International Leaders & Institutions Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion

Israel, threatened by religion

Houses are seen in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev (bottom) with the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the backgraund, in the occupied West Bank, on Dec. 29, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Baz Ratner

JERUSALEM (RNS) I came to Israel two weeks ago to speak at the annual conference of the Open University’s Center for the Study of Relations Between Jews, Christians, Muslims. The theme this year had to do with ways of coping with modernization and secularization.

Talk after talk suggested that in Israel the coping is going rather too well.

Religious barriers to intermarriage are stronger than ever, even among the nonobservant. When ultra-orthodox Jewish and Bedouin women obtain higher education, it’s in order to strengthen their families’ religious traditionalism. As in the U.S., religious conservatives have had no trouble swallowing libertarian economics. And so on.

Haifa, December 24, 2016

Mark Silk

Haifa, December 24, 2016

Sure, Tel Aviv remains a secular world apart — metal street menorahs and seasonal jelly doughnuts lost in the shuffle of natives surfing, concertgoing and hanging out in cafes as usual. In pluralist Haifa, Jews and Arabs crowd the downtown, under a canopy of lights stretching from the Christmas tree and the Dove of Peace menorah up toward the Baha’i Temple.

But meanwhile, tribes of haredim and religious Zionists populate the landscape in steadily growing proportions. Jerusalem’s secular enclaves grow smaller and smaller. Everywhere, there is a sense of secularism and pluralism in decline.

Enter U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 and John Kerry’s rationale for the Obama administration’s decision to let it pass. Never mind the claims of anti-Israel bias. Never mind how much the Israeli settlements are to blame for the lack of a peace agreement.

The central issue is the power of religious zealots to determine the character, if not the future, of the Jewish state.

The crux of Kerry’s long speech was this:

Today, there are a number — there are a similar number of Jews and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. They have a choice. They can choose to live together in one state or they can separate into two states. But here is a fundamental reality: If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both.

The leaders of the settler movement, who hold the Netanyahu government in thrall, choose one state — Jewish and not democratic. Which is to say they are committed to making (Orthodox) Judaism integral to Israeli identity and to continuing the disenfranchisement of the Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza.

The settler movement is not about national security or making the desert bloom. It’s about religious claims to the land and a messianic vision of the future. It includes groups planning the rebuilding of the Temple and raising doves and livestock in anticipation of the resumption of animal sacrifice.

Donald Trump is, they believe, the answer to their prayers. And why not? He has denounced Resolution 2334 and named as his ambassador to Israel a man who is a leading supporter of Beit El, of one of the more controversial West Bank settlements.

Beit El’s Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, a spiritual leader of religious Zionism, in 2010 started a campaign to stop Jews from renting apartments to Arabs. Two years later, he delivered a ruling that women should not run for the Knesset because of modesty.

The head of the Beit El yeshiva, Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed, has urged that non-Jewish citizens of Israel considered subversive be stripped of their citizenship.

In other words, the settler movement is to Israel what end-times evangelicals and religious right extremists are to the United States. Now, with an American president who is prepared to acquiesce in its agenda about to take office, the organized Jewish community is spending its time criticizing an outgoing administration that is adhering to long-standing American support of a two-state solution.

It is to weep.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

41 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • With all of your rants about other people’s religions, poor persecuted Christians like yourself, and other Christians not being true Christians like yourself, I would beg to differ.
    By the way, thanks for the Odin citation. It was a gas.

  • No problem (and no parallels) on the Odin thing. Meanwhile, you atheists will always feel threatened by religion, I suppose.

    But that’s only because you don’t realize that your atheism is a religion as well — and a singularly unsupportable one at that.

  • It certainly does look like Israel is going to start annexing the West Bank without allowing the Palestinians living there to become citizens, but I was unaware of any sizable group planning on taking over the Temple Mount. There seems to be a small crackpot website. Do you have any references showing appreciable support for rebuilding the temple?

  • Bibi has been funding the Temple Institute for more than a decade. You should look a tiny bit harder. Like try to look at all which you obviously did not do. They have an office in Jerusalem.

  • Palestinians in East Jerusalem have the option to become full citizens of Israel, with all the rights of any other citizen.

    They CHOOSE not to.

  • Threatened by the rise in fundamentalist religion – Christianity, Judaism and Islam especially. And those damn Janists – they’re swatting flies now!

  • Honestly Ben, I don’t understand why people engage you. You come here every day, post the same thing, (we get it, you are no fan of religion) get some knee jerk reaction from some other person with time on their hands, and you’re back the next day.

    Don’t you ever get bored? Or want to talk about something else? Does anybody ever read your two sentences and change their mind about anything? I’m guessing not.

  • I am only bothered by the fundamentalists. If you behave yourselves, I’m cool with it.

    Beating that “atheism is a religion” dead horse again? Have at it.

  • Mark Silk is spot on with this analysis, and the American public is completely ignorant of the truth of the matter. After living three years in pluralist Haifa on an A-3 visa, I learned the ugly truth of religious Zionism. The followers of Meir Kahane and the like absolutely want to establish Israel as a religious state, not a democracy, governed by halacha law. Everyone and everything that is unclean will be driven out of the land, leaving no room for both Muslims AND Christians. No more Christian tourism, only Jewish tourism will be allowed. The Jewish State of Israel would make the Islamic State look like Disneyland. Of course, I exaggerate… but not by much. Yes, it is to weep.

  • Everybody wants us fundie Christians to “behave ourselves” in the public marketplace of ideas, which makes me smile in a most mischievous manner.

    As for the other issue there, you already know that repetition is the key to learning. So them deceased horses are in for a heck of a beating in 2017 !!

  • Which is neither surprising or an affirmation that Israel has done all it can. It leaves the problem of what to do with the Palestinians, a problem that the right in Israel is determined to ignore as though it will magically vanish.

  • I see where “Netanyahu allies” have donated to the Temple Institute, but Netanyahu has shown that he’ll “ally” with anyone on the right as a matter of convenience to stay in power. If its all just the Temple Institute I wouldn’t worry about a huge upheaval in Judaism, which is what a crackpot idea of rebuilding the temple would be. While there are a large number of small factions in Judaism, the idea of going back to the temple cult after the founding of Israel has been thoroughly considered and rejected. Anyone can get an office in Jerusalem. On the other hand, I’m really not that confident that I understand what’s going on in Israel, and certainly not with what’s coming. Its going to be a huge mess. The right’s assertion of “anything can happen in the Middle East” just might come true.

  • I don’t know a lot about this subject, but that is how Christ planned it. That is why Israel went through the wars of the OT – to be a people pure for God. I don’t have a problem with it.
    Still, Christ also died so the could become Christians, i wonder if that fits in with their segregation?

  • Honestly, gapaul, I don’t understand why you don’t read all of my comments, and make an honest assessment of what I have to say. Some of them are very short, like the one that you responded to. They’re intended to make a very small point, usually about dominionism and/or religious hypocrisy.

    You are absolutely correct: I am no fan of religion. However, I have said repeatedly that I have no objection to religion itself. My objections, again, are about Dominionism, religious hypocrisy, bad behavior “excused”as sincere religious belief, and the outrageous claims of some of the people that post here. I have said repeatedly that if religion makes your life better and you a better person — a generic you, of course – then I’m all for it.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t make a lot of people better. It makes them worse. It gives them God’s Imprimatur– at least in their minds— To harm other people in the name of faith, to behave badly, to tell outright lies, to slander and revile. I am constantly calling out the True Christians (TM) who post here repeatedly about their slandering and reviling of other Christians, gay people, Catholics, mormons, muslims, Jews, and anyone else who gets their Holy knickers into a thoroughly uncomfortable twist. I don’t really care if the slanderers or the slanderers are conservative or liberal, but the former usually tend to be conservatives.

    However, I am also very well read on the subject of religion. I do make longer, more intelligent, and more informed comments, as well. Perhaps you should read some of them. Here’s one, in response to an article about a sexually abusive minister. Perhaps you can tell me what’s wrong with it.

    “The real question is, do we have a Larry Craig, a Jerry Sandusky, a Ted Haggard, an Eddie Long, or a Dennis hastert here?

    In other words, do we have once again a man who defines himself as heterosexual, is married to a woman, presents himself as heterosexual to the world, is seen by the world as heterosexual in terms of his interests and experiences? Bonus points if, like every one of these perverts, is he a conservative religious person who champions “family values”, by attacking innocent gay people who are not predators, who do not hide their lives, but live out in their communities as gay people, with honor and integrity, as just about every single gay person I have ever known, including myself, my husband, and that vast majority of our friends?

    The man is a predator, a sexual abuser, a potential rapist, and fairly sick on a lot of levels. Those of us who choose to live our lives openly, honestly, authentically, as we are made, are tarred with the same brush that is rightfully used on people like him. Some of those who use that brush are simply antigay. Many, I am increasingly convinced, are homo-hating homosexuals of the worst sort, attempting to exorcise their demons under the pretext of exorcising the demons which I certainly don’t have.

    Roman Catholic priests have been doing this for centuries. The Boy Scouts, who until recently banned gay people from participating, and preferred all scout masters to be certifiably heterosexual, had an abuse problem stretching back for decades, but which they preferred to blame on innocent gay people. It fits their narrative, not the truth.

    The saddest part is– next to all of those abused kids– is that people too intellectually and morally lazy, if not bankrupt, refuse to recognize the difference between these predators and the average out and proud gay man, as horrified of this kind of sickness as any moral person would be. And worse are the politicians, preachers, and judges who know the truth, but prefer to exploit and ancient and vicious prejudice for power, money, and dominion.

  • I skimmed this Ben. With all due respect, there is no point in both of us wasting our time. I probably agree with you about most everything, I’m just saying you’ve done said everything you are going to say here. Get to know your neighbors. That’s your best chance at changing anybody’s mind.

  • What needs to be said in addition to this is that this will never happen.
    But Netanyahu and the Likud party will use these “true believers” –thought they do not share their religious ideas. The ultra orthodox will move to the new settlements but they will never control Israel’s government.

    40 percent of the Jews living in Israel are secular. 8 percent are ultra-orthodox.

  • Orthodoxy’s liturgy includes prayers that the Temple will be rebuilt. So in that sense there’s appreciable support. But it’s a general concept, restrained by many factors including (a) the presence of the Al Aqsa compound on the Temple Mount, and (b) the chicken and the egg problem: does the Messiah have to come first before the Temple can be rebuilt, or will rebuilding it bring the Messiah? You are correct that groups like the Temple Institute and the crackpots that walk goats into the Old City every pre-Passover are the ones behind any actual effort.

  • My understanding as a Conservative Jew though is that Messianic Jews are a small minority. I’ve always thought that they were a small minority in Israeli Orthodoxy as well, but I can’t point to any data about that.

  • It’s a minority in terms of those Orthodox Jews that actually are in favor of the Temple being built today. But the Orthodox liturgy still contains prayers for the Temple to be rebuilt “at some point” and the sacrifices to resume. Conservative Judaism has mostly altered these prayers so that they refer to the past.

  • “Conservadox” congregations, which I’ve been a member of on occasion, still recite those prayers, and the more progressive congregational prayer books, and the congregations that can afford them, still have the old language on the “alternate prayer” page. The discussions these prayers generate are the main source of my understanding that nearly everyone accepts that the rabbinic era has permanently buried the temple cult and the prayers are ancient hold overs. Again, I have no special knowledge of what the crazy right is up to in Israel. Now I have something new to worry about.

  • To say that this will never happen is a hopeful statement. What is true – after observing the most recent Israeli election cycle – is that the religious right is gaining a greater toe-hold in Israel’s political life than ever before. The more moderate and progressive parties can’t cobble together a coalition to defeat the conservatives and extremists, despite their best efforts. If interested US observers are getting their Israel news only from the NY Times, they’re missing out on news from the local perspective, especially from the voices on the right. Read Arutz Sheva for a few weeks and you’ll see what I mean.

  • No, behave yourselves in the schools and government. This not an anti-Christian position. I believe world religion needs to be taught in our schools to foster understanding and tolerance. The problem is when one religion is allowed influence to the exclusion of others. If our Hispanic population growth and increased immigration causes Protestants to be the minority in the future, they might then appreciate not being subjected to Catholic prayers in the school or saint statutes in the courthouse.

  • Likud will continue to use the religious right. They get a bone now and then, (namely settlements) but they are not the controlling force. The situation is similar in the US.

  • I believe they’re between a rock and a hard place and because of that have kept the status quo. Allow the West Bank to be a sovereign state and you have a nation that openly calls for Israel’s destruction. Annex the West Bank and give Arabs undue political power and dilute your Jewish majority. So they occupy them and treat them badly. Hatred foresters leading to terrorism, which causes more oppression. A vicious cycle.

  • Actually, I disagree. but you knew that.
    I respond on occasion to the people like sandi, Floyd, Roy hobbs, and CP, for example. But I really try to avoid getting into it with them, unless they are obviously making a point– what normal people would call reviling and slandering– that denigrates people without any factual basis, have subtexts that cast aspersions on people, etc etc etc. I don’t actually expect to change their minds. I’ve been in this fight for far too long ever to expect to change the mind of someone irretrievably poisoned by hate and/or religion
    I actually prefer intellectual discussion, based upon facts, logic, and experience. and on occasion, I get that. My purpose for writing as and what I do is for those who are on the fence, not commenting, trying to make sense of what is being said. I’ve been told enough that I succeed with that that I believe it.

  • Ben differs very little from the bulk of us. when one is passionate about one’s belief, reflection and nuance occasionally take a back seat; as long as one is civil in discourse I’m prepared to accept a certain degree of monomania. I’ve been accused of it, Sandi Luckens certainly has. My discourses with Ben have caused me to reframe my own thinking, not in terms of my core beliefs, but in my obligation to treat others civilly and with sympathy, even when I am unable to wholly empathize with their perspective.

  • That horse is alive and doing well as a legitimate philosophical argument. Where’s my carriage whip?

  • Most of us benefit (or should) from our discussions and arguments. While I would drop atheism if sufficient proof exists I don’t expect to find it here. But my viewpoints have been altered or moderated by other’s comments and insights. I have views that I haven’t examined closely and when challenged, fall apart. After the sting is gone I am willing to change my views.

  • I always believed that the difference between religion and philosophy is one is based on supernatural entities. Atheism is neither, in my opinion. However, secularism, which by default atheists adopt, would be a philosophy. I think people use the term religion outside if it’s original meaning and apply to anything you are passionate about – sports, science, etc.

  • I think the definition of religion includes any systematic philosophy or belief that presents specific precepts that people choose to adopt as the moral basis for the actions of their lives…it need not be predicated on the supernatural, though necessarily on the soul, if the soul is defined as a paradigm consisting of the mind, will, and emotions.

  • And that is the particular benefit of this forum, though for most of us such moments come rarely, and as you note, sometimes painfully.

  • And how do you suppose repetition of nonsense will make sense? Atheism, in the sense of an absence of theistic belief is no religion.

    Fundamentalism appears to be a corruption of rational thought to me. And you’d disagree why?

  • I think taking words outside their normal usage leads to confusion. On what to you base your non-supernaturalist definition of religion. Some isms are religion like, but not fully the same as a religion. And the soul is normally understood as something more than mind will and emotion. I see using the term spiritual to apply to those concerns, but soul has a theological connotation.

  • The construct that I have used is not my own invention, a number of philosophers have made the same usage, I merely find it a reasonable and plausible construction. Based on my philosophical and theological readings, the spirit is that essential and eternal essence which comprises our individual being, whether that eternal self survives in heaven and bliss, or in suffering and hell will depend on one’s relationship with Christ, the soul is the paradigm of the mind, will, and emotions that informs the spirit, both encased temporally in our fleshly bodies. Thus my positioning of the roles of the soul and spirit would seem to be the reverse of your own. In a sense, we are just spitballing here.

  • I never posited a “spirit entity”, just used the word spiritual to denote a set of feelings and thoughts common to people. I don’t have any reason to suppose there is any “essential and eternal essence which comprises our individual being”, and certainly not one that survives a biological entity.

    That other philosophers may have used your construct to define religion doesn’t alter the confusion in its use in discussion. I may have, say a deep commitment to a political system which informs my moral view, but while it may be religion like, it doesn’t have the same implications as one based on the supernatural. And since you do insist on the soul bound to an eternal spirit that element seems to be there as well.

  • “Which is neither surprising or an affirmation that Israel has done all it can”

    Absurd answer. What exactly can or should Israel do beyond offering full citizenship. Make them all Members of Parliament?

    The League of Nations gave the Brits the Mandate to recreate a Jewish homeland in 1922. 3 months later, as a reward to the Hashemite family in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the Brits gave 77% of the Mandate of Palestine to the Arab Hashemites to form Transjordan, the current Kingdom of Jordan. Jews were forbidden to live there.

    Most of the population of Jordan considers themselves to be Palestinian. Moreover, Jordan gave the West Bank Arabs Jordanian citizenship when it illegally annexed the West Bank after 1948, saying “after all, they are our own people”

    If there is such a thing as “Palestine,” it’s name is Jordan, which has 1/10th the population density of Gaza and the West Bank. That’s the solution.

  • Except, of course, that the Palestinians won’t move there, which is fortunate since Jordan doesn’t want them. As a supporter of Israel this is what scares me. The right is digging Israel a very deep hole. I have faith that Israel will survive the coming troubles, in some shape or form, but it will cost much blood and money. Doesn’t have to have been this way, but I don’t see it turning back anymore. And yes, Israel could have, through a mix of negotiation and unilateral moves, successfully separated from the Palestinians. No need for you to obfuscate with reductio ad absurdums. But separation isn’t going to happen now, is it? Israel has directed the enemy’s knife to its gut, if not its heart, and apparently expects God to intervene and save them from what’s coming. Sure, the Palestinians will suffer much more, and most of it is their own fault, but I’m sincerely afraid that Israel is going to unnecessarily be suffering too.

ADVERTISEMENTs