Throughout human history, there have been those who enforced religious orthodoxy on their fellow believers. From Torquemada to the Iranian modesty police, there have been authorities who defined the permissible and forbidden under religious law, compelling the faithful to adhere to strict rules.
Though most liberal Zionists prefer to see Israel as a secular democracy, it is nothing of the sort. Nor is it well known that Israel is a theocratic state which demands adherence to religious doctrine in key elements of social life including birth, death, marriage and divorce (among other realms).
In a much broader sense, the entire state has been hijacked on behalf of a messianic project: to transform Israel into a bastion of Judeo-racial purity which demands adherence to Biblical-era Judean territorial maximalism.
Today, I bring further news that even the Israeli intelligence apparatus has fallen under the spell of the GrayBeards. Over the past few decades, both the military and intelligence services have been transformed from largely secular to largely Orthodox. The officer corps was once composed of the cream of the kibbutznik youth, a secular elite. Now virtually all units in every branch are dominated by Orthodox officers and soldiers.
The result can be seen in the brutal violence meted out by them on Palestinian victims. Though Israel was never a system based fully on justice or moral considerations, whatever once restrained the troops has long since passed. Now Israel exerts control solely by blood and bullets.
The domestic and foreign intelligence services, the Mossad and Shin Bet, announced the appointment of a new rabbinic authority who would be consulted by personnel in need of halachic guidance about security operations. This a full-time state-funded job. Lest you think that such ethical consultations might involve spies troubled by killing or spying on Palestinians, it’s much more likely they would be troubled by spying on, arresting and torturing Jewish terrorists, a responsibility with which the Shin Bet is tasked. But of one thing you can be sure, this rabbi will never stand in the way of a spy operation. His job is to assuage whatever guilty conscience may be afflicting someone, with assurance that whatever his or her assignment, it falls within the God-given authority of the state intelligence services.
Ethics, whether of a religious or secular nature, has died a slow and painful death in Israel. The few ethicists like Asa Kasher, who consult for the IDF have a single job: to kasher what would be considered treif in any other democratic state.
One might ask, why does a state need a religious authority to pass judgment on security affairs? Why not an ethicist or a human rights lawyer? Imagine for a moment, that the FBI maintained a task force to monitor terror attacks by Christian evangelicals and appointed an evangelical pastor to weigh in on the agency’s operations on behalf of its evangelical personnel. I can easily imagine an Iranian ayatollah appointed to such a job within that country’s intelligence apparatus. Or in Saudi Arabia. But in a democracy? I think not. Which means only one thing concerning Israel: it is not a democracy, but a theocracy. And increasingly so.
מהצנזורה התבקשתי למחוק את השם של הרב א’, הרב שהתמנה לרב השב”כ והמוסד, בשל כך שאי אפשר לחשוף שמות של עובדים בארגון.
— דביר עמר (@dviramar2) November 28, 2021
For some strange reason, the military censor has prohibited naming the rabbi appointed to this position. A knowledgeable Israeli source tells me that he is Rabbi Avi Giser, the rabbi of the Ofra settlement. Giser was ordained by one of the settler movement’s most far-right Chabadniks, Rabbi Dov Lior. In 2008, the Ofra municipality began a major housing construction project. But Palestinian residents of the adjoining residents filed a lawsuit claiming they settlement was building on their privately owned land. Giser urged the builders to speed the construction and even authorized work on Shabbat, a major violation of Jewish law which can only be authorized when human life is endangered. The State later demolished the buildings after the court agreed with the Palestinians. He later attempted to run for Knesset under the far-right Bayit Yehudi party banner, but failed in the effort.
An Orthodox journalist, Dvir Amar, tweeted this news and named Giser. But the censor wagged her finger and told Amar he’d been a naughty boy and forced him to delete the tweet. No intelligence official may be named in the Israeli media, even a rabbi. Even though Giser is known throughout the Israeli Orthodox community.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.