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The Shadow of Rehoboam

Religion Still Shouldn't Get the Car Keys

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, September 05, 2001.

During a week when Irish children are stoned by courageous thugs for the crime of walking to school in a Protestant district, the world is again presented with the idiocies of religion, any religion, in power.

The Israel-Palestinian conflict has come round full circle again, and - absent change - we face another few decades of actual war between these two groups. It is a difficult subject. The anti-Semitic history of the West is so clear that only grossly ignorant people can deny it. Only recently has it been considered in bad taste, so centuries of charmless literature exists to prove the point. This provoked the Zionist movement.

Zionism, the ancient desire to regain Biblical land, is again under the gun as racism by the United Nations. Its history is conveniently forgot. For centuries, Jewish communities world-wide were divided about it. Many were assimilationists - people who wanted to abandon the foolishness of ancient prophecy and become Frenchmen, Canadians, Argentineans, or South Africans only who attended temple rather than church. But the ingrained prejudices of Christianity forbade it. Jews were never allowed to assimilate. Even the very conservative and wealthy, like the Rothschilds who financed the Suez canal for England, never were allowed to forget they were Jews and not one of the gang.

The Zionists felt that until they had their own nation they would never be treated with the civility - much less dignity - afforded others, and after years of trying to get the traditional Jewish lands back, they took advantage of the western guilt for the Holocaust and formed Israel, which received the blessing of the United States right off. Guilt assuaged.

But the new Israel turned out to be a nation of people pretty much like any other; it could be petty, it could be cruel, and it could be foolish. Just like, in fact, ancient Israel. The problem was and is that Israel gave a lot of power to its Orthodox rabbis, who contend that they and they alone know what is best for Israel. The Orthodox established themselves, despite their paltry percentage of population, as an aristocracy of alleged merit. Their students in their religious schools are exempt from the military, for example. Israel needs to be united, so rather than turn upon this selfish element, they compromise with it. Imagine the government of the United States if it had to conduct policy based upon a counsel of Puritan advisors, or Southern Baptist ministers, who would threaten to walk out or invoke powers granted exclusively to them in the Constitution to force their way. Religious fanatics of the right wing, regardless of faith, are pretty much the same everywhere.

As Israel is a conception of Arthur Balfour, so Palestine is a concept of the British foreign office and the Sultan of an imperial Turkey. There is no historical Palestinian people; they are Arabs and Turks and Lebanese, and probably Hittites, Phoenicians, and remainders from the Crusades. Palestine only existed as a region of governance for foreign empires. Palestine is a nation in the same sense that New England is or, better, The South.

Is Israel racist? Most of the world thinks so. Is it prejudiced against Arabs as an inferior people, and is that prejudice ingrained in its construct and conduct? Elements, powerful elements in that nation certainly are. But equally gross are the goober elements of the Palestinians, who are as anti-Jewish as Hitler could wish.

And the Palestinians, even their leaders, continue to present themselves as nothing more than a street gang consortium. If we have learned anything about Arafat, it is that he really doesn't seem to have any concept of what elected governance is, and he fails every time peace threatens to advance his alleged agenda. He creates a religion of self, just like all tin pots: the huge portraits, the obsequious courtiers, the clear outlines of third world despot.

And because he is third world in outlook, the burden falls upon Israel to make the crucial changes and relieve themselves of excessive parliamentary reliance on their far right. That, and that alone, would slow the pressure to expand settlements, to exhort Israel over all. Palestine exists solely as an idea in opposition to Israel. There is no there, there. Israel is the only corporeal entity in the equation, and while it isn't fair, perhaps, it is on Israel the burden falls.

But Israel does not, historically, have a great record of making the right choice in foreign policy or with its own people, preferring, like the American South, to divide and be conquered. It is not the threat of Arafat that scares Israel and its leaders, it is the story of King Rehoboam, whose Biblical stupidity and bad advisors once caused Israel to split and be conquered. Rich in folly, Rehoboam is the shadow that falls over Israel when it comes to handling its internal conflict, which is again between Zionists and assimilationists. The Zionists do not want Muslims to assimilate into Israelis. Rehoboam's shadow prevents a coherent and dedicated discussion of the role the religious right plays and should not play in a modern Israel, or in any modern nation, including a proposed Palestine. Until that happens, not much different can be expected than more teenagers with suicide bombs and sanctioned assassinations.