Israel Opens Investigation Into Religious Extremism in Its Ranks During Gaza Invasion

660px-flag_of_israelsvg1The Israeli Military Advocate General Avichai Mandleblit is investigating accounts of religious extremists pushing soldiers to view the Gaza invasion as a “religious war” against gentiles. In the meantime, human rights groups are calling for the removal of military’s head chaplain, Rabbi (and Brigadier General) Avichai Rontzki, who told soldiers that it was “immoral” to show mercy to the enemy in the operation.

Here is how a unit commander described the “clear” message given to his unit: “We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the Gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. . . . This was the main message and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war.”

The Gaza campaign was the subject of intense international criticism for the use of prohibited weapons, wanton destruction, and high civilian casualties. One account explains how the most extreme voices came from soldiers from the hesder yeshiva system, colleges that combine religious study and military service who often lead soldiers in prayer before battle and tended to portray the invasion as a holy war. For this part, Brigadier General Rabbi Avichai Rontzki, reported warned soldiers that it was “terribly immoral” to show mercy to a “cruel enemy” and that the soldiers were fighting “murderers”.

Of course, we have had our own holy warriors in combat such as http://humaniststudies.org/enews/index.php?id=173&article=5Lieutenant-General William Boykin in Somalia. Yet, the combination of these recent accounts and the controversial destructions in Gaza has led to a formal investigation into whether soldiers were encouraged to view this as a holy war. To their credit, many in the Israeli military are alarmed by how the intrusion of religious extremism may have eroded the professionalism and restraint of the military. The military, however, is also struggling to respond to a report of tee shirts by Israeli soldiers that appear to mock the shooting of Muslim children and pregnant women.

For the full story, click here and here.

7 thoughts on “Israel Opens Investigation Into Religious Extremism in Its Ranks During Gaza Invasion

  1. “Here is how a unit commander described the “clear” message given to his unit: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the Gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. . . . This was the main message and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war.”

    **************

    I shall notify Christopher Hitchens that another proof exists in the world that religion poisons everything. Oddly enough, even war.

  2. Mespo,
    This is tragic for the Israeli’s and Jews in general. However,this is perversion of religion in the form of fundamentalist extremism, rather than religion itself. Without getting into the existence of God, which as you know I find unknowable, these Ultra-Orthodox sects have been undermining Israel and Judaism itself with their teachings. Let me explain with the understanding that I’m doing it to inform non-Jews of what’s going on here, without in any way condoning this terrible behavior and in the context of my previous condemnation of the actions in Gaza.

    Fifty years ago, or so the definition of Kosher was universal throughout Judaism. There was also a recognition of commonality in that Jews who were Orthodox, Conservative and Reform would work together collectively in communities and in organizations. By the mid 60’s a movement of Hasidim, Orthodox Jewish sects roughly following the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov (circa 1700CE), regained prominence due to the outreach efforts of the Lubavitcher sect based in Brooklyn. Like some of our christian and Islamic brethren this sect, cult actually, had mastered modern public relations and advertising. By the time the 70’s were in swing there were many disillusioned young Jews who had seen their hippie dreams literally go up in smoke and were searching for something to give their life meaning. Similarly, this was the case among young non-Jews and fed into the Born Again Christian movement and extremist Islam.

    All of these disillusioned found the certainty of religious dogma in Fundamentalism comforting and like reformed alcoholics they became even more extreme in their practice.
    Kosher now was divided up into Kosher and “Glatt-Kosher.” The latter supposedly more kosher, but really a representation of whose Rebbi, or sect approved. These cults also refused to work with other Jews they deemed less religious i.e. the Conservative and Reformed Jewish Movements and refused to recognize the proceedings of these groups. The traditional Orthodox Jews were caught in a bind and many paid heed to the extremists out of cowardice, or inner suspicion of their own failings of faith. You will notice that this follows almost completely the evolution of fundamentalist power in Christianity and Islam. In the end it’s the same game and those that represent themselves as the most pious in all three faiths are in reality egotists and haters.

    The other parallel tenet of these fundamentalists was breed baby breed and so their numbers increased due to high birth rates. Meyer Kahane an Orthodox, non-Hasid Rabbi in Brooklyn formed the Jewish Defense League(JDL) during the racial turmoil in the late 60’s. The JDL was a racist organization that gained popularity with poorer Jews feeling threatened by Blacks. Kahane became a follower in his teens of Zev Jabotinsky a pre-Israel Independence militant who spawned Menachem Begin, a thug of long standing and of whom Netanyahu is also a disciple. The common thread other than ruthless militancy, was the idea of a “Greater Israel”

    The JDL was discredited and Kahane moved to Israel in 1971 forming the ultra right wing Kach party, which though a minority helped Begin to gain power. Kach was outlawed in Israel as racist. Meanwhile Hasidim and other Orthodox Jews were encouraged to move to Israel and live in West Bank settlements, which precluded in their mind the ability to negotiate “land for peace.” In the past 15 years these groups,
    have been using their schools, Heders,” to try to infiltrate the Israeli Military. It seems from this article that they have had some success.

    I offer this not in justification, there isn’t any, but in explanation to those who are unaware that Judaism is far from monolithic. One of the points I’ve made consistently in my comments on this site is that I am an enemy of Fundamentalism
    in any form because I believe it always leads to death and destruction in service of the ego, rather than the holy. This investigation will be one that examines the soul of Israel and its outcome will have grave consequences. The only hopeful part of the situation is that more than 60% of Israeli’s are secular and they might finally push their own interests and the greater interests of Israel.

  3. taking religion out of this isnt this what we did to Nazi Germany and Japan in WWII? We killed thousands of civilians fire bombing their major cities. We did it because the populations of both countries were complicit in both countries wars and gave material aid and support to our enemies. Similary the Palestinians support Hamas and other anti-Isreal organizations that want in no uncertain terms the destruction of the state of Isreal.

    Basically what it come down to is that war does no one any good whether it is for religion or state craft and only the innocent pay the price,
    whether they be civilian or soldier. American VFW halls are filled with WWII, Korea, Vietnam, etc vets that have paid a heavy emotional price for our wars.

    F…k war and f..k the people that make war necessary.

  4. mIke:

    Fundamentalism turns a relatively benign superstition into a rabid motivation for hegemony — religious or otherwise.

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