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Mark LeVine: Isn’t Judaism About Righteousness?

I appreciate the detailed statistics from the rabbi. However, they are not relevant to the question at hand.

The question is not whether Islam or religion more broadly is not relevant to people’s lives or to the political process. Large numbers of Americans, and it would seem most evangelicals or at least those evangelicals who vote Republican, define themselves first as Christian, and then as American. This does not mean that people want to live in a religious state–that is, a state dominated by a religious elite that removes sovereignty from the people and subjugates the universal human and political rights as defined in the U.N. charter and declaration on human rights to a particular and necessarily narrow reading of Islamic law.


More specifically to your comments, I specifically do not disregard Hamas’s Charter, since I quote from it in my piece to demonstrate the anti-Jewish sentiments at the core of the group’s, and Hezbollah’s, ideologies and politics.

You also neglect to mention from the Pew Report you cite that the majorities of those who see Islam as playing a major role in their country’s politics are also worried about the implications of this process for extremism. That is, they don’t feel it’s necessarily a good thing to have a strongly religiously determined political ideology governing their countries political systems. This is backed up by the Human Values Survey I cited in my original comments, which shows that Muslims around the world support the fundamental values of democracy and other “liberal” notions to roughly the same degree (in some cases more, in some less) as their counterparts in the United States and Europe.


So what do these statistics tell us? This is my problem with the way they are being used. It comes back to the church-state dilemma in the United States.

The framers of the Constitution never expected that religious views and the ethics/morality derived from them would be excluded from reasoned public debate or politics. In that sense, religion has a powerful role to play in political life. But most did not want religion to determine politics, to create a Christian state of the sort that too many Americans seem to be striving for today.

This is the same issue in the Muslim world. To say that most Muslims think Islam plays an important role in politics is not the same thing as saying that “most Muslims don’t distinguish between the spheres of religion and politics,” which would seem clearly to argue that they think that politics has to governed, legally, by Islam. As the part of the report that you cite argues, people distinguish between a strong role for Islam and the extremist advocacy for an Islamic state.


But anyway, this is not the main point. The main argument would seem to be that if we read the statements of Hezbollah and Hamas we can see an implacable hatred of Israel that constitutes a mortal threat to the Jewish state and therefore justifies Israel’s massively violent response.

Isn’t this what we’re really arguing about? Whether a Jewish state should be bombing a neighboring country into the Stone Age because of the actions of a militant movement that everyone knows the government cannot possibly control even as Hezbollah is part of the political system? Whether in response to two enemy resistance movements who’ve kidnapped its soldiers–a practice, it cannot be stressed enough, Israel routinely engages in itself–Israel has the right to kill hundreds if not thousands of civilians, make hundreds of thousands of people homeless, destroy billions of dollars of infrastructure? This is collective punishment pure and simple and is not just a war crime as defined by the Geneva Conventions (Articles 33 and 147), to which I believe, Israel is a signatory. It is a complete betrayal of the prophetic inheritance of Judaism.


Forget that Hamas leaders have long said that they’d be willing to cut a deal for a two-state solution (as Israeli scholars Shaul Mishal and Avraham Sela argue in their important book “The Palestinian Hamas”) Forget that Hezbollah has neither the power nor the incentive to engage in any kind of long-term war to destroy Israel. Their texts say they want an Islamic state and they clearly are anti-Jewish so we can kills all the Palestinians and Lebanese we want to–young or old, civilian or fighter, Muslim or Christian, part of the problem or the solution (as the million Lebanese who marched against the Syria-Hezbollah order last year, many of whom are now homeless and could well be dead soon as the IDF is now attacking non-Hezbollah areas regularly)–in order to stop this supposed threat? If most Jews think this is okay, which would seem to be the case, then what does this say about Judaism today?


Tomorrow Israel apparently will again bomb southern Lebanon and continue to flatten entire villages out of existence. Is this okay with you? Is this the way Jews behave? Isn’t Judaism, as Steven Spielberg has one of his characters–who tellingly dies anyway as part of the tit-for-tat violence of which he played a part)–say in “Munich,” supposed to be about “righteousness”?

Does anyone understand how Israel’s actions are mirroring the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages in 1948? How this is going to strengthen the hatred that will feed the very extremism about which we are all afraid?

During the 1999 Israeli election campaign, Ehud Barak admitted that if he were a Palestinian he would have probably joined a terrorist organization because of everything Israel had done to Palestinians (as reported in the Jerusalem Post, March 12, 1998). At least he was honest.


How many Palestinians and Lebanese do you think will join Hamas and Hezbollah because of the latest violence? To not address these questions, and to not realize how Israel is dooming itself in the long term by these actions, and the occupation that feeds them, is the really “dishonest and disturbing” thing, as the rabbi accused my article of being.

The arrogance of Israel’s use of its military power and the dehumanization of Arab life that has become the common currency of Israeli military and political discourse are a far more dangerous threat to Judaism and the Jewish state than Hamas or Hezbollah could ever dream of being. In that sense, with each bomb and bullet Israel showers on Gaza and Beirut, its two enemies will grow stronger.

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Jerry Ward Ph.D.

posted July 21, 2006 at 6:13 pm

I think you dissemble too much. Perhaps if you were more succinct and expressed a synopsis of your ramblings I could understand your point. You talked about the Christian founders of the (American) constitution and church state. Today, people are afraid of being seen as anti anything. I think Christianity is wonderful, whenever they get around to starting it. Islam falls within the same rubric of believing whatever they are told. Perhaps you mean to say? That people should be judged by their actions? I wonder?

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Ellen Slaughter

posted July 22, 2006 at 10:50 pm

My husbands family are basically evangelicals. They drive me to distraction. Almost all contact is a strain and the rest that I know would prefer this country to be lead by only their form of Christianity. The problem being no one can agree on is that Baptist, Methodist, etc. The main point being that the founding fathers weren’t as Christians today, they were Diests. They expounded “natural law.” Not a bad notion, but it really was devoid of much religion and led to Unitarianism. Also not a bad thing, but they didn’t and don’t want Theocracy.

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posted July 23, 2006 at 2:39 am

I can’t believe he alluded to “Munich” as if it were a valid source. God bless everyone in this crisis.

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Levana Madani

posted July 23, 2006 at 5:02 pm

I’m afraid you are mistaken about the Evangelists. They do wish to live in a religious state; however, most Americans are secular and want a division of State and Religion. Have you not heard the arguments against abortion rights, for instance? Those from evangelists has nothing to do with the psychological and physical damage to women or legal rights of the fetus or any other secular reasons, but rather, their arguments are religious, as has been their fight for prayer in the school, “In G-d We Trust” on the dollar bill, which, incidentally, was not even on there until the 20th century! They have, in fact, killed doctors, to enforce their religious views, and it is only the power of the secularists that has kept these people in check so far. Even religious Jews seek a religious state, awaiting Moshiach to bring this state about. The difference is that, except in the rarest cases, quickly punished by Israel, we do not use terrorism and violence to bring about this religious Jewish state. When Israel fights its enemies, it does not use the banner of Judaism, which is also very important. I do, however, agree that there are many, if not most, Muslims who do not want a religious state. These are, however, mainly ignored by the media and also the fault of those Muslims who abhor terrorism and religious states but don’t protest as Muslims or unite as such in a visible manner that would allow the bigots of the world to realize that just as there are good and bad in all people, there are also good Muslims. Hamas, contrary to Hizbollah, was not started by religious Muslims. Using the banner of Islam does not mean that the people believe or follow the ideology. It is simply one that will create sentiment among the people at large in their part of the world. It is interesting that Mark LeVine notes that Hamas’s charter opposes Jews because, among other reasons, they “killed Jesus unjustly.” This is not a Muslim belief. It is Christian. Muslims do not believe that Jesus was crucified!

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Larry P. Bleier

posted July 25, 2006 at 5:49 pm

I find the critisms of Israel unjustified. Having been in Vietnam, having seen bombing of Hanoi, Having read of World War I and II allied bombing of Germany, etc. elsewhere, how can Israel be held to a higher standard? What interest is there in the attrocities of the Turks against the Armenians, the Africans being killed or herded by the Muslims in the Sudan, elsewhere? Do people feel that the STATE OF ISRAEL is JESUS HIMSELF reborn?. When Jesus was stoned and crucified, he did not fight back. May be people hold Israel to the same standards of Jesus’s ideals so they can not accept Israel defending its existence?

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Simon Fajgenbaum

posted July 25, 2006 at 7:09 pm

When the USA invaded Panama, with all its might(It took them 48 hrs. to finish the job, and according to the their figures, there were only over 500 civilians killed. According to the Panamenian figure they were in the thousands) Everybody, inmediately worried, that due to this massacre, Panama would go comunist, in revenge. It was all the contrary. The Panamenians regard the USA as their salvation, and as proof, you have a striving strong economy, with the intention of building a third set o locks in the Panama Canal. The same thing will happen in Lebanon, once they are rid of HEZBOLLAH, they will not become more radicalized, on the contrary, they will feall much happier. The Lebanese people, are not fanatics or stupid. They are shreud businessmen, and they know what is good for them.

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Rabbi Goldie Milgram

posted July 25, 2006 at 7:13 pm

Sad that Hezbollah has so little regard for people’s homes and lives that they cowardly hide themselves and their munitions in them. Curious, I’ve never seen Hezbollah drop leaplets warning Israeli civilians to move out of their reach – they seem to want to slaughter Jews. Note the difference in belief systems – Israelis want peace and do their best not to target homes un-used by terrorists to hide themselves or their munitions; Hezbollah sees all Israelis as targets and aims indescriminately at cities. That’s why we call them terrorists – no ethics.

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posted July 26, 2006 at 7:33 am

I absolutely agree with this point of view. The violence is not a solution. Actually, what is happening now has reminded me the events that have had occurred thousands years ago, when Jewish people have to entirely erase from existence some enemy tribes in order to survive. But this time it would be good to realize that it is not only about the land for Israel and survival – it is about money and power… and it very well could be not in the Israelies interest at all (at least for those who lives now).

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posted August 13, 2006 at 10:25 pm

rabbi goldie, what is sadder still, is that through your ego/mind/logic, you are being a terrorist. if you want to become a true spiritual leader, i would start working of what comes from the soul, and spirit.

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