Implications of the “Chosen People” Myth

“Goyim Were Born Only to Serve Us”

by Gary Leupp / November 19th, 2010

Goyim [non-Jews] were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world; only to serve the people of Israel.

— Israeli rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas party spiritual leader, Oct. 11, 2010

The Shas Party is a mainstream Israeli political party founded in 1984 by ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Jews. The name is an acronym for  Shomrei Torah Sephardim or “Observant Sepharadim.” (Sepharadim are for the most part Jews tracing their ancestry to the Iberian Peninsula, as opposed to the Ashkenazim who trace theirs to Germany, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. They are sometimes grouped together with the Mizrahim who have lived for centuries in the Arab Middle East, Iran and Uzbekistan.)

The party holds 11 seats in the Israeli Knesset (parliament). Its first leader, Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, served as a interior minister in the 1980s. Its current spiritual leader, 90 year old Rabbi  Ovadia Yosef, holds no political position but four Shas members now hold posts (including interior minister) in the cabinet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It is an anti-intellectual, religiously fundamentalist party. Like many groups in the U.S., and many prominent U.S. politicians, it rejects (and misrepresents) evolutionary theory, a pillar of modern science. One of its TV campaign ads bore the message, “One old Sepharadi lady kissing a Torah book with a tear in her eye is worth more than 40 university professors who tell us we are descended from monkeys.”

Yosef is head of Shas’s “Council of Torah Sages.”  From 1973 to 1983 he was the Chief Rabbi of Israel’s Sephardic Jews, who with his Ashkenazi counterpart headed Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. By Israeli law this body regulates Jewish weddings, divorce proceedings, conversions and the recognition of Jewishness for immigration purposes. Especially revered by Orthodox Mizrahi Jews, he is widely considered the foremost authority on the Halakhah or Jewish religious law.

The rabbi has made explosive pronouncements in past sermons. On Passover in 2001 he preached: “It is forbidden to be merciful to [the Palestinians]. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable.” In December 2009 he declared: “[The Palestinians] are stupid. Their religion is as ugly as they are.” In a sermon last August he raged, “[Palestinian leader] Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] and all these evil people should perish from this world.  God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians.”

These may seem the ravings of a madman, or at least prime examples of racist hate-speech. But this rabbi is no fringe phenomenon. He has a large and respectful following in Israel.

On October 11, Yosef gave his regular Saturday night sermon, some of it later broadcast on Israeli TV. This time he told his congregation that Goyim (a disparaging term for non-Jews in Yiddish) were created merely to “serve” Jews. Addressing the question of what types of work non-Jews should be able to perform on the Jewish sabbath, he stated, “Goyim were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world; only to serve the People of Israel.”

“Why are gentiles needed?” he asked rhetorically. “They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat.” (“Effendi” is a word used in the old Ottoman Empire for an educated gentleman or lord.) This comment reportedly met with laughter from his flock.

Why does Yosef think God lets non-Jews live out their lives? “They need to die, but God will give them longevity. Why? Imagine that one’s donkey would die, they’d lose their money. This is his servant. That’s why he gets a long life, to work well for this Jew.”

 

***** 

Reading this garbage, I thought of the daily abuse of Palestinians by Zionist settlers in Hebron on the occupied West Bank. The five or six hundred Jewish settlers routinely attack Palestinians (among the 160,000 Palestinians who inhabit Hebron), destroying their fruit trees, hurling rocks at them, attacking their homes with impunity protected by the “Israeli Defense Forces.” IDF soldiers have been video-taped this year doing a Macarena-like dance in the streets of this Arab city  during the Muslim call to prayer–a deliberate statement of contempt dismissed as a youthful “prank” by their commanding officers.  Meanwhile Palestinians’ movements are restricted, and they are banned from a Jews-only section of their city.

I thought of the low-paid Chinese, Thai, and Filipino construction, farm and health workers recruited by Israel as temporary workers to replace the feared and despised Palestinians. I thought too of the recent poll showing that half of Israeli high school students don’t want to study alongside Palestinians, or believe they should enjoy equal rights, or be able to run for parliamentary office. (82% of those describing themselves as “religious” opposed equal rights. The figure for the kids describing themselves as “secular” was much lower. Only about one-third of Israelis are religious Jews–about the same number as are atheist or agnostic).

I recalled how one Rabbi Yaacov Perin had declared at the funeral of Baruch Goldstein, the U.S.-born Jewish settler who killed at least 29 Palestinian Muslims praying at a mosque in occupied Hebron in February 1994: “One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail… There are no innocent Arabs…”

I thought about Rabbi Yitzhak Shapiro, a West Bank settler, who wrote in his best-selling book The King’s Torah (2001), “ It is permissible to kill the Righteous among non-Jews even if they are not responsible for the threatening situation,” and “If we kill a Gentile who has sinned or has violated one of the seven commandments – because we care about the commandments – there is nothing wrong with the murder.”

I also couldn’t help but think of how former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert once boasted to an Israeli crowd in the formerly Arab town of Ashkelon that he had forced then-President Bush to humiliate then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It was in January 2009, after the vicious Israeli attack on Gaza. In the face of international horror, the U.S. had (for purely pragmatic diplomatic reasons) helped author a resolution calling for an end to violence on both sides.

Olmert proudly told his audience: “When we saw that the Secretary of State, for reasons we did not really understand, wanted to vote in favor of the UN resolution … I looked for President Bush and they told me he was in Philadelphia making a speech. I said,  ‘I don’t care. I have to talk to him now… They got him off the podium, brought him to another room and I spoke to him. I told him, ‘You can’t vote in favor of this resolution.’ He said, ‘Listen, I don’t know about it, I didn’t see it, I’m not familiar with the phrasing.’”

Olmert said he’d then told Bush: “‘I’m familiar with it. You can’t vote in favor.’ [Bush then] gave an order to the Secretary of State and she did not vote in favor of it, a resolution she cooked up, phrased, organized and maneuvered for. She was left pretty shamed and abstained on a resolution she arranged.”

This was, of course, after the U.S. Congress had near unanimously passed a resolution supporting the Gaza blitzkrieg, demonstrating the extraordinary power of the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which has successfully avoided the demand of critics that it be registered as the agent of a foreign government. (Recall how in November 2009, after a UN inquiry headed by South African judge, Richard Goldstone, who happens to be Jewish, concluded that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes during Israel’s assault on Gaza–resulting in over 1,300 Palestinian deaths, overwhelmingly civilian, and a total of 9 Israeli deaths at the hands of Palestinians–the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a resolution condemning the UN report! The official position of the U.S. Congress has become: No one can be allowed criticize Israel.  Any such criticism is unfair, “one-sided,” “unbalanced.”

Reading Yosef’s remarks I also thought of Netanyahu’s 2001 interview, leaked last July, in which he frankly discussed his intention to ignore the Oslo Accords, continue settlements and launch a “total assault” on the Palestinian Authority. When asked about a possible negative U.S. reaction, he exclaimed: “Especially now, with America, I know what America is. America is a thing that can be easily moved, moved in the right direction. They  will not bother us. Let’s suppose that [the Americans] will say something . . . so they say it…  Eighty per cent of the Americans support us. It’s absurd! We have such support there! And we say… what shall we do with this?” He was virtuallyridiculing the pathetic manipulability of the U.S. public and Congress.

And then there was that statement by former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon (also known as the “butcher of Sabra and Shatila” due to his complicity in the annihilation of up to 3500 Palestinians refugees in Beirut during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982) to Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in October 2001: “Every time we do something you tell me America will do this and will do that …  I want to tell you something very clear: Don’t worry about American pressure on Israel. We, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it.”

Last March Vice President Joe Biden visited Israel to pledge the U.S.’s undying loyalty to the Jewish state. His message was that, despite President Obama’s request — based on U.S. geostrategic interests — that Israel freeze settlement on occupied Palestinian land, and Israel’s refusal to do so more than partially and temporarily, U.S. support would continue as always. The Israeli Interior Ministry (headed by Shas Party member Eli Yishai) used the occasion of the visit to announce the construction of 1,600 new homes for Jews in occupied East Jerusalem. The insult was so brazen that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “condemned” the move which she said “undermined trust and confidence in the peace process.” Zionists responded with their typical indignation. (The Anti-Defamation League called Clinton’s remarks a “gross overreaction” towards a “policy.” Former New York City mayor Ed Koch accused Obama of wanting to “make Israel into a pariah” and called Clinton’s comments “outrageous.”)

Then as Biden was addressing the Jewish Federations of North America two weeks ago assuring them that U.S. support for Israel was “literally unbreakable,” and would “continue forever,” and dismissing the recent rift as being “only tactical” in nature, Israel’s cabinet announced more illegal settlement housing construction plans.

Is all this mere chutzpah? Or is it the behavior of a true effendi? Is it not amazing that a regime claiming to represent the Jews in Israel (under 0.01% of the total global human population) or even all the Jews on the planet (under 0.02% of humankind) can boast of its ability to arm-twist U.S. presidents? That officials in a country with a stagnant economy with no raw materials dependent annually on two or three billion dollars in direct U.S. aid (matched by private U.S. donors) to sustain a First World type living standard (for Jews if not for the Palestinians in the occupied territories) can claim to “control America”? That it has been able since 1972 to count on the U.S. to veto practically every UN resolution even mildly critical of its behavior, often supported by all other member states except Israel itself?

Is it not amazing that such Zionists enjoy free license to provoke, thorough their occupations and aggressions, the outrage of 1.57 billion Muslims (23% of the world’s population), some of whom predictably vent their rage on the U.S. as Israel’s unconditional friend?

And is it not amazing that agents for Israel within AIPAC (Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman) could spy in the U.S., obtain classified documents pertaining to Iran (which Israel demands the U.S. bomb), get arrested by the FBI and charged with serious crimes in 2005, only to have all charges dropped in 2009? Or that ranking Congresswoman Jane Harmon, who agreed to “waddle in” to that case in an FBI-intercepted call with an Israeli agent, could escape any charges?

Is it not amazing that the presumptive Majority Leader in the new House of Representatives, ardent Zionist Eric Cantor (R-Va.), was in Israel last week meeting with Netanyahu, telling him that “the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington”, and that “the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other”?

The implicit criticism of Obama’s lack of adequate obsequiousness was obvious, and a number of pundits noted that such deference towards a foreign leader by a Congressional leader on a trip abroad combined with such criticism of a president is unprecedented.

Obama, recognizing what his intelligence officials and military leaders (including Gen. Petraeus) are telling him, has been trying to nudge Israel towards compliance with international law and a settlement with the Palestinians. He probably knows that Israel has become an albatross around the neck of the U.S. (which is to say, the U.S. ruling class and its geopolitical objectives). Still, he capitulates in the face of Israeli intransigence, fearing to offend the Lobby and a crucial voting bloc.

Even so (despite Obama’s own abject deference to Israel), Cantor visited the Israeli prime minister, who heads the most racist, pro-settler cabinet ever, and assured him that the Republicans in Congress will be even more unquestionably pro-Israel. And he blithely tossed out what to thinking people must seem an infinitely absurd proposition–that the security of the U.S. depends upon the security of Israel! The security of an imperialist country with over 300 million people (4.5 percent of the world’s population) and half the world’s military budget, bounded by two oceans and long secure borders with client states, never subject to invasion, with 2.5 million troops stationed on over 700 military bases all over the globe depends on the security of a settler-state of 7 million, imposed on the Middle East, hard-pressed to maintain a Jewish majority in the face of the colonized Palestinian’s procreation rate and the outflow of disillusioned Jews?

The security of the U.S. depends upon more invasions of Lebanon, more attacks on the concentration camp that is Gaza, more Israeli strikes against Syria, maybe an Israeli assault on Iran? The security of this country, largely dependent on oil imports from Arab countries whose peoples hate the Zionists for what they’ve done, depends on the security of a nuclear-armed state that routinely attacks its neighbors? The logic is just crazy.

It is indeed contradicted by top U.S. officials. Didn’t Gen. Petraeus tell the Senate Armed Services Committee last March that the “enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the area of responsibility”? Vice President Biden reportedly told Netanyahu, “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples [in the region]. This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”

But recall that Petraeus, informed by his neocon friend, Max Boot, a member of the Council of Foreign Relations and contributor to Commentarymagazine, that his comment was producing charges of anti-Semitism in the Zionist community, subsequently sought to minimize it. He had Boot write an article defending him as pro-Israel and wrote his friend: “Thx, Max.  (Does it help if folks know that I hosted Elie Wiesel and his wife at our quarters last Sun night?!  And that I will be the speaker at the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps in mid-Apr at the Capitol Dome…)”

Imagine that. The most powerful U.S. general since Eisenhower concerned that honest words might offend Israel and its powerful supporters.

The contempt that Israel and its Lobby show for both logic and compassion, their expectation that people can be easily duped and/or bullied into confusing moral right from wrong (into seeing knee-jerk support for Israel as a virtually religious duty)—-is sickeningly amazing. But it’s more sickening to see it work so consistently and well in the manipulation of U.S. public opinion.

 

***** 

One wants, out of respect for religion, its historical roots and the complex role it fills in people’s lives, to dissociate people’s doctrinal loyalties from their politics. But reading Yosef’s comments, I can’t help but link their arrogance and viciousness to the ancient texts the rabbi reveres.  The scriptures that Jews call the Tanakh and Christians the Old Testament are filled with references to the Chosen People slaughtering the peoples of Canaan following their supposed period of bondage in Egypt (during which God among other things struck down dead all the eldest sons of all Egyptians to punish the pharaoh for not allowing the Hebrews to leave).

In the Book of Deuteronomy, the prophet Moses having descended from Mt. Sinai after receiving the Laws from God tells the Hebrews:

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you—the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites—seven nations mightier and more numerous than you—and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them …  break down their altars, smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire. For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, the Lord your God has chosen you out of the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. (Deuteronomy 7: 1-6)

The Book of Joshua describes one bloodbath after another, emphasizing that the Israelites killed all non-Israelite men, women and children, with the exception of some who abjectly submitted to them acknowledging that “the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land before you.” (These having surrendered were enslaved, made “hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation,” Joshua 9: 24-7.) The accounts detail the humiliations meted out to the kings of the slaughtered.

When Israel [in the course of conquering Canaan, the “promised land”] had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and struck it down with the edge of the sword. The total of those who fell that day, both men and women, was twelve thousand — all the people of Ai. For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the sword, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their booty, according to the word of the Lord that he had issued to Joshua. So Joshua burned Ai, and made it for ever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day. And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree… (Joshua 8:24-25)

Moses became angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war [to conquer Canaan]. Moses said to them, “Have you allowed all the women to live? … Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him.  But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves. (Numbers  31:14-18)

These Canaanites hadn’t done anything wrong, nothing to deserve annihilation. They were just there, and according to the story the God who made the whole cosmos in seven days wanted them eliminated to make room for His people to enjoy the “land of milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8).

Psalm 137 expresses bitterness at the Assyrian/Babylonian conquest of Judah in the sixth century BCE, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and subsequent Babylonian Exile. “O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” (Psalm 137: 8-9)  (By the way, towards the end of this period the exiles exposed to Persian Zoroastrian thought borrowed ideas about heaven, a devil, a messiah, etc. And many, content with their lot in what is now Iran, elected not to return to Israel when the Persian king Cyprus allowed them to do so in the 530s BCE. So the Exile was not an entirely negative experience.)

Is there no linkage between such murderous Bible passages and the hateful rantings of the esteemed rabbi?

 

***** 

Many people, of course, seriously believe the Old Testament narrative. Half the world’s population is at least nominally Christian, and perhaps most buy the idea that the Creator of the Universe “chose” a specific bloodline for an ongoing, intimate, special relationship with him (at least until Jesus arrived to save everybody who believes in him). They believe that God communicated with his Chosen People through prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc. and the scribes whose writings constitute “inspired” Holy Writ.

God (Yahweh) vowed to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that they and their descendents, if they kept their “covenant” with him, would reside in the “Promised Land.”  If exiled, punished by their sins by this vengeful God, they would be forgiven and restored to their birthright eventually, as God shows his mercy. Thus, some believe, all Jews (any who define as such and are recognized as such by Jewish authorities) have a special right to live in Israel regardless of what any human-authored law might say about the matter.

Far more Christians believe this story line than Jews. There are around 75 million evangelical Christians in this country alone, far outnumbering the religious Jews in the world. (There are about 14 million Jews, maybe two-thirds of them religious.) These Christians may believe that “the Jews” are somehow collectively responsible for killing the Son of God, a conviction encouraged by such New Testament passages as Matthew 27:24-25, John 19:15-16, and 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15. They may believe that all those refusing to embrace Christianity will be incinerated by a wrathful God before the Rapture as prophesized in the Book of Revelation. But in the meantime some of these Christians delight in finding common ground with religious Jews. Some have even taken to celebrating Hannukah.

For many of us who do not believe in the existence of the vengeful, mercurial biblical God, and have studied the real history of the world, the scriptural narrative is at best interesting, quaint mythology. At worst it is a set of dangerous delusions that could justify genocide.

Consider how literal belief in this narrative has affected our own history. Many of the English settlers in the New World in the seventeenth century were convinced that they were the contemporary “Chosen People.”  Obviously, they reasoned, the Jews had lost their chosen status due to their rejection of Jesus as the messiah. The torch had been passed.

The English thought they were special in God’s eyes due to their virtuous and “correct” Protestant faith and the evident favor of God who’d brought Britons victory against heretical Catholic Spain and its invading Armada in 1588. So it was natural for the Virginia planter John Rolfe, who sought to marry the native American princess Pochahantas in 1614, to express anxiety about “the heavy displeasure which almighty God conceived against the sons of Levy for marrying strange [foreign] wives.” Rolfe was placing himself in the position of an Old Testament Jew, and was recalling that in the Book of Ezra, God had demanded that the Israelites allowed to return home from Babylonian exile cut themselves off from any non-Jewish spouses and half-Jewish children. Their “holy seed [had] mixed itself with the peoples” of Canaan, and with the Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. And this was an “abomination” (Ezra 9:1). The biblical prejudice against intermarriage between God’s “chosen” and “pagan” peoples deeply troubled Rolfe, although he did wind up marrying Pochahantas.

More commonly the settlers slaughtered or displaced the native peoples. The English settlers in the New World sometimes referred to America as their “Promised Land,” and they modelled their own savage attacks on the indigenous on the Israelites’ treatment of the Canaanites. When, for example, English “Pilgrims” including William Bradford torched a Pequot village in 1637 they were filled with the conviction that they were implementing God’s will:

Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire…horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy.

There is a deep tendency in the U.S. psyche to identify with the biblical Hebrews and their legendary exodus from the Egyptian “house of bondage” into the promised land, celebrated in music from Stennett and Durham’s “Bound for the Promised Land” (ca. 1835) sung by settlers on the Oregon Trail to Negro spirituals and even to Bruce Springsteen’s “Promised Land.” (To be fair to Bruce, his song seems sardonic; it calls on people to “blow away the dreams that break your heart.”)

The settlers along the Oregon Trail realizing their “manifest destiny” slaughtered Sioux (Grattan Massacre, 1854), Shoshoni (Bear River Massacre, 1863) and members of other native tribes. This “promised land” theme in our own history prettifies what is, in fact, a horrifying tale of land seizure and ethnic cleansing.

The horror is not in the actual history of the Middle East. As Rabbi David Wolpe has honestly pointed out, there is no archeological evidence for a Hebrew period of bondage in Egypt, exodus, or Hebrew invasion of Canaan. And modern scholars such as Israeli historian, Shlomo Sand, have blown apart the myth that Jews constitute a bloodline dating back to the legendary Abraham.  This effectively undercuts the argument that Jews have a “birthright” to “return” to their ancestral homeland. The “homeland” of many is indeed the grassy plains of southern Russia and the mountains of the Caucasus, where the Khazars–of Central Asian Turkish origin–converted to Judaism in large numbers from the eighth century.  What historical, ancestral link do they have to the “promised land”?

 

***** 

There are Christians and Jews today who find the Bible passages quoted above disturbing. Yet many shrug their shoulders declaring that “God moves in mysterious ways,” his reasons sometimes unfathomable to mere humans. Some may think that such behavior was appropriate in the distant past but barbarous in the twenty-first century. But once you accept the idea that the carnage described occurred at God’s orders, it doesn’t require a great mental leap to justify modern genocide.

That is, of course, what Rabbi Yosuf does. “You must send missiles to them and annihilate them,” he declares. “All these evil people should perish from this world… God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians.” And certainly many West Bank settlers — such as those who glorify Baruch Goldstein — would just as soon slaughter any resisting their claim to a “birthright” to Palestinian land.

Doesn’t literal acceptance of the Old Testament narrative itself prompt or justify racism and genocide? Doesn’t the concept of a divinely “Chosen People” itself challenge rational and democratic values that have been spreading since the Enlightenment?

Many people, including the majority of ambassadors to the UN in 1975, have labeled Zionism a form of racism. Zionism is a modern nationalist political ideology that asserts the right of Jews to establish a state in what is posited (very dubiously) as the ancestral homeland of most modern Jews. It is not essentially a religious ideology; most of the early Zionist leaders including Theodor Herzl  were, in fact, quite irreligious. But Zionism plainly exploits the belief of the devout religious believer that the Creator of the entire cosmos really gave Jews rights to land in the Middle East that trump any centuries-old claim anyone else might have.

(It should always be noted — if bloodline is so important — that among the Palestinian Arabs there are undoubtedly the descendents of first-century Judaeans who at some point converted to Christianity or Islam. Might not God’s promise to Abraham apply to them?)

Many Zionists make their case in entirely non-religious terms, stressing the history of Jewish persecution culminating in the Holocaust, the supposed need for a state to insure the survival of the Jewish people, and the putative legality of the process leading to the establishment of Israel in 1948–usually tendentiously citing the Balfour Declaration and UN Resolution 181. But critics of Zionism note properly that it inherently privileges Jews at the expense of Palestinians.

Should we not all the more condemn the religious view that Jews are the Chosen People, and that those in Israel inhabit a land given them specifically by God?

When it comes to attacking fundamental doctrines of faiths, tolerant people, ecumenical people, tend to draw a line. “People are entitled to their religiousopinions,” they say, the idea being that these opinions are cultural, inherited, fixed and matters of identity. This has been my own attitude. I’ve figured: a child grows up in a household where he or she is told “God chose us to be the light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6).  Many Jewish parents add that, since Jews have been so historically oppressed in so many countries, they have a duty to stand with all the oppressed and the campaign against intolerance and the privileging of Christianity. The Jewish contribution to workers’ and anti-racist movements is well known, and it includes the contributions of those who’ve taken this Chosen People concept seriously.

I’ve been inclined towards anthropological indulgence. If I’ve smiled at the belief of some elderly Japanese that theirs is the “Land of the Gods” and they themselves are of special status in the world, such conviction resting on charming Shinto myth, can I not also smile good-naturedly at the biblical myth of the Chosen People?

No,  I can’t anymore.  Because the concept’s not harmless. It’s toxic, just as the claim to Japanese superiority based on State Shinto is potentially poisonous.  I can’t imagine a delusion with greater negative potential, more difficult to spin into something warm, fuzzy and mellow, than this notion of a “Chosen People.” Even if interpreted to mean, “We Jews have special ethical responsibilities because we were chosen by God,” doesn’t it, grounded in writings that exuberantly celebrate the annihilation of whole peoples, inevitably produce the ravings of a Rabbi Yosef?

 

***** 

Millions of fundamentalist Christians in this country, persuaded that the establishment of the modern Zionist state is in fulfillment of Bible prophecy, ignore the massive evidence for Israel’s brutal treatment of the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine. They might be disconcerted by Yosef’s disparagement of non-Jews, Olmert’s boast about strong-arming Bush, or Netanyahu’s observation that their own uncritical support for Israel is really “absurd.” But because they buy the notion that there is a God, who “chose” Jews as “his people,” and granted them a land in perpetuity, they demand that their representatives in Congress rubber-stamp every Israeli action and endorse every Israeli request for funds or demand for U.S. action.

I suppose it’s possible to say to such people, and to believing Jews:

Ok, I respect your religious beliefs. I understand that you think today’s Jews are the lineal descendents of Abraham and that as such God has granted them the state of Israel in accordance with his promise and biblical prophecies. I understand that you believe Jews are special, appointed by God to be ‘a light unto the nations.

(To the Christian evangelicals one might add: “And I respect your view that in accordance with Book of Revelation prophecy, Israel has to be re-established before the Second Coming, Apocalypse, and Rapture.”)

All of that’s your business, just like it’s the Mormons’ business if they want to think a lost tribe of Israel settled in North America and Jesus appeared among them and delivered the Sermon on the Mount 2000 years ago. I personally think these views are totally irrational and historically unsupportable. But I know a lot of people hold them and they can be perfectly nice, decent people.

But can’t you find some way to reconcile those beliefs with a principled rejection of what, in any other context, would clearly be called ‘terror,’ ‘ethnic cleansing,’ ‘collective punishment,’ ‘war crimes’?

Can’t you acknowledge, as Israel’s best historians have done, that over 700,000 Palestinians fled in fear in 1948 after massacres in Deir Yassin and elsewhere? Can’t you confirm on the basis of just a little reading that Zionist leaders made their intention of driving them out very clear?

Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, said in 1948, ‘We have to kill all the Palestinians unless they are resigned to live here as slaves.’ Yitzak Rabin’s memoirs quote Ben Gurion as responding to a question about what to do with the Palestinians. ‘Ben Gurion responded with a hand gesture which said ‘Drive them out!’

Does your understanding of your religion justify all this? Do you think the God you believe in approved of all that, just to create a state of anti-Arab racists, self-absorbed religious fanatics, and disillusioned youth eager to repatriate, dependent on U.S. taxpayers’ largesse?

Can you ask yourself whether it was fair of the UN recommendation in 1947 to award 56% of the land in Palestine to Jews, who were only 33% of the population legally owning only 7% of the land? And was it wrong of the entire Arab and Muslim world to  reject that partition plan–authored by western powers who had colonized much of the world–as unacceptable? Can’t you understand why they would be reasonably opposed to it? And don’t you realize that the massacres at Deir Yassin and in Hebron occurred before the Arab armies even tried to intervene to prevent the emergence of a specifically Jewish state on disputed land?

Can’t you be a little more critical about how this Chosen People is treating the Palestinians in the Promised Land?

But I’m not that hopeful the appeals to reason and compassion can move the fundamentalist religious mind, once it’s fixed on a stance as a “matter of faith.” For many years the Israeli leaders’ not so secret weapon in influencing U.S. policy has been the Christian fundamentalists whom they privately disdain, but who accord them superstar status as God’s people doing God’s will.

These “useful idiots” do not understand that from the point of view of leading Zionists they exist, like donkeys, merely to serve the chosen ones. At least Rabbi Yosef states that viewpoint frankly. In doing so he challenges anyone willing to think to recognize what Israel’s all about–not the Sunday school myths but religiously-sanctified racism and atrocity.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at:gleupp@granite.tufts.eduRead other articles by Gary.

 

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