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Religion and Nationalism: A Dangerous Mix Throughout History

Allan C. Brownfeld
Spring 2002

The continuing turmoil in the Middle East has highlighted once again the potential danger which exists whenever religion and nationalism are mixed together in what has, historically, proven to be a destructive combination.  

Within our own country, Jewish organizations, ranging from rabbinical groups to service organizations to charities, have viewed their role as promoting the policies of the Israeli government. While many individual Jewish voices have expressed a wide variety of opinions about the growing violence between Israelis and Palestinians, some arguing that there is a contradiction between Jewish values and the use of Israeli power, the organized community has taken a far different approach.  

Shortly after Ariel Sharon’s election, David Bernstein, Washington-area director of the American Jewish Committee, noted that, “Now that Likud’s Ariel Sharon has been elected in a landslide, we in the American Jewish community must be prepared for the public relations challenge ahead ... Fairly presenting his record and explaining Israel’s democratic choice is ... our only viable option.”  

Washington Demonstration  

On April 15, thousands of people demonstrated in support for Israel in Washington, D.C. Organized by Jewish organizations throughout the country, the rally featured speakers who were characterized by U.S. Today this way: “Most speakers saw no ambiguity in the conflict.” The audience booed when Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Defense Secretary, told the crowd that “innocent Palestinians as well as Israelis are suffering and dying as well” in the region’s bloody turmoil.  

Writing in The Forward (April 9, 2002), Rabbi Dov Fischer, a board member of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation-Council’s Jewish Community Relations Committee and national vice president of the Zionist Organization of America, declared: “Today, once again, we alone are right and the whole world is wrong ... It doesn’t change a thing, but after 25 centuries it’s nice to know.”  

In a full-page advertisement in The New York Times (March 21, 2002), the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, together with the United Jewish Communities, the UJA-Federation of New York, and the Jewish Community Relations Council, embraced the Israeli government’s response to recent developments.  

More than 5,000 members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) gathered in Washington in April and told the White House and the Congress of the need to support Israel’s “war” against Palestinian terrorism. David Mallach, director of the community relations committee of the United Jewish Federation of MetroWest, New Jersey, appeared to confuse which nation’s interests he was promoting and in whose name he was speaking. He said: “There is a dual message here. We’re 100% on America’s side and Americans had really better be on our side.” Apparently Israel rather than the U.S. was “our” side.  

Dissenting Voices  

Many dissenting Jewish voices have also made themselves known. In another full page New York Times ad (March 22, 2002), the Tikkun community, headed by Rabbi Michael Lerner and including Rabbis Marcelo Brownstein, Steven Jacobs, Irwin Kula, and Jeremy Milgrom sharply criticized Israeli policy.  

The ad declares: “No, Mr. Sharon! Many Americans do not support your policies in the West Bank and Gaza, which are immoral and have decreased Israeli security. As a step forward ending the cycle of violence, we urge our fellow citizens to support the Israeli Army Reservists who say ‘No’ to the Occupation. Over 370 courageous Israeli Army Reserve Officers have risked their careers and some have already been sent to jail because they publicly refuse to serve in the West Bank and Gaza. These soldiers have witnessed their own army violate human rights, practice torture, destroy homes and perpetuate violence against civilians, acts that have become ‘necessary’ to maintain an oppressive Occupation. They won’t be silent partners to the Occupation any longer. Nor will tens of thousands of Israelis who have taken to the streets in demonstrations against the Occupation. Neither will we!”  

Another group, Jewish Voices Against The Occupation, issued a statement declaring: “The occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem is killing Palestinians and Israelis alike and destroying Israel from within. There can be no peace or security for either until Israel completely evacuates its settlements in the Palestinian territories, ends its military occupation and returns to its pre-1967 borders. As Jews, we call upon Israel to agree to the immediate establishment of an international peacekeeping force in the occupied territories to protect civilians from violence by the Israeli military and settlers and to cease building or expanding settlements as a first step toward their complete evacuation ... Israel’s security policies ... make Israel less secure, not more.”  

Humiliation of Palestinians  

Discussing the Reservists who challenged Israeli West Bank policies, columnist Leonard Fein of The Forward writes that “... the current response of the Israeli government to all that has happened these last 16 months is sheer idiocy. It has accomplished nothing save death. It has not enhanced security, not advanced peace, and it has crippled the Israeli economy ... For years, the journalists who cover events in the territories, along with Peace Now’s Settlement Watch and the human rights group B’Tselem, have known that the incidents of inhumanity, the continuing humiliation of the Palestinians, and more recently, the thoughtlessness of the Israeli army’s action in the territories, are not the incidental by-products of the occupation, they are its inevitable consequences. However despicable the Palestinian response, one cannot expect servile acquiescence from a subjugated population ...”  

In England, Gerald Kaufman, a prominent figure in Britain’s Jewish community and a Member of Parliament, said that Ariel Sharon’s actions “are staining the Star of David with blood.” He described Sharon as a “blustering bully” and “war criminal,” and declared: “Sharon is not simply a war criminal, he’s a fool. He says Jerusalem must never again be divided, yet Jerusalem is divided in a way it has not been in 35 years. It’s time to remind Sharon that the Star of David belongs to all Jews and not to his repulsive government. Now, the state of Israel is a ghetto, an international pariah.”  

That genuine Jewish opinion about Israel and its present government is sharply divided, is clear. Those who presume to speak in the name of Jews and Jewish opinion, all too often represent only themselves. Yet, there is a larger question which is rarely confronted. That relates to the difference between religion and nationalism and state power. When religion becomes an arm of the state - any state - it becomes not the advocate of universal moral values which come from God but, instead, an arm of state power, promoting the interests and policies of the state, however objectionable they may be in moral terms.  

Corrupted Churches  

We have seen established churches become corrupted by their association with state power throughout history. The horrors undertaken by various states in the name of an established religion - from the Crusades to the Inquisition to today’s Islamic invocation of Jihad - are well known.  

The respected 19th century Swiss historian Jacob Burkhardt has written extensively about the negative impact upon Christianity which its association with state power has produced.  

In Reflections on History, Burkhardt writes: “Christianity, even at the time of the persecutions, was a kind of standardized imperial religion, and when the change came with Constantine, the community suddenly became so powerful that it could almost have absorbed the state into itself. In any case, it now became an overmighty state church. Throughout the Volkerwanderung, far from the Byzantine epoch, and in the West, throughout the Middle Ages, religion was dominant ... Every contact with the secular, however, reacts strongly upon religion. An inward decay is inevitably associated with the rise of its secular power, if only because quite other men come to the fore than at the time of the ecclesia pressa (persecuted church) ... The church became itself a state of acquiring a political constitution ... instead of being a moral force in the lives of the people ... It was power and possessions with which the Western church filled the sanctuary with those who had no call to be there. But power is of its very nature evil.”  

Protestants and Hitler  

In Germany, writes William L. Shirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, “The majority of Protestants ... landed in the arms of Hitler, accepting his authority to intervene in church affairs and obeying his commands without open protest ... Martin Luther ... the great founder of Protestantism ... was a ferocious believer in absolute obedience to political authority ... In what was perhaps the only popular revolt in German history, the peasant uprising of 1525, Luther advised the princes to adopt the most ruthless measures against the ‘mad dogs,’ as he called the desperate, downtrodden peasants ... Here, as in his utterances about the Jews, Luther employed a coarseness and brutality of language unequaled in German history until the Nazi time. The influence of this towering figure extended down the generations in Germany.”  

Shirer points out that, “among other results was the ease with which German Protestantism became the instrument of royal and princely absolutism from the 16th century until the Kings and princes were overthrown in 1918. The hereditary monarchs and petty rulers became the supreme bishops of the Protestant Church in their lands. Thus, in Prussia, the Hohenzollern King was the head of the church. In no country with the exception of Czarist Russia did the clergy become by tradition so completely servile to the political authority of the state. It’s members ... dutifully opposed the rising liberal and democratic movements ... During the Reichstag elections one could not help but notice that the Protestant clergy ... openly supported the Nationalist and even the Nazi enemies of the Weimar Republic ... most of the pastors welcomed the advent of Adolf Hitler to the chancellorship in 1933.”  

By the end of 1937 the respected Bishop Marahans of Hanover made a public declaration: “The National Socialist conception of life is the national and political teaching which determines and characterizes German manhood. As such, it is obligatory upon German Christians also.” In the spring of 1938 Bishop Marahans took the final step of ordering all pastors in his diocese to swear a personal oath of allegiance to the Fuehrer. In a short time, the vast majority of Protestant clergymen took the oath, thus binding themselves legally and morally to obey the commands of the dictator.  

Wahhabi Islam  

More recently, we see that since the late 1970s the regime in Saudi Arabia forged a social compact with Wahhabi Islamic clerics and co-opted them into government by giving them extensive responsibilities in areas important to them, including the judiciary, religious education and the spread of Islam overseas.  

Saudi Arabia is the largest funder of madaris, radicalizing Islamic schools in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Yemen. It is the biggest supporter of the North American Islamic trusts, which builds the mosques and appoints imams in the U.S. In a recent book, The Secret Archives of al-Qa’ida, Roland Jacquared, who runs the Paris-based Observatory of International Terrorism and is an adviser on terrorism to the U.N. Security Council, has compiled documents found in the rubble of Usama bin Laden’s Afghan offices and in al-Qa’da terrorist training camps. He points out that there is a Saudi religious dimension to al-Qa’da and publishes documents such as fatwas issued by Saudi and other Gulf religious leaders, including the late firebrand Hamoud Shusidi who, according to the author, issued the first religious ruling condoning the World Trade Center bombing.  

Recently, The Washington Post reported on Islamic schools in the Washington area, sponsored by the Saudi regime, which teach Muslim children that “the day of Judgment can’t come until Jesus Christ returns to Earth, breaks the cross and converts everyone to Islam, and until Muslims start attacking Jews.” There are 200 to 300 such schools throughout the U.S., with at least 30,000 students. Thousands of other students attend Islamic weekend schools.  

One of the schools profiled by the Post is the Islamic Saudi Academy, located in the Virginia suburbs of Washington. An 11th grade textbook at the school says one sign of the Day of Judgment will be that Muslims will fight and kill Jews, who will hide behind trees that say, “Oh Muslim, Oh servant of God, here is a Jew hiding behind me. Come here and kill him.”  

Religion and State Power  

The history of the negative effects of associating religion with state power is a long one. In the United States, of course, a different philosophy took hold, one which rejected the idea of a connection between religion and the state, and which provided religious freedom for all citizens.  

In his autobiography, Thomas Jefferson, discussing the early days of colonial Virginia shows how making any religion “official,” tends to corrupt religion and its spiritual role in society: “As soon as the state of the colony admitted, it was divided into parishes, in each of which was established a minister of the Anglican church, endowed with a fixed salary, in tobacco, a glebe house and land with other necessary appendages. To meet these expenses, all the inhabitants of the parishes were assessed, whether they were or not members of the established church. Towards Quakers who came here, they were most cruelly intolerant, driving them from the colony by the gravest penalties. In the process of time, however, other sectarisms were introduced, chiefly of the Presbyterian family; and the established clergy, secure for life in their glebes and salaries, adding to these, generally, the emoluments of a classical school, found employment enough, in their farms and schoolrooms, for the rest of the week, and devoted Sunday only to the edification of their flock, by service, and a sermon at their parish church. Their other pastoral functions were little attended to.”  

Jefferson reports that, “Against this inactivity, the zeal and industry of sectarian preachers had an open and undisputed field; and by the time of the revolution, a majority of the inhabitants had become dissenters from the established church, but were still obliged to pay contributions to support the pastors of the minority. This unrighteous compulsion, to maintain teachers of what they deemed religious errors, was grievously felt during the regal government, and without a hope of relief. But the first republican legislature, which met in 1776, was crowded with petitions to abolish this spiritual tyranny.”  

“Inward” Persuasion  

It was Jefferson’s belief that religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, that “the care of every man’s soul belongs to himself,” and that no man should be abused because his “hair is not of the right cut,” or because he follows “a guide crowned with a mitre and cloathed in white.”  

Speaking in behalf of the Virginia Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, Jefferson declared: “Almighty God hath created the mind free ... To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical ... Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions of physics or geometry ... The opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction ... Truth is great and will prevail if left to herself ... She is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.”  

In urging that the church be curbed, Jefferson noted that it was still legal to burn a heretic in Virginia. He wrote in Notes on the State of Virginia: “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To have one half the world fools, and the other hypocrites.”  

Most Religious Country  

In America, because religion was a matter of individual free choice, religious institutions of all kinds sought to serve the spiritual needs of their members. One result has been the fact that America is now considered the most religious country in the Western world.  

The impact of religious freedom upon the growth of religious institutions was observed by Alexis de Tocqueville when he visited the U.S. in the 1830s. In his classic work, Democracy in America, Tocqueville writes that, “Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there the more did I perceive the great political consequences resulting from this state of things, to which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other; but in America, I found that they were intimately united, and that reigned in common over the same country.”  

De Tocqueville explains that, “Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but nevertheless it must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of free institutions. Indeed, it is in this same point of view that the inhabitants of the U.S. themselves look upon religious belief. I do not know whether all the Americans have a sincere faith in their religion, for who can search the human heart? But I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizen or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation, and to every rank of society.”  

Judaism Has Thrived  

Judaism has thrived in the open American society and Jewish organizations and religious bodies have been strong proponents of a strict separation of church and state, often going to the extreme of calling for government to be neutral not only with regard to various religious groups but neutral, as well, between religion and atheism. Such groups have been in the forefront of opposition even to voluntary, non-sectarian school prayer and the posting of the Ten Commandments in public buildings.  

Given such a worldview, it is particularly disturbing to see the manner in which these same people embrace theocracy in Israel, where Orthodox Judaism is the official religion, and non-Orthodox Jews have few rights. Only in Israel are Reform and Conservative rabbis forbidden to perform weddings or conduct funerals. Separation of church and state, and all of the eloquent arguments made in its behalf, seems not to be a moral imperative when it comes to Israel. Do Jewish leaders only believe in religious freedom in societies in which Jews are a minority?  

In this same spirit, we see the manner in which synagogues and other Jewish institutions have been transformed into being, in effect, defense attorneys for the State of Israel, launching vigorous political campaigns in behalf of whatever position or policies a government of Israel embraces or pursues. In many synagogues, Israeli flags are displayed and Middle East politics often takes the place of spiritual pursuits.  

Mix of Religion and Nationalism  

In reality, the current posture of most Jewish organizations and religious bodies in the U.S. at the present time seems to involve an almost complete mix of religion and nationalism, precisely the combination which has created so much difficulty throughout history, particularly for Jews.  

No state can be a proper object of religious worship, replacing God. Throughout U.S. history, independent religious bodies have repeatedly challenged government power - opposing slavery, challenging the Vietnam War, promoting civil rights. No Jewish religious body in the U.S. would ever consider its role as being to support whatever the U.S. Government policy might be, taking a “my country, right or wrong” posture. Yet, they seem to take just a position with regard to a foreign country, Israel.  

The fact is that those who are genuinely concerned about Israel’s future - including many Israelis - view blind support for government policies of which they disapprove as both morally destructive and not in Israel’s own best interest.  

While the suicide bombers who have killed so many innocent lives in Israel deserve the scorn of men and women of good will of all faiths, including Moslems, it is important to remember, as well, the real issues which must be confronted before a meaningful peace can be achieved.  

Israeli Settlement Policy  

In Israel, many thoughtful observers are attempting to do this. Amira Haas, the correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz in the occupied territories, and author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza, reports that, “There is no way to understand the current Palestinian uprising without examining the moral, economic and social reality that the Israeli settlement policy has created in the last 34 years. Since the 1967 war, Israeli governments - both Labor and Likud - have built settlements all over the occupied West Bank and the small Gaza Strip, in the midst of Arab-Palestinian communities that are centuries old ... The construction and development of those outposts have essentially allowed Israel to create the infrastructure of one state, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.”  

Haas points out that, “While Israelis can at any time move to the West Bank or Gaza, Palestinians are not allowed to live legally in an Israeli city or settlement, even if this settlement is built upon their family land ... Alongside the flourishing, green and ever-expanding Israeli-Jewish outposts - well maintained by Israeli policies and laws - is a Palestinian society subject to the rule of military orders and restrictions, its dense communities squeezed into small areas, served by miserably maintained roads and an insufficient water supply system ... The Palestinian self-rule enclaves are encircled by vast Israeli-controlled areas and cannot develop without Israeli permits for activities like building water pipelines and new schools, upgrading a road to building a gas station.”  

Reflexive Support of Israel  

The almost reflexive support of American Jewish groups for Israeli policies which may, in the end, be damaging to Israel’s long-term best interests, is coming under increasing criticism. Marshall Breger, a professor of law at the Catholic University of America, writing in the Jewish magazine Moment, declares: “For too long, we American Jews have perpetuated the myth that Israel’s political system is much like our own democratic one. And although this theory is partially misguided, there is in fact some truth to it. Take, for instance, the February elections in Israel - in which a new prime minister was chosen with free and fair balloting - a democratic technique pretty much unique in the Middle East ... But that said ... many aspects of the Israeli political system differ from the American system ... Israelis, more than Americans, are prone to justifying their political stances with ‘national security’ concerns.”  

In the U.S., Breger writes, “justifying executive action on the basis of ‘national security’ would simply be the opening gambit. Skeptics would ask for proof. The person who deploys a national security justification would have the burden of persuasion. In Israel, by contrast, ‘national security’ is a readily accepted explanation for any government action ... As a result, the Israeli legal system allows administrative detention (a mechanism of punishment used most often in apartheid South Africa), hostage-taking of non-combatants, and interrogation methods classified as torture in international treaties ...”  

Those in Israel who support a Western-style legal system are often perceived, Breger writes, “as a threat to both Judaism and Zionism.” Court decisions that support the equal treatment of Arabs “they say are universalist and anti-Zionist.” He concludes: “Israel can’t justify disregard for the rule of law because it is located in a ‘rough neighborhood.’ Nor is it sufficient to excuse special benefits for one’s own interest group on grounds that ‘everyone is doing it.’ It is vital that the rule-of-law tradition develop and enter the heart of Israeli society. The challenge is to rescue the concept from becoming a tool for partisan bickering. The tragedy is that Israelis are failing to do so.”  

Threat to Moral Values  

In Israel itself there are many who argue that the expansion of settlements in the occupied territories and the collective punishment - such as the demolition of Palestinians’ houses - is threatening not only its security but its moral values and standing in the world.  

Professor Van Creveld of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, author of The Sword and the Olive: A Critical History of the Israeli Defense Force, writes that, “David has become Goliath. In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon, a country which at that time was little more than a collection of militias, none of which had a single modern tank. Since then the mighty Israeli army has fought nothing but enemies far weaker than itself. That has sapped the national spirit and led to sharp internal division ... The story of modern Israel is unique. Having been humiliated and mistreated like no other people in history, the Jews rose and returned to their ancient homeland after 2,000 years. This is a tale of almost unprecedented heroism and self-sacrifice. And not so long ago, that heroism was capable not only of leading to very great military feats, but also of commanding the admiration of people the world over. Now, unless it does what has to be done, Israel stands in grave danger of losing not just the struggle, but its soul.”  

Judaism Dedicated to God  

In his book, Judaism, Human Values and the Jewish State, Hebrew University Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz argues that Judaism is a religion dedicated to God, not to any particular geographical area, and that those who have confused Judaism and the policies of the State of Israel are guilty of a kind of idolatry.  

“As for the ‘religious’ arguments for the annexation of the territories - these are only an expression, subconsciously or perhaps even overtly hypocritical, of the transformation of the Jewish religion into a camouflage for Israeli nationalism,” he writes. “Counterfeit religion identifies national interests with the service of God and imputes to the state - which is only an instrument serving human needs - supreme value from a religious standpoint ... The idea that a specific country or location have an intrinsic ‘holiness’ is an indubitably idolatrous idea.”  

Leibowitz argues that, “Nationalism and patriotism as such are not religious values. The prophets of Israel in the period of the first commonwealth and the Jewish sages in the period of the second commonwealth were, for the most part, ‘traitors’ from the perspective of secular nationalism and patriotism. The rabbis who argue today that we should keep the territories for ‘religious reasons’ are not carrying on the tradition of Elijah and the prophets of God but rather of the 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah ‘who ate at the table of Jezebel.’”  

Rights of Palestinians  

From the very beginning, even many Jews who supported one form or another of a Jewish “homeland” were concerned about the rights of the existing inhabitants of Palestine. Ahad Ha’am, the Russian Jewish writer and philosopher, in 1913 protested against a Jewish boycott of Arab labor. He wrote: “I can’t put up with the idea that our brethren are morally capable of behaving in such a way to humans of another people, and unwittingly the thought comes to my mind: If this is so now, what will our relations to the other be like if, at the end of time, we really achieve power in Eretz Yisrael? And if this be the Messiah, I do not wish to see this coming.”  

In 1922, young Jewish zealots killed an Arab boy. This brought a cry of rage from Ahad Ha’am: “Jews and blood - are there two greater opposites than these? Is this the goal for which our ancestors longed and for which they suffered all those tribulations? Is this the dream of the return to Zion which our people dreamt of for thousands of years; that we should come to Zion and pollute its soil with the spilling of innocent blood?”  

Needless to say, men and women of good will of all religious persuasions share a variety of views about the current situation in the Middle East. Some blame Ariel Sharon’s policies for exacerbating the conflict. Some place responsibility upon Yasir Arafat for turning down the peace proposal offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and provoking a campaign of terrorist violence. Others believe that both parties must share responsibility for the present impasse.  

Destined to Share the Land  

In Israel itself there are many who understand that both Palestinians and Israelis are destined to share the same geography and must decide whether they prefer a peace in which neither side achieves its maximalist goals, or prefer an endless religious war along the lines of those which decimated Europe in the past.  

Author and commentator Ze’ev Chafets, a longtime contributing editor of The Jerusalem Report, believes that peace with the Palestinians will eventually be achieved. His biggest concern is the growing influence of the ultra-Orthodox: “The Arabs can’t destroy Israel, but the rabbis can. The rabbis can do that by turning Israel into the kind of political entity that Jews lived in for 2,000 years, by turning it into a place governed by clerical law and clerical thinking which has become so backward and xenophobic that Israel won’t be able to function as a state.”  

Amos Oz, the author of Israel, Palestine and Peace, declares that, “Israel must withdraw from Palestinian-populated regions and enable the Palestinian people to set up an independent state, immediately, even without a peace agreement ... The current Israeli occupation, buttressed by dozens of small settlements thrust into the midst of Palestinian territory with the intention of preventing any future compromise, does not make Israel stronger, but weaker.”  

Voices of Conciliation  

Within the American Jewish community there are also many voices of conciliation. In December 2001, for example, more than one hundred rabbis issued a statement saying that there is no religious reason to require exclusive Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount. “There is no reason why it can’t be shared,” said Rabbi Arthur Green, a professor of Jewish thought at Brandeis University. Shalom, the journal of the American Jewish Peace Fellowship, edited by Murray Polner, expressed the view that, “Israel is suffering the consequences of decades of unjust occupation policies such as expropriation of Palestinian property, destruction of Palestinian homes and the use of torture.”  

Yet, the organized Jewish community has taken the position of endorsing whatever policies the Israeli government pursues and, in some cases, going even beyond what Israelis themselves support. Thus, Ronald Lauder, when he headed the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, addressed a right-wing January 8 rally in Jerusalem prior to Israel’s February elections. This rally urged the election of Ariel Sharon and rejected the Oslo peace process and the very idea of creating a Palestinian state.  

“Feckless” Jewish Leaders  

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (April 3, 2002) writes that “the feckless American Jewish leaders” have “not wanted to face facts and ... have helped make it impossible for anyone in the U.S. administration to talk seriously about halting Israeli settlement-building without being accused of being anti-Israel.” Their actions, in his view, have “helped prolong a colonial Israeli occupation that now threatens the entire Zionist enterprise ...”  

It is past time for American Jews to make it clear to those who speak in their name that religion and nationalism must be separated, and that Judaism is a religion of universal values dedicated to God and not to the interests of any state, including Israel. Our American experience of religious freedom and separation of church and state should be instructive. Whenever religion and the interests of a sovereign state are mingled and confused, religion is the loser. And by placing a religious imprint upon policies which may be unjust and counterproductive, the state involved may be the loser as well.  

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