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This seriously upsetting article in the New York Times Sunday paper chronicles the increasing influence of the religious right in Israeli’s armed forces and its affect on the execution of the war on Gaza. Especially chilling is the quote from the Chief Rabbi of the military Gen. Avichai Rontzki who enouraged the slogan: “He is who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful.” What a convenient little motto that can be!
“The officer corps of the elite Golani Brigade is now heavily populated by religious right-wing graduates of the preparatory academies,” noted Moshe Halbertal, a Jewish philosophy professor who co-wrote the military code of ethics and who is himself religiously observant but politically liberal. “The religious right is trying to have an impact on Israeli society through the army.”
For Mr. Halbertal, like for the vast majority of Israelis, the army is an especially sensitive institution because it has always functioned as a social cauldron, throwing together people from all walks of life and scores of ethnic and national backgrounds, and helping form them into a cohesive society with social networks that carry on throughout their lives.
Those who oppose the religious right have been especially concerned about the influence of the military’s chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki, who is himself a West Bank settler and who was very active during the war, spending most of it in the company of the troops in the field.
He took a quotation from a classical Hebrew text and turned it into a slogan during the war: “He who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful.”
A controversy then arose when a booklet handed out to soldiers was found to contain a rabbinical edict against showing the enemy mercy. The Defense Ministry reprimanded the rabbi.
At the time, in January, Avshalom Vilan, then a leftist member of Parliament, accused the rabbi of having “turned the Israeli military’s activity from fighting out of necessity into a holy war.”
Hmmm, moving from a war of necessity to a war of choice and one viewed through the axis of good vs evil. Sounds familiar to me. I am near despair over the misguided fanaticism of the religious right whether it is Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Hindu. Enlightened religious communities and secular humanists must join together in Israel, Palestine, America, India, Pakistan, and throughout the world to counter the dogma of war and domination that we see in religious fundamentalists throughout the world.