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Ed Webb

Israel's Religiously Divided Society | Pew Research Center - 0 views

  • a major new survey by Pew Research Center also finds deep divisions in Israeli society – not only between Israeli Jews and the country’s Arab minority, but also among the religious subgroups that make up Israeli Jewry.
  • Nearly all Israeli Jews identify with one of four categories: Haredi (commonly translated as “ultra-Orthodox”), Dati (“religious”), Masorti (“traditional”) or Hiloni (“secular”)
  • secular Jews in Israel are more uncomfortable with the notion that a child of theirs might someday marry an ultra-Orthodox Jew than they are with the prospect of their child marrying a Christian
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  • The vast majority of secular Jews say democratic principles should take precedence over religious law, while a similarly large share of ultra-Orthodox Jews say religious law should take priority.
  • When asked, “What is your present religion, if any?” virtually all Israeli Jews say they are Jewish – and almost none say they have no religion – even though roughly half describe themselves as secular and one-in-five do not believe in God.
  • Sephardim/Mizrahim are generally more religiously observant than Ashkenazim, and men are somewhat more likely than women to say halakha should take precedence over democratic principles. But in many respects, these demographic differences are dwarfed by the major gulfs seen among the four religious subgroups that make up Israeli Jewry.
  • Most non-Jewish residents of Israel are ethnically Arab and identify, religiously, as Muslims, Christians or Druze
  • Israeli Arabs generally do not think Israel can be a Jewish state and a democracy at the same time. This view is expressed by majorities of Muslims, Christians and Druze. And overwhelmingly, all three of these groups say that if there is a conflict between Jewish law and democracy, democracy should take precedence
  • Fully 58% of Muslims favor enshrining sharia as official law for Muslims in Israel, and 55% of Christians favor making the Bible the law of the land for Christians
  • Roughly eight-in-ten Israeli Arabs (79%) say there is a lot of discrimination in Israeli society against Muslims, who are by far the biggest of the religious minorities. On this issue, Jews take the opposite view; the vast majority (74%) say they do not see much discrimination against Muslims in Israel
  • Nearly half of Israeli Jews say Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel, including roughly one-in-five Jewish adults who strongly agree with this position
  • About one-in-six Muslims say they have been questioned by security officials (17%), prevented from traveling (15%) or physically threatened or attacked (15%) because of their religion in the past 12 months, while 13% say they have suffered property damage. All told, 37% of Muslims say they have suffered at least one of these forms of discrimination because of their religious identity in the past year
  • The vast majority of Jews (98%), Muslims (85%), Christians (86%) and Druze (83%) say all or most of their close friends belong to their own religious community
  • Israeli Jews overall are more religiously observant than U.S. Jews. Politically, American Jews are more optimistic about the possibility of a peaceful two-state solution and more negative about Jewish settlements in the West Bank than are Israeli Jews
  • Israel is no longer a predominantly immigrant society; at present, roughly three-quarters of Israeli adults are natives, and just one-quarter were born abroad. Yet with virtual unanimity, Israeli Jews of every kind – native-born and immigrant, young and old, secular and highly religious – agree that all Jews everywhere should have the right to make “aliyah,” or move to Israel and receive immediate citizenship.2 This overwhelming support for Jewish immigration may be linked, in part, to perceptions about anti-Semitism. Fully three-quarters of Israeli Jews (76%) think that anti-Semitism is both common and increasing around the world, and roughly nine-in-ten (91%) say that a Jewish state is necessary for the long-term survival of the Jewish people.
  • A solid majority of Haredim (62%) favor gender segregation on public transportation, such as buses and trains, used by members of the Haredi community. Among Hilonim, meanwhile, just 5% favor this policy. The vast majority of Hilonim (93%) are opposed to enforcing gender segregation on any public transport, even when it is used by Haredim
  • The survey asked Jews whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with the statement that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” Roughly half of Israeli Jews strongly agree (21%) or agree (27%), while a similar share disagree (29%) or strongly disagree (17%).3 Datiim are especially likely to favor the expulsion of Arabs. Roughly seven-in-ten (71%) say Arabs should be transferred. Hilonim lean in the other direction: Most (58%) disagree and say Arabs should not be expelled from Israel, including 25% who strongly disagree. But even among these self-described secular Israeli Jews, about one-third (36%) favor the expulsion of Arabs from the country
  • Seven-in-ten Haredim (70%) and roughly half of Datiim (52%) say being Jewish is mainly a matter of religion, while 3% of Haredim and 16% of Datiim say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and/or culture. Among Hilonim, by contrast, only 4% see being Jewish as primarily a matter of religion, while 83% say Jewish identity is mainly a matter of ancestry and/or culture. However, at least some members of all of these groups see their Jewish identity as bound up with both religion and ancestry/culture.
  • Arabs in Israel – especially Muslims – are more religiously observant than Jews as a whole. Fully two-thirds of Israeli Arabs say religion is very important in their lives, compared with just 30% of Jews. Israeli Muslims (68%), Christians (57%) and Druze (49%) all are more likely than Jews to say religion is very important to them, personally. In addition, more Arabs than Jews report that they pray daily and participate in weekly worship services.
  • Religious intermarriages cannot be performed in Israel (although civil marriages that take place in other countries are legally recognized in Israel).7 This is reflected in the rarity of marriages between members of different religious communities in the country. Nearly all Israelis in the survey who are married or living with a partner say their spouse or partner shares their religion. Relatively few married Muslim, Christian and Druze residents (1%) say their spouse has a different religion, and only 2% of married Jews say they have a spouse who belongs to a non-Jewish religion or is religiously unaffiliated.
  • Israeli Arabs are highly skeptical about the sincerity of the Israeli government in seeking a peace agreement, while Israeli Jews are equally skeptical about the sincerity of Palestinian leaders. But there is plenty of distrust to go around: Fully 40% of Israeli Jews say their own government is not making a sincere effort toward peace, and an equal share of Israeli Arabs say the same about Palestinian leaders.
  • While Muslims living in Israel, overall, are more religious than Israeli Jews, they are less religious than Muslims living in many other countries in the region. For example, about two-thirds of Muslims in Israel (68%) say religion is very important in their lives – higher than the comparable share of Lebanese Muslims (59%), but lower than the share of Muslims in Jordan (85%), the Palestinian territories (85%) and Iraq (82%) who say this.
Ed Webb

Three Decades After his Death, Kahane's Message of Hate is More Popular Than Ever - MERIP - 0 views

  • on November 5, 1990, Rabbi Meir Kahane was assassinated in New York City, a seminal event in the annals of American and Israeli history. Years after his death, Kahane’s killing is considered the first terror attack of the group that would later coalesce into al-Qaeda.
  • Kahane had spent the previous 22 years calling for Israel’s parliament to be dissolved and replaced with rabbinic rule over a Jewish theocracy, based on the strictest interpretations of the Torah and Talmud. He openly incited the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians—and all other non-Jews who refused to accept unvarnished apartheid—from Israel and the territories it occupied. He outdid all other Israeli eliminationists with his insistence that killing those he identified as Israel’s enemies was not only a strategic necessity, but an act of worship.[1] His ideology continues to resonate: In the September 2019 elections to Israel’s parliament the explicitly Kahanist Jewish Power Party (Otzma Yehudit) got 83,609 votes, putting it in tenth place in a crowded field of over 30 parties.
  • The victims of JDL-linked terrorist attacks in the United States were usually innocent bystanders: the drummer in a rock band who lost a leg when a bomb blew up the Long Island home of an alleged Nazi war criminal; the Boston cop who was seriously injured during his attempt to dispose of another bomb intended for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; the elderly lady who died of smoke inhalation in her Brooklyn flat above a Lebanese restaurant torched after its owners were accused of sympathies with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO); the young Jewish secretary who was asphyxiated when another fire burned through the Manhattan office of a talent agency that promoted performances of Soviet ballet troupes.
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  • Kahanists are the FBI’s prime suspects in the 1985 assassination of popular Palestinian-American activist Alex Odeh who died in a bombing outside Los Angeles because he called for a two-state solution (which became the official policy of the US government less than a decade later).[2] Odeh’s murder had far-reaching implications, scaring off a generation of Arab-American activists from advocating on behalf of Palestinians.
  • even many sectors of the Israeli right were embarrassed by Kahane’s shameless racism, and by the end of his first term in 1988 he was banned from running again.
  • Six years later, in 1994, the Israeli government, then led by the Labor Party, declared his Kach party a terrorist organization. But by that point, the Kahane movement had already been active for over a quarter of a century, leaving a wake of destruction. To date it has produced more than 20 killers and taken the lives of over 60 people, most of them Palestinians.[3] Credible allegations put the death toll at well over double that number, but even the lower confirmed figure yields a higher body count than any other Jewish faction in the modern era.
  • For decades, Kahanists—as followers of Kahane are called in Israel—have repeatedly attempted to leverage their violence to trigger a wider war and bog Israel down in perpetual armed conflict with its neighbors. And once Israel’s military might is truly unassailable, Kahanists say, Jewish armies must march across the Middle East and beyond, destroying churches and mosques and forcing their Christian and Muslim worshippers to abandon their beliefs or die at the sword.
  • Many of Kahane’s American acolytes followed him to Israel, including top JDL fundraiser and Yeshiva University provost Emanuel Rackman, who took over as rector, and then chancellor, of Israel’s Bar Ilan University. Under Rackman’s tutelage, Bar Ilan’s Law School became an incubator for the Israeli far-right. The most infamous of these students was Yigal Amir. Inspired by the Goldstein massacre, Amir assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, dealing a death blow to Israel’s liberal Zionist camp. Amir carried out the murder on the five-year anniversary of Kahane’s killing.
  • In Hebron in 1983, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, Kahanist Israel Fuchs sprayed a passing Palestinian car with bullets. In response, Israel’s defense minister ordered Fuchs’s Kahanist settlement razed to the ground. A decade later in 1994, when Goldstein carried out his massacre, also on Purim, Israel’s defense minister put Hebron’s Palestinian residents under curfew and ordered the local Palestinian commercial district locked and bolted. The market has been shuttered ever since. Last year, Israel’s defense minister announced that the market would be refurbished and repopulated—by Jewish residents. On the same day, the state renovated nearby Kahane Park, where Goldstein is entombed, and where Kahanists gather every year to celebrate Purim and the carnage Goldstein wrought.
  • Just months after the Oslo Accords were signed in Washington, DC on the White House lawn, a former candidate for Knesset in Kahane’s Kach party, Baruch Goldstein, committed the largest mass murder by a single person in Israeli history, shooting dead 29 Palestinians and wounding over 100 more at a mosque in Hebron. During the protests that followed, the Israeli Defense Forces killed perhaps two dozen more Palestinians. Exactly 40 days later, at the end of the traditional Muslim mourning period, Hamas began its retaliatory campaign of suicide bombings. Over the next three years this campaign would claim over 100 Israeli lives and harden many Jewish hearts against the prospect of peace with Palestinians. Today, Kahanists can convincingly claim credit for crippling the fragile peace process while it was still in its infancy.
  • Both American-born followers of Kahane, Leitner and Ben Yosef went from armed attacks against Palestinians to court room advocates for their fellow religious extremists. Both enlisted at Bar Ilan Law School after serving short prison sentences. Together with his wife Nitzana Darshan, who he met there, Leitner established the highly profitable Israel-based lawfare group Shurat HaDin or Israel Law Center (ILC). After Ben Yosef earned his law degree at Bar Ilan, his American allies founded the Association Center for Civil Justice (ACCJ), a US-based lawfare group that has earned millions of dollars and has for years funneled significant sums to Fuchs, Ben Yosef and other Kahanists.
  • After Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, his Labor-led government was replaced by the secular right-wing Likud party, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who promptly appointed ex-Kahanists Tzahi HaNegbi and Avigdor Liberman to cabinet positions. But that did not satisfy the appetite of the Kahanists, who resolved to coax the Likud even further to the right. Founded by longtime Kahane supporter Shmuel Sackett, the Likud’s Jewish Leadership faction succeeded in catapulting its candidate Moshe Feiglin into the role of deputy speaker of the Knesset where he called on the government to “concentrate” the civilian population of Gaza into “tent camps” until they could be forcefully relocated.
  • Today, prior membership in the Kahanist camp no longer carries any stigma within the Likud.
  • the original Kach core group has rebranded itself to sidestep Israeli law, now calling itself Jewish Power, and are consistently courted by the rest of the Israeli right
  • Kahanists have had even greater success penetrating the halls of power at the local level where their representatives on Jerusalem city council have been included in the governing coalition since 2013. In 2014, Kahanist Councillor Aryeh King—now deputy mayor—used widely-understood religious references to incite an assembly of religious Jews to kill Palestinians. Later that very night, a group of religious Jews did exactly that, kidnapping and beating Palestinian teen Mohammad Abu Khdeir, forcing gasoline down his throat and torching him to death from the inside out.
  • After Kahane’s death, top Chabad rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, also an American immigrant to Israel, inherited Kahane’s position as the most unapologetically racist rabbi in the country. In 2010 Ginsburgh helped publish an influential and vicious religious tract authored by one of his leading disciples called The King’s Torah, which sanctions organ harvesting from non-Jews and infanticide (if a Jew suspects that the child will one day constitute a threat).[9] Ginsburgh’s frequent tributes to Kahane’s memory, including repeated proclamations that “Kahane was right” have cemented the loyalty of third-generation Kahanists, including the latter’s namesake grandson, settler youth leader Meir Ettinger.
  • Thirty years ago, even if Israeli rabbis thought like Kahane and Ginsburgh they would not dare to speak these sentiments out loud, much less publish and promote them. Under Netanyahu’s rule, however, such sentiments are routinely supported financially and politically by the institutions of the Israeli state. In 2019, Israel’s education minister presented Ginsburgh with the Torah Creativity award at an annual event sponsored by his ministry.
  • The principles that Rabbi Meir Kahane popularized—that liberal democracy is an undesirable alien idea and that non-Jews must be driven down, and preferably out of Greater Israel altogether—have seeped deep into mainstream Israeli society.
Ed Webb

Civic Religion and the Secular Jew - 0 views

  • Who would speak alongside President-elect Sanders on the steps of the Capitol Building? Who would deliver the invocations and the benedictions? Would there be more rabbis, or more pastors and priests? Would Sanders be sworn in on a Bible, a Tanakh, something else? Might Sanders, a staunch defender of the separation of church and state, object to the presence of prayer altogether?  The difficulty of answering these questions illustrates just how significant a change from the status quo the election of a secular Jewish president would be. It remains conventional wisdom among pundits and pollsters that America is a deeply religious country, and that any presidential candidate must speak—and speak authentically—about their faith in order to win. The election of Trump—who transparently has no spiritual life to speak of and who has proven utterly incapable of speaking convincingly about matters of faith—should have finally proven this idea false. Yet the expectation has persisted. 
  • there is, paradoxically, something almost unassimilable about Sanders’s secular Jewishness.
  • While Sanders readily admits that he is “not actively involved in organized religion,” it isn’t quite accurate to describe him as “religiously unaffiliated.” That’s because, like many of the conventional frameworks for understanding faith and religious identity in the US, this kind of binary—religiously affiliated vs. unaffiliated—is not adequate for understanding American Jewish life
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  • The binary of theism vs. atheism is likewise unhelpful in understanding Jewish identity.
  • while discussions of Christianity often center around personal faith, it’s not uncommon, even in relatively observant American Jewish communities, for questions of ethics, ritual, and practice to take much greater priority than questions of faith or belief in God
  • Sanders does not belong to a synagogue—and he has this in common with two-thirds of American Jewish adults, according to Pew’s 2013 “Portrait of Jewish Americans.” He is part of an interfaith family, as are 44% of married Jewish adults. (Sanders married Jane O’Meara, a practicing Catholic, in 1988, when the rate of intermarriage was around 41%, but the share of Jews marrying non-Jews has since increased: roughly 60% of Jews who married after 2005 married a non-Jew.) On Israel, the self-described “100% pro-Israel” Sanders is a conventional liberal Zionist: strongly critical of Benjamin Netanyahu, still committed to a two-state solution, and willing to use US government pressure to hold Israel accountable for its actions. Most American Jews hold similar views: the majority feel positively about Israel, disagree with its government’s policies, support a two-state solution, and believe the US should exert pressure on Israel to achieve peace.
  • That so many Jewish institutional leaders, as well as Jewish journalists, have chafed at, second-guessed, or rejected Sanders’s kind of Jewishness says much more about their own disconnection from the great majority of American Jews than it does about Sanders.
  • his particular religious vocabulary—of trauma, solidarity, this-worldly justice—also fits uneasily into the hegemonic, Christianity-inflected form of American religious discourse writ large, which emphasizes notions like personal salvation, faith, and grace
  • Sanders’s secular Jewishness is among the most common forms of Jewish identity in the US, yet it is a religious identity that has never before appeared so prominently on the national political stage. The question of its intelligibility to non-Jews is also the question of the intelligibility of American Jewish life
Ed Webb

Liberman's secular campaign turns him into kingmaker - 0 views

  • A little over 173,000 people voted for Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party in April, giving it five Knesset seats. In September, the number of people who voted for the party shot up to 310,000. So, after just 3½ months of campaigning, it gained 137,000 new voters and grew to eight seats. These eight seats make it impossible for either bloc — right or left — to form a narrow majority government. That's why, on Oct. 3, the very day that the new Knesset was sworn in, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initiated a meeting with Liberman. He wanted to convince the Yisrael Beitenu leader to join the new government that he was trying to form
  • It seems like Liberman succeeded in selling voters on his formula for change, specifically in matters of religion and state. That is something that most people support, particularly in the political center. What Liberman also offered them was a realistic way to make it happen. He proposed bringing two main parties — the Likud and Blue and White — together, given that there are so few ideological differences between them. Doing this would seem to be the most natural thing in the world. The problem is that the Blue and White party rejects Netanyahu, because of his pending criminal cases, while the Likud insists on bringing its right-wing, ultra-Orthodox bloc along with it.
  • Liberman called for a change to the status quo on matters of religion and state and laid out a path to achieve this, i.e., a unity government without the ultra-Orthodox or the ultra-Orthodox nationalists.
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  • He wants to see a new government made up of the Likud, Blue and White, and his Yisrael Beitenu party only, thereby forcing Netanyahu to sever his sacred alliance with the ultra-Orthodox. In this way, Liberman could advance the changes that he promised. When, about two weeks before the election, the Blue and White party realized that Liberman is stealing many of their votes because of this position, they also started talking about a secular, liberal government. Liberman now claims that this was why he did not have an even bigger victory.
  • most of the party’s new voters supported it because it established itself in their minds as a kind of middle ground with a message of unity, and as a party capable of solving problems of religion and state, such as public transportation on the Sabbath, conversion, the Conscription Law,
  • the second generation of immigrants, who came here when they were very young or who were actually born in Israel, are now suffering because of the Chief Rabbinate, which is forcing them to prove that they are Jewish in order to get married. This is especially insulting to them, given that they fought so hard to preserve their Jewish identities under the Soviet regime.
  • One possible explanation for this movement of voters from the Likud to Yisrael Beitenu could be the characteristics of many such voters — people who immigrated to Israel from Russian-speaking countries, or people whose parents did. In the past, these people voted for the Likud, because their politics traditionally veer (nationalistic) right, but in this election, they internalized Yisrael Beitenu’s campaign message concerning religion and state. Liberman’s focus on these issues is particularly dear to them. The fact that they have to prove to the Rabbinate that they are really Jews before they can get married seems to have clinched the deal.
  • One other group where Liberman was successful was the Druze sector. According to the Globes analysis, Yisrael Beitenu received 10,000 votes from the Druze sector, compared to just 6,000 in April. What is remarkable is that Yisrael Beitenu won these votes even though it supported the Nationality Law, which infuriated Israel’s Druze community. Hamad Amar, a Druze Knesset member for Yisrael Beitenu, told Al-Monitor that these Druze voters were very impressed by the way Liberman stuck to his principles in last May’s coalition negotiations. “They recognized that Liberman sticks to his word and that he is reliable. That is the most important thing for us.”
Ed Webb

Redefining Religious Zionism: Shas' Ethno-Politics by Aaron Willis - 0 views

  • Appealing to Sephardic voters in the disadvantaged development towns and urban neighborhoods, Shas has promised to revitalize the condition of Sephardic Jewry in Israel through a program of religious education and social renewal. Campaign promises in the recent election echoed those of the early Mafdal: more money for ritual baths, synagogues, and religious education. Now however, leading rabbis came to urge the faithful to send their children to Shas' Torah day-schools rather than the state-run (Mafdal) schools. According to Shas sources, the watered-down religious values embodied by the Mafdal schools had led Israel's Sephardic communities to the abandonment of religious principles.
  • Shas may represent a new style of religious Zionism which combines elements of both Agudah suspicion, as well as Mafdal enthusiasm, for the state
  • Deri has complained that he has been tried in the "secular" and "Ashkenazi" press by rumor and innuendo. The party used this sense of persecution to its advantage in recent election propaganda. The assertion of media collusion with investigations argued to be politically motivated, helped to further the sense of discrimination, so important to Shas' message of pan-Sephardic unity.
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  • Drawing upon experiences of social and cultural marginalization after immigration, they have forged a sense of common Sephardic experience, bring in groups who are not technically Sephardic (i.e. Spanish descended), but Middle Eastern more generally. With recent history projected back onto the glorious age of Sephardic Jewry, the Shas leadership has worked hard to combine the diversity of Middle Eastern customs and historical memories, into what I am calling a unified "Sephardism." With reference to this sense of common experience and group identity we can better understand the "political" policies of Shas.
  • Analysts have found Yosef's position to be in tension with the vast majority of Shas supporters, whose attitudes are believed to be more hawkish. This apparent contradiction has puzzled many, but the Shas leadership claims that it is a non-issue. One leader argued that Shas' position on territorial compromise is irrelevant to its guiding mission: Shas was created to spread Torah in the Sephardic communities. We have promised more education and more money for ritual baths. We do not take a stand on the issue of the territories because it would not make sense. Some of our people want to return land and others do not. It is not connected to the Sephardim . . . The appeal to a pan-Sephardic identity renders the discussion on territorial compromise secondary . Rather, the desire for individual redemption and social renewal become the driving force in the logic of "Sephardism."
  • In arguing that they would be willing to give up territories they are declaring to the world that they are pious men whose primary loyalty is to the study of Torah. They look with disdain on the Mafdal fetishization of the Land of Israel as part and parcel of the misguided religiosity upon which they were raised. It does not mean that they are committed to the necessity of territorial compromise (as the more ideologically committed might argue with a passion). They are open to it as a possibility. This, of course, helps to explain Shas' readiness to join the coalition with either Labor or the Likud. The divisions which run so deep between the larger parties just do not suit the logic of a movement based on ethno-religious unity and directed toward institutionalization of its privileges. Recognition and access to the purse-strings of government has been, and will remain, the driving force behind Shas' coalition politics.
  • He rejects the secular legitimation of the state, the Zionism which his parents met upon their arrival in Israel. But it is not the notion of a Jewish state that is problematic, it is the particular forms of secularism and cultural domination that are rejected.
Ed Webb

Egypt: Lessons from Iran | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • There is no doubt that Egypt cannot go back to what it was under Mubarak, but the shape of the future system is very much dependent upon the presence of the youth, women, and the working people in articulating and pushing for their democratic demands in the public sphere. A crucial lesson from Iran for the progressive secular forces - the left, liberals, feminists, artists and intellectuals - is to not sacrifice their secular democratic demands, and not to trust the army, the Islamists or the traditional elite. 
  • another lesson from Iran is that in the post-revolutionary anarchy there is always the danger that the reactionary forces use the religious beliefs of the masses to get the upper hand
  • The clerical/military oligarchy in Iran, with its intricate network of religious, repressive and economic institutions and multiple military and intelligence systems, is highly complex and also independent from any foreign power. It is a fascist-type system that still has millions on the payroll of the state and para-statal organizations, including religious foundations. It has also shown on numerous occasions that it does not hesitate to use extreme brutality against its opposition. In the long run, its fate will not be different from those of other dictatorships and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East or elsewhere, but the Iranian people unfortunately have a much more difficult fight ahead of them.
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  • The US and Israel can no longer rely on dependable and friendly Arab dictators, and will finally have to take the aspirations for genuine peace with the Palestinians seriously. The Middle East may seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place – that is, between secular dictatorships and Islamic fundamentalisms. But indeed a third alternative, a secular democratic one, does exist. We must hope that the democratic forces in all these countries will eventually be able to harness both the Islamists and the militarists.
Ed Webb

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest in Jerusalem over required military service proposal - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews took to the streets here Sunday afternoon to express anger over attempts by Israel’s political leaders to force them to serve in the military. Local media outlets estimated crowds at the “million-man march” to number more than 300,000, while organizers put the figure closer to 500,000. Police did not provide an exact figure, but spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were present. It was one of the largest demonstrations in the country since 2011, when about 200,000 Israelis protested the high cost of living.
  • Ultra-Orthodox men — or Haredim, as they are referred to here — are almost universally exempt from military or national service as long as they are enrolled in yeshivas to study the Torah, as almost all of them are, or at least claim to be. The new law seeks to end those deferments, as well as some financial benefits that go along with them.
  • Although a small number of ultra-Orthodox do serve in the army, such service is greatly frowned upon, and those who enlist are sometimes spat on or accosted when they return to their neighborhoods dressed in military uniforms.
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  • “In a month from now, every Haredi youth will receive a draft order. Whoever does not enlist will do civil service in the fire department, MDA paramedics or aiding the elderly. Sharing the burden is not an attempt to pick on Haredim or their lifestyles. We are truly committed to aiding them extract themselves from the vicious cycle of poverty,” said Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who ran on a secular platform in the 2013 elections.
  • The law and even the attempts to put it in place mark a significant challenge to the religious-secular status quo established by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, in the 1950s. Back then, Ben-Gurion struck a deal with Haredi rabbis allowing believers to study rather than fight, in an attempt to rebuild the world of Torah study destroyed by the Holocaust.
Ed Webb

Shas ask PM to sign treaty to protect the status quo - www.jpost.com - Readability - 0 views

  • The three leaders of the Shas party, Arye Deri, Eli Yishai and Ariel Attias, called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to sign a treaty to safeguard the Jewish nature of the State of Israel in a letter sent to the Prime Minister's Office on Tuesday.
  • Shas said the merger between Likud and Yisrael Beytenu, who hold "opposite values," to those of Likud regarding the safeguarding of the Jewish nature of Israel, was among the reasons for the call on Netanyahu to sign the treaty.
  • The treaty calls to protect the secular-religious status quo, to prevent legislation that contradicts Halacha laws and would allow quick conversion to Judaism, to prevent regulation of civil marriage that would "enable intermarriage of Jews with non-Jews," and to prevent the operation of public transportation on Shabbat.
Ed Webb

God and the Ivory Tower- By Scott Atran | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • On a global scale, Protestant evangelical churches (together with Pentacostalists) continue to proliferate, especially in Latin America, but also keep pace with the expansion of fundamentalist Islam in southern Africa and eastern and southern Asia. In Russia, a clear majority of the population remains religious despite decades of forcibly imposed atheism. Even in China, where the government's commission on atheism has the Sisyphean job of making that country religion-free, religious agitation is on the rise. And in the United States, a majority says it wants less religion in politics, but an equal majority still will not vote for an atheist as president.
  • for nearly a century after Harvard University psychologist William James's 1902 masterwork, The Varieties of Religious Experience, there was little serious investigation of the psychological structure or neurological and biological underpinnings of religious belief that determine how religion actually causes behavior
  • the greater the investment in outlandishness, the better. This is because adherence to apparently absurd beliefs means incurring costs -- surviving without electricity, for example, if you are Amish -- which help identify members who are committed to the survival of a group and cannot be lured away. The ease of identifying true believers, in turn, builds trust and galvanizes group solidarity for common defense
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  • recent research echoes the findings of 14th-century historian Ibn Khaldun, who argued that long-term differences among North African Muslim dynasties with comparable military might "have their origin in religion … [and] group feeling [wherein] mutual cooperation and support flourish." The more religious societies, he argued, endured the longest
  • the same logic that makes religious and sacred beliefs more likely to endure can make them impervious to compromise. Based on interviews, experiments, and surveys with Palestinians, Israelis, Indonesians, Indians, Afghans, and Iranians, my research with psychologists Jeremy Ginges, Douglas Medin, and others demonstrates that offering people material incentives (large amounts of money, guarantees for a life free of political violence) to compromise sacred values can backfire, increasing stated willingness to use violence. Such backfire effects occur both for convictions with clear religious investment (Jerusalem, sharia law) and for those that are at least initially nonreligious (Iran's right to a nuclear capability, Palestinian refugees' right of return).
  • Although this sacralization of initially secular issues confounds standard "business-like" negotiation tactics, my work with political scientist Robert Axelrod interviewing political leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere indicates that strong symbolic gestures (sincere apologies, demonstrating respect for the other's values) generate surprising flexibility, even among militants, and may enable subsequent material negotiations. Thus, we find that Palestinian leaders and their supporting populations are generally willing to accept Israeli offers of economic improvement only after issues of recognition are addressed. Even purely symbolic statements accompanied by no material action, such as "we recognize your suffering" or "we respect your rights in Jerusalem," diminish support for violence, including suicide terrorism. This is particularly promising because symbolic gestures tied to religious notions that are open to interpretation might potentially be reframed without compromising their absolute "truth."
  • seemingly contrary evidence rarely undermines religious belief, especially among groups welded by ritualized sacrifice in the face of outside threats
  • Religious issues motivate only a small minority of recorded wars. The Encyclopedia of Wars surveyed 1,763 violent conflicts across history; only 123 (7 percent) were religious. A BBC-sponsored "God and War" audit, which evaluated major conflicts over 3,500 years and rated them on a 0-to-5 scale for religious motivation (Punic Wars = 0, Crusades = 5), found that more than 60 percent had no religious motivation. Less than 7 percent earned a rating greater than 3. There was little religious motivation for the internecine Russian and Chinese conflicts or the world wars responsible for history's most lethal century of international bloodshed.
  • studies by behavioral economist Joseph Henrich and colleagues on contemporary foragers, farmers, and herders show that professing a world religion is correlated with greater fairness toward passing strangers. This research helps explain what's going on in sub-Saharan Africa, where Islam is spreading rapidly. In Rwanda, for example, people began converting to Islam in droves after Muslims systematically risked their lives to protect Christians and animists from genocide when few others cared.
  • When competing interests are framed in terms of religious and sacred values, conflict may persist for decades, even centuries. Disputes over otherwise mundane phenomena then become existential struggles, as when land becomes "Holy Land." Secular issues become sacralized and nonnegotiable, regardless of material rewards or punishments. In a multiyear study, our research group found that Palestinian adolescents who perceived strong threats to their communities and were highly involved in religious ritual were most likely to see political issues, like the right of refugees to return to homes in Israel, as absolute moral imperatives. These individuals were thus opposed to compromise, regardless of the costs. It turns out there may be a neurological component to such behavior: Our work with Gregory Berns and his neuroeconomics team suggests that such values are processed in the brain as duties rather than utilitarian calculations; neuroimaging reveals that violations of sacred values trigger emotional responses consistent with sentiments of moral outrage.
  • research in India, Mexico, Britain, Russia, and Indonesia indicates that greater participation in religious ritual in large-scale societies is associated with greater parochial altruism -- that is, willingness to sacrifice for one's own group, such as Muslims or Christians, but not for outsiders -- and, in relevant contexts, support for suicide attacks. This dynamic is behind the paradoxical reality that the world finds itself in today: Modern global multiculturalism is increasingly challenged by fundamentalist movements aimed at reviving group loyalty through greater ritual commitments to ideological purity
Ed Webb

Trapped in Iran | 1843 - 0 views

  • Iran has a complicated, and at times paranoid, government. Elected parliamentarians give a veneer of democracy but power ultimately resides with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the regime’s most powerful security force, answers directly to him. Rival arms of the state, including the security forces, jostle for influence. And the rules are unclear.
  • I had gone to report on the impact of American-imposed sanctions. Some news stories were claiming that Tehran was on the brink of collapse, but I saw few signs of it. There was no panic buying. The city looked cleaner and more modern than on my visit three years before. It has the best underground in the Middle East, with locally made trains. Parks and museums were abundant and well-tended, pavements were scrubbed and the city’s many flower-beds immaculately maintained.
  • America’s sanctions had hurt people, of course. Average monthly salaries were worth less than a pair of imported shoes. I saw people sleeping rough or hawking junk on the streets. One former university lecturer I met had been reduced to busking. But few people went hungry and there seemed to be a joie de vivre among many of those I talked to. Cafés, theatres and music halls were packed. An earlier bout of sanctions had forced Tehran’s Symphony Orchestra to disband but I wangled a ticket for the opening night of the reconstituted Philharmonic.
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  • My captors wore no identifying uniforms, but on the second day the doctor told me that he was an officer in the intelligence arm of the Revolutionary Guards. Iran’s security agencies are many tentacled. In 1979 the new Islamic Republic retained much of the existing state apparatus, including the army and a good part of the bureaucracy, but it added another tier to keep existing institutions in check, and the parallel systems have competed ever since. The government’s own intelligence ministry would be unlikely to detain a Western journalist whose entry it had approved. My accusers were from its more powerful rival.
  • Over the course of four days the men spent most of their time glued to phone-screens, watching Bollywood films, or American or Chinese schlock full of street fights, which they accessed through virtual private networks to evade the censorship they were supposed to enforce.
  • Self-censorship ranks as one of an authoritarian regime’s strongest tools, and I was complicit.
  • Despite Iran’s pious reputation, Tehran may well be the least religious capital in the Middle East. Clerics dominate the news headlines and play the communal elders in soap operas, but I never saw them on the street, except on billboards. Unlike most Muslim countries, the call to prayer is almost inaudible. There has been a rampant campaign to build new mosques, yet more people flock to art galleries on Fridays than religious services. With the exception, perhaps, of Tel Aviv, I had visited nowhere in the Middle East where people read as voraciously as Tehran. “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fable of women enslaved to a theocratic caste, is a particular favourite, the owner of one bookstore told me.
  • Life in Iran has always swung both ways. Nothing goes and everything goes. Alcohol is banned but home delivery is faster for wine than for pizza.
  • The space for veil-free living had grown since I last visited. In the safety of their homes, women often removed their head coverings when chatting over the internet. Darkened cinema halls offered respite from the morality police who enforce discipline. In cafés women let their scarves fall languorously. The more brazen simply walked uncovered in the streets, risking imprisonment. And, in an unusual inversion of rebellion, ties have made a reappearance some 40 years after Ayatollah Khomeini denounced them as a symbol of British imperialism.
  • The listing of plays in Tehran was almost as long as London’s West End and I devoured them. Directors are adept at finding ways to evade the censors. A striking number of plays and films I saw were set in prisons – a commentary on the Iranian condition – but under bygone regimes. Opera was taboo, but a performance one evening in the red-cushioned opera house of the former shah, which was billed as Kurdish folk music, included Verdi. Beneath a vast glittering chandelier the audience threw bouquets of flowers at the Iranian singer, who is acclaimed in both Rome and Berlin; for an encore, she finally dared to sing a solo.
  • Of course not everyone got away with pushing at the strictures. In my first week in Tehran the authorities pulled a production of Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” – the play is about suicide, which is forbidden in Islam – and another about poor women reduced to hawking to feed their families. Cafés that hosted live bands risked closure until they had paid off fines. Women without head-coverings who were spotted on one of Tehran’s many surveillance cameras received police summons by text. But the morality police, who drove around town in new green-and-white vans, seemed too stretched to suppress every challenge.
  • as well as being an intelligence officer, he was an academic and wrote a newspaper column
  • It was liberating to have the run of Tehran, without minders, deadlines or chores. But of course, I wasn’t truly free. I policed myself on behalf of the regime, becoming my own jailer and censor, aware that any lapse could have consequences. Sometimes I tried to speak over colleagues or relatives who were saying things that I feared might enrage my captors. I felt the presence of hundreds of electronic eyes. The friendliest faces who greeted me might be informers. And I could not leave Iran. It is an odd experience to know that you can be caught out at any time. But this was the way of Tehran. Some avenues open up, others close. Everyone feels like a captive. There are those who say that it is all a grand plan of the ayatollahs to keep people on edge.
  • I was caught in a political game involving high-seas tankers and international diplomacy that far exceeded my ability to influence it.
  • I feared either that the Revolutionary Guards thought they could use my presence to negotiate some kind of deal, or that I was becoming a pawn in the internal rivalry within the Iranian government. I was beginning to see at first hand the glaring tensions between the two arms of the state. My hotel seemed increasingly nervous about hosting an over-stayer without a passport. In an attempt to evict me one evening, they cut the lights and blamed an unfixable electrical fault. The following morning the Guards arrived to transfer me to another location. En route we were chased by two motorbikes and careened up and down the alleyways of northern Tehran. Only when we pulled into a cul-de-sac did the Guards succeed in shaking them off.
  • A new interrogator – toad-like and clad in leather – told me that the Guards had found incriminating material on my laptop that touched on matters of national security: he had found a note from a conversation I’d had with a government flunkie about smuggling rings connected to the offspring of senior Iranian officials. This proved, he said, that I had crossed the line from journalism to espionage. They were reopening the case.
  • Notes he had discovered on Iran’s spiralling brain drain confirmed, to his mind, that I was seeking to undermine national morale.
  • I wasn’t even sure how genuinely religious many of those I had met were. When we drove about town, Ali talked of his student days, his young family and his passion for British football. Ideology rarely came up. Within the parameters set by the vice squads, Tehran’s dominant culture was defiantly secular. Iran called itself a theocracy, yet religion felt frustratingly hard to locate and the truly religious seemed sidelined, like a minority.
  • For ten nights in Muharram these passion plays were performed with growing fervour. Even an irreverent man who taught me Farsi, who devoted much of his spare time to picking up waitresses in cafés, said Muharram was the one religious occasion he observed. The streets were lined with mokebs, stalls offering tea and dates and decorated with tragic representations of the battlefield using decapitated toy soldiers. At one mokeb, I came across a camel being readied for sacrifice. Many of these rites drew on ancient folklore rather than Muslim practice, akin to the celebration of Easter in the West. Since its inception the clerical regime had sought – and failed – to purify Iran of its non-Islamic elements.
  • “You feel a direct connection between people and God here,” a 40-year-old programme manager told me. He had stopped going to government mosques altogether, he said. Like some other pious Iranians I met, he feared that politics had sullied their religion rather than elevating it.
  • Panahian preached from a cushioned, teak throne beneath a vast chandelier while his acolytes crowded around him on the floor. He projected so much power, I got the feeling that if he’d read from a phone directory his disciples would still have sobbed. “Are you a servant of God or of man?” he said, scanning the crowd for suspects. “Choose between the tyranny of westernisation and God.” After he’d left a woman in a black chador took me aside. I steeled myself for an ideological harangue. Instead, she held up a plastic bag of bread and a plastic container of beans that the Husseiniya distributed after the sermon. “That’s why we came,” she said. “If you ask about the contents of the sermon, no one can tell you. If you ask about the contents of breakfast, they’ll all remember.”
  • the largest and most vibrant Jewish community in the Muslim world. Since the ayatollahs toppled the shah, Iran’s Jewish population has shrunk from 80,000 to around a tenth of that number. The ayatollahs have largely kept the remaining Jews safe, but they have also confiscated some of their property, particularly that of those who have left the country. Tensions between Iran’s Jews and the regime ebb and rise depending on the country’s relationship with Israel. But over time the Islamic Republic seems to have grown more at ease with the community
  • Iran has 22 mikva’ot – pools for ritual immersion. Many of Tehran’s dozen active synagogues are vast and packed with worshippers
  • There was a Jewish café, two kosher restaurants and a maternity hospital funded by the Jewish community in the south of Tehran, where less than 5% of those born were Jewish. A Jewish sports centre was also under construction
  • By rare coincidence the first service of selichot, the penitential prayers recited for a month in the run up to the High Holidays, began on the first day of the solemn month of Muharram. The synagogues were packed. At 1am Iran’s largest synagogue still teemed with families. At 2am the congregation swayed in prayer for Israel and its people. The communal chest-beating was gentler than in the Husseiniya, but more ardent than in Western congregations. Women walked up to the ark and kissed the smooth Isfahani tiles painted with menorahs and stars of David, acting like Shia pilgrims at their shrines. People milled around on the street outside chatting. I must have recited my prayers for forgiveness with conviction.
  • two men in black entered and introduced themselves as officers from another branch of intelligence. They apologised profusely for the difficulties I had faced and blamed the Guards for the inconvenience. They hoped that I had been well treated and expressed outrage that the Guards had made me pay my own hotel bill. They assured me that they’d been working strenuously for weeks to fix matters. My ordeal was over, they said. But could they just ask a few questions first?After 40 minutes of interrogation, they disappeared. Ten minutes later they were back with embarrassed smiles. One awkward matter needed resolving. Because I had overstayed my visa, I needed to pay a fine of 4m toman, about  $200.“Of course, the Guards should be paying since the delay was of their making,” they said.I called Ali and asked him to clear the fine.“No way,” he replied. “Can’t they waive it?”The intelligence officers apologised again but remained insistent. There were regulations. They couldn’t foot the bill for a mistake of the Guards.
  • Only when the flight map on my seat-back screen showed the plane nosing out of Iranian airspace did I begin to breathe normally.
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