror sites and limit civilian casualties, the IDF used precision attacks and provided warnings of strikes in advance.

For example, the IDF made phone calls and sent text messages to civilians residing in buildings designated for attack. The Israel Air Force dropped leaflets over Gaza urging civilians to move away from Hamas targets. The IDF even sent voicemails to civilians in Gaza.

The IDF also engaged in what is called “roof knocking.” Roof knocking is when the airforce targets a building with a loud but non-lethal bomb that warns civilians that they are in the vicinity of a weapons cache or other target. This gives residents the opportunity to leave the area before the army destroys the target.

On several occasions, the IDF aborted aerial strikes seconds due to civilians being present at the site of the target.

Despite the IDF’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties, Hamas continued to operate from within civilian areas. In fact, Hamas encouraged Gazans to ignore IDF warnings in a deliberate attempt to create civilian casualties and to whip up international sympathy.

Ten days into the operation (July 17), the IDF saw thirteen armed Hamas terrorists emerging from a tunnel on the Israeli side of the Gaza border (near Kibbutz Sufa). It quickly became apparent that Hamas had invested millions of dollars building a sophisticated tunnel network, which was being used to hide rockets and munition stocks, to conceal militants, to enable the launch of rockets by remote control, and to facilitate hostage-taking and mass-casualty attacks.

The Israeli government ordered a limited ground operation into the Gaza Strip, where the openings to each cross-border tunnel were embedded within the urban civilian environment. A large IDF force of infantry, tanks, artillery, combat engineers and field intelligence (with the support of the navy and airforce) entered the Gaza Strip on July 17.

Their mission was to target Hamas’ tunnels that crossed under the Israel-Gaza border. Such a goal required intensive operations inside the Hamas-run enclave. In the ensuing weeks, the IDF destroyed dozens of cross-border terror tunnels, some of which had penetrated Israeli residential areas. On at least four occasions during the conflict, Arab militants emerged from tunnel exits located between 1.1 and 4.7 kilometres from civilian homes in Israel.

On August 5, Israeli ground troops withdrew from the Gaza Strip. They did so despite continued rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli civilians and the absence of a ceasefire. Israel continued targeted airstrikes, while simultaneously attempting to reach a ceasefire.

Hamas, along with other Gaza-based terrorist organisations, were keen to prolong the hostilities by either rejecting ceasefires or violating them. However, an open-ended ceasefire came into place on August 26, seven weeks after the start of the war. Had Hamas accepted the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on July 15 (which featured the same terms as the ceasefire offer to which Hamas ultimately adhered), then approximately 90 per cent of the casualties incurred during the conflict could have been avoided.

During the course of the conflict, the Israeli military attacked 5,263 targets in Gaza, including 1,814 rocket and mortar launch sites, 191 weapon factories and warehouses, and 1,914 command and control centres. It is estimated that two-thirds of Hamas’s 10,000-strong rocket arsenal was used up or destroyed during the fighting.

Artillery used by the IDF included Soltam M71 guns and US-manufactured Paladin M109s (155-mm howitzers). The aerial weaponry included drones and F-16 fighter jets. The IDF fired 14,500 tank shells and 35,000 other artillery shells during the conflict.

By the end of the conflict, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups had fired 4,564 rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel, with over 735 intercepted in flight and shot down by Iron Dome. More than 280 Hamas rockets fell short of their target and landed within Gaza. Many of these rockets landed in civilian areas of Gaza.

On the Israeli side, sixty-seven IDF soldiers and six civilians were killed during the conflict. A further 469 soldiers and eight-seven civilians were wounded. In the Gaza Strip, approximately 2,125 Gazans were killed, half of whom were either Hamas fighters or militants from other Gaza-based terrorist organisations.

A final note: Two years after Operation Protective Edge, Hamas continues to manufacture rockets and dig tunnels towards (and under) the Israeli border. In May this year, there was a flare-up of violence on the Israel-Gaza border when Hamas targeted Israeli soldiers in several mortar attacks. And in June, Hamas test fired more than thirty short-range rockets as part of its efforts to advance its domestic rocket arsenal.

It has also been reported that Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah are carrying out joint research and development of rockets, which some Israeli experts believe is the prelude to a massive and multifaceted air assault on Israel.

“We need to prepare our units. I really don’t know when next war will occur,” says Israel’s air defence chief Brigadier General Zvika Haimovich. “It’s a kind of race between us and the other side. Our challenge is to always be in front, and to be one step ahead of our enemies and neighbours.”

The imaginary Jew-Zionist

 

By Richard Mather…

Throughout the ages, Jew-hatred has taken on different forms at different times. Sometimes it is religious in nature; other times it is motivated by race or economics. Today, it is often motivated by hatred of Zionists. The demonisation of Jews and Zionists, the imputing of diabolical influences to the Jew-Zionist, is the product of a fevered gentile imagination.

The demonised Jew-Zionist is made malevolent. He is beyond the pale: outsider, foreigner, blasphemer, devilish, alien, unhuman. The Jew-Zionist is a baby-killer. He is accused of murdering Christian children for ritual purposes, of killing Arab babies in Gaza, of harvesting the organs of dead Palestinians. The Jew-Zionist poisons wells in Christian Europe and spreads AIDS among Arabs in Judea and Samaria.

Ultimately, the Jew-Zionist is guilty of killing God and ethnically cleansing the Arab Palestinians. The twin crimes of deicide and genocide are laid at the feet of the Jew-Zionist. No wonder Israel Apartheid Week coincides with Easter.

Anti-Zionists don’t always require flesh and blood Jews to pursue and harass. Anti-Zionists can thrive without Jews because it is an idea that motivates their hatred: the idea of the Jew-Zionist as imagined Other, as devil, as the scapegoat on whom the sins of the world are loaded before being cast into the awful wilderness.

Anti-Zionists never tire of telling us that because there are Jewish anti-Zionists, there must be a qualitative difference between the Jew and the Zionist.  There isn’t. Their argument overlooks two things: firstly, the majority of Jews are, in fact, Zionists; secondly, there is a long history of a minority of Jews turning their backs on the Jewish community.

In bygone centuries, some Jews converted to Christianity and wrote long diatribes against Judaism and petitioned the Pope to ban the Talmud. But this does not prove that Christian anti-Semites were right to hate the Talmud. All it shows is that Jews are just as capable as anyone else of betrayal and opportunism.

Hatred for the Jew-Zionist preceded the creation of the State of Israel by several decades. In 1911-1912, British journalists began a campaign accusing “Zionists” of fomenting the Turkish Revolution. Back then, anti-Zionism wasn’t about a Jewish homeland but a paranoid reaction to a rumours of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. It had nothing to with Jewish settlements or the Arab Palestinians.

It’s the same now. Imagined anti-Zionism has very little to do with actual life in Israel or the territories. The Far Right believes the cunning Jew-Zionist is conspiring with other Jew-Zionists to destroy Christian Europe by facilitating unchecked Muslim immigration. Meanwhile, the Far Left holds the Jew-Zionist responsible for stoking up nationalism and fomenting hatred of Muslims.

Anti-Zionism is free-floating. It exists irrespective of the Arab Palestinians, the settlements and the status of east Jerusalem. It attaches itself to every challenge the world faces. It goes everywhere. It is a kind of Freudian “partial object”: a weird autonomous organ, surviving without a body. It is pure surface, without substance. It is indestructible, able to change form and move from one medium to another.

The Jew-Zionist is a stand-in for everything the world fears and hates the most. The Jew-Zionist is the archetypal oppressor. According to one theory, racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and disablism constitute an intersecting system of oppression. At the centre is the Jew-Zionist.

In the recent riots in Ferguson, Missouri, a sign hoisted by marchers linked the unrest between the police and African-Americans to Israel and the Arab Palestinians. One placard read, “the Palestinian people know what it means to be shot while unarmed because of your ethnicity.”

In December 2015, the National Women’s Studies Association passed a resolution in support of BDS on the basis that “one cannot call oneself a feminist and address inequalities and injustices without taking a stand on what is happening in Palestine.”

The intersectional social justice movement has put the Jew-Zionist on trial because he is synonymous with all forms of oppression. The fact that I refer to the Jew-Zionist as “he” is proof that the Jew-Zionist is a misogynist.

Of course, the issue of police brutality in Missouri has nothing to do with actual Zionists or Jews. Zionism is simply a way of talking about other things. It is shorthand for the neuroses of the West – colonialism, nationalism, militarism, and racism and so on.

Matti Friedman, former AP reporter, speaking at the BICOM annual dinner in January 2015, said: “The facts don’t matter: We are in the world of symbols. In this world, Israel has become a symbol of what is wrong – not Hamas, not Hezbollah, not Great Britain, not America, not Russia.”

All of which begs the question: is the Jew-Zionist bad or is it the case that the people who say the Jew-Zionist is bad are themselves bad? And what sort of mental contortions are being performed in the minds of people who use the Jew-Zionist a scapegoat for all of the world’s ills?

Whatever the answer, people who comfort themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life usually end up acting out their problems in the guise of irrational fixations. Such people become neurotic, impervious to logic. They delude themselves and they delude others.

Hence the obsessive hatred for the Jew-Zionist, a hatred that quickly becomes all-consuming. Such people lose contact with reality. They dissociate themselves from the world of facts because they are under the illusion that the world is the construct of the nefarious Jew-Zionist.

There is no reasoning with such people. How can you reason with someone who believes that the Jew-Zionist is at the nexus of everything? How can you reason with someone who believes that rationality is the privileged concern of the Jew-Zionist, that Reason itself is suspect?

To quote Philip Larkin’s poem “Days,” solving that question brings the doctor and the priest (or should that be rabbi?) “in their long coats / running over the fields.” Pondering the question for too long is an open invitation to madness because nothing, not even the hallowed sciences of philosophy and psychology, can fully explain the mentality of the obsessives who believe the imaginary Jew-Zionist is the diabolical Other.

 

 

 

 

Abbas’ poor grasp of Palestinian history has a peculiar relevance

If Mahmoud Abbas is so proud of being leader of a people named after ancient Greek sea-farers who invaded the land of Canaan and occupied its southwestern coast, he should accept the limits of his forebears’ territorial victories and acknowledge the Gaza Strip as the de facto Palestinian state. This means relinquishing any claims on the rest of “Canaan.”

By Richard Mather

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has taken falsehood to a new level by claiming that the “Palestinians” have lived in the land of Israel for a staggering six thousand years. According to Abbas, the so-called Palestinian people predate the Hebrew patriarch Avraham.

“Our narrative says that we have been in this land since before Avraham,” Abbas proclaimed in a video from March 21, 2016, translated from Arabic by the Palestinian Media Watch.

Presumably, Abbas is basing his claim on a line from Bereshit (Genesis) 21:34, “And Avraham resided in the land of the Philistines a long time.”

Abbas continued: “I am not saying it. The Bible says it. The Bible says, in these words, that the Palestinians existed before Abraham.”

Here’s a history lesson for the intellectually-impoverished PA president:

The words Philistine and Palestinian do indeed share the same etymology. Both words derive from “Peleshet” or “Pelestim,” from the Semitic root “p-l-s”, which means “to divide” or “to invade.” Despite the name, the people who call themselves Palestinians are entirely unrelated to the Philistines. The current Palestinians are very recent Arab migrant-settlers who came to Eretz Israel in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The name “Falastin” that Arabs today use for “Palestine” is not an Arabic name, but adapted from the Latin Palaestina.

The original Philistines were a non-Semitic sea-faring people who came from the Aegean Islands and Crete circa 12th century BCE. They attempted to invade Egypt and were forced northward into Canaan by Ramses III. Having killed the coastal Canaanites in the area known as Gaza, the Philistines began to move into the interior of Canaan, which belonged to the Israelites. They were defeated by King David.

The Philistines who remained in Gaza were ruled by Sargon II of Assyria. After that time, they vanished from history, having been assimilated into the Assyrian and Persian empires. There is no mention of them after the Babylonian Captivity.

Here’s the good bit: If the modern-day Palestinians really aspire to be Philistines, then the only land in the whole of Canaan/Palestine/Israel they have any claim to is the Gaza Strip. The original Philistines occupied the southwestern strip of land on the coast and not much else. They failed to expand into Judea, Samaria or Galilee. The only other place they attempted to conquer was Egypt (and they failed).

In other words, if the Palestinians say they are Philistines, they can only claim Gaza as their rightful inheritance. In so doing, they must relinquish any territorial claim to Hebron, Shechem, Jerusalem, Tiberias, the Jordan Valley, and so on.

So: Judea and Israel for the Israelites/Jews; and Gaza for the Philistines/Palestinians. That’s the two-state solution solved.

True, the original Philistine State was slightly larger than the current Gaza Strip (it included Ashdod and Ashkelon) but it’s a strange quirk of history that the Palestinians have chosen to name themselves after an invading force who came from another part of the world. It is also curious that the land occupied by the Philistinian settlers from Crete and the Islamic migrant-settlers who now manage Gaza have ended up in almost the same place. There may not be a genetic or cultural connection between the ancient sea-faring peoples and the modern-day Arab Palestinians, but they occupy the same land, share the same name and share the same enmity towards the Hebrew-speaking people.

So if Mahmoud Abbas wants to recast the Palestinian Arabs as the modern-day Philistines, he must concede that his own presence in Judea and Samaria has no political legitimacy.  Moreover, it means that Gaza, which is run by his Hamas rivals, is the true – and only – seat of Palestinian sovereignty.

 

Should the ban on Spinoza be lifted?

It is one of the great paradoxes of modern history that one of the most important Jewish philosophers who ever lived—indeed, the man who had perhaps the greatest influence on modern Judaism—is the one Jewish philosopher to have been excommunicated.

Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) was born in Amsterdam, the child of recent immigrants who had fled the Portuguese Inquisition for the relative safety and tolerance of the Dutch Republic. Holland had just achieved its independence from Hapsburg Spain and had become a haven of both religious and commercial liberty. Spinoza was descended from Jews who had been forced to convert to Catholicism before reclaiming their ancient faith upon their arrival in Holland. His father, Miguel, was a well-to-do merchant in this new émigré community and a member of the parnas, or governing body, of the synagogue and the school that his son attended. The young Spinoza received a traditional Talmud-Torah education, in addition to which he immersed himself in the classics of medieval Jewish philosophy. Like most in his circle, Spinoza was multilingual. Portuguese was the lingua franca of the Sephardi community, although he also knew Hebrew, Spanish, Dutch, and Latin, the language in which he wrote his philosophical works.

At the age of 24, and for reasons that remain shrouded 400 years later, Spinoza was expelled under a writ of Herem (excommunication) from the Jewish community of Amsterdam. After an attempt on his life, he left Amsterdam and lived first in a suburb of Leiden and then outside The Hague. He earned his living as a lens grinder and turned down a professorship at the University of Heidelberg because he thought it would interfere with his independence of mind. His motto was Caute—be careful, never say exactly what you’re thinking. Spinoza died of consumption at the age of 44; his greatest philosophical work, the Ethics, was published posthumously.

Spinoza occupies a central place in the development of Jewish history. He exemplified a distinctly modern form of Jewish identity. Yet even today, more than 300 years after his death, the question remains: What kind of Jew was Spinoza? What was the relation between Spinoza and Judaism, and how did he transform the Jewish tradition? And what was the influence of Spinoza—for better or worse—on modern Jewish life? Spinoza was without doubt the first to put what later became known as the Jewish Question at the center of modernity.

The Expulsion of Baruch Spinoza

Let us begin with what is always taken as Exhibit A in the Jewish case against Spinoza. On July 27, 1656 (6 Av 5416), the elders of the synagogue of Amsterdam pronounced the following Herem, or edict of excommunication, on the young Baruch Spinoza:

By the decrees of the Angels and the words of the Saints we ban, cut off, curse, and anathemize Baruch de Spinoza . . . with all the curses written in the Torah. Cursed be he by day and cursed by night, cursed in his lying down and cursed in his waking up, cursed in his going forth, and cursed in his coming in; and may the Lord not want his pardon, and may the Lord’s wrath and zeal burn upon him . . . and ye that did cleave unto the Lord your God are all alive today.

What was the offense that led the elders of the synagogue to level this harsh edict? It is well known that Spinoza had begun to associate with certain freethinking Sephardi intellectuals such as Isaac de La Peyrère and Uriel de Costa, as well as a defrocked Jesuit priest named Van den Enden at whose house he learned Latin. The text of the Herem preserved in the municipal archives of Amsterdam is notoriously short on reasons. There are vague references to certain “horrible heresies,” “awful deeds,” and “evil opinions” said to have been practiced or held by Spinoza. Indeed, the Herem concludes with the ominous warning that anyone who seeks to aid, comfort, or abet Spinoza, or “read anything composed or written by him” will suffer the same fate.

Fourteen years after the writ was issued, Spinoza published an anonymous work in Latin under a fictitious imprimatur that constituted his settling of accounts with Judaism and the Jewish people. The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus or Theologico-Political Treatise (henceforth TTP) provides all the evidence necessary for a judgment on the justice of Spinoza’s excommunication. For some, this work more than fully justifies the ban on Spinoza, which has not been lifted even today. For others, the treatment of Spinoza puts him in a long line of martyrs from Socrates to Jesus to Galileo who suffered persecution for the cause of freedom of thought and opinion. The legacy of Spinoza remains a hotly contested one.

Some of the most powerful voices within modern Judaism have agreed that Spinoza fully warranted the ban against him. Hermann Cohen (1842–1918), one of the great founders of the neo-Kantian movement in Germany, denounced Spinoza as a “renegade to his people” and an “apostate” who slandered Judaism before an anti-Jewish world. The French philosopher and Talmudist Emmanuel Levinas (1906–1995) was no less severe in his judgment. “Spinoza,” Levinas wrote, “was guilty of betrayal. . . . Thanks to the rationalism patronized by Spinoza, Christianity is surreptitiously triumphing, bringing conversion without the scandal of apostasy.”

At the same time that Spinoza was anathemized by some, he was rehabilitated by others. In his 1862 tract Rome and Jerusalem, Moses Hess (1812–1875) signed his name “a young Spinozist” and treated Spinoza as a prophet of Jewish national aspirations for a homeland in Palestine. George Eliot began a translation of the TTP, and in her 1876 novel Daniel Deronda the character of Mordecai regards Spinoza as a proto-Zionist who “saw not why Israel should not again be a chosen nation.”

From time to time, petitions have been made to rescind the ban on Spinoza. At the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1925, the Hebraicist and historian Joseph Klausner denounced the ban on Spinoza as a historical anachronism.Spinoza showed what it was to be a new kind of Jew. “The ban is revoked,” Klausner declared —on whose authority no one knew—and then proceeded to proclaim three times, “Baruch Spinoza, you are our brother.”

Is he? Was he?

The Psychological Sources of Religious Belief

The first sentence of the TTP reads as follows: “If men were able to exercise complete control over all their circumstances, or if continuous good fortune were always their lot, they would never be prey to superstition.” The key word here is superstition. Spinoza proposes a far-ranging statement about human psychology and the origins of our beliefs that sets the stage for everything that follows. He here helps launch what the historian Jonathan Israel has called the Radical Enlightenment’s war on religion—what would later become Voltaire’s famous rallying cry, écrasez l’infâme (“crush the infamous thing”). The aim of the book is to explain the origins of superstitious beliefs and therefore to liberate the reader from them. Its task is both diagnostic and emancipatory. But what is a superstition, a term that Spinoza nowhere exactly defines?

A superstition is a species of false belief. I say a species because it is obvious that not all false beliefs are superstitions. Many false beliefs are based simply on factual misinformation or faulty perception; they are subject to falsification in the light of empirical evidence. Superstitions, by contrast, are beliefs that defy evidentiary claims.

Spinoza offers a psychological analysis of why superstitions have such a lasting hold on the mind. Superstitions are, for Spinoza, rooted in the passions. As human beings, we are prone to diverse passions—hope and fear being the two most powerful—depending on our condition of life. We are said to “waver” between these passions and let them determine our beliefs. The passions are not sources of intellectual creativity, but of error and confusion.

Based on his psychology of the passions, there may be any number of superstitions, but the greatest one—the mother of all superstitions, as it were—is the belief that God is an intending being, like us but infinitely more powerful, who can be influenced to act on our behalf or to benefit our situation through prayers and supplications. This belief has created an immense superstructure of habits, institutions, and rituals—the totality of organized religion—that has led in turn to the enslavement of the human mind.

But for Spinoza, superstitions are not simply forms of deception and false belief, although they are surely that; they are also tools of political control and persecution. By persecution, Spinoza means the use of force or coercive power to control the mind. A central paradox the TTP seeks to unwrap is how Christianity, which began as religion of love and peace, became a religion of persecution and intolerance. He determines that it is ultimately fear of the unknown—fear being the dominant passion—brought about by ignorance of scientific causation that leads some to believe the future can be determined not through the study of nature, but by consulting shamans, fortune tellers, and other charlatans who prey on human gullibility. Spinoza traces the source of intolerance back to the weakness and gullibility of human beings who are willing to cede their powers of reason and self-legislation to power-hungry priests and kings. Most dangerously, the church in alliance with the state has made use of popular credulity to control not only the actions but the minds of their subjects.

It is because of his opposition to all forms of censorship and mind control that Spinoza has entered the liberal tradition as one of the great champions of freedom of thought and opinion. The intention of the TTP is to liberate the mind from scriptural and ecclesiastical supervision. He proposes what would become a classic liberal theme: the separation of the spheres of reason and revelation. The sphere of reason pertains to the operations of the mind and its ability to grasp factual and necessary truths, while the sphere of revelation pertains to right conduct and acts of piety and obedience. This was revolutionary, because the question for Spinoza is not how to reconcile faith and reason, the dilemma that preoccupied the greatest Medieval thinkers, but the preeminently modern one of how to separate them.

In Spinoza’s view, reason and revelation are not so much in competition as they are incommensurable. They speak different languages, operate on completely different assumptions, and therefore occupy their own distinct spheres of operation.

Spinoza’s Critique of Judaism

Every reader of the TTP is confronted with the question of Spinoza’s own faith tradition and its relation to the work as a whole. To whom is the book addressed? The preponderance of the work deals with Jewish materials and sources; it cites almost exclusively Jewish authorities and precursors. Some readers have concluded that Spinoza’s biblical criticism is a criticism of the Hebrew Bible only, while others have argued that he criticizes the Hebrew Bible in order to launch a more far-ranging attack on the power of revealed religion in general. It is unquestionable, however, that Spinoza sets out to undermine systematically the three pillars of Jewish faith and life: the revealed character of the Torah, the status of the prophets, and the divine “election” of the Jewish people. I want to consider each of these in turn.

The fundamental principle of Spinoza’s biblical criticism can be summed up as a variation of the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura—namely, that the Bible should be read by itself alone without the use of historical commentaries or the intervention of priestly or rabbinic authorities. The central principle of this method is that the method of studying Scripture should be no different from the study of any other historical artifact. Thus, the “book of nature” and the “Book of Books” should be subject to the same causal laws and processes. Rather than approaching the Bible as a repository of revealed truth, it must be viewed in the same value-neutral manner as a scientist’s when investigating the natural causes of things.

There is no reason to believe, Spinoza argues, that prophets who claim to speak for God had great speculative powers or were bearers of profound philosophical truths.

For Spinoza, this means undertaking a kind of natural history of Scripture, reasoning about the Bible solely in terms of the time, place, and circumstance in which the text was written. A biblical scholar must therefore have a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew language, note down all passages that seem obscure or inconsistent with one another, and relate the contents of each book to its subsequent reception. Spinoza initiates a method that would today be called “canon formation,” showing how the many diverse works that make up Scripture came to be unified in a single body and accepted as a sacred text.Spinoza uses this method of sola Scriptura to cast doubt on the truth of Scripture because it contains a host of fallacies and historical anachronisms. For example, he takes elaborate pains to deny that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. He makes much of the fact that Moses could not be the sole author of the work for the reason that the last chapters of Deuteronomy record his death and funeral. He points to repeated references to Moses written in the third person as sufficient evidence to conclude that the work must have been written by someone else. And he concludes that the work could have been compiled only by later redactors several centuries after the events it related, most likely the scribe Ezra.

In addition to the problems of disputed authorship, Spinoza argues, the Bible is a text that contains outright contradictions. Spinoza’s proof text here is Samuel’s denial that God ever repents of his decisions and Jeremiah’s affirmation that He does (1 Samuel 15:29; Jeremiah 18:8–10). Spinoza attributes these contradictions not to any attributes of God, but to the different psychological states and dispositions of the prophets whose judgments they express. There is no reason to believe, Spinoza argues, that prophets who claim to speak for God had great speculative powers or were bearers of profound philosophical truths. To the contrary, they were simple men with powerful imaginations whose prophecies varied according to their individual temperaments and prejudices.

But the most durable illusion of Scripture, Spinoza says, has been the belief in the divine election of the Jews. In the third chapter of the TTP, Spinoza argues that the category of divine election or chosenness is not a theological designation, but a political one. Chosenness, he argues, applied only to the period of the ancient Jewish commonwealth and then only so long as the Jews maintained their national sovereignty. The entire Torah—the law of Moses—was nothing more than a political legislation of the Hebrew state that ceased to be binding with the destruction of the Temple. Taking a cue from Machiavelli, Spinoza maintains that the ancient Hebrews were “chosen” only with respect to their mode of social organization and military success.

In suggesting that the belief in divine election applies only to the limited period of national sovereignty, Spinoza does much to undermine the traditional belief that the Jewish people have a special mission to live as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). He is a moral universalist and maintains there is simply no such thing as a people chosen in respect of their moral and intellectual qualities. Since these qualities are more or less randomly distributed among the human race, it is sheer arrogance to believe that they can reside particularly in one people. Regarding their moral and intellectual qualities, Spinoza avers, the Jews were on a par with other nations, for “God is equally gracious to all.” To say that one nation is chosen over others is simply a way of expressing the desire for that nation to be superior to or rule over others. The belief in divine election is nothing more than a mark of vanity or national superstition.

Spinoza ridicules the idea that Jewish survival over the centuries of Diaspora had anything to do with God’s favor. It had less to do with divine providence than the hatred of the gentiles—which hatred, more than anything else, preserved the Jewish people intact. Indeed, so effective have these ritual forms (he mentions circumcision) been in inciting the hatred of the nations that Spinoza suggests that they will cause the Jews to exist in perpetuity. The conclusion to which the TTP leads is that the Jewish election is not a metaphysical privilege, but a political curse. Spinoza’s advice is that the Jews should abandon this dogma as quickly and as painlessly as possible. If anti-Judaism is the result of religious arrogance and aloofness, then the Jews should abandon this belief in order to avoid what would today be called “discrimination.”

Spinoza’s Double Standard

Of the 20 chapters that comprise the TTP, three-quarters are devoted to strictly theological concerns—and only one is devoted to problems specific to the New Testament. It is for this reason that many readers have regarded the TTP as an attack on the Hebrew Scripture alone. Spinoza explains this disparity in his treatment of Judaism and Christianity on the grounds that his knowledge of Greek is not adequate to the task and that criticism of the Christian Bible has already been carried out by other unnamed authorities. This is transparently disingenuous, for Spinoza’s apparent philological modesty does not prevent him from systematically presenting the New Testament as morally superior to the Old and the Christian apostles as superior to the Hebrew prophets. Most notably he presents Jesus—invariably referred to as “Christ”—as the Messiah and, as such, the successor to Moses.

Here the case against Spinoza is the strongest. Spinoza continually asserts that the Mosaic prophecy was a purely political legislation. Moses is the model for the legislative founder. The sovereignty of Moses was thus accomplished because “he surpassed all others in divine power which he convinced the people he possessed.” Accordingly, Moses is said to have brought only a legal code instilled, not through reason and argument like a philosopher, but as a result of compulsion and command.

Spinoza not only politicizes Judaism, he materializes it. He plays dangerously to certain anti-Jewish stereotypes, especially the one that suggests that Jews are concerned only with material well-being and success. The carnal character of Judaism is expressed by Spinoza in the fact that Moses was said to have spoken with God “face to face,” while Jesus communed “mind to mind.” Likewise, the “Pharisees”—a longstanding term of Christian opprobrium for Jews—taught that the laws of the Jewish state constituted the sole ground of morality.

While Moses was concerned with founding a commonwealth, Spinoza says Jesus expounded his views as a philosopher teaching people to think for themselves.

Finally, Spinoza treats the Mosaic prophecy as coercive and paternalistic. Moses is said to have treated his fellow Jews the same way as parents teaching children who have not learned to reason for themselves. The commandments are presented as given by a lawgiver and judge, with penalties established for nonobservance. The various ceremonies and ritual practices of the Jewish state thus had no other function than reinforcing coercive authority. Moreover, the ceremonies Moses prescribed are said to be of no aid to blessedness and contributed only to the temporal prosperity of the state.One might expect Spinoza’s excoriating attack on Judaism to be complemented by an equally vitriolic assault on Christianity. It is not, to say the least, self-evident that Judaism is more particularistic or parochial than Christianity. Spinoza’s own approving references to the universalism of Isaiah would seem to indicate this. Nor is it obvious that Christian ethics appeal to love while Judaism rests on law and coercion. While Spinoza says that the Jews “despised” philosophy, he refers to Solomon, “who possessed the natural light of reason beyond all men of his time,” by the term “philosopher.” Despite these crucial admissions and in full awareness of what he was doing, Spinoza goes on to depict the prophecy of Jesus as the virtual antithesis of Moses and Christianity as the successor to Judaism.

The prophecy of Jesus is presented not as political, but moral. Unlike Moses, Jesus prophesied without the aid of imagination. God is said in the TPP to have revealed himself to Christ directly without the medium of words and images. Christ was not so much a prophet as the veritable “mouthpiece of God.” He came not as a legislator, but as a teacher concerned with purifying morality. Thus, while Moses was concerned with founding a commonwealth, Spinoza says Jesus expounded his views as a philosopher teaching people to think for themselves.

He also presents the teachings of Jesus as universal rather than parochial or exclusionary. The Hebrew prophets, he writes, operated under a “specific mandate” to preach only to a specified nation, but the apostles “were called to preach to all men without restriction and to convert all men to religion.”

Finally, Spinoza argues that the preaching of Jesus and the apostles appealed to reason rather than fear and coercion. While the book of Moses presented God in figurative terms, the apostles appealed to “their own natural faculty of judgment.” Thus Jesus and Paul “philosophized” when speaking to the Gentiles, but they had to change their tactics when speaking to the Jews, who, Spinoza gratuitously adds, “despised” philosophy.

The Hebrew Theocracy

Despite Spinoza’s often-unconscionable denigration of Judaism, he argues that while the teachings of the Tenach may not be a source of scientific or metaphysical truth, they nonetheless contain important political lessons. Beginning in chapter 17 of the TTP, he presents the biblical account of the exodus from Egypt as the archetypal story of political founding. In so doing, he makes use of the modern conceptions of the state of nature and the social contract. Contrary to what we have been led to believe, he writes, the covenant in Sinai between God and his chosen people is the paradigm for the creation of political legitimacy.

Spinoza begins his case by arguing that after Moses led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt, they found themselves in both a literal and figurative state of nature. Being under no obligations to any human ruler, they were free to establish new laws and institutions of their own. Spinoza treats the covenant between God and the Hebrews as the creation of a new form of government: theocracy. What distinguished this theocracy from all other regimes was the aspiration to be ruled directly by God with no human intermediaries. By giving the people over to God alone, theocracy was also the most democratic form of government that ever existed. No individual or group was authorized to speak for God, but each retained the right to interpret God’s law and share equally in the powers of the state. The de jure theocracy was a de facto radical democracy.

Yet no sooner had the original contract between God and the Hebrews been established than it was almost immediately abrogated. Finding the voice of God too threatening, the Hebrews declared “all that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8) and consequently handed their rights of sovereignty over to Moses. The transfer of right to Moses effectively turned the theocracy from a democracy to a monarchy.

In Spinoza’s account, no sooner had the Hebrews transferred their rights to Moses than they lost the right to choose his successors. The subsequent failure of Moses to appoint a successor resulted in a division of power between Aaron, the high priest, and Joshua, the commander in chief. This left a period of weakened authority that was the first step toward the degeneration of the state into rule by priests. The establishment of a dual sovereignty between the priests and the military commanders created a dangerous precedent with far-reaching consequences.

The degeneration of the Hebrew polity from a theocracy to a monarchy to a loose federation in which power was divided among the various tribes is described as swift and irreversible. The fundamental feature of the post-Mosaic constitution was the separation of authority between kings and priests. One might think that this divided authority would be welcomed, but Spinoza regards it as the source of instability and civil war. In his view, the unity of politics and religion in the theocracy gave the ancient Hebrews their political strength and military greatness. It was only later during the period of the Judges that this happy unity of politics and religion fell apart, when there was no king in Israel and “everyone did as he pleased” (Judges, 21:25). This seems to describe a return to the state of nature endured after the flight from Egypt.

Spinoza was clearly drawing lessons that had immediate application to the politics of his era. He was following the “Erastian” doctrine (named after the Swiss theologian Thomas Erastus) that the sovereign should have supreme power over matters of religion. He opposed the idea of splitting religion off from the state in large part because he distrusted the ambitions of clerics, especially the Calvinists of his own time. Since he viewed religion as crucial to the peace and well-being of the commonwealth, it was simply too important to be given over to the priests; only religious laws promulgated by the sovereign should be valid.

The second lesson is that religion pertains only to practice and outward behavior. Here is the core of Spinoza’s claims for the freedom of thought and conscience. The task of religion, as Spinoza sees it, should be to reform character, not to compel belief. The danger with turning religion into a creed or a doctrine is that it tends to take on the character of a pseudo-philosophy. The result is inevitably a tendency toward persecution for heresy or apostasy for holding false beliefs. Spinoza condemns any law that would criminalize opinion rather than reforming conduct. Religion remains a matter of law that by its very nature cannot affect the inner chamber of the mind.

The New Jerusalem

The question for any reader of the TTP is how to explain these evident disparities in Spinoza’s treatment of Judaism and Christianity. For many, Spinoza’s strategy of knowingly demeaning Judaism before Christianity was and remains an unforgiveable sin. As the contemporary theologian Emil Fackenheim (1916–2003) asked: “Why does the author of the TTP resort to distortions and discrimination against the minority religion which he has forsaken, especially and above all when compared to the majority religion he has yet refused to embrace?” Did Spinoza decide that the best strategy for promoting toleration would be to make a conscious and misleading appeal to anti-Jewish bigotry?

His invocation of certain prejudices and stereotypes has been marked down to political sycophancy and a desire to curry favor with the Christian authorities whose approval he sought. But if this had indeed been Spinoza’s strategy, it backfired. The TTP was greeted with equal hostility from Jews and non-Jews alike.

It is possible to argue that Spinoza’s argument was not grounded in any anti-Jewish animus but was rather part of a rhetorical strategy in which he sought to accommodate his rhetoric to his audience to win their understanding and sympathy. This project of accommodation was intended to gain a hearing for his larger project of promoting a liberal state and a policy of religious toleration. The philosopher Leo Strauss (1899–1973) went so far as to suggest that Spinoza was animated by a profound sense of “sympathy” for his people, even though it is a sympathy that is well hidden. “Spinoza may have hated Judaism,” Strauss avers, “but he did not hate the Jewish people. However bad a Jew he may have been in all other respects, he thought of the liberation of the Jews in the only way in which he could think of it, given his philosophy.” This sentence, so full of ambiguity and qualification, was not intended to excuse away the danger of Spinoza’s trying to appeal to the prejudices of his audience, a strategy Strauss admits was “Machiavellian” in the extreme. Spinoza plays, in Strauss’s words, “a most dangerous game,” even an “amazingly unscrupulous” one, but one that was “humanly comprehensible” nonetheless.

One can argue that the purpose of Spinoza’s double standard was to prepare the way for a new kind of Scripture, a “universal religion” that would be, strictly speaking, neither Jewish nor Christian but an amalgam of both. This new dispensation is presented in the TTP as a democratic civil creed composed of seven tenets or dogmas to which all citizens must adhere. These seven dogmas are as follows:

1. God, the Supreme being, exists;
2. God is one;
3. God is omnipresent;
4. God has supreme right and dominion over all things;
5. Worship of God consists entirely of acts of justice and charity or love of one’s neighbor;
6. All who obey God are saved;
7. God forgives repentant sinners.

Spinoza represents his universal or “catholic” (small c) religion as nothing less than a new theology for a new age that would supersede the earlier dispensations of Moses and Jesus. The essence of this new moral theology is an unprecedented teaching of toleration and noninterference with the beliefs of others. This new theology was intended not only to lay the basis for civil peace, but to foster a new regime of toleration that would gain the assent of both Jews and Gentiles. Thus he can confidently maintain that there are no dogmas of this new universal faith that would give rise to conflict among “decent men.” Rather, this new liberal theology would be tolerant to the varieties of religious experience so long as they accepted the norm of toleration in return. This means, among other things, the right of the individual to think and judge for him or herself in matters ecclesiastical.

The liberal society for the sake of which Spinoza has composed his new religion is to be neither specifically Jewish nor specifically Christian, but presumably neutral to any specific faith. The Spinozist sovereign serves as a kind of a baseball umpire.

The idea that the state should be neutral with respect to the different religions, while a staple of contemporary legal theory, was virtually unprecedented in Spinoza’s time. The TTP sets out to demonstrate that “not only can freedom be granted without endangering piety and the peace of the commonwealth,” but that “the peace of the commonwealth and piety depend on this freedom.” This new regime, a first in history, would be neither the virtuous city of classical antiquity nor the holy city of the Bible, but the commercial metropolis of modernity.

Spinoza remains a recognizably and unmistakably Jewish figure. To put the matter a different way: The entire structure of modern Judaism would be unthinkable without him.

Spinoza concludes the TTP with a patriotic tribute to Amsterdam, where “a man is free to think what he likes and say what he thinks.” He believed Holland could serve as a model for a peaceful accommodation that could put an end to religious persecution. Amsterdam’s commercial republic was the “European miracle” of the 17th century that Spinoza hoped to promote and export. One can say with only slight exaggeration that Amsterdam represents for Spinoza the new Jerusalem, an open society based on freedom of trade, freedom of religion, and freedom of opinion. Such a regime, he reasoned, would be of great benefit for the Jews.Spinoza’s Bargain

Should the ban on Spinoza be lifted? The question is unanswerable in part because there is no one with the authority to do so. More to the point, would Spinoza himself want it lifted? Contrary to Cohen and Levinas, Spinoza was not, in fact, an “apostate.” He did not convert to Christianity but rather showed what it was like to live a life apart from the dominant religious communities of his age. Despite his attack on the Hebrew Scripture as a collection of ancient prejudices, despite his denigration of Moses and the prophets in comparison to Jesus and the apostles, and despite his attacks on the ceremonial laws of Judaism as an instrument of worldly well-being, Spinoza remains a recognizably and unmistakably Jewish figure. To put the matter a different way: The entire structure of modern Judaism would be unthinkable without him.
Indeed, he is the founder of two of the most distinctive forms of modern Judaism.

He was the first modern thinker to advocate the restitution of Jewish sovereignty and a Jewish state. In what has become, at least in Zionist circles, the most famous sentence of the book, we read: “Indeed, were it not that the fundamental principles of their religion had effeminated their minds, I would not hesitate to believe that they will one day, given the opportunity—such is the mutability of human affairs—establish once more their independent state, and that God will again choose them.”

On the basis of this statement, the TTP was read as a work of proto-Zionism in the 19th century by Moses Hess and in the 20th by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who even sought to have the ban on Spinoza officially lifted (he was unsuccessful). Note that in Spinoza’s reckoning, the foundations for any future Jewish state would no longer be placed in God’s providence but in the actions and arms of Jews themselves. Spinoza does not even say that such a state would have to be founded in the historical land of Israel. He attaches no particular significance to the land or language of Israel, although he was working on a Hebrew grammar at the time of his death. A Jewish state could, from his point of view, just as easily be located in Canada or Katmandu.

Spinoza’s proto-Zionism does not, however, absolve him or give one reason to canonize him as a secular saint. To the contrary, this passage in many respects confirms the negative judgments on Spinoza held by his critics. It offers a confirmation of the view that it is not the corruption of Judaism over the millennia but its very foundational beliefs that are the cause of Jewish passivity and weakness. These fundamentals caused the Jews to be “effeminate,” such that they had lost their taste for political freedom and consigned themselves to an impotent longing for a messianic world to come. Spinoza’s advice is, then, to cease passively waiting for a messiah to deliver them from their woes and to take affairs into their own hands.

Spinoza’s ideas helped shape a new kind of psychological Jew who seeks liberation from tradition and dependence on external authority, who wishes to think for himself, and who values independence, self-mastery, and courage as the highest human virtues. Centuries before Marx or Freud, Spinoza was the prototype of the emancipated Jew. The idea of the emancipated Jew turned Spinoza into a philosophical, even a literary, hero from Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Nachum Fischelson, in The Spinoza of Market Street, to Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer, whose protagonist leaves his shtetl not with the Torah but with a copy of Spinoza’s Ethics, to David Ives’s recent play The New Jerusalem, which treats Spinoza as the prototype of the free man.

Unlike the German poet Heinrich Heine, who converted two centuries later so that he could enjoy the benefits of full membership in the culture he wished to help shape and form, Spinoza did not believe the baptismal certificate was the “passport” to Western civilization. Spinoza’s emancipated Jew need not convert because he will be liberated from an ancient tradition that has been the cause of Jewish weakness; will live under a new, rational theology that provides for civil equality in place of the Mosaic law with its promise of special providence; and will be proffered a new promised land based on freedom of religion, commerce, and inquiry. The new type of Jew who is to inhabit this land will not only value his own freedom, but will also identify with certain liberal values such as love of social justice, a support for the underdog, and the universality of human rights. These are the values, as Marxist historian Isaac Deutscher has noted, of a new kind of individual, “the non-Jewish Jew.”

Spinoza’s critical analysis of Judaism did not grow out of self-hatred or anti-Judaism, but as a part of a project of liberalizing reform. His defense of the liberal state requires a religion that is itself quite liberal. He believed that the price of admission to this state entailed a radical secularization of Judaism both as a body of revealed law and as a distinctive way of life. His purpose was to strip all religions—both Judaism and Christianity—of their claims to exclusivity and reduce them to a handful of tenets that could provide the moral foundation of the modern state. Spinoza’s religion of reason would be stripped of all metaphysical claims that might give rise to controversy or could be used as a pretext for persecution.

Sound familiar?

The cost of admission to Spinoza’s state has been high. There is, as a famous economist once said, no such thing as a free lunch. The chief cost of Spinoza’s bargain has been the assimilation of Judaism, not to Christianity, but to liberalism. Indeed, for many Jews, Judaism has become virtually synonymous with support for liberal social causes. Even the expression “Jewish liberalism,” rather than a paradox, has become a commonplace. The result of this identification of Judaism with liberal values such as autonomy and emancipation has been the loss of both religious identity and fidelity to an ancient way of life. The TTP, it seems, may have eloquently defended freedom for Jews, but at the cost of what was specific to Judaism.

The idea of an emancipated Jew has struck many people, both Jew and Gentile, as a contradiction, an enigma, and a paradox. How does one account for Jewish survival outside the context of authoritative Jewish texts and traditions? What becomes of Jewish continuity when ritual practices cease to have the force of law and are confined to the precinct of private conscience? What kind of Judaism is it that would be willing to readmit an avowed heretic like Spinoza?

Most pressing for us is this question: Is the offer to exchange an ancient heritage for a modern secular identity a real bargain or something like an offer to buy the Brooklyn Bridge? To recognize a paradox is not to resolve it. It would take another Spinoza to do it justice.

https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/ban-spinoza-lifted/

UK Labour Party’s obsessive anti-Zionism is shared by the Far Right

 

By Richard Mather

It is no secret that Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the British Labour Party, is a man of the militant left and a “friend” of Hamas and Hezbollah. But what is less well known is that Corbyn, along with comrades such as former London mayor Ken Livingstone, are inspirational to individuals on the Far Right – not just the Islamist clerical fascists who believe adulterers should be stoned to death but the extreme “white patriot” right-wingers who believe the gas chambers are a myth.

A recent poll found that despite the anti-Semitism scandal, Labour Party members overwhelmingly support Corbyn; only a tiny fraction believe there is an anti-Semitism problem within their organisation. Corbyn’s ability to generate such a slavish  and unquestioning following help to explain why some people on the Far Right have found themselves mesmerised by Corbyn and his acolytes.

Take, for example, the disturbing Far Right website deLiberation, which hails Corbyn as the “antidote to the Blairite virus and Zionist snake-bite”:

“Many certainly can see Corbyn as Prime Minister – a very different and totally new style of PM, to be sure […] he’s a man to look up to and identify with […] a man who is not tempted by the Israeli shekel. If any of his opponents lands the leadership Labour will remain under the yoke of Zionist ambitions and enslave by the gangster regime in Tel Aviv.”

To get an idea of the kind of Judeophobic rubbish published by deLiberation, consider the titles of some of the website’s articles: ‘Dismantling French Culture to Make It Jew Friendly’, ‘Uruguay’s Judaization,’ and ‘Jewish Inquisition in Argentina,’ the last of which condemns the “the global tentacles of Jewish power and its effects on the Western nations.”

What would Corbyn think if he knew his name was being associated with anti-Semitic propaganda inspired by Goebbels? Would he care?

Recently, the Far Right extremist Nick Griffin, former leader of the racist British National Party, took to Twitter to defend Ken Livingstone’s controversial comments about Adolf Hitler:

“Hitler started war wanting to send all Jews to own homeland outside Europe & armed Zionist terrorists to fight Brits in Palestine. #RedKen,” wrote Griffin.

Griffin then tweeted a message in quotation marks reading: “One day the world will know that #RedKen was right”.

The Labour Party ought to be concerned that its political rhetoric and its ongoing associations with anti-Zionist organisations/individuals are being applauded by the extreme Right – not just the Islamist Far Right but the “white patriot” Far Right.

An ex-member of the British National Party told me that his former colleagues and Labour have a shared ‘interest’ in the Jews. “Fighting Zionist Jews is all-important to white patriots and the ultra-left. Patriots and socialists agree that there is a problem with Jewish lobbies and rich Zionists in Britain. Both have a massive problem with the State of Israel, which they see as the centre of Jewish power and control.”

I am not accusing Corbyn and Red Ken of being right-wing extremists in disguise. Not quite, anyway. But it has to be said there is a family resemblance between both ends of the political spectrum, which are connected by a series of overlapping similarities. It  cannot be denied that the Far Left and the Far Right are rabidly anti-Zionist and anti-capitalist. Both are fixated with the Rothschilds and ‘money Jews.’

So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Corbyn and co are so attractive to the Far Left and the Far Right. As support for Corbyn and his recalibrated Labour Party remains solid, Britain’s official opposition may find that flitting from the Far Left to the Far Right is like going next door: it is no distance at all.

Anti-Zionism is genocidal race hatred

 

By Richard Mather

The UK is home to the one of the largest Jewish populations in the Diaspora. England’s second city, Manchester, is home to the fastest-growing Jewish community in Europe. So it is a sad state of affairs when one of Britain’s major political organisations, the Labour Party, has found itself embroiled in an unprecedented scandal in which more than fifty party members  – including MPs and  councillors – have been suspended for engaging in what can only be described as race hatred.

Anti-Zionism is, of course, a form of anti-Semitism; but it also something else. It is genocidal hatred of a country, a culture and a people. Referring to this problem as anti-Semitism doesn’t do it justice. Anti-Zionism is a specific kind of hatred and it must be categorised as such if it is to be legally and culturally contested. In a perfect world, anti-Zionism should be treated with the same kind of public aversion as xenophobia or homophobia.

Anti-Zionism is racist because it singles out a nationality – Israelis – for differential and discriminatory treatment in the international arena. Israelis are expected to conform to an impossibly high moral standard that would endanger their well-being. When Israelis inevitably fall short of these impossible standards, they are accused of indefensible behaviour. In contrast, the Palestinian Arabs are not held up to any standard at all. That too is racist.

No other nation in the world is singled out for criticism the way Israel is. Israel is condemned for human rights abuses even when such allegations are proved to be untrue (e.g. Jenin). It is accused of ethnic cleansing when Jewish neighbourhoods are built in east Jerusalem. It is dubbed an apartheid state even though Israeli Arabs have full voting rights. It is accused of being an occupier even though Jews had lived in Judea and Samaria for hundreds of years before they were evicted by the Jordanians. Israel is accused of doing nothing to promote peace when in actual fact it is the Palestinian Arabs who have turned down the opportunity for statehood on numerous occasions.

When critics compare Israel to the Third Reich, that is a form of hate speech. Denying Israel’s right to exist is a form of hate speech. Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation is incitement to hatred. When Israel is accused of controlling US foreign policy, or when it is accused of murdering Palestinian children, then that is incitement to hatred. Calling for a war against an entire country is incitement to hatred – and genocide.

I can only speak for the situation in Britain, but until the political, legal and judicial establishments (and the media) understand that anti-Zionism is a particular kind of problem, then no real progress will be made in dealing with the problem. One solution is to start tackling anti-Zionist activity in universities. According to Lesley Klaff, senior lecturer in law at Sheffield Hallam University, by allowing anti-Zionist expression on campuses, university authorities are in breach of their own equality, diversity and anti-harassment policies in relation to Jewish staff and students. Such policies, she says, “are required by law to promote equality of opportunity for minorities and to protect them from harassment and ethnic hostility.”

Meanwhile Zionists ought to demonstrate to students that supporting Israel is actually liberal and progressive. After all, Israel has a free press and a trade union movement. Women are guaranteed equality. Israeli Arabs have the right to vote. Homosexuals enjoy full civil rights. Jews, Muslims, Druze, Baha’i and Christians can practise their respective faiths in peace. Israel is also a world leader in green technology and the advancement of animal welfare. These values are in short supply in the Middle East and are exactly the kind of ideals which progressives and left-leaning students usually gravitate towards.

Before anti-Zionists get on their high horse about the Palestinians and the disputed territories, let us not forget that modern Zionism was/is the product of the world’s pathological inability to allow Jews to live in their societies. Crusades, inquisitions, pogroms and the mass murder of six million Jews meant that the only option left to the Jewish people was/is to have a nation state. Then there was the expulsion of nearly a million Jews from Arab and Muslim lands in the 1940s and 1950s. Now after having achieved the goal of Jewish self-determination in the Middle East, along comes anti-Zionism, which essentially denies the Jewish people a home.

So where are Jews expected to go?

Anti-Zionism is the belief that the State of Israel should not exist. It is obvious, based on the behaviour of Middle Eastern Muslims that Hamas, Hezbollah and Isis would massacre the stateless Jews. Meanwhile, Europe is currently collapsing under the current refugee crisis. How would it absorb six million Jews? And America’s wartime resistance to rehousing persecuted Jews is well-known. In other words, if Israel ceased to exist, six million Jews would be killed. That is genocide.

It seems to me that anti-Zionists in the British Labour Party don’t just have a problem with individual Jews; they also hold the irrational and bigoted belief that Jews are not entitled to exist as a people in the security of a Jewish homeland. And if that’s not racial hatred, I don’t know what is.

Yom Ha’Shoah: Six million reasons to live

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Traffic standing still on Ayalon Highway, Israel

By Richard Mather

To survivors, the Shoah or Holocaust remains a persistent and horrifying memory. For others, the Holocaust has passed into history. This is why Yom Ha’Shoah or Holocaust Day is so important. It is an opportunity to ask why and how did it happen? Could it happen again? According to a recent report, 46 per cent of Israelis believe a second Holocaust could happen.

Yom Ha’Shoah is Israel’s day of commemoration for the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust and for the Jewish resistance against the Nazis. In Israel, Yom Ha’Shoah is a national memorial day and a public holiday. It was inaugurated in 1953, and enshrined in law by the then prime minister David Ben-Gurion and the president of Israel, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. Although established by the Israeli government, Yom Ha’Shoah is commemorated throughout the Diaspora.

Yom Ha’Shoah is the day we remember in our minds and hearts the many millions who died, suffered and resisted. It also an opportunity to pay our respects to the survivors of the Holocaust and to reassure them that their suffering will never be forgotten.

Indeed, new figures reveal that nearly half of Israel’s Holocaust survivors believe that future generations will not remember the Shoah after they are gone. Half of Israelis under thirty have never knowingly met a Holocaust survivor. While approximately 189,000 Holocaust survivors still live in Israel, an average of 14,200 are dying every year. Shockingly, just under a third of the 189,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel live below the poverty line, with more than a quarter of survivors saying they cannot afford to heat their homes during winter. And almost half of Israel’s Holocaust survivors say they feel lonely most of the time. This is a sad state of affairs.

This year’s Yom Ha’Shoah coincides with the anniversary of the liberation of Mauthausen. Mauthausen’s gas chamber remained operative until the very last days of the war. The camp authorities carried out the last mass murder in the gas chamber on April 28, 1945. On May 3, 1945, the SS abandoned the camp to the custody of a guard unit of Viennese firefighters, who remained on the perimeter of the camp. A committee formed by the prisoners in the last days of April administered the camp as units of the US Army arrived at the camp and secured the surrounding area on May 5.

Some history about the origins of Yom Ha’Shoah: In 1949, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel requested that the 10th of Tevet should be the national remembrance day for victims of the Holocaust. This fast commemorates the start of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II. The Chief Rabbinate has referred to Tisha B’Av as being another date of remembrance for victims of the Shoah and elegies are recited on that day.

In the early 1950s, it was proposed that Yom Ha’Shoah should be held on the 14th of Nisan, the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising (19th April 1943). However, because the 14th of Nisan is the day before Passover the plans were changed. The date was moved to the 27th of Nisan, which is a week after the end of the Passover holiday. Yom Ha’Shoah continues to be held on the 27th of Nisan unless the 27th is adjacent to Shabbat, in which case the date is shifted slightly.

Yom Ha’Shoah starts in Israel at sunset in a state ceremony held in Warsaw Ghetto Square at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. During the ceremony the Israeli flag is lowered to half-mast. There are prayers and speeches by rabbis and politicians. Holocaust survivors light six torches signifying the six million Jews who died in the Nazi genocide.

There is no public entertainment on Yom Ha’Shoah in Israel. Cinemas, theatres, bars and other public venues are closed throughout the country. Even television and radio close down their normal programming to make way for Holocaust-related broadcasts. At 10 a.m. on the day of Yom Ha’Shoah, air-raid sirens are sounded and people stop what they are doing to pay their respects to the victims of the Nazi atrocity.

There is no fixed liturgy for Yom Ha’Shoah.  In 1988 the Reform movement published a book called Six Days of Destruction, co-authored by Elie Wiesel and Reform Rabbi Albert Friedlander. Movingly, six narratives from Holocaust survivors are juxtaposed to the six days of creation found in the opening pages of the Torah.

Masorti or Conservative Jews have created the Megillat Ha’Shoah (the Holocaust Scroll), which contains personal recollections of Holocaust survivors and is written in a biblical style.

All Jews – secular and religious – live with the harrowing knowledge that something terrible and catastrophic was visited upon them and their families in the 1930s and 1940s. It still beggars belief that six million men, women and children were slaughtered because of one simple fact – they were Jewish. How can we live such knowledge? How do we bear the weight of history? There are no easy answers.

And sadly we must face the fact that one day there will be no Holocaust survivors left alive to personally remind us of the horrors of the past. So it is vital that their memories and stories are recorded and shared as widely as possible. In the meantime, we must do all we can to assist Holocaust survivors who have been through so much. They deserve our love, our attention, our time, our money and our respect. After all, no other generation in history has witnessed or experienced such extreme barbarism.

Let us hope and pray that the Jewish people will never again live through such darkness. Given the resurgence of anti-Semitism in recent years and the ever-present threat of a nuclear Iran, we cannot afford to be complacent. If nothing else, Yom Ha’Shoah reminds us we have six million reasons to live.

My Theodor Herzl moment

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By Richard Mather…

In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army, was unfairly accused of treason. Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl witnessed mobs shouting “Death to the Jews” in France and decided there was only one way out of the mess: the mass migration of Jews to a land that they could rightfully call their own.

Thus, the Dreyfus case became one of the factors in the creation of political Zionism and ultimately the State of Israel.

I had a similar awakening this past week. The Ken Livingstone affair, in which the former mayor of London accused the Jews of being in cahoots with Hitler, followed a whole host of incidents on the British Left: the election of Malia Bouattia as NUS president, the Naz Shah suspension, the ascendancy of Jeremy Corbyn, the Oxford anti-Semitism debacle and so on.

In March, the Labour Party allowed Gerry Downing, who had written about the need to “address the Jewish Question,” to be readmitted to the party following his suspension for anti-Semitism.

And Vicki Kirby, who once tweeted that Adolf Hitler might be the “Zionist God,” was readmitted to the party and appointed vice-chair of her local party executive committee.

Of course, I’ve always known the situation in Britain was bad. I’ve been writing about it for years. But the Ken Livingstone affair has cemented in my mind the belief that British society is intrinsically hostile to Anglo-Jewry and that Aliyah is the only hope for the UK’s embattled Jews.

What’s troubles me most is that the Ken Livingstone affair is merely the tip of the iceberg. Although the establishment has roundly criticised Livingstone, his views, like the views of Corbyn, Shah, Bouattia, and George Galloway, are widely shared across the British Left.

And not just the British Left. But also in Muslim communities, among the liberal chattering classes, in the media, in the NUS and universities, among the self-hating non-Jewish Jews on the radical Left, even among the working class.

In other words, anti-Zionist anti-Semitism is endemic in large swathes of British society and this is not going to change. If anything, it is likely to get worse.

The Labour Party and the British Left ought to have protected the country’s most persecuted minority; instead they have engaged in a disgraceful and squalid McCarthyite witch hunt of “Zios” (codeword for Jews).

By singling out Jews for political persecution, and by infecting public discourse with anti-Semitic poison, the Left has effectively killed the post-WW2 consensus that Anglo-Jews form an integral part of British society.

As individual citizens, we may be included in the British state. But it’s been made abundantly clear by Labour and the Left that, as Jews, we don’t belong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Derrida and the weakness of God

 

I’m trying to think of some divinity dissociated from power, if it is possible –  Jacques  Derrida

By Richard Mather

French philosopher Jacques Derrida was born in 1930 in Algiers. His Judeo-Sephardi ancestors had fled to North Africa after the Spanish Inquisition. Towards the end of his life, Derrida began a theological inquiry in which he began talking about God as a weak force – a force without force.

Speaking at the “Religion and Postmodernism 3” conference, held at Villanova in September, 2001, Derrida had this to say:

“We usually identify God with the almighty, that is, with absolute power.[…] God is supposed to be absolutely powerful in our tradition.[…] I’m trying to think of some unconditionality that would not be sovereign.”

He continued: “That means that some unconditionality might be associated not with power but with weakness, with powerlessness.[…] I’m trying to think of some divinity dissociated from power, if it is possible.”

In Derrida’s view, God does not – cannot –  compel us to act. Although He is without conditions and without limits, He is not a coercive God. God may be unconditional in the sense that he is not restricted by anything external, but He has disassociated Himself from power and strength, says Derrida.

Note how Derrida’s terminology (“without limits,” “restriction”) echoes some of the terminology found in the Kabbalah, which employs terms such as ein sof (“that which is without limits”) and tzimtzum (“contraction”):

“In the beginning, a simple divine light filled the entirety of existence,” said Rabbi Isaac Luria, the seventeenth-century Jewish mystic who is considered the father of contemporary Kabbalah.

“When there arose in His simple will the desire to create the worlds, He contracted His light, withdrawing it to the sides and leaving a void and an empty space in its centre, to allow for the existence of the worlds,” added Rabbi Luria.

Derrida characterised God’s restriction as a kind of voluntary powerlessness. This is why God is unconditional, according to Derrida. Only by voluntarily restricting Himself and making Himself powerless or weak, can human language, creativity and history come into being.

The voluntary restriction of God explains why He does not use force: God can insist, but He cannot compel. That is what Derrida means when talks about the weakness of God, of God dissociated from power.

 

 

 

 

 

Spinoza, panentheism and mystical Judaism

 

It is a popular misconception that Spinoza was a pantheist. He was not. Like the medieval kabbalists, Spinoza was a panentheist.

By Richard Mather

Panentheism, meaning “all-in-God,” is situated somewhere between pantheism and classical theism. For pantheists, the world is identical to God, while for classical theists, the world is completely external to God. Panentheists believe  three things: that the world is within God, that God is in all things, and that God is also supernaturally transcendent. To put it another way, God is ontologically at one with the universe and yet remains greater than the universe. The universe does not exhaust what it means to be God.

To use the terminology of mathematical set theory, the universe – the totality of facts, ideas and things – is a subset of God.

If the word panentheist seems alien to Judaism, a synonymous term is available: monistic monotheism. Either way, such a conception of God can be found in medieval esoteric Judaism (Kabbalah), in the writings of seventeenth-century Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza, and in hasidut (Hasidic Judaism) and even in yahadut mitkhadeshet (Reconstructionist Judaism).

In his youth, Spinoza was exposed to Abraham Cohen de Herrera’s Gate of Heaven, a widely influential work of Jewish mysticism written in Spanish and translated into Hebrew. This work was apparently used by Spinoza’s Talmud teachers, Manasseh ben Israel and Saul Levi Morteira. According to de Herrera, God is not just hidden in himself but is also immanent in the universe. Indeed, the material universe “is actually nothing but the revealed and unveiled God.”

A classic Judeo-panentheistic formulation is memaleh [filling] kol almin u’sosev kol almin – that God fills and surrounds all worlds. This formulation is found in ha-Zohar (the Zohar) and the twelfth-century hymn Shir HaYichud, which contains the words: “All of them are in You and You are in all of them” and “You surround all and fill all and when all exists You are in all.” Similarly, the kabbalist Hayyim Ibn Atar writes in his commentary Or Ha-Hayyim, “The world is in its Creator and the light of the Creator is in the whole world.”

According to hasidut (which emerged as a popular movement less than a hundred years after Spinoza’s death), God both transcends and indwells the universe. The phrase, “The whole earth is full of His glory,” from Sefer  Yeshayahu (Isaiah) is taken to mean that God is in all things.

Hasidic Jews believe that the multiplicity of things we observe in the universe , including ourselves, is due to the screening of the divine light that prevents us from perceiving God as He is in Himself. Similarly, Spinoza refers to things, including ourselves, as “modes” or modifications of God. Both Hasidic Jews and Spinoza believe that only God is substantial. There can be no other substance in the universe but God. That is not to say that individual things aren’t real, just that they are modifications of God and are dependent upon God for their existence.

For Spinoza, because God is infinite, He therefore has infinite attributes, including mind and matter. But the attributes of mind and matter do not exhaust God’s attributes. Because God is infinite, God must have an infinite number of attributes, of which we know nothing. There must be an infinity of other divine attributes that are hidden from us, that transcend our senses and our knowledge.

Spinoza has been erroneously characterised as a pantheist because he asserted Deus sive Natura, which means “God or nature.” But he did not mean that God and nature (i.e. the universe) are synonymous terms, but rather that nature is God, but not God in His entirety. The  two attributes known to us – mind and matter – signify God’s indwelling in the universe. But His transcendence is secured by his infinitely many attributes, of which we can only guess.

As such, there are two inter-related aspects of God in Spinozism. First, there is the active, productive aspect, which is God and his attributes, from which all else follows. This is what Spinoza calls natura naturans (“nature creating”), which is wholly identical with God. Secondly, he employed the term natura naturata (or “nature created”) to describe the aspect of God when it is predicated into “modes” such as the laws of motion and rest, logic, the Milky Way, cats, buildings, rocks, minds, beliefs and so on.

Likewise, mystical Jews sometimes envision two aspects of God: Firstly, the impersonal Ein Sof (meaning “there is no end”), which is God in essence, absolutely transcendent, unknowable and limitless, hidden. Secondly, there is God in manifestation, the revealed aspect of God, which is accessible to human perception, and is dynamically interacting through spiritual and physical existence.

It would be a mistake to think of this as a dualistic conception. If so, the Kabbalists wouldn’t have been able to remain true to the strict monotheism of rabbinical Judaism. Rather, they sought (as they still do) to make the universe holy by unifying God-as-Other with God-as-immanent. Like the Kabbalists, Spinoza made a subtle distinction between two aspects of God, and like the Kabbalists, he also had the  fundamental insight that God is one substantial whole. Indeed, God is the only substantial whole.

Like the Kabbalists, Spinoza believed that there is nothing external to God, nothing outside of Him. And like the Kabbalists, Spinoza held that everything that exists is a part of God and is brought into being by God.

Because God is everywhere, and because holiness is literally in the world, religious Jews often emphasise simcha or joy. A popular teaching by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov is mitzvah gedolah le’hiyot besimcha tamid – “it is a great mitzvah to always be in a state of happiness.” Similarly, Spinoza talks of the “intellectual love of God,” which is when the mind perceives God not only as essence but as the immanent causal power of the universe.

Spinoza writes of the person who has attained the intellectual love  of God that he “is hardly troubled in spirit, but being, by a certain eternal necessity, conscious of himself, and of God, and of things, he never ceases to be, but always possess true peace of mind.” Spinoza refers to this as “blessedness,” which is similar in meaning to shalem (and hence shalom), a Hebrew word-concept signifying wholeness, harmony, prosperity, delight, peace.

Whether we call it blessedness or shalem, the webbing together of God, humans and  creation is at the heart of both Spinozism and rabbinical mystical Judaism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The BBC’s militant tendency

There are no terrorists, and if you doubt that, just ask the BBC.

By Richard Mather

Following the atrocities in Brussels, the BBC’s flagship News At Ten programme referred to the bombers as “militants” rather than “terrorists.” Initially, I thought this was a mistake. And then the BBC did it again, this time in the context of events in Syria and Iraq where ISIS is engaging in a wholesale massacre of the innocents.

How long had the BBC been referring to suicide bombers and beheaders as “militants”? I rarely watch the BBC’s news output, so I couldn’t be sure. Someone told me that it was part of the BBC’s style guide. But, I reasoned, the word “militant” suggests someone who is belligerent or combative, e.g. a militant feminist. Not so long ago, the trade union movement in the UK was described as “militant.” But neither feminists nor trade unionists are terrorists.

So I contacted the BBC. And I explained to them that the trouble with the word “militant” is that it falls short of describing an individual who engages in acts of extreme violence with the express aim of terrorizing – of invoking fear and submission in the general population. In response, a spokesperson for the BBC told me:

“The BBC has an obligation to be impartial, independent and accurate. We use neutral language to describe news events, particularly in complex situations where any appearance of bias would undermine our credibility.”

Credibility?

Blinded by self-righteousness, the BBC fails to see that its credibility has been in tatters for years. A news organisation that regularly glosses over the murder of Jews by Arabs and ignores the ongoing sexual abuse of women and children in the UK by Muslim men posing as migrants cannot claim to be a credible news organization.

Besides, there can be no moral equivalence between the perpetrators of terrorist attacks and their victims, and yet the BBC’s linguistic whitewashing suggests otherwise. It’s as if the BBC is doing its best to respect the civil rights of Islamists who may be offended/shocked/outraged if the BBC uses the word “terrorist” to describe the actions of one of their co-religionists.

It seems like the civil rights of victims are less important, or at least no more  important, than the rights of the perpetrators. Thanks to media organisations like the BBC, we now live in a relativistic world where both the perpetrators and victims of violence share the same moral and discursive space.

Besides, when it comes to neutrality, the BBC is curiously selective. The 2004 Balen Report, which contains the findings of an investigation into alleged BBC bias against Israel, continues to be suppressed. The BBC has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on legal costs in an effort to keep the report under wraps. I wonder why.

I am of the suspicion that the BBC employs the word “militant” rather than “terrorist” not because it wants to appear neutral but because it is afraid of alienating a sizeable (and very vocal) segment of its viewing audience. After all, support for Hamas, Islamic State and Al-Qaeda is entrenched in Muslim communities across the UK.

If it’s the case that the BBC is indeed filtering its news output in accordance with the wishes of Islamic State sympathisers, then it neither deserves the goodwill nor the funding of the British public who are forced, by law, to pay the BBC licence fee.

I fear that it will take something horrible such as a suicide bombing on the London Underground or in Trafalgar Square for the BBC to stop pandering to a vocal minority and to reconsider its use of terminology.

But given the BBC’s reluctance to accept constructive criticism, this seems unlikely.

Jewish psychology without Freud

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Professor Mordechai Rotenberg. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Jewish psychology without Freud

By Richard Mather

For over a century, Sigmund Freud has cast a shadow over Western psychoanalysis after developing the theory that humans have an unconscious in which sexual and aggressive impulses are in conflict with the defences against them. Most notable is his hypothesis that a son experiences feelings of jealousy and hate toward his father because of an unconscious desire for the exclusive love of the mother. This is known as the Oedipus complex.

But Professor Mordechai Rotenberg, an Israeli professor of social work at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says Freud’s adoption/adaption of the ancient Greek myth of Oedipus is not just erroneous and morbid, but runs counter to the Jewish tradition of mutual responsibility, optimism and teshuvah (repentance, literally “turn”).

Whereas Freud theorised that the past cannot be changed but only killed in order to build a new present upon it, Professor Rotenberg, who has developed a socio-psychological model derived from Hasidic and Midrashic concepts, believes that life is like a text and that the past can be changed or redeemed by rebiographing it.

We all have the capacity to “recompose” our individual biographies by rereading life’s events and finding the interpretation that allows us to integrate the stories of the past in our general life story, says the professor. This re-biographing principle is based on the Jewish concept of midrash, from the root דרש which means “to search,” “to seek,” “to examine,” and “to investigate.”

According to Professor Rotenberg, an individual needn’t be trapped by  past wrongdoings. Rather than trying to eliminate earlier negative  actions, we can integrate the sins of the past by giving them the space to exist in our psyches, while seeking out positive features of the past, and committing ourselves to a better future. This is what he calls teshuvah or repentance.

In rejecting Freud’s Oedipus complex, Professor Rotenberg opts instead for the Hebraic narrative of the Akedah or akedat yitzhak (the binding of Isaac). According to the Torah, God commands Abraham to offer his son Isaac  as a sacrifice. Abraham takes Isaac to the place of sacrifice and binds him (va-ya’akod) on the altar. But the angel of the Lord bids Abraham to stay his hand and a ram is offered in Isaac’s place.

Whereas Freud’s Oedipal hypothesis proposes a dialectic resolution in which the son (the present) prevails only when he kills his father (the past), the resolution of the inter-generational conflict in the Akedah story is dialogical because it favours father-son (past-present) continuity between Abraham and Isaac.

In other words, whereas the Freudian-Oedipal model proposes annihilating the past in order to build a new life, the Akedah model allows the past and present to co-exist.

In language reminiscent of the great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, Rotenberg calls Freud’s theory an example of “I or thou” thinking in which a conflictual dialectical pattern of strong versus weak is created. The Akedah, by contrast, allows for an “I and thou” dialogical mode of thought in which both parties –  Abraham and Isaac, past and present – co-exist despite the tensions between them.

Rotenberg bases his dialogical approach on the Kabbalistic notion of tzimtzum or contraction, a concept made famous by the sixteenth century Jewish philosopher Rabbi Isaac Luria. According to Rabbi Luria, God constricted Himself in order to make room for the created universe.

“In the beginning, a simple divine light filled the entirety of existence,” says Rabbi Luria. “When there arose in His simple will the desire to create the worlds, He contracted His light, withdrawing it to the sides and leaving a void and an empty space in its centre, to allow for the existence of the worlds.”

In Rotenberg’s philosophy, the concept of divine tzimtzum serves as a basis for tzimtzum on the human level.  Tzimtzum may be articulated in psychological terms (what he calls the “reorganising” of one’s psyche) but also on an inter-personal level, between parents and children, between spouses, between colleagues, between nations, between friends.

This brings us back to Rotenberg’s concept of “I and thou” whereby the individual and the Other act in co-existence, with the “I” making space for the “thou.” In the “I or thou” pattern that dominated Freud’s thinking, there are hostile relations between the “I” and the “thou,” and one will always be at the expense of the other.

Healing or tikkun is achieved in concert with other people. One way of redeeming the past is to go out and help other people. This alter-centric (rather than ego-centric) approach of mutual responsibility echoes the Talmudic dictum, “all of Israel are responsible for each other.” As illustrated by akedat yitzhak and tzimtzum, the individual is not obliterated but “contracted,” thereby facilitating the mutual “I and thou” relationship.

The Talmud (Shevuot 39a), in discussing the domino effect of sin, concludes with the Aramaic phrase, Kol yisrael arevim zeh ba zeh, meaning all of Israel are responsible for each other. There is some uncertainty whether it is actually “zeh la zeh,” which holds that each individual is a separate unit but is responsible for other members of the community, or “zeh ba zeh”, which implies that all Jews form a single entity known as Klal Yisrael.

Professor Rotenberg believes his Jewish psychology can be applied at a socio-political level in Israel. “As a  national movement  of liberation, Zionism means not only collective freedom  from  discrimination and  persecution,  but  the ability to create a  new,  value-oriented national Jewish society in Eretz Yisrael,” he says.

He adds: “Only by being mutually responsible — the individual and  the  group  — can one  feel a sense of belonging. Case histories have  demonstrated  that soldiers  in  the  IDF  whose parents lived abroad,  and  who   contemplated   suicide, reversed  this  self-destructive urge when  they  were  befriended  by  other  soldiers  and  their  families. They  regained  a sense of  belonging.”

To belong  to  the Jewish people and  to  be wanted  by fellow Jews are  major  factors  in one’s mental health, he explains.

In 2009, in recognition of his research into social welfare, Professor Rotenberg was awarded the Israel Prize, which is presented every year on Israeli Independence Day. He continues to communicate his theory of Jewish psychology through books and articles, and also via the Rotenberg Institute, which was established in memory of his soldier-son Boaz Rotenberg who died aged eighteen during an IDF mission in Jericho during the first intifada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purim: Where is God in all this?

 

Purim is a time of merriment. Celebrants are allowed to drink alcohol to the point where they are unable to differentiate between the phrases ‘Bless Mordecai’ and ‘Curse Haman.’ But there is a darker side to Purim. Megillat Esther depicts an existential threat to the Jews. The Jews are saved and their enemies slain, not because God intervenes but because the Jews themselves take decisive action to eradicate the threat. Purim seems to be about the role of Jewish self-reliance in a universe where God has apparently disappeared from the stage.

By Richard Mather

Megillat Esther (the Scroll of Esther) narrates the story of a Jewish girl who becomes Queen of Persia and saves the Jewish people from a genocide decreed by the wicked Haman. The story takes place in 473 BCE. The Persian kingdom is a huge and sprawling empire, and all the Jews are its subjects. When King Ahasuerus deposes Queen Vashti for disobedience, he arranges a beauty parade to find a new consort. Esther is chosen and she becomes the new queen of Persia. However, she does not reveal her Jewish identity.

A wicked man called Haman is appointed first minister of the Persian empire. Haman becomes enraged when Mordechai, leader of the Jews, refuses to bow to him. Spitefully, Haman convinces the King to issue a decree ordering the genocide of all the Jews on the 13th of Adar. The date is chosen by lottery, hence the word Purim, which means “lots,” from the word Hebrew word פור.

Esther takes practical action. She reveals her Jewish identity to the King. Haman is hanged and Mordechai is appointed first minister in his place. A new decree granting the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies is issued. On the 13th of Adar the Jews kill many of their enemies. On the 14th, they rest and celebrate. The Jews of Shushan wage war on both Adar 13th and 14th, and rejoice on the 15th, which explains the celebration of Shushan Purim in Israel on the 15th.

The holiday of Purim is a time of merriment. Celebrants are allowed to drink alcohol to the point where they are unable to differentiate between the phrases ‘Bless Mordecai’ and ‘Curse Haman.’ Another feature of Purim is the Purimspiel, which is a dramatic retelling of the story of Esther, often involving costumes, masks, music, dance and humour. Traditionally, the Purimspiel was performed by poor students, actors and acrobats. These days, the Purimspiel is often acted out by children who dress up as characters from the story.

But there is a darker side to Purim. Megillat Esther depicts an existential threat to the Jews. Genocide hangs over them like the sword of Damocles. The Jews are saved and their enemies slain, not because God intervenes but because the Jews themselves take decisive action to eradicate the threat. Purim seems to be about the role of Jewish self-reliance in a universe where God has apparently disappeared from the stage.

This is why the story of Esther is particularly relevant in our post-Holocaust era. For many people, God’s goodness cannot be taken for granted. Elie Wiesel, the prize-winning writer and Holocaust survivor, has refused to shy away from the difficult subject of God’s absence during the Shoah. Perhaps his most famous book is Night. But for me, one of Wiesel’s most striking works is his play The Trial of God.

The Trial of God, is set in 1649, and is a Purimspiel within a Purimspiel. But it is not the kind of Purimspiel we would recognise. This is a brief outline of the story:

Three wandering minstrels, three Purimspielers, come to a city called Shamgorod in the Ukraine. It is Purim eve, and they want to perform a play in order to get food and drink. The minstrels are unaware that a recent pogrom has killed all of the local Jews except for Berish the innkeeper and his daughter Hanna who was gang-raped and is now in a state of nervous collapse.

But the minstrels insist on performing and finally Berish relents and says, ‘All right. Under one condition – that I will give you the idea. The theme will be a “din torah,”  a trial of God. I want you to indict God for what he has done to my family, to my community, to all these Jews.’ The performers accept. In the first act the decision is made to hold a trial. In the second act there is a problem because there is nobody to play the role of God’s attorney. In the third act an attorney is found and we have the trial itself.

Wiesel’s play is based on an event that occurred in Auschwitz. According to Wiesel, three rabbis – all erudite and pious men – decided one winter evening to indict God for allowing his children to be massacred. The trial at Auschwitz lasted several nights and culminated in an unanimous verdict of guilty. And then, after a few moments of silence, one of the rabbis looked towards the heavens and said “It’s time for evening prayers.”

Given the subject matter, it is not surprising that Wiesel’s Purimspiel rejects the usual carnivalesque atmosphere of Purim. Mendel, one of the Purim minstrels, frequently asks the question, ‘And where is God in all of this?’ To which Berish the innkeeper answers: ‘Why don’t you ask where Berish is in all this? Let me answer you that one. God sought me out and God struck me down. So let Him stay away from me.’

In Wiesel’s text, God is accused of hostility, cruelty and indifference. Over the course of the trial, a number of arguments are made, both for and against God’s guilt. Wiesel’s play ends darkly, with the victory of Satan (who is God’s defendant) and the imminent massacre of the town’s remaining Jews by a mob of bloodthirsty gentiles.

It is well-known that Megillat Esther is the only book in the Tanakh –  except for Shir Hashirim or the Song of Songs –  that does not mention the name of God. The Trial of God, however, makes God the central character, although like Godot in Beckett’s famous play, He never actually makes an appearance. And while Purim is generally a time of merriment, Wiesel’s play plumbs the depth of theological inquiry, asking, ‘Where is God in all this?’

In a world where the Holocaust was allowed to happen, the question of ‘Where is God in all this?’ remains pertinent. Of course, even before the Holocaust, Jewish experience was one of exile, alienation and violence – a sign perhaps that God’s power has rarely been some awesome force. Indeed, for much of history, God has hidden his face from us. The concept of hester panim (“hiding of the face”) is sometimes used to explain the absence or eclipse of God during times of suffering. The concept of divine concealment is based on words from Sefer Devarim: “I will become very angry at them on that day, and I will abandon them and hide My face from them. They will be devoured, and plagued by many evils that will distress them, and will say, ‘Do we not suffer because God has left us?’.”

In the case of Purim, the importance of hester panim is implied by the name of the heroine. Note the similarity between the words hester and Est(h)er. The Babylonian Talmud tractate Hullin 139B states, “From where does the Torah bring the name Esther? From the verse ‘But I [God] will surely conceal my face [“haster astir panai“] on that day for all of the ill that they have done–for they turned to other gods.”

In our post-Holocaust era, it can be difficult to subscribe to the notion of God as a transcendent Supreme Being who intervenes in history. Doesn’t the Esther story, and the story of the Jews in general, suggest that God’s power is not some ‘top-down’ affair but is conducted through the actions of individuals and groups, like Moses and the Israelites or Theodor Herzl and the First Zionist Congress? Isn’t it perhaps the case that God’s power is channelled through the Jewish people themselves?

In 1948 when Palestine’s Jews declared independence, there occurred a unique rupture in the history of colonialism and imperialism. But this declaration also ruptured the long-held hope of a messianic king or priest who would gather the Jewish people and end the exile. It wasn’t God or the Messiah who restored the Jewish nation. It was the Jews themselves. To paraphrase Rabbi Eleazar (Megillah 15a), the moment the Jewish people decide to cloak themselves in royalty and declare independence is the moment in which the Jews cloak themselves in the spirit of God.

This is why I strongly disagree with those ultra-religious Jews in Israel who refuse to serve in the army because it detracts from Torah study, which (they say) is Israel’s best protection. Unfortunately, history shows us that no amount of Torah study or prayer prevents pogroms or genocides; nor will Torah study protect the State Israel from future attacks. Likewise, it’s wrong of anti-Zionist religious Jews to argue that the State of Israel is a usurpation of the Messiah’s role. My answer to them is simple: for too long we waited for the Messiah, but he never came. And he may never come for one simple reason – because the Jewish people themselves already function as a messianic community.

In other words, it is not God or Messiah, but the Jews themselves who determine what to do, and when and how to do it. As Rabbi David Blumenthal says, God “has all eternity to make up His mind. We do not have all eternity; we have now.”  The example set by Esther shows us that God expects the Jewish people to take the initiative, to act for themselves and to rely on their own talents and skills in order to ensure their long-term survival. The success of the State of Israel and the fact that the majority of Jews are prepared to defend themselves in a world full of Hamans is testament to the spirit of Megillat Esther.

 

Purim: Where is God in all this?

Purim is a time of merriment. Celebrants are allowed to drink alcohol to the point where they are unable to differentiate between the phrases ‘Bless Mordecai’ and ‘Curse Haman.’ But there is a darker side to Purim. Megillat Esther depicts an existential threat to the Jews. The Jews are saved and their enemies slain, not because God intervenes but because the Jews themselves take decisive action to eradicate the threat. Purim seems to be about the role of Jewish self-reliance in a universe where God has apparently disappeared from the stage.

Source: Purim: Where is God in all this?

Jihad for Jesus: Christ at the Checkpoint’s Anti-Israel Crusade

Checkpoint

By Richard Mather

Every couple of years the city of Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus, hosts the provocatively-titled Christ at the Checkpoint (CatC), an anti-Zionist convocation of Arab Christians, Western evangelicals and a handful of Messianic Jews. This year’s conference (March 7-10) is taking place at the Orient Palace hotel in Beit Jala. Ironically, the event is being safeguarded by the Israeli army because the conference organisers fear that the Palestinian Authority is either incapable or unwilling to protect their Christian guests from the perils of Islamist terrorism.

CatC claims to be conciliatory and pro-peace, but almost every speaker will use this year’s conference to blame Palestinian suffering on Israel and they will do so in the harshest terms. CatC holds the belief that the Jewish state is an aberration and an occupying power. If previous years are anything to go by, the derogatory rhetoric about Israel will be vile. When it is couched in the terminology of Christian replacement theology, it is horrifying. When you watch online clips of previous CatC conferences and you see people like Dr Manfred Kohl, a German Christian, referring to Jews as “dummkopfs” (“idiots”) and blaming the State of Israel for undermining the redemptive work of Jesus, you feel physically sick.

The conference is organised by the Bethlehem Bible College, whose mission is to “challenge evangelicals to take responsibility to help resolve the conflicts in Israel/Palestine by engaging with the teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God.” The theme of this year’s gathering is the “gospel in the face of religious extremism.” Given the nature of the event and the type of people in attendance, this is laughable. One of this year’s keynote speakers is Mustafa Abu Sway, a Muslim supremacist who served as president of the Islamic Society of Boston in the early 1990s. In 2002 he told an interfaith meeting that he wished the State of Israel “would disappear.” According to investigations by Daniel Pipes, Abu Sway has raised money for several Hamas-related organisations, including the Al-Aqsa Foundation of South Africa. Abu Sway’s ‘scholarship’ is even featured on Hamas’ website.

CatC says the motivation for organising this year’s conference is that “the religious aspect of the conflict, which has not been the primary issue in the past, has become more pronounced” (my italics). Only someone who has spent the last hundred years on another planet could say that religion “has not been the primary issue” in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Anti-Jewish violence in Mandate Palestine, Israel and other parts of the Middle East has nearly always been religiously-motivated. If you look at the documents, news reports and speeches from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, you’ll discover that Muslims in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt couched their hatred of Jews in extreme religious terminology.

The histrionics of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, the father of Palestinian Islamic nationalism, is a case in point. Husseini believed it was a religious impossibility for Muslims to share the land with Jews. Even areas where Jews formed a majority were considered to be a kind of religious defilement. Husseini called on his fellow Arabs to “not forget that the Jew is your worst enemy and has been the enemy of your forefathers.” Not surprisingly, his bombast resulted in various pogroms, massacres and terrorist atrocities. He was a friend to Hitler and a hero to Yasser Arafat, and his legacy of violence is still evident in the twenty-first century.

CatC says that it “condemns all forms of violence unequivocally.” But given Abu Sway’s invitation, it appears that the anti-Semitic violence of Hamas is exempted, which may explain why CatC is also urging Christians to use this year’s conference as an opportunity to come to terms with Islamist extremism. Christians should try to “understand the global context for the rise of extremist Islam,” states CatC.  This is interesting. What exactly is the global context for extremist Islam? Is it American military hegemony? Is it the existence of Israel? Is it the 2003 Iraq War? Is it the conflict in Syria? Or is it the imams and hate preachers who use the Quran and the Islamic commentaries to justify the slaying of unbelievers?

The event organisers say there has been a “marked increase in religious extremism particularly within the Jewish and Muslim communities in our region, and, to a lesser degree, in the Christian community in the West.” Well, there is nothing new about Islam-inspired violence, although I suppose the actions of Islamic State have raised the bar to a new level. As for Judaism, there is little evidence of Jewish extremism. Yes, there have been some isolated outbursts of violence in the Israeli-administered territories, but they pale in comparison to the barbarism of knife-wielding, machete-waving Arab terrorists who roam the land of Israel like wild beasts. As for Christians, there is little evidence of extremism in the West, unless CatC is referring to the fanaticism of anti-Zionist left-wing evangelicals, but I doubt it.

Predictably, CatC says the “occupation” is at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is nonsense. The core of the conflict is religious anti-Semitism, as well as Islamic supremacism. To the average Islamist, Jews are third-class citizens who have no right managing their own affairs. Jews must be dhimmis or be put to the sword. Likewise, the so-called occupation is used to explain the suffering of Palestinian Christians. I accept that Israeli security arrangements make life difficult for Arab Christians, but relentless terrorism has necessitated these safety provisions. And let’s not forget that many Bethlehemite Christians cooperated with Fatah terrorists during the Second Intifada, so they must shoulder some of the blame for the security restrictions.

Actually, it is Palestinians officials, and not Israel, who have made life intolerable for Christians in Bethlehem (and Gaza). In 1948, Bethlehem was 85 per cent Christian. Under Jordanian rule, this fell to 46 per cent. The situation stabilised when Israel managed Bethlehem between 1967 and 1995. But in the twenty years following Israel’s withdrawal, Bethlehem’s Christian population has declined to a mere ten per cent, from 20,000 Christians to around 5,000. Why? Because of persecution and harassment by both the Palestinian Preventive Security Service and various Islamist factions.

I cannot be certain but I think CatC derived its confrontational name – Christ at the Checkpoint – from Naim Ateek’s image of Jesus as “the powerless Palestinian humiliated at a checkpoint.” Ateek, who was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1967, spoke at CatC’s inaugural conference in 2010. His Jesus-at-the-checkpoint image was the central plank of his Easter message in 2001 in which he invoked the charge of deicide by accusing the “Israeli government crucifixion system” of crucifying Palestinians. Perhaps Ateek was inspired by Yasser Arafat who (in a speech made in Bethlehem in 1995) referred to Jesus as “the first Palestinian Christian.”

Ateek and Arafat were wrong in their assertion that Jesus was a Palestinian and/or a Palestinian martyr. He was not. Jesus, or Yeshua as he was known, was a religiously-observant Zionist Jew who quoted from the Tanakh and announced he had “come for the lost sheep of Israel.” As Rabbi Shmuley Boteach writes in his book Kosher Jesus, Yeshua or Jesus “was a great political leader who fought for the liberation of his people” and was “concerned with the political freedom of the Jewish nation.”

The Palestinian Jesus myth is a core component of Palestinian replacement theology.  Christian Palestinianists interpret the Bible from an Islamic point of view and do not admit to any historical or theological connection between biblical Israel, the Jewish people and the modern Israeli state. Christian Palestinianists depict Jews as a cruel and oppressive people who merit everlasting exile. Far from turning the other cheek, Christian Palestinianists are committed to a jihad for Jesus, a kind of Chrislamic crusade against Jews and the Jewish state.

An article about CatC would not be complete without mention of Stephen Sizer, the notorious Anglican pastor based in Surrey, England. Sizer, who argues that Christian Zionism has no biblical foundation, is a CatC organiser and speaker. According to Sizer, there is “no evidence that the apostles [of Jesus] believed that the Jewish people still had a divine right to the land, or that Jewish possession of the land would be important, let alone that Jerusalem would remain a central aspect of God’s purposes for the world.” (One wonders whether he’s actually read the New Testament.)

A regular contributor to Press TV and the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, Sizer has been photographed with Yasser Arafat and has publicly defended Raed Salah, the Hamas fundraiser who accuses Jews of making Passover bread with the blood of Christian children. Sizer is also a conspiracy theorist. On January 20 2015 Sizer posted a link on his Facebook page to a conspiracy theory entitled “9/11 Israel did it.” Sizer was subsequently ordered by his Anglican superiors to desist from posting material on social media for at least six months. He was also banned from commenting on issues relating to the Middle East.

The CatC organisers say they welcome pro-Israel voices. But do they? In December 2010, Israeli tour guide Kay Wilson was subjected to a sustained and horrific attack by Palestinian terrorists, and her American Christian friend Kristine Luken was murdered. When Kay approached CatC about the possibility of relaying her experience to the audience of the 2012 conference, she was told that her story was “not what the Lord wants.” It appears that by excluding the victims of Palestinian terrorism and inviting associates of Hamas to speak at their events, CatC is directly or indirectly approving terrorism. As Kay herself says, “the endorsement of terror by association, at a Christian conference, is obscene.”

Even when an Israel-friendly personality is permitted to address the CatC conference, it can be counter-productive. Back in 2014, Daniel Juster, an author and an advocate of Messianic Judaism, used his address to the CatC audience to challenge replacement theology. But as the pro-Israel Messianic Jewish website Rosh Pina Project points out, Juster pandered to the audience by claiming Israel was the product of a “Jewish intifada” and that Christian Palestinian replacement theology may  be an understandable response to the perceived “evil” of the “chosen people.” Juster also glossed over the issue of Palestinian terrorism and rudely disparaged the secular Jews of Tel Aviv. Not only was it a wasted opportunity, Juster’s appearance gave succour to Israel’s enemies.

All in all, CatC’s bias against Israel and its ridicule of Jewish national identity should be seen in the context of two millennia of anti-Jewish persecution by Christians exasperated by the continued existence of Jews and Judaism. Perhaps this religious exasperation explains why CatC organisers and speakers use Christian motifs to agitate the feelings of Christians. To quote the words of the Israeli foreign ministry (which cautioned Christians to stay clear of the 2014 conference), the use of religion “for the purpose of incitement in the service of political interests stains the person who does it with a stain of indelible infamy.”

Indelible infamy indeed. It is sad and tragic that despite the horrors of the Shoah, some sections of the Christian community have warmly embraced this new replacement theology in which Christianity supplants Judaism and Palestine supersedes Israel. It ought to be of grave concern to all right-minded people that a sizable number of unethical evangelical and Arab Christians are busy rekindling the same kinds of prejudices that underscored centuries of anti-Jewish prejudice – the same prejudice that culminated in the gas chambers and the near-total destruction of European Judaism.

By pandering to the Palestinians, the West is harming itself

UE-Palestine

By Richard Mather

For decades the West has lectured Israel on the need to partition its territory in order to placate Arab terrorists. Under pressure, Israel has pursued the narrative of land-for-peace, but without success. This has not stopped France from calling for an international peace conference “to preserve and achieve the two-state solution.” Everybody knows that the plan is without hope. The Arabs have rejected a two-state solution on seven occasions since the mid-1930s. Nothing is going to change. Why? Because religion – and not land – is at the core of Arab rejectionism.

Anti-Jewish violence in Mandate Palestine, Israel and other parts of the region has always been religiously-motivated. If you look at the documents, news reports and speeches from the 1920s and 1930s, you’ll see that Arab hatred of Palestinian Jews was couched in extreme religious – i.e. Islamist – terms. The anti-Jewish histrionics of Grand Mufti Amin al-Husseini (who sought assistance from Hitler) is a case in point. So it is not surprising that a democratic Jewish state, where Jews run their own affairs, is anathema to the racist supremacism of the Islamist Arabs.

Unfortunately, France and the rest of the West are blind to the religious warfare being waged against the Jews. Having discarded much of their Christian heritage, Europe and America show little understanding of religious conflict. Policymakers tend to misread the Israeli-Arab dispute as a clash over land or the so-called settlements. So it is no surprise that that the same policymakers in Berlin, Washington and Brussels are simply incapable of recognising the fact that physical and sexual attacks by Muslims on Western women and children are shaped by deep-seated Islamic contempt for “unbelievers.”

This is where the Islamists have the advantage. They understand only too well that the war against Jews and the West is a religious, imperialistic, even apocalyptic, conflict. The West, by contrast, is ignorant of this reality because it is embarrassed by talk of colonialism and has rejected religion as a way of life. The near-total destruction of Jewry in the 1930s and 1940s, combined with the post-1945 deChristianisation of Europe, has left the continent without a religious counter-ideology on which to base a comprehensive response to Islamic supremacism. America, while still more religious than Europe, is also prone to fits of embarrassment when it comes to talking about colonialism and how religious faith shapes people’s lives.

The situation would not be so bad if the West had replaced the Christian religion with a robust and confident humanism that emphasises critical thinking, freedom and progress. Sadly, many people have become inhuman politically-correct automatons who tolerate the intolerable by creating “safe spaces” on their campuses and institutions for a whole host of unsavoury people who wish to kill Jews and undermine hard-won civil freedoms. And anyone who dares to criticise this mindless set-up is branded an Islamophobe, a racist, a Zio-Nazi or Tory scum.

But there is one thing that Western policymakers can do, while it is still possible. And that is to stop sending out mixed messages over the Israeli-Arab conflict issue and wholeheartedly support the Jewish state, which is on the frontline in the war against Islamism. If the West is not prepared to divide its own capital cities, then it shouldn’t pressure Israel into dividing Jerusalem which is of more religious, cultural and historical importance to the Jewish people than Brussels is to the Europeans. Moreover, the English, Danes, French, Germans and Italians have to ask themselves whether they have more in common with a democratic and pluralistic society like Israel or with an anti-democratic, gay-bashing, Islamist quasi-state such as Gaza? Of course, unless Western nations get their act together and stop the creeping Islamisation of their societies, they will become less like Israel and more like Gaza.

Western support for the Palestinian Arabs is possibly one of the worst collective foreign policy decisions ever made. This is true on several levels. Propping up the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA has cost the international community billions of dollars and yielded zero returns. European anti-Semitism is now at levels unseen since the 1940s, which illustrates the very high price Europe has paid for its unethical support of Palestinian nationalism. Moreover, singling out Israel has emboldened Islamists around the world who smell the decay of Western moral failure and attack civilians in schools, cafes, bars, workplaces, supermarkets, nightclubs, trains and buses. As long as Western policymakers continue to be duped by Ramallah into believing that the ‘Palestine issue’ is the key to unlocking the problems of the Middle East, they will continue to be wrong-footed in what is shaping up to be a global conflict between liberal democracy and Islamism.

Ultimi barbarorum: You are the greatest of barbarians

israel-knife-attack-middle-east-jerusalem

By Richard Mather…

In colloquial usage, a barbarian is someone who is brutal, cruel, uncivilised and warlike. The term originates from the Greek barbaros. The Oxford English Dictionary defines five meanings of the noun “barbarian.” The third definition is “a rude, wild, uncivilised person.”

This sounds familiar. It reminds me of Ishmael and his descendants. According to the Torah, Ishmael is said to be a “wild ass of a man.” Targum Onkeos translates “a wild man” as “one who kills people.” Regarding Ishmael, the Torah tells us that he will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.

Again, this strikes a familiar chord. It calls to mind the Arab terrorists who attack Jewish bystanders with knives, who murder rabbis with meat cleavers, who drive cars into pedestrians. It reminds me of the barbarians who incite anti-Semitic violence in mosques and in the media. It reminds me of the lynching, murder and mutilation of Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami, two IDF reservists who accidentally entered Ramallah on October 12, 2000.

Such wild-ass barbarism, especially the horrifying events in Ramallah, recall a terrible event that took place in the Dutch Republic in 1672. On August 20 of that year, an organised mob murdered, mutilated and literally ate – yes, ate – a well-known politician called Jan de Witt (his brother Cornelis also suffered the same fate). When the Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza heard about the murders, he prepared a placard stating ultimi barbarorum (“you are the greatest of barbarians”).

Fellow philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz visited Spinoza four years after the bloody murders. He wrote:

“I have spent several hours with Spinoza, after dinner. He said to me that, on the day of the massacres of the de Witts, he wanted to go out at night and post a placard near the site of the massacres reading ultimi barbarorum. But his host locked the house to keep him from going out, for he would be exposed to being torn to pieces.”

That was in the late seventeenth century. But even in 2016, in our supposedly enlightened age, Jewish men, women and children face the very real possibility of being torn to pieces by bloodthirsty barbarians who believe that such brutality is somehow a virtue. To me, such people are inhuman.

More than three hundred years after the horrible murders in the Dutch Republic, Spinoza’s well-aimed Latin insult seems cannily appropriate. His words apply equally to the likes of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Fatah and Hezbollah, and to anyone who supports or legitimises the murder of Israeli Jews.

Yes, to all these people, I say: ultimi barbarorum. You are the greatest of barbarians.

By Frank H Art

Baruch Spinoza by Frank H Art

Humanitarian relocation of Arabs may be Israel’s only remaining option

 

Consideration should be given even to the heroic remedy of transfer of populations.[…] the hardship of moving is great, but it is less than the constant suffering of minorities and the constant recurrence of war – US president Herbert Hoover, 1943.

By Richard Mather

The relentless murder of Israeli Jews and the irreparable collapse of the peace process means that Israel and the international community must now consider the “heroic remedy” of population transfer. After decades of terrorism, it is clear that the majority of Arabs in Judea-Samaria and east Jerusalem are incapable of living alongside their Jewish neighbours. The failure of the Oslo Accords, the rampant criminality inside the Palestinian Authority, as well as decades of Islamic terrorism and anti-Semitic incitement, clearly demonstrate that Jews cannot afford the liberal luxury of uninhibited co-existence with an Arab population that clings to the fascistic and immoral ideology of Palestinianism.

It is important to remember that Palestinianism is not a genuine liberation movement. It is an anti-Semitic strategy designed to undermine the legitimacy and security of the Jewish state. The invention of Palestinianism – which is symbolised by the invention of the Nakba and the ambition to divide Jerusalem – is a political tool intended to undermine Israel’s existence and security. The absurd notion that the “Palestinians” are the indigenous people of a country called “Palestine” is a fabrication designed to undermine the moral and legal foundations of the world’s only Jewish state. The Arabs have rejected the possibility of peaceful co-existence with Jews and it’s pointless to pretend otherwise.

Since the start of the 21st century, the Palestinian Arabs have had three major opportunities to establish an independent state. Yasser Arafat walked away from the Camp David talks in 2000 despite being promised 92 per cent of the so-called West Bank, 100 per cent of Gaza and east Jerusalem. Talks held in Taba in 2001 also broke down due to Arafat’s irrational insistence that the Palestinians control the Western Wall. A resolution was also put forward by the Israelis in 2008, in which the Arabs would receive Gaza, the majority of the West Bank, parts of east Jerusalem, safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza, and the dismantling of settlements in the Jordan Valley and eastern Samaria. Unfortunately, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas did not give a final response on the matter and negotiations ended.

Instead of agreeing to any of these generous proposals, Arafat and Abbas have provoked – or sponsored – terror attacks against Israeli (and other Western) civilians. They have repeatedly called for the destruction of the Jewish state and have manipulated Western guilt over the Holocaust by casting themselves as the “new Jews” deserving of sympathy and foreign aid. Instead of planning for the future, Arab schoolteachers and television programmes teach children to hate and kill Jews. Meanwhile, Arab terrorists behave like “wild beasts,” roaming the country looking for Jews to stab. The situation is intolerable and cannot be allowed to continue. There is only option left on the table – and that is the transfer of the Arab population out of east Jerusalem and Judea-Samaria.

Back in 2009, Daniel Pipes, a respected Middle East commentator, opposed the idea of “transfer,” that is, forcibly moving Arabs out of Judea and Samaria. Pipes claimed it was “morally wrong” because “a government cannot force people to leave their homes only because they speak the wrong language, have the wrong faith, or pursue the wrong politics.” Yes, it is true that language is not a good reason to expel the Arabs. But he is wrong to suggest that religion and political beliefs are not relevant. On the contrary, the religion of Islam and the anti-Semitic politics of Palestinianism and Arab nationalism are the driving forces behind the murder of innocent Jews. Until Palestinianism is snuffed out in Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus and Jericho, the murder of men, women and children will continue unabated.

Pipes’ second objection is that forced expulsion would “turn Israelis against their state” and that some Israelis would leave Israel. Good. If radical left-wing anti-Zionist Israelis want to leave Israel, let them do so. Does Israel need people like Ezra Nawi, a Jewish far-left activist and a convicted statutory rapist who helps Palestinian authorities find and kill Arabs who sell land to Jews? Does Israel need people like Gideon Levy, a Haaretz journalist who supports the economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel? If such people want to leave Israel, let them leave. Dissent is one thing but supporting an enemy entity that wishes to destroy the Jewish homeland is treason.

Pipes’ third objection is that forced expulsion of the Arabs would infuriate the United States. He has a point, but isn’t America already hostile to the State of Israel? Obama has thrown Israel under the bus on several occasions. Who’s to say that a future Democratic or even a Republican president won’t be hostile to Israel? Israel has already started to pivot itself towards the East by building links with India and China. Besides, if America’s power and influence continue to wane over the coming decades, Israel will have no choice but to build new alliances with emerging powers.

Pipes’ final point is that expulsion would inflame the Arab enemy. To my mind, it seems a bit late to start worrying about rousing the passions of Arab nations who have spent the best part of a century agitating against the Jewish homeland. Whatever Israel does, the Arabs are against it. The Arabs need no excuse to demonise or attack Israel, so Israel may as well take action now in order to secure its future.

The status quo cannot be allowed to continue. The stabbing intifada, the history of Arab rejectionism and Israel’s indefensible borders illustrate that an Arab state in Judea and Samaria is impossible. And Caroline Glick’s dream of a single Israeli state with a large Arab population having Israeli citizenship is now unthinkable. After decades of terrorism, it is inconceivable that the Arabs who reside in Judea and Samaria can live peacefully alongside their Jewish neighbours. Apart from the death toll, billions of dollars have been wasted propping up the Palestinian Authority.

The only option – indeed the most humanitarian option – must be something along the lines of the solution proposed by Professor Martin Sherman. He believes that Israel and the international community should provide generous relocation grants to Arabs who currently live in the Israeli administered territories, with the proviso that this is done on an individual/family basis and not via any official Palestinian organisation such as the PA, which should be dismantled. The grants would help the Palestinian Arab families build a better life for themselves in third-party countries of their choice.

There is some evidence that such a plan could work. A poll commissioned in 2004 by the Jerusalem Summit (and conducted by Maagar Mohot and The Palestinian Center For Public Opinion) showed that over 40 per cent of Palestinian Arabs in the territories had considered emigration, while up to 50 per cent were amenable to the possibility, even without any material inducements. Significantly, the figure grew to more than 70 per cent when material compensation was suggested. These findings were substantiated by a poll conducted by Bir Zeit University, which showed that nearly half the Palestinian youth would emigrate if they had the opportunity.

In the words of Professor Sherman, “Each household breadwinner would be confronted with three possible choices: life under the rigors of Israeli rule; life under the harrowing hardships of some Palestinian regime, with commensurately dimmer prospects of a better life for the family; or a sum of money equivalent to the life earning of an average citizen in countries that could serve as an appropriate alternative place of residence – probably, but dominantly Arab or Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa, or countries with significant Arab/Moslem communities in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.”

Arabs who choose to remain in the so-called West Bank would be categorised as resident aliens or offered Israeli citizenship – but only after being subjected to rigorous security checks. Moreover, they would be asked to swear allegiance to the Jewish state. Refusal to do so, as well as any act of terrorism or insurrection, would result in the offender being deported, along with his or her dependents, and without compensation.

I would also add that Arabs who currently live inside the Green Line, i.e. in Israel ‘proper,’ should be allowed to stay, but acts of terrorism or incitement should result in the deportation of the offender and the offender’s family – perhaps to Gaza. Having said that, a long-term solution to Gaza is also needed. Eradicating Hamas and reconstructing Gaza under the auspices of an international mandate is one option. Or we could apply Professor Sherman’s solution to Gaza and bypass Hamas altogether by offering generous relocation grants to the families of Gaza. Israel could then annex the territory and permanently secure its southwestern border.

Something needs to done – and now is the time to do it. Why wait? Enough Jewish blood has been spilled because of Palestinianism. Creating irreversible facts on the ground would send a message to the Arab world that Israel is a permanent fixture on the world’s landscape. If Netanyahu wants to go down in history as the man who solved the Israeli-Arab conflict, he should listen to Professor Martin Sherman and explore the humanitarian transfer option. It may be the only resolution to a conflict that has endured for nearly a hundred years.

 

 

 

 

The Heterodox Judaism of Baruch Spinoza

Pantheism

There is only one and unique substance in existence, a substance that is infinite, self-caused, and eternal. This substance is the spatio-temporal world. But it is also God, says Baruch Spinoza, the Sephardi Jew from Amsterdam excommunicated by the Talmud Torah congregation.

By Richard Mather…

‎Baruch Spinoza was born in 1632 in Amsterdam to a Sephardi Jewish family who had fled Portugal because of persecution by the Catholic Church. Spinoza had a traditional Jewish upbringing, attending the Keter Torah yeshiva of the Amsterdam Talmud Torah congregation. He studied the Talmud and Maimonides (who continued to exert a lifelong influence on Spinoza). Spinoza’s controversial ideas about God and the nature of soul resulted in his ejection from the Jewish community when Amsterdam’s Talmud Torah congregation issued a cherem (חרם), a kind of ban or excommunication. At the young age of 23, Spinoza was excluded from – and shunned by – the local Jewish community.

The cherem did not stop Spinoza. He went on to write his Short Treatise on God, Man, and His Well-Being, which contained many of the ideas that appeared in his philosophical masterpiece Ethica, ordine geometrico demonstrata, commonly known as Ethics. He wrote to scientists, philosophers, and theologians throughout Europe. He wrote and published his Theological Political Treatise (a pre-emptive defence of his forthcoming Ethics) and earned money by grinding lenses and making cutting-edge optical equipment, notably the microscope and the telescope. Whilst in The Hague, he continued work on Ethics, but also wrote two scientific essays, as well as a Dutch translation of the Bible and a compendium of Hebrew grammar.

What is Spinoza’s philosophy and what are its theological implications? Spinoza argues that there is only one and unique substance in existence, a substance that is infinite, self-caused, and eternal. This substance is the spatio-temporal world. But it is also God, the self-caused Being. As Spinoza says, “God is one, that is, only one substance can be granted in the universe.” Spinoza famously said that God is Nature. But when Spinoza says Nature, he means Being and Becoming, the essence of everything that is and will be. Every physical thing in the universe, including you and I, are simply “modes” or modifications of the single substance that is God and conceived under the “attribute” of extension (more on this later). Manchester’s leading Reform rabbi, Reuven Silverman, describes it like this: “[Spinoza’s] God is not merely the sum-total of all that exists […] but is also the process by which everything exists.”

Spinoza rejected the notion of a personal God. God is neither male nor female. God is “the indwelling and not the transient cause of all things.” In other words, God is not a transcendent Creator but is immanent within the world. Nor did God exist prior to Creation. Everything that is, is in God. Spinoza’s view is called neutral monism, which means that only one substance exists, and it is neither mental nor physical. Spinoza’s claim that divinity is not beyond this world but is expressed in the world can perhaps be described as “theomonism” – the idea that the oneness of Being is manifest in the created universe, that the world itself a revelation, and that revelation is happening at every moment.

One of Spinoza’s most radical ideas is his notion that God “does not love anyone.” Neither does God hate anyone. God is indifferent to individuals. In a statement that must have scandalised his Jewish and Christian contemporaries, Spinoza said that anyone “who loves God cannot endeavour that God should love him in return.” Spinoza believed that God is without passions, intentions and purposes. God is unaffected by any emotion of pleasure or pain. To Spinoza, a passionless God is a perfect God. When Devarim (Deuteronomy) calls on us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart,” Spinoza had in mind a kind of love that is without emotion or passion. He calls it the “intellectual love of God.”

Spinoza wanted to demystify religion and divest God of any moral agency. God, says Spinoza, does not intervene in the course of history. God doesn’t judge individuals. There is no heaven or hell. There is no supernatural realm, no miracles or angels, and no external authority that determines morality. “God gives no laws to mankind,” says Spinoza. Spinoza describes circumcision as merely a way of differentiating the Jews from other nations. The law of Moses was not divine but was the earthly legislature of the Israelites and Judeans. Any notion of chosen-ness was bound in with Jewish legislation and ethical precepts. Moreover, the commandments were limited to a particular time and place – the Land of Israel prior to the Roman destruction in 70 CE / 135 CE.

Spinoza did foresee a time when the Jews would return to the Land of Israel, but it is unlikely that he thought the Torah should play a part in the national legislature. In a sense, he foreshadows the secular Zionist pioneers who spurned the passivity of the rabbis who were waiting for the Messiah. “Were it not for the fact that the central principles of their religion have so emasculated them,” says Spinoza, “I would not hesitate to believe that they [the Jews] might one day […] re-establish their independent state, and that God will again choose them.” There is a touch of irony in the last part of his statement. According to Spinoza, God is indifferent to man – including the Jews. The rebirth of Israel would not be the product of divine intervention but the work of human hands.

Spinoza also rejected teleological explanations. There are no final causes, not even for God. In other words, there is no end to history, no messianic era, no kingdom of heaven on earth. Hardly surprising for a man who dismissed supernaturalism, angels and miracles. There is only one kingdom in Spinoza’s world – the kingdom of God or Nature. Cats, trees, humans, stars, and so on, all belong to this kingdom – and they belong equally. Humans are not special; nor are they set apart from Nature as Charles Darwin would later testify.

In Spinoza’s theology there is no good or evil in the absolute sense . Good and evil are relative notions that vary according to the particular prejudices of humanity. He did believe, however, that bodily and worldly pleasure are authentic expressions of human desire. In words that are reminiscent of Sefer Mishlei (Book of Proverbs), Spinoza said we should not shun pleasure, but neither should we act gratuitously: “It is part of a wise man,” says Spinoza, “to refresh and restore himself in moderation with pleasant food and drink, with scents, with the beauty of green plants, with decoration, music, sports, the theatre.”

Spinoza also dismissed the concept of free will. Every action is part of a chain reaction of cause and effect. “All things in nature proceed from certain necessity,” he states. We are not in a position to understand the chain of causality because we are not omniscient. And we are ignorant of the causes of our desires. We might appear to be free, but we’re not. God alone is free – but only in the sense that God acts from the necessity of God’s own nature. We can, however, strive to master our emotions and passions, which are often confused because they are reactions to events over which we have no control. An emotion can only be overcome by a stronger emotion. One of those stronger emotions is Reason.

Spinoza places a great deal emphasis on Reason. Spinoza recommends that we endeavour to understand the world around us and gain a greater degree of conatus, which is the term Spinoza uses to express the power that is found when an individual “strives to persevere in its own being.” When we recognise that everything we do is determined by things outside of our control, we can claim to be active participants in the world, rather than passive victims.

Once we comes to terms with the necessity of everything that happens, there is no point feeling despair. Despair comes when we foolishly wish for things to be otherwise. Given our inability to change things, we may as well accept the necessity of all things. Only then will we experience what Spinoza calls “blessedness.” The more we are conscious of ourselves and the universe, the more perfect and happy we are. This happiness is not a spontaneous outburst of joy, but a kind of beatitude or serenity. In Hebrew, we might call it (osher) אושר, but without the connotation of wealth (עשור). The psalmist would describe it thus: “Blessed (אַשְׁרֵי) are those that dwell in your house, they are ever praising you.” Of course, Spinoza’s idea of praise was purely intellectual.

God is to be approached sub specie aeternitatis (“under the aspect of eternity”). According to Spinoza, the senses grasp the world as it appears from a given viewpoint at a given moment. But by showing how a thing follows from one or another, we see the world under the aspect of eternity. It is the nature of Reason to regard things under the aspect of eternity, says Spinoza. It is what Spinoza calls the third kind of knowledge or “intuition,” which takes what is known by Reason and grasps it in a single act of the mind.

To quote Spinoza expert Genevieve Lloyd, “We know that we are in God, and are conceived through God. […] I can understand that dying is of no consequence to me, since, in understanding myself in relation to substance which is eternal, the greater part of my mind is given over to what is eternal, rather than to what is individual and perishable in me, my imagination and memories.” This is the nearest we will ever get to immortality in the Spinozian system.

Whether or not you agree with Spinoza’s ideas, it is hard to avoid him. He is the subject of a great many books and articles, many of which are written by rabbis. Can Spinoza the Jew be rehabilitated in the twenty-first century? Well, the rehabilitation is already more than a century old. In 1891, Reform Rabbi Joseph Krauskopf said that in the whole history of Israel there has never been a “truer, purer, nobler Jew.” The great Jewish scholar Martin Buber held Spinoza in high regard. Buber once wrote that Spinoza is “the greatest philosophical genius Judaism has given to the world.” David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of the State of Israel, wanted the rabbinical authorities to rescind Spinoza’s excommunication. Reuven Silverman, the rabbi of the Jackson Row Reform Synagogue in Manchester, has written sympathetically about Spinoza. In December 2015, Jerusalem’s Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo (although hostile to Spinoza’s ideas) called for a lifting of the cherem. But Amsterdam’s Chief Rabbi Pinchas Toledano has so far resisted, saying that “the moment we rescind the cherem […] it would imply that we share his heretic views.”

No doubt the war of words between Jews want to reclaim Spinoza as Judaism’s greatest genius and those who reject him as a heretic will continue for a long time to come. But it is worth pointing out that some of Spinoza’s views do overlap with orthodox Jewish ideas. The accusation that Spinoza is a pantheist overlooks the fact Spinoza believed that Nature is only God when seen under the “attributes” of thought (mind) and extension (physical bodies). Spinoza argued that mind and matter are not two opposite substances but are two different ways of conceiving one and the same substance. But the attributes of mind and matter do not exhaust God’s attributes. God has infinitely more attributes. It’s just that we’re not aware of them.

It is self-evident that Spinoza was no atheist. He believed in the oneness and uniqueness of God, and although he dismissed the notion of God as transcendent, he did believe in the immanence of God. Spinoza’s view on the mortality of the soul (that the soul is synonymous with life) echoes the Hebraic biblical word nephesh, which literally means “living being,” although it is commonly rendered as “soul” in English translations. The concept of an immortal and immaterial soul that is distinct from the body was not found in Judaism until after the Babylonian Exile.

The ongoing controversy surrounding Spinoza and his ideas on God, soul and scripture ensures that his writings will be dissected and discussed by Jews on either side of the debate. Even Jews hostile to his ideas should at least be proud of the fact that Spinoza, the Sephardi Jew from Amsterdam, is routinely described as the one of the greatest philosophers to have ever lived. It’s not for nothing that twentieth century French cultural theoretician Gilles Deleuze crowned Spinoza “the prince of philosophers.” In 2003 at a special session of the Council for Progressive Jewish Congregations, Micah Moskowitz from the National Spinoza Association, said: “Spinoza’s commitment to unity is more rigorous than that of most theologians. His God occupies all the world. All its space, its matter, its thoughts, its time. There’s no physical separation between this God and the world.”

In other words, Baruch Spinoza wasn’t only a philosophical Jew, he was a Jewish philosopher.

spinoza portrait

Islamophobia and Orwellian reversal

Muslim_star_s878x782

By Richard Mather…

When Muslim activists appropriate the Judenstern, which is the yellow star or badge made infamous by the Nazis, one has to wonder whether there is any end to the moral decrepitude of such people. The most recent example is an American Muslim by the name of Rose Hamid, an anti-Israel activist, who attended a Donald Trump rally wearing a yellow star; but instead of “Jude,” the star featured the word “Muslim.” And last year, Bahar Davary, an Iranian American academic, distributed around one hundred yellow Stars of David marked with the word “Muslim” to her students. Apparently, it didn’t occur to any of these people that wearing a yellow Jews’ star is a gross insult to the victims of the Holocaust. Nor did they see the irony that it is Muslim fanatics who are today’s great discriminators.

It is a total absurdity for Muslims in America or any other Western nation to portray themselves as victims of discrimination. Real victims are not pampered Muslim students bewailing the lack of “safe space” on campuses. No, the real victims of discrimination are Yazidis sold into sex slavery; or Jews, Christians and Parisian nightclub-goers slaughtered by Islamist fanatics who kill in the name of Allah. And it is not just American Muslims who aspire to victimhood. Muslims in Britain, Europe, Israel, Australia, and just about everywhere else, claim they are the victims of anti-terror laws, media slurs and political discrimination. Islamist fanatics are even more upset. Western democratic ideals are apparently inimical to their idea of true justice, which is the brutality of Sharia law.

The statistics do not support the oft-repeated claims that Muslims in the West are being persecuted. In fact, statistics show that Jews in countries like Britain, France and the US are much more likely to be victims of racial or religiously-motivated hatred than Muslims. Indeed, Muslims are only infrequently on the receiving end of attacks. Even when the newspapers are full of stories about terrorist atrocities in France and sex attacks in Cologne, people are remarkably tolerant of their Muslim neighbors and co-workers. Far from being persecuted, Muslims are treated very kindly indeed. It’s a bit rich for Muslims to claim they are victims when they are treated so well by their host societies and when their co-religionists are facilitating anti-Semitism, terrorism, sexual molestation and wanton destruction.

True, there is some hostility towards Muslims in the West. But as the figures show, the numbers are very low. And as Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, points out, “Any existing hostility toward Muslims is based on rational truths – that most terrorist attacks are committed by Muslims in the name of Islam; twenty-six per cent of young US Muslims support suicide bombings; large percentages support Isis, al-Qaida and Hamas; large percentages support Islamic law to be the law of the land; and large percentages are hostile to Jews, Christians, and gays.”

In other words, Islamophobia is mostly justified because it is a social anxiety triggered by the fear of being blown up, molested, attacked or subjugated by Sharia. Islamophobia is not the same as racism, which is an abhorrent prejudice directed at someone just because they come from a particular race, country or have a particular skin color. To criticize Islamic beliefs and practices that pose a threat to civil society is not racism or bigotry. It is a rational response to a real and present danger.

II

When Muslims don the yellow star, they overlook the fact that Jews never chose to wear the Judenstern. The yellow badge and similar symbols were forced upon them – and not just by the Nazis. Throughout history, Christians and Muslims have marked out Jews for discrimination by making them wear a star, a patch, a particular type of clothing, or even a special cone-shaped hat.

The practice of wearing special markings in order to mark out Jews and other dhimmis was introduced by Umayyad Caliph Umar II in the early eighth century. A document from 1121 describes the situation in Baghdad: “Two badges [are to be displayed], one on the headgear and one on the neck. Furthermore, each non-Muslim must hang round his neck a piece of lead with the word dhimmi on it.”

In Christian Europe, a similar situation arose. In the year 1227, the Synod of Narbonne commanded Jews to wear an “oval badge” in “the centre of the breast.” And in 1274, Edward I of England required Jews, from the age of seven years old, to “wear a distinguishing mark on his outer garment.”

It was in the late 1930s and early 1940s that the Judenstern acquired its most sinister reputation. In late 1939, after the start of the Second World War, individual authorities enforced the wearing of the Judenstern in Nazi-occupied Poland. Over the next five years, the yellow star system was extended to Germany and most of Nazi-occupied Europe.

As Jacob D’Ancona has pointed out, throughout history the wearing of a badge or outward sign “was to shame and to make vulnerable as well as to distinguish the wearer.” By contrast, the Muslim star is the mark of the cry bully. A cry bully is an aggressor who pretends to be a victim in order to win sympathy, or more dangerously, to shut down criticism. In effect, Muslim activists and extremists are drawing a ludicrous and offensive parallel between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

Finally, the Muslim yellow star/Islamophobia phenomenon reveals something else. Unable to take pride in their own historical identity due to a cultural and political inertia that has lasted for hundreds of years, many Muslims have opted for a politically-motivated inversion of values by stealing someone else’s tragedy – the tragedy of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. So when a Muslim wears a yellow star, not only are they bewailing their victimhood and accusing everyone of Islamophobia, they are making the claim that they are the “new Jews,” and that you and I are the “new Nazis.”

This is Orwellian reversal at its worst. By appropriating the yellow star and drawing an analogy between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, such people are making a mockery of Jewish suffering and cheapening the Holocaust. Moreover, by accusing their critics of Islamophobia or fascism, they are creating a culture of fear and denial in which decent people are afraid to speak out against terrorists and extremists because of the potential backlash. All of which has very serious implications for free speech. Speak out against Islam and/or Islamist extremism and chances are someone will label you as a Nazi or a fascist. In fact, your very existence may be put into question because jihadis have a habit of murdering their critics. Ask the people who work at Charlie Hebdo or the relatives of film-maker Theodoor van Gogh, who was murdered by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim after criticizing the treating of women in Islam.

Does being murdered or mutilated by thugs armed with machetes or Kalashnikov rifles sound like the actions of a persecuted minority? No, of course it doesn’t. If anything, it is reminiscent of the totalitarian horrors of the Soviet Union and – dare I say it – Nazism. The situation is intolerable. And it is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue because once again the future and fate of Western civilization hangs in the balance. We cannot allow ourselves to silenced or subjugated by people who are intent on destroying our hard-won values of free speech, liberty and democracy.

Palestinian refugees from1948 may have numbered less than 300,000

UNRWA wide

By Richard Mather

Most serious students of the history of Palestine would accept that the number of Arab refugees from Israel during and after 1948 claimed by Arab and UN sources—some 600,000 to 750,000—was exaggerated. It is very easy to refute that estimate and many have already done it. – Yehoshua Porath

It is a common misconception that around 650,000 Palestinian refugees were created because of fighting that took place in 1948. But a closer look at both the population data and statements made by UN officials at the time suggest that the true figure is much lower, possibly as low as 270,000.

The conventional figure of 650,000 cannot be true for more than one reason. Firstly, there were fewer than 660,000 Arabs living in the part of Palestine that eventually became Israel; and secondly, UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency), either through incompetence or deliberate manipulation, handed out multiple identity cards to the same persons, some of whom were not refugees at all but permanent residents who took advantage of the aid offered by UNRWA. This is attested by UNRWA officials.

Before taking a look at UNRWA’s role in the invention of the Palestinian refugee problem, it is worthwhile examining the population data of Eretz Israel/Palestine prior to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

The Statistical Abstract of Palestine in 1944-45 set the figure for the total Arab population living in what would become the Jewish-settled territories at 570,800. Another set of figures based on a census taken in 1944 suggests there were 696,000 Arabs living in what would become Israeli-controlled territory. Tsvi Misinai, an Israeli researcher and historian, believes the figure to even lower. He believes that prior to the 1948 war, there were 390,000 Arabs living in areas that would fall into Israeli hands. (None of these figures include the number of Arab Palestinians residing in east Jerusalem, Gaza and Judea-Samaria. Figures vary, but the number of Arabs in those areas was probably 600,000, which brings the total number of Arabs residing between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea to 1.2 million).

According to Misinai, there were in excess of 120,000 Arabs inside Israel’s borders by the end of the war, although most commentators believe the figure to be 160,000 or 170,000. (The discrepancy becomes less glaring when Israel’s repatriation of 20,000 Palestinian Arab refugees from Jordan is taken into account). This means that the number of Palestinian Arabs displaced from areas that came under Israeli control cannot be higher than 270,000.

Of the 270,000, most had ended up in neighbouring Arab countries, with the rest having fled to Judea-Samaria and Gaza. Around 4,000 had voluntarily moved from west Jerusalem into houses abandoned in east Jerusalem. During the course of the war, 77,000 Arabs (mostly Bedouin) returned to their homes in what would become Israeli territory. As the war went on, another 81,000 Palestinians fled, 24,000 of which had already fled and returned, only to flee again. By the war’s end, there were 270,000 Palestinian Arabs who had lost their homes and/or their land.

At first glance, this seems a rather low figure. A report submitted by the UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte suggested that the number of Palestinian refugees totalled 330,000. Other contemporary reports put the number at around 424,000. Either way, it is statistically impossible for there to have been more than 430,000 genuine Palestinian Arab refugees from the 1948 war. This is the view of Dr Walter Pinner, who bases his figures on reliable census data carried out in the mid-1940s.

So we have a situation where no less than 270,000 and no more than 430,000 Palestinian refugees were created by the 1948 war. Misinai’s suggestion of 270,000 can be attributed to his rather low starting figure of 390,000 Arabs who resided in pre-state Israel. Perhaps if one takes into account the Arab migrants and citrus farm workers who had gone back to their country of origin, there may be a case for a final figure of 270,000. Plus, a reliable study undertaken in the mid-1960s suggests the figure of 270,000 may be close to the mark (more on this later).

Many books and websites quote a figure of 650,000 when discussing the number of Palestinian refugees created by the 1948 conflict. How did the figure of 650,000 arise?

One explanation is the attested fact that in the aftermath of the conflict, refugees were counted more than once. In order to receive extra funding, many refugees identified themselves twice before UNRWA officials. As a result, they received more than one identity card. One of the camp workers in Lebanon stated, “We try to count them, but they are coming and going all the time; or we count them in Western clothes, then they return in aba and keffiyeh and we count the same ones again.”

This was not the only fraud committed by the refugees. Another was the concealment of natural deaths so that families could continue to collect the deceased person’s food. Births, however, were always registered. In 1951, UNRWA reported that “it is still not possible to give an absolute figure of the true number of refugees as understood by the working definition of the word.” A reason given by UNRWA for the erratic data was that the refugees “eagerly report births and … reluctantly report deaths.” According to the July 23 1955 edition of the Cairo-based Mideast Mirror, “There are refugees who hold as many as 500 ration cards, 499 of them belonging to refugees long dead…. There are dealers in UNRWA food and clothing and ration cards to the highest bidder.”

Fraudulent claims were made regarding the number of dependents. It was alleged that refugees would “hire” children from other families at census time. In 1950, UNRWA director Howard Kennedy said that “fictitious names on the ration lists pertain to refugees in this area […] it is alleged that it is a common practice for refugees to hire children from other families at census time.”

The situation in Jordan was especially difficult because western Jordan was already populated by Arab Palestinians, so distinguishing a refugee from a non-refugee was particularly arduous. An UNRWA official noted that the Jordan ration lists alone “are believed to include 150,000 ineligibles and many persons who have died.” A similar situation arose in Lebanon. In a 1950 report to the UN General Assembly, the director of UNRWA noted that “many Lebanese nationals along the Palestinian frontier habitually worked most of the year on the farms or in the citrus groves of Palestine. With the advent of war they came back across the border and claimed status as refugees.” UNRWA conceded that up to 129,000 Lebanese workers may have falsely claimed Palestinian refugee status.

In fact, this developed into a widespread trend. Because the UNRWA refugee camps were better than standard housing, some non-refugee residents of Judea-Samaria and Gaza declared themselves refugees in order to gain access to food, as well as medical and educational benefits. Many permanent residents of Judea-Samaria and Gaza came to carry both an UNRWA refugee card that had the address of a refugee camp and a regular ID card with their actual identity and address.

Another problem was the unrecorded movement of peoples, especially the Bedouin tribes who moved between Gaza, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, thereby increasing multiple registrations. Even the UN acknowledged that 15,000 Bedouins were actually non-existent, that they were fictitious persons or people already registered. In the words of UNRWA, the movement of people introduced “a double source of error into any estimates of the number of persons who could have become refugees.”

By 1950, the UN disclosed that it was “not possible to give an absolute figure of the true number of refugees as understood by the working definition.” According to a report, the percentage of error in the UN statistics was “possibly as much as 50 per cent and represents a serious operational difficulty.”

Nonetheless, the UN kept revising its figures upwards because it pursued a maximalist position on who was a refugee, which ranged from a “needy person” who “has lost his home and means of livelihood” to “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948.” Even refugees who still had a house but had lost some or all of their land were considered refugees. In addition, Arabs who had settled in Palestine illegally prior to 1948 were also given refugee status. No wonder the figures were artificially high.

In 1966, Dr. Walter Pinner identified a huge number of fraudulent refugee claims. Basing his findings on  UNRWA’s own reports, he discovered that 484,000 refugees were Arabs from western Jordan and Gaza Strip; another 117,000 were unrecorded deaths; 109,000 were people who had been resettled in 1948 and were no longer refugees; and a further 225,000 had subsequently settled elsewhere and become self-supporting. After subtracting the inauthentic claims, he concluded that there were 115,000 “old and sick” refugees, and 252,000 “other unsettled genuine refugees,” totalling 367,000 legitimate refugees as of 1966.

Once the natural rate of increase between 1948 and 1966 has been subtracted, the number of genuine Palestinian refugees from 1948 cannot be much higher than 300,000. In which case, Tsvi Misinai’s figure of 270,000 may not be far off the mark.

Significantly, UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold did not refute Dr Pinner’s findings, nor did he issue any corrections to Dr Pinner’s figures. He did, however, acknowledge receipt of Dr Pinner’s work, so it cannot be claimed that the UN wasn’t aware of his analysis. It is probable that the UN, at least in private, agreed with Dr Pinner’s findings but did not want to admit that UNRWA had been defrauded of millions of dollars.

All told, the conventional figure of 600,500 Palestinian refugees from the 1948 conflict comes from the double counting of refugees, the non-recording of deaths, the vague and expansive use of the term ‘refugee,’ the counting of people who were not refugees, the counting of former refugees who had resettled elsewhere, and the untracked movement of peoples between Jordan, Gaza, Lebanon and Judea-Samaria.

The implication is that many of today’s Palestinian refugees actually derive from people who did not reside in Palestine at the time of the war or had lived there for only two years, which means more than half – possibly even two-thirds – of those who claim to be Palestinian refugees in 2016 are not descended from Palestinian refugees at all. (What is also galling is that the living conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps are much better than the conditions of their non-refugee Arab neighbours who do not receive international aid. Indeed, many of the Palestinian refugee camps are not camps at all, but are fully-functioning neighbourhoods.)

The Arab states themselves have been major players in the refugee fraud. Greed was one motivating factor because UNRWA money was, in effect, free money. In 1961 UNRWA director John H. David admitted that Arab countries overstated their refugee figures in the 1950s to get more funds. But the refugee crisis was useful for another reason: It was a way of exerting international pressure on the State of Israel to repatriate the so-called refugees, thereby demographically destroying the Jewish state. This explains why the Arabs didn’t permanently rehouse the refugees in Judea-Samaria and Gaza, which were under Jordanian and Egyptian control respectively between 1948 and 1967.

The sordid history of the Palestinian refugee situation means the Israeli government must be extremely wary about compensating or repatriating Palestinians who claim to be refugees. Many of them are frauds or the descendants of frauds. If the Israeli government does decide to compensate or repatriate some of the refugees as part of a peace deal, then a detailed investigation needs to be conducted to ensure that only genuine claimants are assisted. In return, a wider compensation package is needed in which the descendants of Jews who lost their homes, savings and livelihoods in Nazi Europe (not just Germany) are compensated, and the Jews forced from Arab lands in the 1940s and 1950s are likewise recompensed. In addition, there needs to be some recognition that many Jews were killed and displaced in the 1948 war – a war instigated by an alliance of several Arabs nations to destroy the Jewish homeland.

 

 

 

Israelophobia is the product of twenty centuries of Jew-hatred

Contemporary anti-Zionism is the inevitable outgrowth of two thousand years of very deep-seated Judeophobia. The injustices suffered by the State of Israel is a continuation of the theology of contempt, which spans nearly two millennia. Twenty-first century anti-Zionism may not always driven by Christian Jew-hatred, yet centuries of Christian vilification, plus the importation of Islamic anti-Semitism, have provided the foundation for attacks on Israel.

By Richard Mather

I have just finished re-reading Dan Cohn-Sherbok’s The Crucified Jew, which documents in horrific detail twenty centuries of Christian anti-Semitism from the era of the Gospels to the Holocaust. Although he doesn’t progress much beyond the Shoah, it takes no leap of the imagination to conclude that contemporary Israelophobia is the inevitable outgrowth of two thousand years of very deep-seated Judeophobia.

Israelophobes might say there’s a difference between pre-Holocaust anti-Semitism and post-Holocaust anti-Zionism, but there isn’t. Anti-Zionism is a continuation of Jew-hatred by other means. The assertion that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are qualitatively different is a ruse designed to legitimise Jew-hatred and delegitimise the State of Israel. In truth, European anti-Zionism preceded the creation of Israel by several decades. In 1911-1912, British journalists began a campaign accusing “Zionists” of fomenting the Turkish Revolution. Back then, anti-Zionism wasn’t about Israel but a paranoid reaction to a rumours of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. It had nothing to with settlements or the Palestinians. After World War One, anti-Semitic French Catholics were lamenting the possibility of the Holy Land falling “under the domination of the Jews.” Again, no mention of the Palestinians.

In other words, anti-Zionism existed long before the Palestinian problem, which didn’t become an issue until after the 1967 Six-Day War. Anti-Zionism and Israelophobia are variants on an ancient theme. It is the prolongation of a prejudice that inspired the blood libel, the Inquisition, the pogroms, the Dreyfus Affair and the Holocaust. Given Europe’s history, it would be more surprising if Israelophobia wasn’t a regular occurrence in the twenty-first century.

Throughout the ages, Jew-hatred has taken on different forms at different times. At times Jew-hatred has been religious in nature; other times it has been motivated by race or economics. All of these variants have one thing in common: demonisation, which in colloquial usage refers to propaganda or moral panic directed against any individual or group; more literally it is the imputing of diabolical influences. As A. Jay Adler has stated, the demonised are “made malevolent beyond the pale: outsider, foreigner, witch, blasphemer, even literally an alien – somehow dehumanised.”

Most sane people in the West no longer believe Jews are guilty of deicide (killing God). Nor do they believe that Jews perform ritual murders of Christian children to make unleavened bread, or that they spread plague or poison wells, although these beliefs are still common in the Muslim world. Nobody believes that Jewish men menstruate. But once upon a time Europeans subscribed to some, or all, of these absurd beliefs. In fact, the blood libel was still widely believed in Poland after the Second World War and was the cause of a massacre of Jews in 1946.

Now, instead of deicide, Jews are charged with the genocide of a fictional country called Palestine. Instead of ritual murder, Jews are charged with killing Palestinian babies and harvesting organs. Instead of the plague, Jews are accused of spreading AIDS among Arabs in Judea and Samaria. I don’t think there is a modern equivalent of male menstruation, although cartoon images of Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon gorging themselves on blood comes close. In the twenty-first century, Europeans subscribe to some, or all, of these absurd beliefs. The long tradition in the West of Adversus Judaeos (“Against the Jews/Judeans”) continues in the guise of anti-Zionism.

It’s true that Europeans no longer expel Jews or put them in ghettos or issue decrees forbidding Jews to do X or Y. But it is the case that Europeans boycott Israeli products, scapegoat hundreds of thousands of so-called settlers in Judea-Samaria, and call for Israel to be expelled from the family of nations. Likewise, Europeans have largely rejected Christian anti-Semitism, only to embrace Islamic anti-Semitism, which is just as virulent and nasty. Thanks to the internet, we have a cross-pollination of European and Muslim Jew-hatred, with anti-Semitic memes, ideas, images and conspiracy theories criss-crossing the globe at breakneck speed. As a consequence, there is little difference in the nature of Jew-hatred in Syria and Sweden, Iraq and Ireland, Jordan and Germany. Call it Euro-Islamic anti-Semitism.

Anti-Zionism is the superstition par excellence of the post-Holocaust era; the latest neurosis to afflict the planet. Perhaps in the year 2150, historians will look back on these times and wonder how it was possible that people actually believed the State of Israel was a bloodthirsty, genocidal, colonial power, when all the facts and evidence clearly show the opposite to be true. After all, historians look back on medieval anti-Semitism and ascribe Judeophobia to superstition, religious intolerance and economic jealousy. Historians never say that medieval Jews or the victims of the Shoah were to blame for the persecution they suffered, so maybe one day the State of Israel will also be exonerated.

The trouble is that like the anti-Semites of old, the contemporary anti-Zionist is immune to facts and statistics. As George Orwell said, “If you dislike somebody, you dislike him and there is an end of it: your feelings are not made any better by a recital of his virtues.”

Orwell makes an interesting point. Anti-Semitism has always been an emotional or neurotic condition in which the individual or group in question loses contact with reality and is impervious to logic. The emotional attachment to hating Israel must be maintained by the anti-Zionist at all costs, otherwise their worldview is at serious risk of collapse. People who comfort themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life usually end up acting out their problems in the guise of irrational fixations.

Of course, anti-Zionists never tire of telling us that some Jews are also opposed to Zionism. Ergo (they argue) this is proof that anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism. But this overlooks the long history of Jewish apostasy. It used to be the case that some Jews would convert to Christianity and write long diatribes against the rabbis or petition the Pope to ban the Talmud. But this does not prove that Christian Jew-haters were right just because a handful of Jewish renegades fanatically denounced their former religion. All it means is that Jews are just as capable as anyone else of betrayal and opportunism. The modern-day phenomenon of the self-hating Israeli/anti-Zionist Jew is part of a long tradition of cosying up to the gentile majority and it does not exonerate anti-Zionist gentiles from the charge of anti-Semitism.

Jewish apostates aside, the non-Jewish world can’t be trusted to slay its own anti-Semitic demon (despite the horrors of the pogroms and the Holocaust). Islamic anti-Semitism and the West’s capitulation to Muslim Jew-hatred is proof enough. Who can we trust? Our friends today may be our enemies tomorrow. Shifting political allegiances may shift again. That is why the State of Israel’s military strength is essential because it is the one thing that stands in the way of the anti-Zionists whose ultimate intention is the utter destruction of the Jewish state and the genocide or expulsion of millions of Israeli Jews. Thanks to the men and women of the IDF, the security and intelligence services, as well defensive systems such as the Iron Dome and the Samson Option, the world is no longer in an easy position where it can eradicate Judaism or the Jewish people – not without paying a very high price, anyway.

So even though Europe in particular, and the world in general, have reverted to anti-Semitic type, the bulk of the Jewish people have taken it upon themselves to ensure that “Never Again” really does mean “Never Again.” For the first time in history the Jews are not helpless. We may be alone. But we’re not helpless. That is something that the nations will have to accept. The Jews, and the Jewish state of Israel, are enduring features on the world’s landscape. There is no going back.

For many people, salvation is not of the Jews but of the Palestinians

People around the world are calling for Jews to be exiled from Eretz Israel. This new anti-Semitic dogma is being driven by a new quasi-religion called Palestinianism, which has positioned itself as the most contemporary interfaith ideology. For Christians, Muslims, atheists and even Jews, Palestinianism offers a new kind of replacement theology in which Palestine is the True Israel and Israelis are cast out of the family of nations because of their stubborn loyalty to the land.

By Richard Mather

Replacement theology or supersessionism is the teaching that the Christian Church has replaced Israel regarding the plan, purpose and promises of God. It has been a core tenet of Christianity for much of its existence and holds that the Church replaced the Israelites as the Chosen People and that the New Covenant replaced the Mosaic Covenant.

From very early on, the Church Fathers taught that the Mosaic Covenant had been fulfilled and replaced by Christ. Tertullian, for example, taught that the “old law” and “carnal circumcision” had been “obliterated” by the “new law.” One of the implications of this theological standpoint was that the Jews were seen as an accursed people stubbornly clinging to an outmoded set of rituals that served no divine purpose.

Just by continuing to exist, the Jews were recalcitrant sinners. Worse, their refusal to embrace Christ was an obstacle to God’s salvational plan for the world.

After the Shoah, some Christian theologians started to de-emphasise supersessionism. But replacement theology has never gone away. Far from it. In fact, it has re-emerged in a new disguise, in a new quasi-religion that is sweeping the world. That religion is Palestinianism. I don’t just mean Christian Palestinianism which seeks to “de-Zionise” the Tanakh and “Palestinianise” Jesus. Nor do I merely mean the Islamic tendency to use the Palestinian issue as a recruiting sergeant in the mosques.

No, Palestinianism in its fullest sense is a wide-ranging quasi-religious ideology that appeals to all faiths and none. It appeals to Christians, Muslims, and even some Jews. It appeals to hardcore communist atheists and religious fanatics alike. It is the belief system of anti-Semitic movements like BDS and the International Solidarity Movement. It is a unifying belief system that blames all the world’s problems on the Jews and promises salvation by promising to eradicate Zionism and establish a State of Palestine between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

If Christianity owes a debt of gratitude to Paul the Apostle, then Palestinianism can be traced back to one man – Yasser Arafat, who is Palestinianism’s apostle to the nations. Like Paul, Arafat toured the world, converting people to his cause, acquiring recognition and financial backing until his movement was a global phenomenon. As with Christianity, Palestinianism has now become an almost-universal faith that appeals to gentiles and even some Jews. In fact, Jews are often the most fanatical converts. It is because of Arafat (with the help of the Soviet Union) that contemporary Zionism is portrayed in much the same way that the Mosaic Covenant was/is depicted by some Christians – as corrupt, outdated, superstitious, carnal, evil.

Following Emperor Constantine’s declaration of Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire, theologians began to teach that Jews were solely responsible for the crime of murdering God, of deicide. John Chrysostrom (354-407), archbishop of Constantinople, stated that Jews were murderers and destroyers, a people “possessed by the devil.”

If hostility to the Torah motivated early anti-Semitism, it was the Talmud that soon became an object of anti-Jewish hate. Full-scale attacks on the Talmud began in France during the thirteenth century. The Talmud was said to make Jews stubborn and superstitious. If only the Jews would relinquish their superstitious rituals, argued their opponents, then they’d convert to Christianity and conform to societal norms.

In the midst of all this anti-Talmud hysteria, Christian anti-Semites were accusing Jews of using the blood of Christian children for ritual purposes. It began in England in 1144 when the Jews of Norwich were accused of ritual murder after a boy was found dead with stab wounds. Thomas of Monmouth erroneously claimed that there was a Jewish prophecy that stated the killing of a Christian child each year will ensure that the Jews will be restored to the Holy Land. This must be one of the earliest instances of a Jew-hater using the blood libel to smear the Jews for their dream of national restoration. In fact, the blood libel, or variations thereof, continue to this day.

After Israel committed the cardinal sin of winning the 1967 Six Day War, Jews have been routinely described in the language of medieval Christian theologians: Jews as satanic murderers, baby-killers, well-poisoners, harvesters of organs and stealers of land. The charge of deicide has been resurrected in modified form and is now presented as the charge of genocide against Palestinians. Of course, such claims made against the Jewish people are scandalous nonsense, propaganda designed to demonise and then to kill. But in the minds of Palestinianists, any justification to kill Jews or force them into permanent exile will suffice.

So: First the Torah and the polemical arguments against the Mosaic covenant; then the Talmud and the blood libel as justifications for persecuting Jews. Now, the object of hate is Zionism and the State of Israel. Under the banner of the new Palestinianist theology, Palestine is portrayed as the “True Israel,” just like the Church was described as the “True Israel.”

While Christian covenant theologians claim that Jews have been cast off and are no longer pre-eminent in the plans of God because they continue to abide by their Mosaic traditions, so the State of Israel is to be cast out of the family of nations because it stubbornly clings to the “carnal covenant” of Zionism. There is an eschatological aspect at play that demands the passing away of the old heaven and earth (Zionism) and the arrival of the new heaven and earth (the State of Palestine).

The sooner Zionism and the Israeli state pass into history, say the Palestinianists, the sooner there will be peace in the Middle East. Despite the obvious drawbacks to this scenario, such as the oppression of women and minorities in a Palestinian state, the imprisonment of journalists and dissidents, and the political legitimisation of far right Islamist groups like Hamas, Palestinianists remain zealous in their commitment to the creation of a twenty-third Arab state.

(Fanatical Islamic Palestinianists also have a vision of new Middle East that is in accordance with their own violent apocalyptic beliefs. As Giulio Meotti has pointed out in an op-ed for Arutz Sheva, 2022 is the year that Muslim leaders, theologians and terrorist groups, including Islamic State, have reserved for the end of Israel. For example, in an interview for a Lebanese television channel, the imam of the mosque of Al Quds in Sidon, Maher Hamoud, said that “according to calculations based on the Koran the end of Israel will be in 2022.” Of course, one of the driving forces behind Iran’s nuclear ambitions is the apocalyptic desire to destroy the Jewish state.)

And then there are the Jewish apostates. Once upon a time we had to endure people like Titus Flavius Josephus, the writer-historian who defected to the Romans in 69 CE during the First Roman-Jewish War; and Nicholas Donin, a Jewish convert to Christianity, who pressed thirty-five charges against the Talmud to Pope Gregory IX; and Abner of Burgos, the fourteenth-century Jewish philosopher who converted to Christianity and wrote Mostrador de Justicia, one of the longest polemics against Judaism ever written.

Now we have people like Ilan Pappe, Paul Eisen, Shlomo Sand, and Noam Chomsky, who spend their days writing anti-Zionist and/or anti-Jewish polemics in order to ingratiate themselves to the non-Jewish world. It seems that some Jews, both then and now, are unable to resist the lure of either Christianity or Palestinianism.

(To complicate matters, there are some very religious Jews who believe that continued exile is part of God’s plan. The Christian view that the destruction of the Second Temple was a punishment for killing Christ has been absorbed in a modified way by some ultra-Orthodox Jews such as Neturei Karta who believe that because of their sins, the Jewish people went into exile and that human recapture of the Land of Israel is a violation of divine will. If Christians believe in replacement theology, it seems some Jews, both religious and secular, subscribe to what might be called displacement theology – the displacement of themselves.)

Because it appeals to many Christians, most Muslims and a minority of Jews, Palestinianism is the latest example of the postmodern exercise in interbelief cooperation, which can be defined as the constructive interaction between people of different religious traditions and/or spiritual or humanistic beliefs. In a sense, Palestinianism is the most democratic and egalitarian of faiths. It doesn’t matter where you come from or which god you may (or may not) worship; all that is required is that you express genocidal disdain for Jewish political autonomy.

Indeed, Palestinianism is now a substitute faith for post-Christian European liberals. It offers all the benefits of mainstream religion, such as community and social action, but without any of theological baggage such as the Trinity or Islam’s Pillars of Faith. Even the quasi-religion of Marxism can be included within the framework of this new interfaith ideology because it, too, turns a finite, limited ideal (a world without Zionism/the classless society/the end of capitalism) into an object of absolute and murderous godlike devotion.

Given that Palestinianism draws on Christianity and Islam, it is perhaps no surprise that it borrows heavily from Abrahamic salvation history. This helps explain the Palestinianist preoccupation with the status and fate of the Jews, with ownership and boundaries of the land of Israel, with the importance of Jerusalem, with the identity of Jesus, and with the messianic goal of peace in the Middle East. Even the concept of “original sin” is employed to describe the creation of the State of Israel, as if pre-Zionist Palestine was the Garden of Eden.

In other words, Palestinianism offers the world a set of religious symbols that are reassuringly infused with the comfort of Bible imagery (“new wine in old skins”). Hence the myth of a Palestinian lineage that goes all the way back to the Canaanites; the “Satanic” intrusion of Zionism; the “crucifixion” of Palestine and the arrival of “Isra-hell”; and the awaited return of Palestine as a land of milk and honey. (All these concepts and word-ideas are used in Palestinianist discourse.)

In this salvation story, the Jews may have a role to play, but only as a people who are about to be expunged from history as the prelude to the arrival of a new world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “Salvation is of the Jews.” But for many people – Christian, Muslim or atheist – it seems that salvation is not of the Jews, but of the Palestinians. It is a terrifying thought.

 

 

My conditions for recognising Palestine

Mahmoud_Abbas

By Richard Mather

So Greece is set to recognise a Palestinian state in a parliamentary vote to be attended by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But what is the State of Palestine? What are its borders and its currency? What and where are its legitimate international institutions? What is its government – the Palestinian Authority or Hamas?

At present, the State of Palestine is no more than a state of mind, a political-ideological fantasy dreamt up by the psychotic Yasser Arafat. Palestine does not and never did exist in any concrete sense. It is a country of the imagination for Jew-hating fanatics.

But the world seems intent on recognising Palestine as the twenty-third Arab country at a time when the Arab world is descending into anarchy. Perhaps a State of Palestine will be a reality in ten to fifteen years. Of course, Israel is under no obligation to recognise the legitimacy of a Palestinian state. But perhaps I can be persuaded. Here’s my list of conditions:

I will only recognise Palestine if Jews are allowed to stay in their homes in Hebron and Ariel and Beitar Illit. I will recognise Palestine when the Arabs recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation and the so-called refugees are resettled in Palestine and not Israel. I will recognise Palestine when the Palestinian Arabs relinquish their demand to make east Jerusalem their capital.

I will recognise Palestine when it calls a halt to the mass murder of Israelis in particular and Jews in general. I will recognise Palestine when Jew-hatred is purged from school textbooks. I will recognise Palestine when it rejects the dream of a Greater Palestine from the river to the sea. I will recognise Palestine when the Arabs apologise for their role in the Holocaust. I will recognise Palestine when the Arabs express remorse for massacring Jews in 1929, 1936, 1947 and 2000-2005.

I will recognise Palestine when it refuses money and arms from rogue regimes like Iran and Qatar. I will recognise Palestine when women and gays are no longer oppressed or killed, when journalists are free to report the news without risk of imprisonment, when dissident voices are given a fair hearing, when political opponents are allowed to speak their minds without the fear of being thrown off the top of buildings.

I will recognise Palestine when it stops blaming Zionists for its own problems and acknowledges that it is the Arabs and not the Jews who have consistently refused to establish two states for two peoples.

In other words, I will recognise Palestine when it starts behaving like a country that wants to join the human race and gives up the nihilistic ambition of destroying the most stable, democratic and prosperous nation in the Middle East, which is the State of Israel.

 

Post-Christian Brits must make a choice between humanism and Islam

ShariaBy Richard Mather

Britain is no longer a Christian country, according to a committee chaired by the former High Court judge Baroness Butler-Sloss. Only two in five British people now identify as Christian, while the proportion of people who do not follow a religion has risen from a third in 1983 to almost half in 2014, the report states. Meanwhile Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism have overtaken Judaism as the largest non-Christian faiths in Britain. Lady Butler-Sloss said the findings “amount to a new settlement for religion and belief in the UK, intended to provide space and a role for all within society, regardless of their beliefs or absence of them.”

According to a separate report, the number of Muslims living in the UK – mainly of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin –  is around 2,706,100, or 4.5 per cent of the total population. If present trends continue, the Anglo-Muslim population will double over the next fifteen years and hit 5.5 million by 2030. There are several reasons for this: one is immigration, another is high birth rates and another is that Muslims in Britain are passing their faith on to the next generation at much higher rates than Christians or Jews.  A recent sociology survey showed that 77 per cent of practising Muslim families successfully pass on their faith to their children, compared with 29 per cent in Christian families and 65 per cent in other religions.

Taken together, the decline in Christianity and the rise of Islam in Britain point to a significant cultural change in the UK. One of these changes is the rise in the number of people who are converting to Islam. Studies show that Brits are converting to Islam at an astonishing rate. Around 5,200 people in the UK convert to Islam every year, according to inter-faith thinktank Faith Matters, which also says that the total number of British converts to Islam could be more than 100,000.

Unlike Judaism, Islam is a missionary religion. Muslims actively seek converts by setting up stalls in towns and cities, and also on university campuses where Islamic societies are engaged in outreach programmes to attract British students. Part of the attraction is that Islam is very easy to convert to. All a person needs to do is recite the Shahada that states, “There is no God but Allah and Mohamed is his Prophet.” (Most converts recite the Shahada in front of two or more witnesses, one being an imam.)

Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, believes there is a direct correlation between conversions and the prominence of Islam in the media: “People are interested in finding out what Islam is all about and when they do that they go in different directions,” he says. “Most shrug their shoulders and return to their lives but some will inevitably end up liking what they discover and will convert.”

According to anecdotal evidence, converts are embracing Islam in order to escape modern society, which is portrayed or imagined as decadent, bankrupt and perverted. Young women who are sick and tired of alcohol, drugs, sex, partying and consumerism are particularly susceptible to Islamic missionaries who promise a purer way of life. Figures show that more women than men convert to Islam and that the average age of female converts in the UK is twenty-seven.

Taken as a whole, the British people are concerned about the impact Islam is having on their society. Opinion surveys show that voters view Islam and Muslim immigration as very high on their list of concerns. And yet the same people who complain about the changes in their society no longer attend church on a regular basis. They may claim to believe in God and Jesus but the churches are emptying out at an alarming rate. With the exception of the Protestant evangelical movement (and to some extent the Catholic Church), Anglo-Christianity is at a low ebb. Carol services at Christmas and chocolate eggs at Easter are not enough to sustain an English/British culture that gave the world the Book of Common Prayer, the King James’s Bible, the hymns of Charles Wesley, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and William Blake’s relief etchings.

The only serious alternative is for the British people to embrace secular humanism, but one that is robust and critical, not vague and listless. This involves living ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and empathy, trusting in the scientific method, taking an interest in philosophy and the arts, having a concern for other human beings and animals, and rejecting superstition and dogma.

Humanism, if it is to be embraced, should not be seen as a deficiency but as a positive approach to life. While atheism is the absence of belief, humanism is affirmative. It is centred on human experience and rational thinking, and also asserts that humans have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. According to humanists, we derive our morality from critical thinking, history and personal experience.

While humanism may not appeal to practising Jews and Christians, it is surely better if post-Christian Brits embrace a robust and ethical humanism rather than Islam, which is oppressive, anti-democratic, opposed to free speech, violent and anti-Semitic.  If anyone is in any doubt about the dangers of the Islamification of Britain, consider the following:

A poll by Policy Exchange thinktank found that three in ten British Muslims want to live under sharia law. This rises to four in ten among 16 to 24-year-olds. Another poll (by GfK NOP Social research) reveals that three in ten British Muslims hope that Britain would one day become an Islamic state. Six in ten British Muslims hold negative attitudes towards free speech.

More worrying are the statistics that show one in ten British Muslims are “hardcore Islamists” who agree that people who insult Islam should be punished. Some 17 per cent say the Holocaust has been exaggerated, while half of Muslims aged 18-24 believe that 9/11 was an Israel/American conspiracy.

In the words of Spectator writer Douglas Murray, anti-Semitism (particularly the bizarre conspiratorial kind) is “rife and routine” in British Muslim communities. Sadly, many Muslims have made anti-Semitism a core tenet of both their faith and their politics. This can be seen in the growth of anti-Semitism in British political discourse. Anti-Semitism on the Left is now so commonplace and institutionalised that the Labour Party is haemorrhaging Jewish support (around half of all British Muslims vote for left-wing parties).

If the British Jewish community is to remain safe and secure, their only hope is that the British people refuse to tolerate the imposition of Islam. But an ideological bulwark is needed. And that bulwark is unlikely to be a return to Christianity. Humanism is the best option – a humanism that is strong enough to withstand demands for sharia law, a humanism brave enough to denounce Islamic anti-Semitism, a humanism with the guts to stand up for free speech and the right to criticise Islam.

Britain must come to terms with its post-Christian situation and make a choice. Apathy is not good enough. A country that is not prepared to stand up for ethics, compassion, democracy and free speech should not be surprised if the growing Muslim population does not honour these values either.

 

 

Antiochus condemns Jewish extremists, calls for labelling of products made by Judeans

Judea_Judas_Makk

Article from The Seleucid Times, dated December 7, 165 BCE

Antiochus IV Epiphanes, king of the Seleucid monarchy, has told reporters that Jewish extremists are guilty of “disproportionate force” in the battle over the temple in Jerusalem. He said Yehuda HaMakabi’s revolt was “illegal” and “not in accordance with international law.” The liberation and rededication of the temple, he claimed “is an act of Zionist colonialism that must be condemned in the harshest terms.”

Antiochus said that reports of a flask of oil lasting eight days is “obviously a Zionist conspiracy designed to manipulate the market price of olive oil on which the Palestinian economy depends.” The king called on the Palestinians – who have lived on the land for 231.4 million years – to “rise up against the Maccabean oppressors.” Throwing rocks and stones at Judean civilians, he said, is a “perfectly legitimate form of resistance.”

He also called on the international community to introduce labelling on products manufactured by Judeans and suggested that sanctions and boycotts should be implemented to force the Judeans into making concessions over the status of Jerusalem. Antiochus also hinted that the Seleucid Security Council will, in the coming days, vote on whether to adopt a resolution that determines the Hanukkah menorah “as a symbol of racism and racial discrimination.”

—–

[This, of course, is satire. But this is how the modern media would report the Jewish revolt against Antiochus.]

Bar Kokhba – hero or villain?

shane6It is 1,880 years since Shimon Bar Kokhba’s independent Jewish state collapsed under the weight of Roman military might. Hero or villain, Shimon bar Kokhba still exerts a strong pull on the imagination of Israelis who are either spellbound by the deeds of the iconic “muscle Jew” who challenged the might of Rome, or repelled by his violent rebellion that resulted in 1,800 years of Jewish exile.

By Richard Mather

Shimon Bar Koseva was the leader of the final Judean revolt against the Roman empire. Known as a man of great physical strength, his rebellion won the support of many rabbis. His early military successes prompted Rabbi Akiva to confer upon Bar Koseva the title of Messiah, and gave him the surname Bar Kokhba, which is Aramaic for “Son of the Star.” This is from the messianic verse in Numbers 24:17: “There shall step forth a star [kokab] out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite through the corners of Moab.”

Bar Kokhba’s rebellion against Rome began in 132 CE when Emperor Hadrian announced plans to outlaw circumcision and build a pagan temple on the Temple Mount. Bar Kokhba amassed an army of between 200,000 and 350,000 men, a huge fighting force that included a number of sympathetic gentiles. However, local Christians refused to take part in the rebellion because they did not recognise the messianic title that had been given to Bar Kokhba.

Bar Kokhba reconquered the Galilee and then forced the Romans out of Jerusalem. The initial success of the rebellion was so great that the Judeans declared an independent state. For many Jews, this was proof that Rabbi Akiva was right – that the era of redemption had arrived and Bar Kokhba was indeed the Messiah. Coins minted during the rebellion indicate Jewish control of Jerusalem during the war. Bar Kokhba issued coins stamped “Freedom of Jerusalem.”

According to Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin, Bar Kokhba tried to make Hebrew the official language of the Jews, which was a foretaste of the secular Hebrew revival in the early twentieth century.

Notwithstanding Rabbi Akiva’s blessing, it is not clear whether Bar Kokhba actually believed he was  the Messiah. He did, however, refer to himself as HaNasi (“the prince”) but this may have been because he was the military leader of the Jews. What is known is that Bar-Kokhba was a religious Jew. He tithed, and observed the Sabbath and the festivals. In one of his letters, he talks excitedly about the celebration of Sukkot.

Unfortunately, the Jewish state lasted a mere three years. Alarmed by the scale and success of the Jewish rebellion, Emperor Hadrian amassed a massive army of Roman soldiers from across the empire. After losing many of their strongholds, Bar Kokhba and his supporters withdrew to the fortress of Betar, which came under siege in the summer of 135 CE. According to Jewish tradition, the fortress was destroyed by the Romans on Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning for the destruction of the First and the Second Jewish Temples. It is understood that Bar Kokhba died in battle, although some of his fighters continued to fight for several more months.

The Romans carried out a genocide in Judea, executing leading members of the Sanhedrin, massacring around half a million Jews, and selling others into slavery. Many Jews died of famine and disease. Jewish and Christian holy places were desecrated. In an attempt to erase any memory of Judea or Israel, Emperor Hadrian changed the name of the Jewish homeland to Syria Palaestina, and he issued decrees that outlawed Judaism. Under Hadrian’s rule, to teach Torah was to commit a crime.

In the decades and centuries following his death, Bar Kokhba was viewed as a bringer of calamity and exile. Rabbinical writers subsequent to Rabbi Akiva did not share his estimation of Bar Kokhba. Akiva’s disciple, Yose ben Halaphta, called him “Bar Koziba,” which is similar to his birth name of Koseva but also means “Son of the Lie” (kazab is a Hebrew word for “to lie”).  More significantly, the Roman victory over Bar Kokhba altered Judaism forever. The rabbis came to realise that the survival of the Jewish religion would depend on books and traditions, not on violent resistance.

Despite rabbinical hostility towards Bar Kokhba, the rebirth of Israel has partly restored the reputation of the Jewish warrior. On Lag Ba’Omer, Israeli children light bonfires across Israel in celebration of the heroic victory of Bar Kokhba over the Romans.

Early Zionists such as Max Nordau viewed Bar Kokhba as proof that Jews are capable of fighting for their liberty and independence. In an essay about “Muscle-Jews,” he said that Bar Kokhba “was the last embodiment in world history of a bellicose, militant Jewry.” While secular Zionists emphasise Bar Kokhba’s military exploits, others hail him as a harbinger of contemporary religious Zionism. After all, Bar Kokhba was a pious man who performed Jewish rituals and fought hard to stop the Roman desecration of Jerusalem.

But not everyone is convinced. Ha’aretz writer Yossi Sarid believes that the Jewish people have suffered because of individuals like Bar Kokhba: “To this day we have not succeeded in ridding ourselves of the punishment of false messiahs. We are comfortable with our hallucinations, with being captivated by them. Sometimes it seems that the movement for national liberation – now as then – includes a self-destruct mechanism.”

And former Mossad director general Shabtai Shavit is worried that some elements within Israeli society, namely the religious Zionist movement, is “galloping blindly in a time tunnel to the age of Bar Kokhba and his war on the Roman Empire. […] The result of that conflict was several centuries of national existence in the Land of Israel followed by 2,000 years of exile.”

In truth, Bar Kokhba was neither villain nor hero. It is true that his failed rebellion against the mighty Roman empire resulted in nearly two millennia of blood and exile – of pogroms, blood libels, massacres and genocide. Having said that, we should acknowledge Bar Kokhba’s influence on the modern Zionist imagination – the strong “muscle Jew” willing to fight for his (or her) independence. And hopefully we have learned from his failures. The State of Israel may be the heir to Bar Kokhba’s short-lived Judean state, but modern Israel is incomparably stronger. And it’s not just about strength, although having an arsenal of 115 nuclear warheads helps. Modern Israel is vibrant, diverse and democratic; it is a fully-functioning nation-state with a strong economy and robust political institutions. Unlike the Judean state of 132-135 CE, the modern State of Israel is a permanent fixture and the Roman exile of the Jews is over.

Gaza – land of the invaders

map-of-territory-of-philistines“The Philistines are upon you” – Judges 16:20

[This is somewhat tongue-in-cheek but there is a curious historical parallel between the Philistines and the Palestinians.]

If the Palestinian Arabs are so proud of being named after a Greek sea-faring people who invaded the land of Canaan and occupied its southwestern coast, they should accept the limits of their forebears’ territorial victories and accept the Gaza Strip as the de facto Palestinian state and relinquish any claims on the rest of “Canaan,” i.e. Israel, Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.

By Richard Mather

The words Philistine and Palestinian share the same etymology: both words derive from “Peleshet” or “Pelestim,” from the Semitic root “p-l-s”, which means “to divide” or “to invade.” Despite the name, the people who call themselves Palestinians are unrelated to the Philistines. The current Palestinians are very recent Arab migrant-settlers who came to Eretz Israel in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The name “Falastin” that Arabs today use for “Palestine” is not an Arabic name, but adapted from the Latin Palaestina.

The original Philistines were a non-Semitic sea-faring people who came from the Aegean Islands and Crete circa 12th century BCE. They attempted to invade Egypt and were forced northward into Canaan by Ramses III. Having killed the coastal Canaanites in the area known as Gaza, the Philistines began to move into the interior of Canaan, which belonged to the Israelites. They were defeated by King David. The Philistines who remained in Gaza were ruled by Sargon II of Assyria. After that time, they vanished from history, having been assimilated into the Assyrian and Persian empires. There is no mention of them after the Babylonian Captivity.

If the modern-day Palestinians claim to be Philistines, then the only land in the whole of Canaan/Palestine/Israel they have any claim to is the Gaza Strip. The original Philistines occupied the southwestern strip of land on the coast and nowhere else. They failed to expand into Judea, Samaria or Galilee. The only other place they attempted to conquer was Egypt (and they failed). In other words, if the Palestinians claim they are Philistines, then they can only claim Gaza as their state. In so doing, they should relinquish any territorial claim to Hebron, Shechem, Jaffa, the Jordan Valley etc.

So: Judea and Israel for the Israelites/Jews; and Gaza for the Philistines. That’s the two-state solution solved.

True, the original Philistine State was slightly larger than the current Gaza Strip (it included Ashdod and Ashkelon) but it is a strange quirk of history that the Palestinians have chosen to name themselves after an invading force who came from another part of the world. It is also curious that the land occupied by the Philistinian settlers from Crete and the migrant-settlers from the Arab world have ended up in almost the same place. There may not be a genetic or cultural connection between the ancient sea-faring peoples and the modern-day Arab Palestinians, but they occupy the same land, share the same name and share the same enmity towards the Hebrew-speaking people.

Palestinian replacement theology and the strange death of Jesus the Jew

Jesus the PalestinianIt is not just Islam and the Left that are responsible for anti-Zionism and the rise of anti-Semitism. Christians who have embraced Palestinian replacement theology (which has disturbing echoes of the Nazis’ depiction of Jesus-as-Aryan) must also be held to account for the propagation of anti-Jewish hatred.

By Richard Mather

In recent decades, the quest to revive Jesus’ Jewish identity has yielded much fruit. Geza Vermes, Hugh Schonfield, Robert Eisenman, E.P Sanders, James Tabor, R. T. Herford, George Foot Moor and Hyam Maccoby are among those who have highlighted Jesus’ Jewish identity and origins. Combined with the shared interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jews and Christians have found common ground in the exploration of the Jewish roots of Christianity.

As most people know, Jesus was born of a Jewish woman in the Judean town of Bethlehem, and was given the Jewish name of “Yeshua,” literally “Joshua.” He was circumcised, attended synagogue services and the Temple, wore tzitzit, was referred to as “Rabbi,” and observed the Sabbath, Passover and Sukkot. He  quoted from the Tanakh and reiterated the importance of the Shema (“Hear O Israel the Lord is our God, the Lord is One”). He also made it clear that he had “come for the lost sheep of Israel” and that “Salvation is of the Jews.”

The historical exploration of the Jewish Jesus has helped many Christians understand the Hebrew origins of their faith, and in so doing, has helped heal the rift between Judaism and Christianity, which led to the genocide of six million Jews in the 1940s. But there are some Christians (and Muslims) who, for highly questionable political and theological reasons, want to bury Jesus’ Jewish identity and resurrect him as a Palestinian martyr.

Jesus was not a Palestinian. There is no reference to Palestine in the New Testament for the simple reason that the land of Israel was generally known as Judea and Galilee until 135 CE. The Gospel of Matthew, which was written around 80 CE does, however, mention “the land of Israel” and the “cities of Israel.” The term Palestine is rarely used in the Tanakh, and when it is, it refers specifically to the southwestern coastal area of Israel occupied by the Philistines who had disappeared as a distinct people by the time of the Babylonian Captivity in 586 BCE.

Christians throughout the centuries have tended to imagine Jesus according to their peculiar prejudices. One of the most outlandish was the Jesus-as-Aryan theory. During the Third Reich, some German Protestant theologians redefined Jesus as an Aryan and Christianity as a religion at war with Judaism. The Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence published books defaming Judaism (including a dejudaized version of the New Testament) and a catechism proclaiming Jesus as the saviour of the Aryans.

Since the 1960s, a number of Christians (and Muslims) have revived and revised the Aryan Jesus myth as a tool for propagating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist propaganda. Jesus the Aryan is now Jesus the Palestinian martyr living “under occupation.” The Jews are depicted as a cruel and oppressive people who have merited everlasting exile. And the Hebrew Bible is “de-Zionised” and/or radically reinterpreted by writers and teachers in order to downplay what they say is Jewish “exclusivity” in the Tanakh (the words “Zion” or “Israel” are removed from the Psalms, for example).

The founding document of Christian Palestinianism is the 1967 Arab-Christian memorandum entitled “What is Required of the Christian Faith Concerning the Palestine Problem.” The document, which had the blessing of Catholic and Orthodox clergy, declares that it is “a total misunderstanding of the story of salvation and a perversion of God’s plan for a Christian to want to re-establish a Jewish nation as a political entity.”

In one of its most audacious passages, the memorandum reads: “The Christian conscience should always discern what is the authentic vocation of the Jewish people and what is the other side of the coin, that is, the racist State of Israel.”  In fact, the memorandum calls for a permanent exile of the Jews on the grounds that “the Jewish race was chosen to serve the salvation of humanity and not to establish itself in any particular religious or racial way.”

The Christian Palestinianist movement was given a fresh impetus in 2009 with the publication of the Kairos Palestine Document. Subtitled “A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering,” the paper claims to speak on behalf of Christian and Muslim Palestinians, who apparently share a “deeply rooted” history and a “natural right” to the land.

In contrast, the State of Israel is viewed as an alien entity, and only exists because of Western guilt over the Holocaust. Israel is even associated with the words “evil” and “sin.” According to the text, the so-called Israeli occupation “distorts the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier.”

One of the most vocal Christian Palestinianists is Naim Ateek, who was born in Beth She’an in what is now northern Israel.  He was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church in 1967 and was (until recently) a cleric in St. George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem.

In 1989, Ateek published Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, which drew much of its strength from South American liberation theology. Five years later, Ateek founded an organisation called Sabeel – the Palestinian Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center.

Ateek reinterprets the account of King Ahab and Naboth in 1 Kings 21 to underpin his replacement theology. Ateek teaches how King Ahab (the State of Israel) murders Naboth (the Palestinians) in order to take Naboth’s land, and how the Lord sent Elijah to pronounce judgment on them. According to Ateek, the day is coming when God will judge and punish Israel.

The version of liberation theology espoused by Ateek is that of Jesus as “a Palestinian living under an occupation.” In his 2001 Easter message, Ateek spoke of Jesus as “the powerless Palestinian humiliated at a checkpoint” and he used anti-Semitic language to evoke the image of Jews as Christ-killers:

“In this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge Golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily.”

Yasser Arafat also played on the theme of Jesus as a Palestinian martyr. When he made his first Christmas appearance in Bethlehem in 1995, he invoked the Christian nativity by crying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.” To which the crowd responded, “In spirit and blood we will redeem thee, O Palestine!”

Bethlehem obviously held a special place in Arafat’s heart. Not because he had any special love for Jesus and Christianity but because it was a political rallying point. Bethlehem, according to Arafat, was the “birthplace of the first Palestinian Christian, Jesus Christ.”

Other times, Jesus is referred to as a Shahid, a holy martyr of Islam. Arafat often referred to Jesus as the first Palestinian martyr, which is not only historically incorrect, it is at odds with Islamic tradition. There are no references to Jesus as a Shahid in Islamic works, and it is impossible for Jesus to be a martyr if he did not die on the cross, which is the view of the Quran.

Of all the anti-Israel discourses that exist today, Christian Palestinianism is perhaps one of the most disturbing because it resurrects the notion of Jews as accursed Christ-killers who deserve permanent exile. As with all anti-Semitic ideas, Christian Palestinianism is about resentment. It is a projection of a sense of inferiority onto an external scapegoat –the Jews.

Egyptian Jewish writer Bat Ye’or believes that the concept of Jesus the Palestinian is symbolic of a growing religious trend – Palestinian replacement theology and the gradual Islamisation of Christianity. Christian Palestinianists, according to Ye’or interpret the Bible from an Islamic point of view and “do not admit to any historical or theological link between the biblical Israel, the Jewish people and the modern State of Israel.”

Ye’or also points to the similarity between Palestinian replacement theology and Marcion gnosticism, which was a second century Christian heresy. Marcion gnostics rejected the Hebrew Bible and believed that the God of Israel was inferior to the God of the New Testament.  Likewise, Christian Palestinianists want to “de-Zionise” the Tanakh, strip Jesus of his Jewish heritage and neutralise prophetic statements relating to Jews and the land of Israel.

As well as being  politically motivated, Christian Palestinianism is a religious assault on Judaism and should be seen in the context of centuries of anti-Jewish persecution and ridicule by both Christians and Muslims who are embarrassed and frustrated by the continued existence of the Jewish people.

Make no mistake. The cultural-economic boycott of the Jewish state draws a great deal of strength from Christianity. Much of the anti-Zionism emanating from West can be traced back to faith-based organisations who are either ambivalent about Israel or downright hostile. Christian Aid, the Quakers, the Church of England, the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterians are among those who are guilty of demonising Israel.

And then there are individuals such as Reverend Dr. Stephen Sizer (a prominent and notorious Anglican vicar in England) who believes that Jerusalem and the land of Israel “have been made irrelevant to God’s redemptive purposes,” and that Jews were expelled from the land because “they were more interested in money and power.”

In other words, it is not just Islam and the Left that are responsible for the ostracism and demonisation of the Jewish state. Many Christians, especially those who have embraced the new anti-Semitic replacement theology known as Christian Palestinianism, should be held to account for rekindling the same anti-Jewish prejudices and hatreds that resulted in the Holocaust.

[For information about Jewish and Christian campus initiatives that have been hoodwinked by the Palestinianist narrative – including Palestinian replacement theology – check out this article on Jewish Media Agency: Enough! No more brainwashing on campuses ]

Visions of a better world: The cosmic covenant of peace

lionBy Richard Mather

There is a theme running throughout the Tanakh that is sometimes called the “cosmic covenant,” a covenant that is connected to the cosmic order and associated with peace and justice. The covenant is like a harmonious marriage – a marriage of heaven and earth, of God and his people Israel. And you don’t have to believe in God to appreciate the beauty of a vision that is both humanistic and ecological.

This covenant,  which is described in the book of Isaiah (54:10) as a “covenant of peace,” was established at Creation, when the cosmic elements were fixed in place. As Genesis 1 explains, God divides the light from the darkness, the land from the water, the day from the night.

The fixing of the cosmic elements and the pacification of chaos during Creation is echoed in subsequent books in the Tanakh, notably:

“I placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, the eternal rule which it may not transgress,” says the LORD in the book of Jeremiah (5.22);

And:

“Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?” (Job 38:8-11).

The loosening of the binds and the reintroduction of chaos at the time of the Flood should be attributed to God’s disgust at the state of the world and mankind’s immorality. Peace and justice were apparently in short supply, and social disharmony was rife. In Genesis 6:11, the Torah states that “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.”

Although God could have completely destroyed the world, He instead instructed Noah to save himself, his family and a remnant of animals by creating a huge ark or sanctuary, before sending an almighty flood:

“The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits. Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. […] Only Noah was left and those with him in the ark” (Genesis 7:20-23).

By unfixing the boundaries that were put in place in Genesis 1 and flooding the earth with water, the Eternal One was (in a sense) remaking the world.

The receding of the waters after the rain had stopped echoes the separating of land and water in Genesis 1. The post-deluge covenant between God and Noah can be interpreted as a reaffirmation of the universal created order. In Psalm 104:9, the psalmist observes how God “set a boundary” so that the waters “might not again cover the earth.”

So God blesses Noah and his sons, and makes a pledge with mankind and the animal kingdom, in which He promises to never again to “cut off” all flesh with the waters of a flood. God commands Noah and his sons to be fruitful, to multiply and to replenish the earth. God also forbids the eating of animal blood (which can be interpreted as an injunction against animal cruelty), as well as the shedding of human blood. There is also an implicit commandment to set up courts of law to punish murder.

The renewal of the covenant after the Flood is a promise of abundance. Hence the following promise in Leviticus:

“Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land. […] I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you. You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I will put my dwelling place[a] among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high” (Leviticus 26:5-6, 9-12).

But there is something about the post-Flood covenant that falls short. Man is allowed to eat animals, which was forbidden to Adam. And it soon becomes clear, with the uncovering of Noah’s nakedness and the cursing of Canaan, that injustice and discord are problems that won’t go away.

Enter the prophets who say unrighteousness is to blame. Injustice, they argue, threatens the harmonious workings of the universe. Individual behavior, national prosperity and the health of the cosmos are all interdependent. In the book of Isaiah, God scolds his “children” for their rebellious ways and promises to “purge away [their] dross” and “shake the earth.”

Then there is this dire warning:

“See, the LORD is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants— it will be the same for priest as for people, for the master as for his servant […] The earth will be completely laid waste and totally plundered” (Isaiah 24:1-3).

Why is God threatening to destroy his people? It is because they have “broken the everlasting covenant” (24:5) and “therefore a curse consumes the earth.” This is a stark reminder of the story of the Flood in Genesis and a warning that injustice and idolatry are a real threat to the created order.

Jeremiah, too, recognises that mankind’s failure to keep a covenant with the LORD is disastrous:

“If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, then my covenant with David my servant – and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me – can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne” (Jeremiah 33:20-22).

Indeed, the breaking of the covenant threatens to return the earth to the chaos of pre-Creation: “I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone” (Jeremiah 4:23).

But there is hope. The prophets look forward to a better time, a day when God delivers Creation and completely restores it. Indeed, the prophetic books are packed with visions of the future when the covenant of peace is full restored and mankind and nature are no longer estranged from each other:

“I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety” (Ezekiel 34:25).

And:

“[…] I will make a covenant with them, with the animals of the wild, with the birds of the sky and what creeps on the ground. I will break bow, sword and war on earth, and I will let them rest in safety I will make thee mine own forever; I will make thee mine by right and justice, by loyalty and compassion, I will make thee mine by faithfulness, and thou shalt know [that I am] the Lord” (Hosea 2:18-20).

Only with the arrival of the Moshiach (Messiah) can the process of healing the world begin. It is the Moshiach who will implement a new moral order that will culminate in the transformation of the laws of nature. This can be seen in Psalm 72:

“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice. May the mountains bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness. May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor. […] May grain abound throughout the land; on the tops of the hills may it sway. May the crops flourish like Lebanon and thrive like the grass of the field. May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. Then all nations will be blessed through him and they will call him blessed. Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen. This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.”

And finally there is eschatological hope in the book of Isaiah, when the Moshiach will be endowed with the “Spirit of the Lord” and “the wolf will live with the lamb”:

“The leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”  (Isaiah 11:6-9).

And so the cosmic covenant or covenant of peace is fully restored. Having been through so much bloodshed and disaster, the entire created order – mankind, animals, heaven and earth – will be at peace with each other, and full of the knowledge of God.

 

 

 

 

 

Zionists out of CUNY: Jewish exclusion and the politics of “safe space”

CUNYBy Richard Mather

There is a problem on American and  British campuses, a problem that is all too reminiscent of the McCarthy era or even the fascist book burnings of the 1930s. Jewish students are being metaphorically excluded from something called “safe space,” and there is a danger that the metaphor will become a literal reality.

Safe space originated in the 1970s with the rise of identity and gender politics. The idea behind safe space is that people of all identities are entitled to a tolerant environment to express who they are. But judging from the rhetoric and behaviour of some students, the practise of safe space is not extended to Jews who risk being demonised as politically incorrect persons.

Lately, many gay, transgender, black and Muslim students have been urging university administrators to keep them “safe” from ideas they don’t agree with. And they demand “trigger warnings” before certain issues are debated.

Visiting speakers and academics are sometimes “no-platformed” in case they upset or offend students. Pro-Israel speakers are slandered, abused, interrupted, even barred by pro-Palestinian students. By contrast, speakers who are openly anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist and sympathetic to Islamist terrorism (such as Hezbollah’s Ibrahim Mousawi) are welcomed with open arms.

Students are becoming increasingly infantile and menacing (two aspects of the hybrid known as the “cry bully”). They are intolerant of ideas they don’t like, but they simultaneously demand that their intolerance is tolerated. Disturbingly, it is often the same students who claim safe space for themselves who harass and intimidate Jews.

At a recent rally calling for free tuition, student protesters at City University of New York (CUNY) chanted for “Zionists” to be excluded from the institution.

As retired Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz pointed out, when CUNY protestors chant “Zionist,” they mean “Jew.” Indeed, university officials were forced to apologise for anti-Semitic statements made by students during the rally.

The “Zionists out of CUNY” chants followed a Facebook petition issued by Students for Justice in Palestine. The petition attributed the financial plight of students to CUNY’s “Zionist administration” that “hosts [Jewish] birthright programs and study abroad programs in occupied Palestine [Israel], and reproduces settler-colonial ideology … through Zionist content of education.”

The phrase “Zionist content of education” is not just nonsensical and absurd, it is an outright anti-Semitic slander.

Given the climate of hostility towards Jews on campuses and the totalitarian mindset of many left-wing and Muslim students, it is only a matter of time until such students call for an end to “Jewish privilege.” They will argue that by reason of association with Israel, Jewish identity is politically incorrect and that being Jewish is a kind of “identity aggression.”

And then they will demand that ALL Jewish students, lecturers and administrators (whether they support Israel or not) are banned from campuses.

That is already the implication and the direction of travel. In other words, safe space on campuses not only excludes Jews, it could actually lead to attempts by student organisers to literally exclude Jews from academic life.

(In contrast, the sensitivities of Muslim students are protected to an absurd degree. Student authorities at University College London recently prevented a talk by a man who fought against Islamic State. And last year, the National Union of Students rejected a motion condemning Isis because it might offend Muslims.)

Joanna Williams of Kent University’s Enhancement of Learning and Teaching unit, who has written about politics on campus, says that “censorship powers are being used more often and against a wider variety of targets.”

And Dennis Hayes, professor of education at the University of Derby and founder of Academics for Academic Freedom, says that universities are increasingly afraid of upsetting students: “Universities don’t want to be associated with views which aren’t part of the moral consensus.”

Moreover, universities are driven by commercial concerns. If fee-paying students demands to be treated like customers who expect a certain type of service from their campus administrators, then it is likely that universities will capitulate to their political demands in order to keep the money rolling in.

As things stand, university authorities are already quite bad when it comes to dealing with anti-Semitism on campus. Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, has spoken of the intimidation of Jewish students in Britain as “part of a long, slow, insidious process intended to undermine academic freedom and it must not be tolerated.”

A couple of examples from Britain: In May 2011 the University and College Union (UCU) voted overwhelmingly to disassociate itself from the EU’s working definition of anti-Semitism, which prompted Jewish leaders to condemn the body as “institutionally racist.”

And in 2013, a survey revealed that Jewish students at the prestigious University of Edinburgh in Scotland faced a “toxic atmosphere” in which they were forced to hide their identity and were quitting courses “in despair” following anti-Israel demonstrations.

Dershowitz believes that “the fog of fascism is descending quickly” over many universities.

“We are seeing a curtain of McCarthyism descend over many college campuses,” says Dershowitz.  “We have to remember it was the college students who first started burning books during the Nazi regime. And these students are book burners. They don’t want to hear diverse views on college campuses.”

In other words, the suppression of debate not only erodes academic freedom, it also prevent the free exchange of ideas, which is crucial if age-old prejudices such as anti-Semitism are to be challenged. And if students are unable to tolerate ideas that are considered “unsafe,” how are they going to cope when it comes to tolerating and living among other people, such as Jews?

That is a question for debate. Unfortunately, some debates are just too sensitive for today’s students.

 

 

 

Europeans must pick a side – Israel or the Islamists

GTY_eiffel_tower_kab_150107_16x9_992Europe has the sown the wind of Islamic extremism by aiding and abetting the Palestinians, and now it is reaping the whirlwind

By Richard Mather

For decades the West has lectured Israel on the need to partition its territory in order to placate Arab terrorists. Under pressure, Israel has pursued the narrative of land-for-peace but without success. The Arabs have rejected a two-state solution on seven or eight occasions over the past seven decades. Why? Because religion – and not land – is at the core of their rejectionism.

Anti-Jewish violence in the Middle East has always been religiously-motivated. Look at the documents, news reports and speeches from the 1920s and 1930s, and you’ll see that Arab invective aimed at Palestinian Jews was couched in extreme religious terms. The anti-Jewish histrionics of Amin al-Husseini (who sought assistance from Hitler) is a case in point. Not surprisingly, a democratic Jewish state, where Jews run their own affairs, was (and still is) anathema to the supremacist instincts of those Arabs who wanted (and still want) a pan-Arab nation or Caliphate where minorities are stripped off their rights and/or murdered.

The West, which has become increasingly secular in recent decades, is blind to the religious warfare being waged against the Jews. Westerners, particularly western Europeans, are inept in their understanding of religious conflict. They tend to misread the Israeli-Arab dispute as a clash over land. Or they think that acts of terrorism are symptomatic of capitalism’s failure to cater for the excluded poor. So it is no surprise that that many Westerners (particularly those on the Left) are simply incapable of recognising the religious (i.e. Islamist) character of terrorism when it occurs in Paris, London or Madrid.

This is where the Islamists have the advantage. They understand only too well that the war against Jews and the West in general is a religious, imperialistic, even apocalyptic, conflict. The West, by contrast, is ignorant of this reality because it is embarrassed by colonialism and has rejected religion as a way of life. The near-total destruction of Jewish life in the 1930s and 1940s, combined with the post-1945 deChristianisation of Europe, has left the continent without a religious counter-ideology on which to base a comprehensive response to Islamic imperialism.

The situation would not be so bad if Europeans had embraced a robust and confident humanism, which emphasises critical thinking, freedom and progress. Sadly, many Europeans have become politically-correct automatons who tolerate the intolerable by creating “safe spaces” on their campuses and institutions for a whole host of unsavoury people who wish to kill Jews and undermine pluralistic values. And anyone who dares to criticise this set-up is branded an “Islamophobe,” “racist,” “Zio-Nazi” or “Tory scum.”

But there is one thing that Europe could do, while it is still possible.  And that is to stop sending out mixed messages over the Israeli-Arab issue and pick a side. Either Israel or the Islamists. Do the French, English, Danes and Italians etc have more in common with a democratic, secular and pluralistic society like Israel or with an anti-democratic, gay-bashing, Islamist quasi-state such as Palestine? (Of course, unless Europe gets its act together and stops the creeping Islamisation of its societies, it will become less like Israel and more like Palestine).

Moreover, if Europeans are not prepared to divide Paris or London for the sake of peace, then they should not demand that Israel divides Jerusalem. If they really believe in tolerance, progress and equality, then they should support the Jewish state, not pander to Palestinian leaders like Mahmoud Abbas who regularly incites violence against Jews and denies the Holocaust. And if Europeans believe that the best response to the Paris terror attacks is to drop bombs on Islamic State, they should not criticise Israel for bombing Gaza when Hamas kills Israeli civilians.

The EU’s support for the Palestinians (and the concessions made to the anti-Semitic BDS movement) is possibly one of the worst policy decisions ever made. By criticising and demonising the State of Israel, Europe has not only emboldened Muslim fascists in the region, it has also stiffened the resolve of Islamists around the world who smell the decay of Western moral failure and attack civilians in European schools, cafes, bars, workplaces, supermarkets, nightclubs, trains and buses.

In other words, by picking the wrong side in what is shaping up to be a global conflict between liberal democracy and Islamism, Europe is reaping the whirlwind.

 

 

Product labelling is symbolic of Europe’s colonial arrogance

UE-PalestineThe EU is economically and politically committed to the prevention of the fulfilment of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel) in order to make way for a hostile Arab state.

By Richard Mather… 

The decision by the European Union to approve guidelines under which its member states would label products from the “West Bank” settlements looks back to the Nazi labelling of Jewish goods and looks forward to the dismantling of Jewish communities in Judea-Samaria, the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem.  Despite international law being on Israel’s side (contrary to popular opinion), the EU remains stubbornly committed to a State of Palestine on Jewish land.

Europe has a history of dispossessing Jews and/or deciding where they should be located. The EU’s labelling decision is a hangover of centuries of prejudice when a succession of emperors, princes, popes, priests, dictators and fascists decreed where Jews were allowed to reside and work. Even in the twenty-first century Jews are being outlawed because they do not conform to the international diktat that says they’re not allowed to live in certain parts of Eretz Israel.

How is it that Europe, which is responsible for extermination of one-third of world Jewry, has the audacity to dictate policy to a tiny country that is home to the descendants of Holocaust survivors? I cannot be the only person who is repulsed by this hypocrisy. The fact that the EU does not apply the same labelling criteria to other countries that are accused of “occupation,” such as Morocco and Turkey, only makes things worse.

Antipathy towards Jews is one explanation for the EU’s attitude towards the Jewish “settlers.” And, of course, the EU is probably using the Palestinian issue to ingratiate itself with the growing Muslim community inside its borders. But perhaps Europe’s unquestioned support for the Palestinians is motivated by a desire to resurrect European influence in the Middle East. By coalescing into a single powerful unit, Europe is now in a position to flex its muscles. Europe may not have the military might to exert its influence, but it has plenty of soft power in the form of diplomacy, trade and aid money.

The European Commission is the biggest donor of financial assistance to the Palestinians. Europe has squandered billions of euros in development aid to the Palestinians over the past twenty years regardless of the Palestinians’ involvement in terrorism and incitement against Jews. The money flowing out of Europe into the hands of the Palestinians is a core component of a European mission called the Action Plan in which the EU and the Palestinian Authority work together “to build up the institutions of a future democratic, independent and viable Palestinian State.”

The EU is pre-empting final status negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians by urging the latter to carry out construction projects in Area C and east Jerusalem without Israel’s cooperation. The EU also wants the Palestinians to become more politically active in east Jerusalem in order to create conditions for a future Palestinian capital. In other words, Europe has dispensed with the Oslo Accords and is urging the Palestinians to act unilaterally.

Make no mistake about it. The EU is economically and politically committed to the prevention of the fulfilment of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel) in order to make way for a hostile Palestinian state. One could argue that the creation of a State of Palestine in Judea-Samaria and east Jerusalem is the core objective of EU foreign policy. And even if it means isolating and delegitimising the Jews who already live there, the EU will continue to press ahead with its colonial ambition of creating a twenty-third Arab state.

Europe is reverting to type

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When it comes to how it treats the Jews, Europe is reverting to type. 

By Richard Mather 

In 1973, Abba Eban, the foreign affairs minister in Israel, spoke of the rise of the New Left that identified Israel “with the establishment, with acquisition.” The New Left, he observed, is the “author and the progenitor of the new anti-Semitism.”

It is now 2015 and nothing has changed. If anything, the Left’s war on Jews, Judaism and Israel has got worse, particularly in Europe. What’s especially troubling is the Far Left’s descent into aggressive “brown shirt” activism.

The original “brown shirts” were the Sturmabteilung (SA) or Stormtroopers founded by Hitler in 1921. Outfitted in brown uniforms, the SA roughnecks would march in Nazi rallies, assault Jews, and stand menacingly in front of Jewish-owned department stores, saying “Go to Palestine!”

Fast forward to 2015 and we have our modern equivalent of the Sturmabteilung comprising Socialist Worker thugs, Stop the War morons, anarchists and wanna-be jihadis, who march in anti-Israel rallies, assault Jews in the street, and stand menacingly in front of Jewish stores saying “Free Palestine!”

Today’s street fascists – these modern-day brown shirters who parade through our cities and barricade Barclays Bank and Marks & Spencer – view Israel through the anti-Semitic prism of money and influence. In the mind of the average anti-Zionist thug, boycotting Israeli products is just one way of disrupting capitalism. And capitalism, of course, is associated with Jews.

Meanwhile, the EU is planning the first European boycott of Jewish goods since the Nazis. As MK Michael Oren says, “The EU decision to label Israeli products is anti-Semitic. There are dozens of border disputes and ‘occupations’ in the world but the EU decided to single out Israel. They are not labelling products from China, India or Turkey – only Israel.”

We shouldn’t be surprised. Anti-Semites – whether they be Catholic, Arab, Nazi or European – always adopt boycotts as the first weapon of choice against Jews. Of course, these things never end with boycotts. Boycotts of Jewish business are part of a delegitimisation process, and are always harbingers of violence, of death.

In the years after the Holocaust there was much hand-wringing and talk of “Never again!” But Europeans have short memories. Europe is reverting to type. 1933 and 2015 may be decades apart, but anti-Semitism, it seems, is timeless.

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The world revolves around the Palestinians – and it has got to stop

where-is-palestine

The world should not revolve around the Palestinians – not when they don’t want a state of their own; and not when there are other matters to attend to like Kurdish independence or the freeing of women and children enslaved by Islamic State. And hasn’t enough Jewish blood be spilled over the Palestinian issue?

By Richard Mather

The world seems to turn on a Palestinian axis. It is remarkable that the Palestinians, who have no historical, cultural or legal rights to the land of Israel, are endowed with so much international and economic patronage by the European Union, the United States, the United Nations, and other organisations, such as Oxfam and Christian Aid. How did the Palestinians and their international backers manage to achieve such a feat? Why does the world revolve around the Palestinians?

There are two answers to this. One is the Palestinians’ cynical calculus of terror. They have learnt that violence is rewarded by the West. Acts of terror against Jews only strengthen the West’s belief that a Palestinian state is the answer. Hence the two-state solution based on the so-called pre-1967 borders. But the West is being fooled. Palestinians do not want a political solution, not when terrorism reaps dividends. That’s why Yasser Arafat instigated the second intifada. He did it to mask his rejection of the Camp David deal in 2000. And what happened? The world blamed Israel for the “occupation,” which garnered further sympathy for the Palestinians.

Arafat, Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas all know that terrorism focuses worldwide attention on Israel. Should the Palestinians ever have their own state, Western leaders and newspapers would lose interest and turn their full attention to other matters such as Kurdish dispossession, Chinese human rights abuses or the enslavement of women and children in Syria. This is not what the Palestinians or other Arabs want. They want the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to continue because it exerts unbearable pressure on the Jewish state.

The second reason why the Palestinians enjoy so much international privilege and patronage is because they appeal to Western sympathy for the underdog (although this sympathy rarely extended to Jews during the 1930s and 1940s). Palestinians have achieved this by doing something rather remarkable. And that is to appropriate another people’s history and suffering.

First of all they stole the name. The word “Palestinian” was a designation given to Jews in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It acquired its modern connotation in the 1960s when Arafat began talking of “the Palestinian people.” Then they appropriated and inverted the Holocaust so that Palestinians could project themselves as the “new Jews” and the Israelis as the “new Nazis.” Then they appropriated places of importance to Jews. The biblical name of Judea-Samaria has been replaced by “West Bank” or “Occupied Territory.” And Judaism’s holiest city, Jerusalem, is called Al-Quds. To add insult to Jewish injury, the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb are now considered integral to a future State of Palestine. And there are attempts to appropriate the Western Wall as an Islamic holy site.

Appropriation on its own would not be enough, however. The Palestinians had to invent an entire backstory in order to fool the world. Claims that the Palestinians are descendants of the Jebusites and Canaanites are risible. In truth, most of the people who now call themselves Palestinians descend from migrants who left Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the Balkans (among other places) in the eighteenth century onwards. In fact, the UN has acknowledged that many had only lived in Palestine for two years prior to Jewish independence in 1948. By contrast, there has been a continuous Jewish presence in the land for thousands of years.

So the Palestinians have managed to convince the world that they are an indigenous people who are now in exile because of Zionism. But some of the credit for this elaborate hoax should go to the Kremlin. In the 1960s, Soviet authorities and their Arab allies dreamt up the fiction of a Palestinian human rights struggle in order to destabilise Israel and its main ally, the USA. According to Major General Ion Mihai Pacepa (the highest ranking Soviet bloc defector), the Kremlin’s vision was to create an international anti-Zionist movement that would “instill a Nazi-style hatred for the Jews.” In other words, the Palestinian cause was a Cold War strategy to win the Middle East for Russia.

This “Nazi-style hatred for the Jews” has a name. It is called Palestinianism. The ideology draws strength from a number of anti-Semitic canards, archetypes and sources, including the religious (“Jews are forsaken by God”), the conspiratorial (“the Israeli government is infecting Palestinians with Aids”), and the economic (“Zionists control international finance,” “Boycott Israeli products”). The interchangeability of “Zionist” and “Jew” in Palestinianist political discourse is, of course, indicative of its anti-Semitic nature.

The ideological similarity to other Jew-hating phenomena such as Lutheranism and Nazism should not surprise us. Palestinianism is just the latest manifestation of an age-hold hatred. Christians and the Nazis were just as convinced as the Palestinianists of the righteousness of their causes. Indeed, each generation believes it has the answer to the so-called Jewish problem. Palestinianism is just the Final Solution by another name.

Because that’s what Palestinianism is about: genocide. It does not entail a peaceful political or diplomatic solution to the crisis. When Palestinians and their supporters chant “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea,” they are calling for the genocide and/or mass expulsion of millions of Israelis. This is what Western leaders fail to realise. Or they overlook it in the hope that boycotting Israeli goods will bring Israel to the negotiating table. This is not how Abbas and his acolytes view the boycotts. They see the boycotts as economic warfare against the Jews, with the ultimate aim of bringing down Israel.

But there is another reason why Western leaders need to wise up. The Palestinian issue, however bogus, has resulted in decades of terrorism and a new wave of anti-Jewish prejudice.

Westerners, especially well-meaning people like Quakers, liberals, trade unionists and charity bosses, suffer from cognitive dissonance. They are horrified by images of the Holocaust but they are unable to support a country that is run by Jews for Jews. If Israel was any other country – that is to say if it wasn’t a Jewish state – most people would gladly support a young, innovative, multicultural and thriving democracy. The only explanation as to why liberals, Christians and leftists are apologists for far-right terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah is that they harbour (perhaps unconsciously) unsavoury attitudes about Jews.

The rise in anti-Semitism in contemporary Europe has received little attention or sympathy because much of the abuse is carried out by Muslims and left-wing activists, who do not conform to the image of the anti-Semite as National Front skinhead. But the new anti-Semitism is more dangerous and more nuanced than the neo-Nazi thuggery of the 1970s. In addition to the hijackings, suicide bombings, shootings and knife attacks, Jews have faced a barrage of anti-Semitic propaganda emanating from pressure groups, universities, political institutions, charities, churches and media outlets.

The rise in anti-Semitic violence has started to attract some (belated) attention. British prime minister David Cameron has condemned Islamist Jew-hatred. The former Canadian premier Stephen Harper warned of a dangerous new form of anti-Semitism and said the world has a moral duty to rally around Israel. But the issue of anti-Semitism is not a priority for most policy-makers, international bodies or newspapers. In fact, some politicians and opinion-makers are complicit in the murder of Jews because they either foment Judeophobia by telling lies about Israel or turn a blind eye to Palestinian incitement (or both).

The situation cannot continue. Not when Jews living in Jerusalem and Paris are being abused, attacked and butchered. So much for “never again.” Even before the Gaza conflict of 2014 when anti-Semitism was at its highest since World War Two, around half of all Jews living in France, Belgium and Hungary were considering emigrating because they no longer felt safe in their respective countries.

So perhaps people of influence in the West should be asking themselves one simple question: Is Palestinianism really worth so much Jewish suffering?

Let’s look at the facts: There have been over half a dozen opportunities since 1937 for the Palestinian Arabs to create their own state. Since 2000, the Palestinian leadership had three major opportunities to establish an independent state, the most famous being the Camp David talks where Arafat was offered 92% of the West Bank, 100% of Gaza and east Jerusalem. In 2008, the Israelis put forward a proposal in which the Palestinians would receive Gaza, the majority of the West Bank, parts of east Jerusalem, safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza, and the dismantling of settlements in the Jordan Valley and eastern Samaria. Abbas did not give a final response on the matter and negotiations ended.

Another fact: Palestinian Arab figureheads and organisations – from Amin al-Husseini to Hamas – have been murdering Jews under the banner of Islam since the 1920s. So is the creation of a predominantly Sunni Muslim state between Israel and Jordan really a good idea, especially in our age of ultra-violent Islamic extremism?

How likely is it that a State of Palestine will make peace with Israel? Will homosexuals and lesbians in a Palestinian state be given equal rights or thrown off tall buildings? Will women have equal rights? Will there be a free press or will journalists be imprisoned and silenced?

In short, will a State of Palestine be a blessing or a curse?

Since it is clear that Jewish blood is flowing; since it is clear that the Palestinians are not interested in peaceful co-existence; since it is clear that the decay of Arab nations in the Middle East looks set to continue; and since it is highly likely that a Palestinian state will be a human rights basketcase, wouldn’t it be better for the international community to put aside childish notions of a Palestinian state and lavish their time and resources on more important matters?

The liberation of the Kurds from Islamist imperialism may be a good place to start. Or what about putting an end to the Syrian crisis? An end to sex slavery or bonded labour? There are so many pressing issues that require our immediate and full attention, that it seems absurd to pursue the creation of a State of Palestine when it is obvious that the Palestinians themselves don’t want a state and the Jews are paying the price with their blood.

Well, the world is bloodstained enough. What is perceived as a dispute over a tiny piece of land in the Middle East is, in fact, a racial war against the Jews. And as long as sensible people in the corridors of power in London, Brussels and Washington DC continue to play into the hands of obsessional and irrational anti-Semites, the security of the Jewish people will become increasingly perilous.

It is time to tell the Palestinians and their fellow travellers that enough is enough. The world should not revolve around them any longer.

For the sake of peace, Palestinian Arabs must acknowledge their Nazi past

aminal-husaini

The Palestinian Arabs must acknowledge their participation in the Nazi project to annihilate Jews…

By Richard Mather…

During the 1920s and 1930s when the world was reeling from the shocks of the Great War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the ideological thinking of Adolf Hitler and Amin al-Husseini, the leader of the Arabs in Palestine, developed along similar lines, converging with the establishment of the Nazi death camps and the mass murder of Jews.

Following Hitler’s rise to power, al-Husseini was a frequent guest of the Nazis. He made his first approach to the German consul in Jerusalem in 1933. His objectives, as he explained on many occasions to German officials, was to accomplish the final solution of the so-called Jewish problem everywhere. Assurances and promises were given on both sides. In 1937, al-Husseini called on Muslims to rise up against Jews. His 1936–39 Arab rebellion in Palestine was funded and weaponised by the Nazis.

Arab Muslims were quick to ally themselves with Hitler. They used guns and bullets provided and paid for by the Nazis to kill Jews. They attended pro-Hitler marches and rallies. They wrote him fan mail and celebrated his birthday. Hitler himself acknowledged the ideological overlap between Nazism and Islam. Tragically for the Jews, Hitler’s overtures towards the Arabs and the latter’s admiration of Hitler was the platform on which Germans and Arabs built their shared vision of a world without Judaism.

Al-Husseini sought and achieved German backing to eradicate the Jewish people in the Middle East. But his ambitions weren’t restricted to that part of the world. He created a Muslim Waffen-SS unit in Bosnia and visited the Nazi camps in Europe. He also personally intervened to ensure the prevention of Jewish children fleeing Europe for British Palestine. Indeed, the symbiotic relationship between Jews fleeing Europe and the creation of a Jewish sanctuary in Palestine was a nightmare for al-Husseini who wanted the eradication of Jews everywhere. Indeed, he was so paranoid about the possibility of a single Jew living in British Palestine that he wanted his own Nazi death camp in Nablus. (If Hitler had won the war in Europe, al-Husseini would probably have been responsible for implementing the Final Solution in Palestine, with the local Arabs operating the gas chambers. Fast forward to 2015 and you still hear the call to genocide. When Palestinians and their BDS supporters chant that “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,” they are calling for the mass murder of millions of Israeli Jews.)

After World War Two, the Germans apologised for their central role in the Shoah and made reparations. By contrast, the Arabs never repented. Instead, they vowed to continue Hitler’s mission by invading Israel in 1947-49, 1967 and 1973. Egypt gave sanctuary to several Nazi war criminals who worked with the Egyptian government in a demented effort to destroy the new Jewish state. Hamas’ charter reads like a Nazi tract, with its bizarre conspiracy theories and the desire to kill every Jew in the world. (Hamas, of course, is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has its roots in Nazism.) And the fact that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf are wildly popular in the so-called Palestinian Territories speaks volumes about the long-held Arab penchant for Nazi ideas, tropes and images.

Whereas the Allies deNazified Germany after the war, nobody – not even Israel – got round to deNazifying the Arabs. The Americans and the British broke Germany and Japan and successfully rebuilt those countries. The same should have been done to the Arab regimes that supported the Nazis. Western failure to deal with Arab fascism has been catastrophic. Pan-Arab nationalism, Islamism and Palestinian terrorism are the monstrous offspring of Islam and fascism. The current leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is a Holocaust revisionist. His appointment is symbolic of the West’s post-war mistakes. Can you imagine a twenty-first century leader of Germany expressing doubt about the Holocaust? He or she would be hounded out of office, not acclaimed as a partner for peace.

Palestinian Arabs who genuinely want an end to the conflict with Israel should consider putting down their guns and working with historians as part of a reconciliation process, a process in which they face up to their people’s historic involvement with the Nazis. There can be no trust between Jews and Arabs if the latter refuse to acknowledge their previous (and continuing) role in the genocide of the Jewish people. But recognition and security go hand in hand with truth and reconciliation. So in a gesture of goodwill, the Palestinian Arabs ought to reject the vision of a world without Jews and officially recognise Israel as a Jewish state – a state that has the right to exist within secure borders. Only then will the Palestinian Arabs have made some headway in repenting for their crimes against Jews.

The new politics is no politics

Corbyn AbbottBy Richard Mather…

Has the Labour Party given up? As things stand, there is no chance of Labour doing well in the next general election because the waiting, the duration, and the anticipation of election victory in 2020, are all absent. It looks like Labour has relinquished hope of ever being back in government. Are the Corbynistas trying to kill off the party?

Usually in the act of murder there is a body waiting to be discovered. But in the case of Labour, the victim will be absent. Not because the corpse of Blairism never existed; but because if it is ever found, its very existence would mean that Blairism really did live and breathe. And that would be anathema to the purists who pretend New Labour was a mirage.

As such, the Corbynistas perpetuate the outmoded economic and social arguments of the 1970s. But they are dressing them up as new and radical critiques in order to maintain an appearance. Labour’s idea of progress is to exhume the past, which is not very inspiring. An entire culture of irrelevance now labours (pun intended) inside Britain’s main opposition party.

Thirdly, the election of Corbyn and the lack of coherent shadow cabinet decision-making mean there are no responsible adults in charge of Labour. The current situation of floating responsibility over major policy issues such as Trident, Syria, the EU and the benefits cap, is farcical and unsustainable. Even some of the trade unions are starting to grow tired of the Corbynshambles.

If Labour is not interested in power, then what is its purpose? It seems to me that the main function of Corbyn is to actualise and preserve the far Left’s narrow sectarian interests within the party. The ultimate end of Labour, concealed by a bogus exercise in democratic discourse (“the new politics”), is to maintain control of centrist/moderate MPs by any means necessary, including deselection, briefings and social media abuse.

Labour exists – but only just. In fact, it is living through a catastrophic collapse of meaning and intellectual malaise. The Labour Party lost many of its intellectual heavyweights in 2010 when Gordon Brown left Number 10 and the country entered a period of centrist coalition led by the Conservatives. Since then the Labour Party has been led (and staffed) by political pygmies.

It has been years since Labour came up with an interesting or worthy policy initiative. With the possible exception of Liz Kendall, the recent leadership race demonstrated how intellectually bereft the Labour has become. Labour has been suffering intellectual decline since 2010. During the Miliband years the party had very little direction or coherence. And now, Labour has been reduced to the Twitter party: a social media/protest organisation that proffers a seemingly endless proliferation of callow opinion from the naive, foolish and the extreme. The new politics is no politics at all.

Contra Corbynomics: Why we should be incredulous towards economic statism

corbynomicsBy Richard Mather…

People are themselves. They are not objects to be pushed around by the State, which is what the new Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, proposes. This is why the British public shouldn’t be seduced by Corbyn’s vision of economic statism in which individualism, hard work and enterprise are demonised by expensive and controlling government.

Corbynomics, which is characterised by social ownership of the means of production and of the economy, is inefficient, unrealistic and reactionary. Corbynomics will not transfer power from the top of society to the bottom. It will merely hand power to (and enrich) apparatchiks, trade unions, politicians and state bureaucrats. In other words, a Corbyn government means power will be centralised and controlled by an overstaffed elite.

Corbyn’s economic statism reduces everything to the banality of the One: a one-size-fits-all economic narrative that ignores regional, local and competitive differences. The notion of the State as a single essence was a twentieth century experiment that failed. Look at the continental catastrophes of communism or fascism, or the public sector battles in the UK during the 1970s. It was only with the formation of a new British consensus in the 1980s and 1990s –  first under Thatcher and then Blair – that taxes were lowered and the monopoly of public sector power was broken, thanks in part to the privatisation of some industries/services.

Social mobility in the twenty-first century will not be helped by a return to an outdated economic public sector model. Contrary to popular opinion, the free market is not a reductive enterprise; rather, it is the guarantor of aspiration and progress. There is nothing immoral about people buying goods and services produced for profit. We need entrepreneurs, businesses and companies to invest in our local and regional economies, and to create new jobs. And of course, profits can be reinvested, fuelling economic growth and reducing prices for consumers.

Corbyn’s vision of the State comprises an unworkable trinity of nationalisation, people’s quantitative easing and higher taxes. But this trinity will not result in some kind of utopia. Renationalisation of the railways will require huge public investment, paid for by higher taxes on people who already work very long hours. Nor will renationalisation make the system accountable to taxpayers. Indeed, in the land of Corbyn, our democratic rights over state services will be endlessly deferred in a chain of bureaucracy and political obfuscation. Our frustrations with the railways will not diminish if the State steps in. On the contrary, our concerns will grow because of less choice, higher costs, below-par service and unionised public sector strikes.

Also troubling is the Corbynomic vision of so-called people’s quantitative easing, whereby the Bank of England prints money to bankroll socialism, which could lead to high levels of inflation. As Bank of England governor Mark Carney points out, “The people who tend to get hurt the most by inflation are the poor, the elderly, those that can’t hedge themselves – that’s been the experience throughout history.” Far from entering the lives of the vulnerable and transforming them for the better, Corbynomics will hurt the most disadvantaged and leave them with less money to spend on essentials and luxuries. Again, Corbynomics robs us all – but especially the poor – of personal and economic autonomy.

Finally, higher tax rates do not necessarily yield more revenues because they reduce incentives to work. What Corbyn fails to understand is that the UK is actually becoming more equal. The top one per cent of earners in the UK now shoulder a greater share of the income tax burden than at any time in our country’s history. In other words, Chancellor George Osborne’s taxation policy is sensibly progressive. Corbynomics is regressive and will generate less income for the country.

Corbynomics is a fantasy. It is an illiterate and ideologically-driven economic metanarrative that elevates and enshrines the grand role of the State and punishes the virtues of localism, eclecticism, enterprise, healthy competition and personal aspiration. These virtues help make Britain a modern and exciting country. Corbynomics, by contrast, is a return to the old and defeated arguments of the 1970s when high inflation, government inefficiency, bad services, trade union militancy and low growth turned the UK into the sick man of Europe.

Labour needs to get real and reach out to the British people with sensible and moderate policies. The electorate is neither stupid nor naïve. Given that the country rejected Ed Miliband in May 2015 and voted for a Conservative majority government for the first time since the 1990s, they are hardly likely to vote for Labour’s dangerous economic statism in 2020.

Corbyn: A man is known by the company he keeps

Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn denies he is an anti-Semite and a racist; but his multiple associations with Jew-haters – including neo-Nazi loons – suggests there is an enduring and endemic problem in Corbyn’s Palestinianist/anti-Zionist philosophy. Here is a run-down of the top seven anti-Semites, conspiracy theorists, far-Right Islamists and outright fascists who have either shared a platform with Corbyn or have been defended by the man who would be Labour leader…

1. Dyab Abou Jahjah

“It will be my pleasure and my honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah [i.e. Dyab Abou Jahjah] will be speaking ….so far as I’m concerned that is absolutely the right function to use parliamentary facilities… to invite [Abou Jahjah] to meet members of Parliament.” – Jeremy Corbyn

Labour leader contender Jeremy Corbyn claimed not to know Lebanese-born Dyab Abou Jahjah, a former Hezbollah fighter, who calls “every dead America, British and Dutch soldier a victory.” Then a photograph of the two men together (taken in 2009; see below) was circulated on the internet. Corbyn spoke at two events alongside Jahjah. He also lobbied the British government to lift a ban on Jahjah entering the country.

Not only does Jahjah celebrate the death of UK troops, he is a nasty homophobe and anti-Semite. On a blog he refers to “Aids-spreading fagots,” “the cult of the Holocaust and Jew worship,” and “hoax gas-chambers.” Jahjah is the founder of the Arab European League (AEL). Under Jahjah’s leadership, the AEL has published a number of highly-offensive anti-Semitic cartoons about the Holocaust.

It is important to note that Corbyn knew about Jahjah’s anti-Semitic views before sharing a platform with him. How do we know this? Because the issue was discussed at a Stop the War public meeting – which Corbyn attended.

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2. Hamas, Hezbollah

As patron of the Palestine Solidarity Committee, Corbyn declared in a 2009 speech that “it will be my pleasure and honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking. I’ve also invited our friends from Hamas to come and speak as well.”

Hezbollah actively engages in Holocaust denial and spreads anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jewish power. And Hamas has made no secret of its genocidal intent towards Jews in general – not just Israelis. Yet Corbyn once described Hamas as “an organisation dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people and bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region.”

Corbyn has also shared a platform with Black September hijacker Leila Khaled and hosted a meeting with a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

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3. Citizens Electoral Council/LaRouche

Corbyn was interviewed via video link at the annual conference of the far-Right Citizens Electoral Council in Australia in March 2015. The group is known for its anti-Semitic, anti-gay, anti-Aboriginal positions. And it explicitly states that it is a member of the neo-Nazi LaRouche movement, which denies the Holocaust and blames Israel for 9/11.

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4. Paul Eisen

Corbyn has denied knowing that far-Right blogger and campaigner Paul Eisen was a Holocaust denier when he donated money to him. And yet there is a photograph from 2013 showing Corbyn at a formal reception for Eisen’s anti-Semitic organisation Deir Yassin Remembered. This was after Eisen publicised his extreme scepticism about the existence of the Nazi gas chambers. Eisen has also endorsed David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard.

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5. Sheikh Raed Salah

Corbyn has lent his support to Sheikh Raed Salah – a man who has been convicted of spreading the anti-Jewish blood libel and believes that Israel was behind 9/11. Corbyn describes him as an “honoured citizen” and said he was looking forward “to giving you [i.e. Salah] tea on the terrace because you deserve it!”

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6. Reverend Stephen Sizer

Corbyn wrote a letter of support for Rev Stephen Sizer, an Anglican vicar, who spreads the libel that Israel was responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks. Rev Sizer’s ideas have been branded by the Church of England as “clearly anti-Semitic.”

Sizer is a regular contributor to Islamic media outlets, including Iran’s Press TV. He has been photographed with Arafat, and with Zahra Mostafavi Khomeini, the daughter of the Ayatollah. He has met with – and publicly defended – the previously-mentioned Raed Salah.

Sizer once stated that the reason Jews “were expelled from the land was that they were more interested in money and power and treated the poor and aliens with contempt.” In 2011, he posted a link on his Facebook page to an anti-Semitic website called “The Ugly Truth,” and in the same year, he went to Malaysia to work with Viva Palestina, whose leading activists include Holocaust-denier Matthias Chang.

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7. James Thring

Corbyn hosted and sponsored an event at Parliament at which far-Right Jew-hater James Thring gave a speech. Thring, who believes that the Jews control the financial markets, stated that a Palestinian militia should be armed and equipped. Thring has been described by Stand for Peace as a “neo-Nazi.”

He is also a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, has links with former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke and has campaigned for the release of Holocaust denier David Irving. Ironically, for a man who supports Holocaust deniers, Thring has compared Palestine  to Auschwitz. According to Searchlight, Thring features in a pro-Hitler video called Dresden: A Commemoration.

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Is Corbyn an anti-Semite, a liar or just a naive fool?

 

By Richard Mather…

Jeremy Corbyn’s awkward and unsatisfactory responses to widespread allegations of anti-Semitism begs some questions: Is he an anti-Semite in denial? A terrible judge of character? A misguided and naive fool? Or is he intellectually incapable of understanding the close and overlapping relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?

Despite his age (he’s in his sixties), his political vision is immature and shallow, which perhaps explains the mess he’s in. His ideas draw on the juvenile politics of the student union. No wonder his CV reads like a Students for Justice in Palestine newsrag. Of course, Corbyn is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, but he’s also a member of Amnesty International, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the sinister-silly Stop the War Coalition. And as is typical of extremists he’s irrationally hostile to Israel and NATO, and is a friend to the IRA, Hamas and Hezbollah. He is also an admirer of left-wing despot Hugo Chavez.  Corbyn parrots all the far-Left ideologies without considering the political, moral and human consequences. In the case of his manifold links to Jew-hating extremists, he is so blinded by Palestinianist fervour that he forgets to check whether his anti-Zionist friends are raving Judeophobes (they usually are). How are British Jews supposed to have confidence in a man who conveniently overlooks the anti-Semitic rhetoric emanating from Hamas and Sheikh Raed Salah?

It is staggering that Corbyn (who has been in politics for several decades) can claim with a straight face to be unaware of the anti-Semitic credentials of his Islamist and Holocaust-denying friends. If Corbyn is not an anti-Semite, then he is a naive/misguided old man or a hopeless relativist who lacks the ability to tell right from wrong. There is another possibility: he’s a chronic liar who is desperately trying to hide his dodgy political connections. Whatever the answer he is unfit to lead one of Britain’s great political parties.

Beware the Corbyn-led insurgency that holds moderates to ransom

By Richard Mather…

This is an uncomfortable time to be a political moderate or Jewish, or indeed both. The ascendancy of Jeremy Corbyn and the militant rise of the anti-Zionist hard Left in Britain is a reminder that extremism of all kinds is a risk to the well-being, happiness and security of the UK’s Jewish communities but also ordinary people who are tired of the political extremes prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s. Willing or not, we are all participants in a culture war in which moderates are under attack from far Left activists, neo-Nazi types and far Right Islamists. This triangulation of hatred is particularly hard for most Jews who repeatedly face a culture war on three fronts.

Part of the problem is the social media. Facebook and Twitter have emboldened people to be downright nasty to those who don’t agree with them. Just look at the misogynist abuse directed at Labour contender Liz Kendall or the antisemitic diatribes directed at John Mann MP who has been called “filth” and a “Zionist stooge” by Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters. The mainstream media is little better. Look at what happened when The Jewish Chronicle ran a perfectly reasonable editorial that asked Corbyn to respond to allegations surrounding his antisemitic affiliations. Cue Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s ridiculous response in The Independent in which she not only sidestepped the issue and got her facts wrong, she also dreamed up a Judeo-Zionist conspiracy that is plotting to “crush all alternatives to neoliberal economics and Western hegemony.”

Corbyn himself seems to be perched on a cloud high above the rough and tumble of Britain’s culture war. Indeed, he is curiously disengaged from the social media warfare, leaving his thousands of followers to do battle with his opponents and critics. Corbyn’s disinterest in the dirty political discourses that are swirling around him reminds me of the Scottish referendum debate in which many ordinary Scots turned into aggressive footsoldiers, quashing competing narratives with vicious put-downs, internet trolling and intimidation, with the tacit approval of SNP bosses Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond. The same kind of thing is happening now.

In other words, while Corbyn himself holds some pretty unsavoury views about the IRA and the Israeli-Palestinian issue, it is his slavish and deeply unpleasant supporters that moderates should be most worried about. The Corbynistas, who comprise the militant Left, a few quasi-Marxist intellectuals and a lot of young (and naive) idealists who simply want to belong to an exciting political movement, are engaged in the kind of factionalism that is typical of extremists. Unable to deal with realpolitik, the Corbynistas have created a political simulacrum of the world in which they peer out on the rest of us and hate us for our “false consciousness.” That makes it easier for them to condemn moderates as “Tory scum,” “neo-cons” and “Zionists.” These extremists really do hate us. They are conditioned by their own insular ideology to hate Blairites, Conservatives and Jewish Zionists. Unfortunately, you cannot reason an extremist out of something they weren’t reasoned into.

My main concern, however, is the probability that Corbyn and his acolytes have little interest in the discipline of government but are content with being a huge protest group united only by single issue politics such as Palestinianism, austerity, anti-capitalism and fracking. This movement is already led by a coalition of groups that includes the Socialist Workers Party, the Greens, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War and Unite. This coalition has been gathering pace for years, particularly since 2003 when Blair wanted to invade Iraq. And now, with a Conservative government in Downing Street, we can expect a huge upswing in the number of industrial disruptions by strikers, anti-austerity rallies in London and anti-Zionist marches through Manchester. To all intents and purposes, we could be facing years of direct action and revolutionary activism.

The hard Left is in the ascendancy in all parts of the country. Look at what happened in Scotland. The SNP has transformed Scotland into a nationalist socialist machine that holds the UK Conservative government to ransom. Interestingly, the hard Left in England doesn’t need to be in government in order to be in power. Even without Corbyn’s leadership, the extreme Left has the power to perpetuate its culture war by stopping the Tube or the trains, or by wrecking the country’s energy policy by resisting fracking, or by demanding the arrest and trial of people they don’t like such as Tony Blair and Benjamin Netanyahu, or by organising mass protests against Jewish businesses and Israelis, or by protesting against the military removal of Islamic State. All Corbyn has done is act as a lightning rod. Whether Corbyn wins the Labour leadership or not, the extreme Left is galvanised and it has the numbers to hold us all to ransom.

In other words, Britain is facing an aggressive, populist and illiberal insurgency. Welcome to the new culture war.

Jeremy Corbyn’s populist anti-Zionism is shared by the far Right

corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn attends a meeting organised by Paul Eisen in 2013 (Daily Mail)

Why does Jeremy Corbyn gravitate towards people who are anti-Semitic? And why do some individuals on the extreme Right admire the Labour leadership candidate?

By Richard Mather…

It is no secret that Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn is a man of the militant left and a friend of Hamas and Hezbollah. But what is less well known is that Corbyn is an inspiration to some individuals on the Far Right – not just ultra-conservative Islamists who believe adulterers should be stoned to death but the kind of extreme right-wingers who believe the gas chambers are a myth.

In a recent article, I outlined Corbyn’s links to extremist organisations/persons that seek Israel’s destruction. Corbyn has taken thousands of pounds in gifts from organisations closely linked to Hamas. He is also patron of the Palestine Solidarity Committee . And in 2009 he declared that it was his “pleasure and honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking,” before adding: “I’ve also invited our friends from Hamas to come and speak as well.”

Corbyn has shared a platform with Black September hijacker Leila Khaled and hosted a meeting with a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. And he is favourably disposed towards the paranoid anti-Semite Sheikh Raed Salah who believes Jews use the blood of gentile children in the preparation of holy bread.

Some of Corbyn’s supporters were angry and upset about my article – not because they were ashamed of their man’s attraction to anti-Semitic organisations and individuals, but because I had dared to criticise him in the first place. Corbyn’s ability to generate such a slavish  and unquestioning following perhaps explains why some people on the far Right have found themselves mesmerised by the great populist.

Take Paul Eisen, the self-hating Jew who is so extreme that he questions the existence of the Nazi gas chambers and endorses David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard. Eisen is a huge supporter of Corbyn, whom he has dubbed “the finest man in British politics.” This is from Eisen’s blog:

I just heard that Jeremy Corbyn is going to stand for the leadership of the British Labour Party. I hate all politics and I hold the hopelessly compromised and Zionised Labour party in particular contempt. But if Jeremy Corbyn does stand for leader I’m going to join that party so I can give him my vote.

He continues:

One issue he most certainly does support is that of Palestine solidarity and one evening fifteen years ago I cycled over to see him. I was just beginning to establish Deir Yassin Remembered in the UK and I wanted him to join. I’d hardly begun my feverishly-rehearsed pitch before his cheque book was on the table. From that day on, without fuss or bother […] he attended every single Deir Yassin commemoration.

As part of an investigation into Corbyn’s links with Eisen, The Daily Mail has published a photograph that apparently shows Corbyn sitting attentively at one of Eisen’s Deir Yassin Remembered events in St John’s Wood Church in 2013. If true, this shows a serious lack of judgement on Corbyn’s part. As the Mail explains, Eisen’s views about the Holocaust are so awful that even some members of the Palestine Solidarity Movement are  embarrassed to be associated with the organisation.

Disturbingly, it is not just the ultra-right-wing blog of Paul Eisen that celebrates the Corbyn  ascendency. The far Right ex-Jew Gilad Atzmon (who also questions what he calls the “Holocaust narrative”) recently told Iran’s Press TV:

It is very clear that British public is tired of these Zionist wars. It is tired of fake left and fake Labour. And the success of Jeremy Corbyn is probably the most positive sign we see in British politics for decades.

Then there is the disturbing far Right website deLiberation, which hails Corbyn as the “antidote to the Blairite virus and Zionist snake-bite”:

Many certainly can see Corbyn as Prime Minister – a very different and totally new style of PM, to be sure – with open-neck shirt, a cloth cap on occasion and sleeves rolled up ready for grass-roots action. At least he’s a man to look up to and identify with…. and a man who is not tempted by the Israeli shekel. If any of his opponents lands the leadership Labour will remain under the yoke of Zionist ambitions and enslave by the gangster regime in Tel Aviv.

To get an idea of the kind of Judeophobic rubbish published by deLiberation, consider the titles of some of the website’s articles: ‘Dismantling French Culture to Make It Jew Friendly’, ‘Uruguay’s Judaization,’ and ‘Jewish Inquisition in Argentina,’ the last of which condemns the “the global tentacles of Jewish power and its effects on the Western nations.” What would Corbyn think if he knew his name was being associated with anti-Semitic propaganda inspired by Goebbels? Would he care?

If Corbyn wants to be taken seriously as the (potential) leader of a mainstream political party, he needs to do something about the anti-Semitism swirling  around him. Rejecting Jew-hatred in theory is not enough: he must maintain a healthy distance between himself and the likes of Hamas and Sheik Salah. After all, a man is known by the company he keeps. The fact that Corbyn is so comfortable in the presence of people  who hate Jews is deeply troubling.

And Corbyn ought to be concerned that his political rhetoric and his ongoing associations with anti-Zionist organisations/individuals are being applauded by the extreme Right – not just the Islamist far Right but the fascist far Right.

An ex-member of the neo-Nazi British National Party (who wants to stay anonymous) told me that his former colleagues and the far Left have a shared language when it comes to Zionism, Westminster politics, corporatism and nationalisation. “They believe in the same things like bringing the bankers under control and nationalising industries. They don’t agree on immigration but there’s agreement on the dangers of Zionist Jews and Israel.”

I am not accusing Corbyn of being a right-wing extremist in disguise. Not quite, anyway. But it has to be said there is a family resemblance between both ends of the political spectrum, which are connected by a series of overlapping similarities. It  cannot be denied that the far Left and the far Right both have a populist hatred of austerity and of establishment politics, and both are anti-Zionist, anti-capitalist and anti-American. Rhetoric on both sides is inflammatory and radical; action is often militant and menacing.

So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Corbyn is so attractive to the far Left and the far Right. As support for his campaign grows, Corbyn may find that flitting from the populist far Left to the populist far Right is like going next door: it is no distance at all.

Spinoza’s hatchet

Original publication: Poetica Magazine, Spring 2015

By Richard Mather…

hatchet

For the sole perfection and the final end of a slave and of a tool is this, that they duly fulfill the task imposed on them. For example, if a carpenter, while doing some work, finds his Hatchet of excellent service, then this Hatchet has thereby attained its end and perfection; but if he should think: this Hatchet has rendered me such good service now, therefore I shall let it rest, and exact no further service from it, then precisely this Hatchet would fail of its end, and be a Hatchet no more. (From Spinoza’s The Short Treatise On God, Man and His-Well-Being.)

 
Now then, Baruch Spinoza.
Let us reason.
A hatchet is an object.
An obvious assertion, I think.
But is it really only a hatchet
when a carpenter finds it
“of excellent service”?
 
Or does it retain its hatchetness
when not in use?
What’s more, Baruch,
what about when it is in use?
When you hew wood,
are you swinging a hatchet
or an object-in-its-own-right?
 
Answer me this, Baruch Spinoza.
Isn’t its object condition worthy
of consideration? And if so,
isn’t it worth asking
if this hatchet is independent
of its properties and relations?
 
Or shall we be like Adam –
that supreme royal subject –
who, in his garden of many things,
objectified objects without
actually granting them
objecthood?
 

Jezbollah – the Messiah of the Militant Left

By Richard Mather…

If a leadership candidate for a mainstream British political party was known to be a “friend” of Golden Dawn and the Ku Klux Klan, he or she would be booed off stage, and rightly so. But substitute these far Right racist groups for Hamas and Hezbollah and suddenly such friendships are considered part of a winning political formula.

Welcome to Britain where Labour parliamentarian Jeremy Corbyn is set to win his party’s leadership contest. Corbyn, who is MP for the London constituency of Islington North, was encouraged to put his name on the ballot by colleagues who felt that the Labour leadership debate should be widened to include views from the far Left of the party. Since then, Corbyn has raced ahead in the contest and is now 20 points ahead of his nearest rival.

Corbyn’s links to anti-Semitic organisations should be a source of embarrassment for the Labour Party, but Corbyn is now the messiah of the militant Left in Britain. He has the backing of several major trade unions and he is feted by the British Communist Party.

Some commentators light-heartedly call it Corbynmania but they should be more circumspect. The popularity of Corbyn is  suggestive of something  unpleasant in the British political psyche. The fact that so many people – especially young Labour Party members – are so enamoured of a man who openly refers to Hezbollah and Hamas as “friends” reveals the popular extent of ideological extremism in the UK.

In other words, for large parts of the British Left, anti-Semitism is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Consider Corbyn’s enthusiastic support for the Jew-hating Islamist Raed Salah.

Salah was charged with inciting anti-Jewish violence after he repeated the anti-Semitic blood libel during a 2007 speech in east Jerusalem. And in 2001, following the 9/11 atrocities, Salah propagated the conspiracy theory that Jewish employees at the Twin Towers were absent from work on September 11. This has not stopped Corbyn referring to Salah as “an honoured citizen” and “a far from dangerous man” – indeed, a man with whom Corbyn wants to share “tea on the terrace.”

As patron of the Palestine Solidarity Committee , Corbyn declared in a 2009 speech that “it will be my pleasure and honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking. I’ve also invited our friends from Hamas to come and speak as well.”

As well as meetings with Hamas and Hezbollah, Corbyn has (according to The Telegraph) taken thousands of pounds in gifts from organisations closely linked to Hamas, including the Palestinian Return Centre. He has also hosted a meeting with a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and shared a platform with Leila Khaled, one of the Black September hijackers.

So what is going on? Clearly, Corbyn has a fetish for organisations that employ extreme violence and terror to undermine the security of nation states. Hence his support for Hamas/Hezbollah and the IRA, which seek to dismantle the State of Israel and the United Kingdom respectively. While the Jewish state is condemned by Corbyn, both Hezbollah and Hamas are praised for their revolutionary zeal. As is typical of someone who belongs to the militant Left, Corbyn seems to have  adopted the dubious stance that when Islamists kill Jews, it is a legitimate expression of a Third World ‘will to power.’ Conversely, when Israel seeks to defend Jews, it is accused of colonialism, fascism and disproportionate behaviour.

Corbyn would no doubt respond that he simply wants a “free Palestine” (whatever that means). But putting aside the fact that the Arabs have turned down a two-state solution on several occasions, does the Left really expect a State of Palestine to be a place of tolerance and equality, with functioning democratic institutions and trade unions?

If Corbyn wants these things for the Arab Palestinians why is he so cosy with Hamas, which considers homosexuality to be a moral sickness? Why is he on such good terms with an organisation that diverts humanitarian aid and uses civilians as human shields?

The answer is that Corbyn cares little for the Arab Palestinians but he cares a great deal about accepting gifts and patronage from a group of rocket-toting fanatics wearing keffiyehs.

The possibility of a Corbyn-led Labour Party, which will seek a mandate from the UK electorate in 2020, should send a chill down the spine of British Jewry. It certainly worries me.

MANCHESTER’S GAZA WAR: ONE YEAR ON

By Richard Mather…

For those fifty days in 2014 when the IDF and Hamas were at war, the Jewish community in the UK experienced its own kind of Gaza conflict. Following the commencement of hostilities, anti-Semitic incidents in Britain grew by more than a third. During the six weeks of the war, British Jews were verbally abused and physically assaulted. Synagogues were vandalised with graffiti. Businesses were attacked and/or forced to close because of anti-Israel protestors.

Several town halls in England and Scotland decided to spit in the face of British Jewry by flying the so-called Palestinian flag in a “gesture of solidarity” with Hamas. And the malevolent clown that is George Galloway (the then MP for Bradford West) unilaterally declared the city of Bradford an “Israel-free zone.”

2014 was also the year when a number of Westminster politicians threw their weight behind the anti-Israel campaign. The Conservative Party’s Baroness Warsi chose to resign her job as Foreign Office minister the day after a ceasefire came into place. She claimed that her government’s even-handed approach to the Israeli-Gaza crisis was “morally indefensible and not in Britain’s interests.” It’s a pity she didn’t resign in 2013 when the same government failed to take action after Assad gassed his fellow Syrians.

On the Labour side, Jack Straw, the lamentable foreign secretary during the Iraq war in which more than 100,000 people were killed, referred to Israel’s war in Gaza as an “unspeakable horror.”  And in a transparent (but failed) attempt to shore up the left-wing and Muslim vote, the then Labour leader Ed Miliband condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza as “wrong and unjustifiable.” Luckily, Miliband was beaten to the post of Prime Minister by the pro-Israel David Cameron.

Unsurprisingly, the British media were deeply offended by Israel’s strength of purpose. Most of the newspapers, along with broadcasters like the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky, failed to report the facts, preferring to take statements by Hamas as gospel truth. The Times refused to run an advert that criticised Hamas’ use of children as human shields in case readers were offended. The macabre obsession with the death toll in Gaza (combined with the media’s inability to explain why the Israeli death toll was comparatively low) fuelled the belief that Israelis were acting without restraint.

But it was events in England’s second city of Manchester that came to symbolise the plight of British Jewry. (Greater Manchester is home to the fastest growing Jewish community in Europe and is the largest in the UK after London.) Manchester’s Gaza conflict centred  on a small Anglo-Israeli cosmetics shop called Kedem. It is a store that sells soap and exfoliating cream made from minerals extracted from the Israeli side of the Dead Sea. Kedem is not a political shop. It is a registered British company, paying UK taxes. It is not a front for the Israeli government as some idiots believe. However, Kedem became the focus of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

When the protests first started, the shop was forced to shut for four days. But a large contingent of Israel supporters (including this writer) came to the rescue. Day after day, week after week, Manchester’s Jewish community turned out to support the shop and to oppose the pro-Palestinian protesters. We tried very hard to highlight the hypocrisy of the boycotters. It is all too easy to boycott a little shop that sells soap, we argued, but why didn’t the Hamas supporters discard their USB flash drives and instant messaging software that are the products of Israeli innovation? Don’t use Google, we said, because Google uses an advanced text search algorithm invented by an Israeli student.

We asked them why they singled out Israel for criticism while ignoring the fact that Israel is a democracy where one in five citizens are Arabs who have the right to vote and sit in the Israeli parliament. We asked them why they support Hamas when it is a terrorist organisation that uses its own people as human shields and spends millions of dollars of aid money building terror tunnels. Their response was always outright denial or obfuscation. Or a mixture of both.

It wasn’t just Kedem that suffered during those six weeks. Adjacent businesses were forced to close for days, even weeks, because of the protests. Meanwhile, shop workers on Market Street (the busiest commercial street in the UK) were intimidated and harassed by Hamas demonstrators as they snaked their way from Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens to Kedem. It was only when the local economy started to suffer that the authorities did anything. Indeed, city councillors were furious that the police were not preventing such large-scale public disorder.

Throughout the six weeks and beyond, the police response was mixed. The police did their best at first to maintain a balance between the legal right to protest and the right for shops to trade freely. But at times they were overwhelmed by the size and the persistence of the pro-Palestinian mob. And the police showed themselves to be either incapable or unwilling to deal conclusively with the protestors who, even now, are active outside Kedem. There are some people in the Jewish community who wish to  flatter the police, but the truth is that local law enforcement has failed. And Manchester is a more unpleasant place as a consequence.

Will the protestors ever go away? It seems unlikely, especially in the current political climate where the hard Left and Wahhabi Islamists are emboldened by their opposition to the newly-elected centre-right government led by David Cameron. And if a new war between Israel and Hamas (or Hezbollah) breaks out, then the anti-Zionist protesters will undoubtedly return in very large numbers. After all, they’ve tasted blood and they are impatient to strike again.

THE SUBLIME ART OF BARNETT NEWMAN, THE JEWISH PAINTER FROM NEW YORK

By Richard Mather

The problem of a painting is physical and metaphysical, the same as I think life is physical and metaphysical – Barnett Newman

Exactly forty-five years ago (July 4 1970) the remarkable American-Jewish artist Barnett Newman died of a heart attack at the age of sixty-five.

Barnett Newman was born in 1905 to Abraham and Anna Newman, Jewish immigrants from Poland who came to New York City in 1900. Although not religious, Barnett’s father was a passionate Zionist and supporter of the National Hebrew School of the Bronx. As well as attending Hebrew school, Barnett and his brothers and sisters were educated at home by Jewish scholars from Europe. He went on to study philosophy at the City College of New York and later made a living as an art teacher, writer and critic. In the 1930s he made a number of paintings but eventually destroyed all these works. Newman started painting again in 1944 and he made a number of chalk drawings but it wasn’t until 1948 that he produced his artistic breakthrough.Onement 1 was a major achievement and it was this artwork that earned him the reputation as a pioneer of colour field paintings.

Onement 1 features the celebrated vertical stripe or “zip” that was created by the ripping away of masking tape from the canvas. Onement 1 and subsequent works are sometimes described in religious terms. Thomas B. Hess, for example, regards the vertical bands of colour or zips as “an act of division, a gesture of separation, as God separated light from darkness, with a line drawn in the void.” Indeed, Newman himself claimed that the artist begins with the void. Like God, the artist’s first move is to enact a primal gesture by transforming the void with a descending stroke or zip. In other words, the removal of masking tape is a revelatory event.

Newman’s interest in the Hebraic sublime can be attributed to the horrors of the Second World War, which had rendered “old standards of beauty” invalid, he said. This left the way clear for the art of the sublime, which was the only appropriate response to humanity’s post-war lethargy. Newman was concerned with “metaphysical understanding” and “awesome feelings.” He was eager to depict “nothing that has any known physical visual, or mathematical counterpart.” The new art, he said, was “a religious art, a modern mythology concerned with numinous ideas and feelings.”

The Hebraic sublime continued to preoccupy Newman. The Name 1 (1949) is a depiction of the tetragrammaton (four-letter name of God) in which the four vertical “zips” read like Hebrew from right to left – Y, H, V, H. Abraham (also 1949) is a very dark painting and there is no attempt to depict the patriarch in any figurative sense. Instead we confronted with a nearly seven-foot-tall painting of a single thick black stripe running vertically across a black canvas. Two paintings from the early 1950s are called Adam (1951) and Eve (1950). Again, there is a conspicuous lack of literal representation. Rather we are faced with vast swathes of colour interrupted by contrasting stripes or zips.

Primordial Light (1954) is a huge (243.8 cm tall and 127 cm wide) painting dominated by a wide expanse of greyish-black oil paint, fringed by light grey “zips.” The picture brings to the mind the Kabbalistic notion of the lamp of darkness in which “light and darkness are the same” (Psalm 139). The title inevitably recalls the Kabbalistic writings of Isaac Luria, the 16th century rabbi and mystic. According to Rabbi Luria, prior to creation there was only Ohr Ein Sof, which was the garment used by God to conceal Himself. God then constricted his infinite light, distancing it to the sides surrounding the central point, so that there remained a vacated space in the middle of the light. A trace of divine light, known as reshimu, remained in the empty space. Then a ray (or kav) from Ohr Ein Sof entered the empty space. The form of the divine produced by this first ray of light is known as Adam Kadmon (literally, “Primordial Adam”).

Between 1959 and 1966, Newman worked on what many people consider to be his crowning achievement: fourteen black and white paintings called The Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachtani. Each canvas measures about 78 by 60 inches, an impressive but not overpowering size. In Newman’s words, they are on “a human scale for the human cry.” Again, the canvases  feature the trademark zips. Not a single canvas depicts Jesus of Nazareth, evidence perhaps that Newman didn’t want to single out Jesus’ experience, preferring instead to draw attention to the shared fate of each and every person. Suffering and death are ubiquitous.

Four years after completing The Stations of the Cross, Newman suffered a fatal heart attack. Fittingly, for a man so preoccupied with Jewish themes, one of his last public acts was the signing of the “Declaration of Solidarity with Soviet Jews,” organised by the Conference on the Status of Soviet Jews.

Among the public collections holding works by Newman are the Art Institute of Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art (New York City), the National Gallery of Art (Washington DC), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Tate Gallery (London). In 2013, Newman’s gigantic  Onement VI was sold for a record $43.8 million at Sotheby’s. The following year, his Black Fire 1 sold for $84.2 million – setting a new auction record for the artist and confirming the growing appreciation of this remarkable painter from New York.