Israel and Judaism part company

Mar 9, 2024
Book spines listing major world religions - Judaism, Islam, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Protestantism.

Every religion is rooted in core beliefs or dogmas but is judged or weighed by the character it espouses and the values with which it identifies. Belief is verified or condemned by the way life is lived. Christianity is known to espouse “love your neighbour as yourself” or, “do to others as you would have them do to you”, or, “do not judge”, or “forgive others” etc. By those critical of any value in religious expression it is rightly weighed by the lived quality of these characteristics. Often, Judaism has shamefully been characterised in the negative, such prejudicial characterisation rightly called ‘antisemitism’. I wish to do the reverse, to speak of the essential virtue of Judaism which has clearly been abandoned by the State of Israel.

Judaism is founded upon covenants it believes have been forged with God and through which certain privileges have been assured, on the basis that accountabilities are adhered to. What follows is not my understanding of this covenantal relationship, but the understanding of the loved and much-revered late Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain.

Lord Sacks points out there are specific covenants in Hebrew scriptures that relate to Israel and its future, notably covenants with Abraham and David; but preceding them is a universal covenant with the whole created order, made at the conclusion of the Noah flood narrative, which finalises the pre-history creation narratives. The point Lord Sacks makes is that any specific covenant must always be understood and implemented in the context of the universal covenant with the whole created order and specifically with all humankind.

What he is saying is that, at its roots, Judaism must always live out its unique identity in service of the good of the whole created order and never for itself at the expense of others. This truth has been manifested in the lives of hundreds of extraordinary Jewish people who have blessed all human life through the sciences, the arts, and many humanitarian causes. But it is not the character of the State of Israel, which since 1947 has behaved as a pariah and bully towards those who have had every right to call the lands ‘between the river and the sea’ their home.

On the 7 October 2023 Hamas engaged in activity which was abhorrent, no matter the context. The treatment of Palestinians by Israel had been increasingly brutal, without any hope of their rights being honoured, while the long hoped for and promised Palestinian State has been denied in perpetuity. The people have faced an enduring blockade from which no respite was likely soon, perhaps ever. Despite all this Palestinian suffering, the killing of innocent Jewish civilians in Kibbutz on the Israel/Gaza border must be condemned.

What happened on 7th October could not pass without response from Israel. The response needed was two-fold. Perpetrators in the Hamas military wing needed to be brought to account, but equally, perhaps more importantly, the reason why this atrocity occurred needed to be addressed. The reverse has occurred. Israel has doubled down on its persecution of Palestinian people, most egregiously in Gaza, but also in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and even in Israel itself.

Since October 7, Israel has engaged in some of the most inhumane aggression against fellow humanity ever seen in our lifetime. What exists in the mind of aggressors that they can knowingly cause mass starvation to thousands? What exists in the minds of the same individuals that they can herd innocent civilians into what was called a safe zone and then bomb them? What exists in the minds of the same individuals that they can cause the death of thousands of children, make orphans of others, and cause many to suffer excruciating pain without relief.

What possesses the mind of Israel’s leaders that they do all in their power to prevent aid arriving in Gaza? All possible denigration has been made of UNWRA, the only viable channel of aid distribution in Gaza. But it is not simply UNWRA, Israel has made it as difficult as possible for most humanitarian organisations to offer Palestinian aid. Visas are refused and operatives discredited. Mohammed Al Halabi, the head of World Vision in Gaza has been in gaol since 2016 for ‘supporting terrorism’. He was convicted in 2022. No evidence to justify his conviction has ever been made public, indeed independent audits have shown the accusations to have been entirely false. Why does Israel prohibit or punish those who wish to aid the most vulnerable?

Judaism is one of the oldest and most honourable religions, based on covenants that assume global humanitarianism. Indeed, there is an assumption that Judaism will be a blessing to all nations.

In contrast, the State of Israel was born in violence and the dispossession of others, its ambition for extension and control of all territory ‘from the river to the sea’, as reaffirmed recently by Netanyahu, depends on the same tools.

Long may Judaism and Jewish people be a source of blessing to human life on this planet, but we must forlornly conclude that Israel has long since parted company with Judaism and that Christians who without reservation support Israel because of its ‘divine chosen-ness’ are cruelly deluded.

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