An Argument in Defense of Haredim Jews and Against Secular Zionist Militarism
Israel is heading towards a profound internal crisis: a Jew on Jew confrontation, which, however, has major implications for its relations with Palestinians, as well as its Middle East neighbors. The conflict is between the highly militarized Zionist state and the Haredim religious movement over a number of issues, including recent proposals by Netanyahu to end the religious exemption of Haradi youth from serving in Israel’s colonial armed forces.
Haredim and the Zionist Colonial State
Even before the forcible imposition(‘founding’) of the Israeli state, the Haredim were opposed to Zionism. Today the vast majority of Haredim in Israel remain staunchly opposed to the Zionist state for religious, ethical and political reasons. Haredim religious teaching claims that the Jewish people are bound by three oaths (1) not to settle in Israel by using force (2) not to war with other nations and (3) not to act as if the nations of the world would persecute Israel. Haredim were in opposition to Israel’s violent ethnic cleaning of over 850,000 Palestinians in the course of establishing the Israeli State and continues to oppose Israel’s settlers’ violently dispossession of Palestinians. Unlike other so-called “ultra-Orthodox” sects, who support Israeli colonialism and bless the military, Haredim believe that Israeli militarism corrupts the spirit and that Zionists have converted Jews from worshippers of the Torah to rabid ethnocentric upholders of a militarist State. For the Haredim, State worship especially the waving of the Israeli flag in the houses of worship, is a sacrilege comparable to the renegade Jews condemned by Moses for worshipping the Golden Calf.
The majority of Haredim boycott elections, organize their own schools (Yeshivas), encourage students to deepen their religious studies, emphasize community and family values (of a oppresive patriarchal sort) with numerous children and strongly reject the State’s attempt to conscript Haredim youth into their colonial occupation army, the so-called Israeli Defense (sic) Force (IDF). All the major Zionist political parties and the ruling colonial regime demonize the Haredim, claiming they are shirking their military responsibilities .Via the mass media and public pronouncements they incite Israeli hatred toward the Haredim: a study in 2006 claimed that over a third of Israeli Jews considered the Haredim the most hated group in Israel.
The Haredim, on the other hand, have reason to fear and loath the secular militarist Zionist state and politicians. After World War II in the Zionist controlled camps for Jewish refugee children in Teheran, the Jewish Agency imposed Zionist ideology and militarist anti-religious policies to cut Haredim children from their spiritual roots. According to one Haredim report many groups of Jewish youth from Poland, mostly survivors of the Holocaust and Soviet Russia, were subjected to “unimaginable mental and physical cruelty with one goal in mind: obliteration of Judaism”. Given the Israeli drive today to harness a corrupted form of Judaism to colonial militarism, the Haredim have every reason to believe that the conscription of its youth will be accompanied by cruel, systematic Zionist brainwashing to ensure they make “good”, brutal occupation soldiers.
Haredim versus Israeli State Values
The Haredim fervently believe and practice in the Biblical teaching, “Be fruitful and multiply”. They have large families and the median age of Haredim is 16 years. Their peaceful message to militarist Zionists could be “make babies not bombs”.
Some Haredim leaders have met with Palestinian and Iranian leaders and in line with their religious doctrine have declared their support for peaceful resolution of conflicts and have denounced Israel’s aggressive military posture.
Haredim are intensely religious and discuss and debate the readings of some of the great religious scholars: their message to the Zionists is read Maimonides’ ethical treatices not Netanyahu’s bellicose, blood curdling rants.
Haredim live and study largely in the confines of their cohesive communities. They send their sons to the yeshivas to study religious doctrine not to the West Bank to kill Palestinians.They call on their children to serve G-d not the IDF. They seek truth in the Torah not in conquest via the Preventive War Doctrines espoused by prestigious Israeli and overseas Zionist academic militarists.
Haredim focus on building a better life within their community; they reject the efforts of the Zionist state to entice them into joining self-styled “jewish” settlers engaged in vicious land grabs in the West Bank, in the name of “contributing to society (sic)”. Haredim’s ‘introverted way of life’ is seen as a prophylactic alternative to the crass militarism, money laundering, financial speculation, body parts enterprises and real estate swindles rife among the elite Jews in Israel and among sectors of overseas Zionists engaged in procuring multi- billion dollar tribute from the US Treasury.
Haredim believe, with exemplary evidence, that conscripting their youth into the Israeli colonial army would destroy their moral values, as they would be forced to grope Arab women at checkpoints, break the legs of stone throwing Palestinian children, defend lawless self-styled “Jewish” settlers scribbling obscene graffiti in mosques and churches … not to speak of the ill effects of what secular Israeli Jews call a “modern education”, full of historical fabrications about the origins of Israel, scientific readings on high tech war-making and “advanced” economic doctrines proclaiming the sacred role of the free market,and justifying the 60% poverty rate among Haredim as “self-induced”:
No, the Haredim demand that the Israeli Jewish elite stop trying to conscript their youth into the Army and practicing employment discrimination, which triples the unemployment rate among Haredim.
The Coming ‘Civil War’: Zionist State versus the Haredim
The elected leader Yair Lapid of newly formed Yesh Atid Party, dubbed a “centrist” by the New York Times and a ‘moderate’ by the leading ideologues of the Zionist “lobby”, ran on a platform of forcibly ending the Haredim exemption from conscription into colonial military service. Yair Lapid, in the run-up to joining a new Netanyahu coalition regime, has launched a vicious attack on Haredim. Lapid premises his agreement to joining Netanyahu’s war machine on forcibly confronting the Haredim leadership. Yair Lapid taps the class and secular resentments of Israel’s upwardly mobile youth who bitterly complain of having to serve in the army and delaying their money-making opportunities while the poor, semi-literate “blacks” (derogatory term for the clothing of Haredim) engage in “worthless studies” of the Torah. Lapid, using the same perverted logic as Netanyahu, claims that “Ten percent of the population cannot threaten 90 percent with civil war” (Financial Times, 2/14/13, p. 6.). The executioner (Lapid) accuses the victim (Haredim) of the violence he is about to commit. Yesh Atid, the “centrist party” (sic), has allied with Naftali Bennett’s neo-fascist Jewish Home Party (pushing for the annexation of all of Palestine) in support of smashing Haredim’s opposition to conscription. They hold veto power over the next cabinet. This rabid secular military assault has provoked the opposition and unity of other Zionist-religious parties. The Shahs and United Torah Judaism have taken up the defense of the Haredim.
Lines are being drawn far beyond a Haredim-Zionist State confrontation.
The Larger Meaning of the Haredim-Zionist Conflict
The Haredim hostility to the secular Zionist state is in part based on its opposition to military conscription thus calling into question Israeli militarism ,in general, and specifically its policy of colonial occupation and regional aggression. While some Haredim may oppose conscription for religious reasons and seek exemption solely for its own youth, objectively, the effect is to undermine Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights and to call into question the entire apartheid system. By speaking to spiritual values, they deny the legitimacy of the idea of a Jewish police state based on force, violence, torture and disappearance of political prisoners. Their questioning of the institutional configuration upholding Jewish supremacy and Israel as the homeland of the Chosen People, they strike a powerful blow at the ideological underpinnings of the overseas activity of the Zionist power configuration. Their animosity to the fusion of Jewish chauvinism and religious rituals and the tribal deification of the Israeli state is counterposed to their embrace of Moses Ten Commandments.
The Haredim study the teaching of the renowned Judaic philosophy Maimonides and abhor Zionist militaristic strategists like Walzer, Dershowitz, Kagan, Feith, Netanyahu, etc. who preach colonial “just war” doctrines. Representing 10% of the Israeli population and a far greater percentage of military age youth, the Haredim are in a position to sharply limit the scope of future Zionist wars.If they succeed in blocking conscription, they would provide a lasting contribution to making the world in general, and the Middle East in particular, a more secure and peaceful place to live.
Facing the prospect of a loss of future cannon fodder to sustain its colonial ventures, and in their frenzied attacks on the Haredim, the Israeli-Zionist elite have incited the majority of Israeli Jews to demonize them as ‘backward’, illiterate, freeloaders and to blame the religious curriculum for their growing and current 60% rate of poverty and high unemployment. Israel’s war machine needs fresh recruits to maintain its imperial quest for a Greater Israel. Demographics – with families exceeding five children –indicate the Haredim are likely to double their percentage of the Israeli population over the next two decades. Faced with the facts in the womb,the colonial expansionist imperative drives all the leading zionist parties to end Haredim’s exemptions. In response Haredim leaders threaten to engage in massive civil disobedience if the Zionists impose conscription, rightly seeing conscription of its youth as an assault on its most profoundly held spiritual and family values and as an opening wedge in destroying community solidarity and reciprocal relations.
The Haredim share a common plight with Israel’s Arab population: both face increasing police harassment, discrimination, religious persecution and rising levels of poverty. A Haredim-Arab alliance would unite 30% of the population against a common secular militarist and plutocratic enemy. Farfetched as it seems on the subjective level, there are objective historical and structural processes which are driving the two groups together.
It is one of the great ironies of history that the world’s modern secular anti-imperialist movements should find their most consequential allies among Israel’s most traditional and deeply religious movement.
James Petras is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York. He is the author of more than 62 books published in 29 languages, and over 600 articles in professional journals. He has a long history of commitment to social justice, working in particular with the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement for 11 years. In 1973-76 he was a member of the Bertrand Russell Tribunal on Repression in Latin America. He writes a monthly column for the Mexican newspaper, La Jornada, and previously, for the Spanish daily, El Mundo. He received his B.A. from Boston University and Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.
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