Critical Information to Understanding Zionism, the Iraq War, and Current US Politics
Made available for FREE for personal reading at the Historical Review Press is a short book by Israeli Professor Israel Shahak. With the Forward written by Gore Vidal, the book covers the history of Jewish persecution, both received and meted to others, as a preface for understanding modern Zionism. The author, who survived Nazi incarceration at Belsen Concentration Camp, documents the role of some of the more radical and racist elements of the contemporary Zionist movement and how it influences policy in Israel, the Middle East, and America.
Professor Shahak is a citizen of Jerusalem, a critic of the Talmudic Dispensations that have increasingly characterized Israeli law (particularly with respect to its military and occupation of Palestine), and advocate for reform within Judaism to more peaceful policies.
In Chapter 1, Shahak researches the pre-Christian era of Jewish society to preface what has remained a central theme for many Rabbis and Zionistic practitioners of Judaism: "Judaism as it was established by talmudic sages, are based on Platonic influences and especially on the image of Sparta as it appears in Plato.4 According to Hadas, a crucial feature of the Platonic political system, adopted by Judaism as early as the Maccabean period (142-63 BC), was 'that every phase of human conduct be subject to religious sanctions which are in fact to be manipulated by the ruler'. There can be no better definition of 'classical Judaism' and of the ways in which the rabbis manipulated it than this Platonic definition." A comprehensive reading will make the analogy to the current conservative/theocratic movement in America quite poignant. The chapter ends provocatively, describing the "Biblical Borders" which Zionist believe must be returned to Israel, that include most of Syria, Iraq, all Palestine, and some of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. Within this context, the war in Iraq has much more meaning to Israeli expansionists (of whom there are many in America) than simply the spread of democracy or pursuit of oil.
Chapter 2 follows on preceding text to build an understanding of how the liberalization the 17th and 18th Centuries created a schism for rigid Jewish Orthodoxy, through increased education and integration into non-Jewish society, and the evolution of democracy. The author makes an excellent and well-referenced case for how the Platonic grip of traditional rabbis was threatened by these social reforms and leads to modern Zionism. The history presented in this chapter also provides understanding of what puzzles many observers of modern American politics as the efforts to roll back democracy and civil rights. Sharak specifically identifies the ire that conservative Jewish Orthodoxy has for the American liberal movement.
Chapter 3 provides an excellent understanding of how interpretations of the Old Testament vary between not only Christians and Jews, but between Orthodox Jews and more liberal Jews. Continuing, the chapter also offers a brilliant explanation of the structure of the Babylonian Talmud and how this fundamentally religious text has a profound impact on Zionist matters of state and common law in Israel. One striking parallel to contemporary Americana is the blatant classism that is codified into the Talmudic laws and Jewish Orthodox teachings. Notes Sharak, "Together with the deception of God goes the deception of other Jews, mainly in the interest of the Jewish ruling class. It is characteristic that no dispensations were allowed in the specific interest of the Jewish poor... The second dominant feature of the dispensations is that they are in large part obviously motivated by the spirit of profit. And it is this combination of hypocrisy and the profit motive which increasingly dominated classical Judaism."
The authors work in Chapter 4 provides a more detailed history of the Jewish people over the last 2500 years and their presence in society in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Africa. By documenting the role of Orthodox Judaism and its totalitarian nature, particularly between 800 AD and 1700 AD, Sharak shows that in many societies Judaism was aligned with non-Jewish ruling classes to help maintain a rigid control over serfs and peasantry in general. While also documenting periods of persecution against Jews, Sharak establishes that history has not always been so unfavorable toward Jews, particularly the Jewish upper-class, who have engaged in periods of persecution themselves against non-Jews and poor Jews alike. So it is that modern Zionism arose in part due to the loss of status by the Orthodox Jewish upper class both within and outside the Jewish community, as a result of increasing democratization.
Titled "The Laws Against Non Jews," Chapter 5 explains the Halakhah, or the legal system of Orthodox Judaism that is based on the Babylonian Talmud. Here Shalak delves into some of the most controversial aspects of Zionism and the rascist elements associated with it. Rules for the treatment of Arabs, human beings of African descent, and Gentiles (differentiated between nobels and everybody else who isn't Jewish) is discussed in some detail, with direct quotes from various dispensations from Rabbinic scholars. Similar documentation is presented as to treatment of other religions like Christianity and Islam. Taken to the extreme, as the author qualifies they are among Hassidists, Zionists, and other forms of radical Orthodox Judaism, these texts are shocking and inflamatory in nature. However, the reading is critical to understanding many of the forces behind modern Zionism and, for example, Israel's ruling Likud Party.
Chapter 6 is the final chapter, and is best summarized in Prof Sharak's own words: "Therefore, the real test facing both Israeli and diaspora Jews is the test of their self-criticism which must include the critique of the Jewish past. The most important part of such a critique must be detailed and honest confrontation of the Jewish attitude to non-Jews. This is what many Jews justly demand from non-Jews: to confront their own past and so become aware of the discrimination and persecutions inflicted on the Jews. In the last 40 years the number of non-Jews killed by Jews is by far greater than the number of the Jews killed by non-Jews. The extent of the persecution and discrimination against non-Jews inflicted by the 'Jewish state' with the support of organized diaspora Jews is also enormously greater than the suffering inflicted on Jews by regimes hostile to the~ Although the struggle against antisemitism (and of all other forms of racism) should never cease, the struggle against Jewish chauvinism and exclusivism, which must include a critique of classical Judaism, is now of equal or greater importance."
I implore all Indymedia readers to visit the site and either read Sharak's book online or copy and paste the text into a word processor, from which it can be printed for more portable reading. The author has authorized such distribution for personal use. Understanding the history of Zionism and radical elements of Judaism is essential to understanding the Iraq War, Palestinian conflict, and disturbing currents in modern American politics.
NOTE: This review is in no way meant to be "anti-Semitic", as the author himself is an Israeli citizen and victim of anti-Semitism. The reviewer has many friends who are Jewish and firmly believes that the radical elements of Judaism that constitute the Hassidic and Zionist movements are a minority and a hindrance to global peace.
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