Friday, July 9, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance: My Stressed-Out Sympathies for Israel

As is typical for Jews of my generation, since I was a child I have believed in and supported  Israel and  the ideals of Zionism.  At one time it made pragmatic sense to have a national haven for the Jewish people to return to in light of historical Antisemitism culminating in the Holocaust. Also, supporting Israel was an ace in the hole of sorts--a place of refuge if hatred of Jews were to become as rampant in the U.S as it had been in pre-war Europe.

Equally important, Israel was founded by secularists  not just as a Jewish state but a democratic one as well.. Also, at its inception, Israel's very existence was threatened by its hostile Arab neighbors, so it was truly an underdog state. But that was then, and this is now.  Times have changed, and I find myself questioning my position of  heretofore unwavering support for several reasons.

To begin with, in recent years  the country has fallen under the control of the right wing and Orthodox minority  who thanks in part to the parliamentary system of government holds a disproportionate amount of political power over the secular majority of Israeli citizens.  I find the intolerance and aggressive policies of the Orthodox and its other rightist allies in government abhorrent, in terms of its stranglehold in such matters of conversion to Judaism, marriage, and its refusal to recognize and share power with other branches of Judaism within Israel.  Equally obnoxious is the attitude of the Orthodox Jewish establishment in Israel towards non-Orthodox Jews in the Diaspora, which is "You must keep supporting us with your donations  and your political support ,  but don't expect acceptance or recognition from us; not now, not ever."

And in the topic of political support, I think that it's high time for Israel to shed its over-dependence on American aid on both  government level as well as from private sources such as AIPAC which as a lobbying organization has itself  become too big for its britches. As previously mentioned, Israel is no longer a 97 pound weakling among nations.  It is a first world country with a sound industrial base, a kick-ass military, and an eminent producer of software which is highly in demand worldwide as well.  So it  should not keep putting its hand out for financial assistance.

In addition Israel needs to quit searching for love in all the wrong places. For example there is the matter of the Israeli Government's and Orthodox Jews' climbing into bed with American Christian fundamentalists who support Israel's existence, yet are nevertheless anti-Semitic. If that sounds like a twisted doctrine (which of course it is),  here is the "reasoning" behind it:  Christianity, especially evangelicals, believe that the establishment of the State of Israel heralds second coming of Christ and of  God's Judgment Day.  At that time those who have not accepted  Jesus as their savior will be condemned to hell. This is especially so for the Jews who as a people who "betrayed Jesus".  They can only escape God's wrath  by seeing the error of their ways and converting to Christianity sooner rather than later.  In other words, these Christians refuse to recognize Judaism in its own right and consider Israel's existence only as as a means to an end (as in "End of Days").  How can the leaders of Israel and Orthodox Judaism be so shameless as to accept  these people as "allies"?  To add insult to inury, Israeli Orthodox Jewish leaders extend a recogniton to these Christian extremists that they refuse to grant to non-Orthodox Jewish movements  inside or outside of Israel.

Speaking of acceptance, there is a branch of Orthodox Jews in Israel, the haredim, who refuse to recognize the State of Israel's existence because according to their belief, Israel will not  become a nation until the messiah comes. Thus as a human created establishment, the country is an illegitimate state. Yet these people for the most part do not work for a living. Instead they spend their time in religious studies, are exempt from military service which is compulsory for most other Israeli citizens, and--get this--receive financial support in the form of welfare from the very government that they reject.

As an atheist, I have a hard time coping with all this religious craziness.  Yet, in spite of everything, I feel that  turning away from Israel--and from my relatives living there as well-- would be not just disloyal, but by  default would put me on the same street as anti-Zionists who claim only to oppose Israel's existence and want to drive the Jews into the sea.  Certainly, there are people who oppose Zionism and who do so without harboring a hatred for Jews and Israel.  But for the most part "Zionist"  is used pejoratively by Muslims and other anti-Semites as a  code word for "Jew".

Perhaps it was the Six Day War in 1967 that showed Israel was a powerhouse of military strength and not to be taken lightly, even by its enemies.  It also brought the Palestinian question issue into the world spotlight, although that issue had been festering in one form or another for years prior, and of course ever since. There is plenty of blame to go around.  Israel has been wrong and ham-handed in many ways that it has dealt this matter.  But a major source of the problem is the Arabs' decision to leave Palestinian refugees to rot in squalid camps and exploit them as pawns instead of absorbing them into the Arab nations as Israel did for Jewish refugees who were expelled from those same countries as soon as Israel achieved nationhood in 1948. 

It's one thing to criticize and second guess Israel from the outside (and by someone like myself who has never even been there). But its quite another from within. Please see "We Have Lost Our Way", a beautifully written essay by an Israeli about her country's wayward policies and culture . The sadness that the writer expresses over Israel's straying  from its compassionate Zionist roots is almost palpable.  On the other end of the spectrum is an equally moving  "Only Israel". This video rightly condemns the hypocrisy of those in the international community who criticize Israel for the very acts that they  themselves likewise commit.  Yet why does Israel frequently shoot itself in the foot and put itself in untenable positions in the first place?  In doing so it needlessly furnishes ideological ammunition to its enemies and even  alienates many Jews as well. (See "American JewsWho Reject Zionism Say Events Aid Cause".)  For Israel  to then say  that it is no less guilty of  international law violations than its detractors is a poor rationalization.  Two wrongs don't make a right. 

One noteworthy ideal of the aforementioned  early Zionist roots was the willingness of the pioneers in Israel in the late 19th century through the mid 20th century to tackle menial jobs and perform hard physical labor required to build the country.  In time as the country prospered, this scut work was handed off to Palestinians laborers.  After the Intifada when these workers became scarce, the country  began importing workers from other places such as those in Southeast Asia. Sad to say that these laborers often face such abuses as unsafe working conditions and unpaid wages. By turning a blind eye to the exploitation of these workers by ruthless employers.("Israel Grows Uneasy Over Reliance on Migrant  Labor"), that country is following the lead of its Arab neighbors who are infamous for their inhumane treatment of  migrant laborers.  I reside in the Philippines, and tales of horror abound in the local media  about Filipino overseas workers who have suffered at the hands of their Arab employers.  Is Israel on the slippery slope to that same kind of barbaric behavior?  And what are the all powerful Orthodox  Jewish leaders who are self-proclaimed experts on morality doing to stop these  violations of human dignity?  

In short, many of  Israel's missteps and inconsistent policies are the result of the delusions of  its religious establishment.  If  it could overthrow this pernicious influence, the Jewish state would very likely become a more humane, coherent, and progressive society. In turn it might regain the worldwide respect that it once enjoyed. 

Suggested reading: "What Is Israel Doing Wrong?" I happened to read this essay after I wrote this post and found that many of the views of the writer, David Solway, are identical to mine. However, many are diametrically opposed. (More cognitive dissonance!).


Alan said...

I'm just as conflicted as you are. As a post-Holocaust American Jew, I loved to see Jews kick ass and stand their ground. Now I'm not so sure. Jews must have a homeland, but do they have to kick so much ass to do so? It can be a Jewish country without religious nuts running the government and insisting that God gave them the land.

The govt. and public agencies could be run by the Jewish calendar - that's a big influence. The country could still close down on Sat., though if enterprising Arabs want to keep their businesses open, they can.

There are all kind of ways to make it a secular Jewish state where other ethnicities have full rights. And this coddling of haredim and other parasitic lunatics has got to stop!

Secular Guy said...


Thanks for your support. You really have some good ideas for implementing changes that would make Israel a desirable place for secular Jews

Ani Sharmin said...

Hello! I got here via edition 57 of the Humanist Symposium. This was a very thought provoking post, and you inspired me to write something of my own and submit it to the Symposium. I sympathize with what you're saying; it's confusing to support a group or place while realizing at the same time that some of the people are doing things you disagree with.


Secular Guy said...


Thanks for your comment. I feel honored to have been a source of inspiration for your post. I look forward to reading it.

The Godless Monster said...

Wonderful post. I actually wept from a sense of hope and joy.
Now if we can just get my people to act civilized...

Secular Guy said...

Godless Monster,

I am grateful for and humbled by your reply.