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After the latest terror attacks in Jerusalem, including one in occupied East Jerusalem (it was not an attack on the synagogue and did not specifically target worshipers), Israelis bellowed with righteous indignation. Shreys of “anti-Semite” and “eternal Jew hatred” filled social media platforms. After all, what sort of animal would kill worshipers at a Jewish house of worship? Invoking the Holocaust as pro-Israel apologists do, renders the indignation even more shrill.
But Israelis must understand that they are not unique. Their suffering is not unique. For every Israeli killed 20 Palestinians are killed. That is an unassailable calculus of suffering. Whatever Israel’s suffering, Palestine’s is infinitely worse. Yet, Israelis are filled with a sense of victimhood. Always the victim, never the perpetrator. While it resonates with Israelis, the world is growing less and less receptive.
Judaism ≠ Israel
If Israelis want to stop attacks which target Jewish religious sites they should, among other things, stop conflating Judaism with Israel. Stop conflating religion with nationality. As I’ve written here many times, Israel is a state, not a religion. Judaism is a religion, not a political ideology as Zionism is. To treat them as if they were the same, accords with anti-Semitic white supremacists like David Duke, who make no such distinctions.
The naked truth is that Netanyahu actually hates Diaspora Jews. We are Democrats, liberals. We are the most likely to criticize Israel. Further, we are Galus, the disparaging Yiddish-inflected term for “exile.” We are the ones who refused. We didn’t immigrate to Israel. We didn’t fulfill the Zionist call for ingathering of exiles. We are written out of Jewish history. We are lost to all time. Or so Zionists believe.
But we are replaceable. Israel’s far right has grown ever-chummier with evangelical Christianity. Judeo-messianism meshes nicely with evangelical End Times theology. Both believe in messianic deliverance, though they diverge about the reality of what it will be. This alliance of eschatological convenience is all the more cynical given the history of Christian Jew hatred throughout the ages. From the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition, to 19th century blood libels, to Russian pogroms, Christianity has inflicted tremendous suffering on our people. And where does Netanyahu turn when he needs to replace us? To the ones who once called us Christ-killers. All of a sudden they are Israel’s saviors.
Euro-fascist leaders like Viktor Orban and Poland’s Law and Justice Party understand the Jew-Israel distinction. They love Israelis because Bibi Netanyahu is a fascist after their own heart. Though Israel touts itself as a democracy, it is the quintessential “illiberal democracy.” Actually, not even illiberal. Not a democracy at all. But rather an ethnocracy.
Bibi hates what the Euro-fascists hate: journalists, Muslims (i.e. foreigners), liberals, NGOs, professors. He loves what they love: clerics, oligarchs, fascists, police, etc. A special place is reserved for a group they really hate: Jews. We are the ones who founded and led anti-fascist and anti-totalitarian movements. We are the ones who made revolutions. We are the ones who lifted up the workers and reviled the elites. We are their enemy. That explains how Bibi hates Diaspora Jews almost as much as he hates Muslims.
Religious hatred runs both ways
Highlighting the terror attack as anti-Semitic or the Israeli victims as pious innocent Jews, is devoid of critical context. Israel has defiled Muslim holy sites like Haram al Sharif. Judeo-terorists have regularly desecrated Palestinians mosques and cemeteries. During Gaza invasions, Israel destroyed scores of mosques, some with worshipers inside them. If Israelis want to argue that they are suffering as Jews and link it to eternal anti-Semitism, they will fail. They are attacked because they themselves are attackers.
Israeli Judeo-terrorists like Ben Gvir and Smotrich have succeeded in turning the conflict into a religious one. Which is convenient, because it arouses a fundamentalist fervor that secular politics can barely muster. But this conflict is not, at its roots about religion. It is rather about power, control and politics. Israel wants a state. It wants land. It wants resources. It wants everything Palestinians have. But it doesn’t want Palestinians. That’s the whole conflict in a nutshell.
Politics and religion are a toxic brew with enormous explosive power to destroy societies. We’ve seen this not just in Israel-Palestine, but throughout the world and throughout history. The Middle East is perhaps the most diverse region on earth in terms of the religions it has birthed. They’ve lived alongside each other and often enriched the societies in which they’ve co-existed. They’ve enriched human civilization as a whole. But the power of fundamentalism, and the embrace of divine absolutes, can be ruinous and pose an existential threat to the region. They have the potential to bring it, and even humanity, to the brink of extinction.
An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth
Another factor neglected in reporting on the bloodshed of the past week is that this attack was not an isolated event. It did not come out of the blue. It was not unprovoked. In fact, it was a direct response to the IDF slaughter in Jenin a day before, which killed 10 Palestinians. The Palestinian who murdered Jews after Shabbat services was not only avenging Jenin, he was retaliating for the murder of his cousin, who was killed the week before in the Shuafat refugee camp. His crime? The 17 year-old boy carried a toy gun. As I wrote in yesterday’s post, Khairi Alkam had multiple grievances to avenge.
This is a ruinous religious conflict inflicting violence on both Palestinian Muslims and Israeli Jews. The Jerusalem attack must not be seen as a single or solitary phenomenon, but as part of a long and tortuous battle between two peoples and, unfortunately, their respective religious traditions.