Virtual Talmud

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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