Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Controlling Israel’s violent ‘hilltop youth’

This article is truly scary: an Israeli “ISIS” that bases its violence against non-Jews on ordinary Biblical and rabbinic writings has recently emerged. The article, “Violence in the Name of the Messiah,” is by Noah Feldman and appeared in BloombergView on 1 November 2015.
They perform what are called “price-tag” operations—violent acts meant to send the message that any attempt to remove Jewish settlers from their land will carry a “price.” They also think that they’re living in a messianic age and that the state of Israel has betrayed the true objective of exerting sovereignty over the biblical land of Israel. They aspire to create a Jewish monarchy, governed by religious law, which would relegate non-Jews to subordinate status. And they believe that a book called “The Law of the King” provides legal and religious justification for the killing of non-Jews, including children, in the pursuit of their revenge.
Because the illegal Israeli settlements in which many of the extremists live are mostly built on hilltops, the members of the small radical movement are generally referred to as “hilltop youth.” The movement is an outgrowth of a quasi-political movement called Derech Chaim, which is headed by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsberg. In the early 1980s, Ginsberg founded a school called Od Yosef Chai in which, over the years, he has developed “his distinctive combination of Chabad Hasidism and national-religious-settler theology.” Followers of Ginsberg, Shapira and Elitzur, wrote the book The Law of the King, which Od Yosef Chai published, and in it justify the killing of non-Jewish children along with adults “‘because of the future danger that will be caused if they grow up to be evil like their parents.’” The killing of non-Jews is considered a “redemptive messianic act” and “a means to making the king messiah live and hastening the coming of his kingdom.” “As far as the terrorists are concerned, their actions are not merely permitted by Jewish law, but required.”

It's difficult for non-extremist Jews/Israelis to condemn the actions of the hilltop youth because their radical tenets are deeply rooted in Torah and the traditional rabbinic writings. Even the terrorists themselves—because their motivation is not like that of Mafia hitmen and dons: fattening their wallets and achieving new levels of luxury—can only see themselves as good people doing the work of God and willing to be martyred. Attempts to control such radical movements only drive them underground and increase their members’ fervency and acceptance of eventual martyrdom. The article by Feldman does offer suggestions for what Israel can do to restrict the growth of the movement, but those suggestions involve making the difficult choices now confronting Israel.

My own view is that the real solution to the problem is the one that no one wants. But the logic of this solutions is inescapable because it involves going back to the very beginnings of the current conflict. Let's go over this again:

Biblical scholars have been theorizing for more than two centuries, from de Wette in 1805 to Finkelstein in 2001, that priests and scribes in the time of King Josiah created a new scroll, the one “found” during Temple renovations, in order to support national reforms but the scroll was presented to the people as if it were old and preserved Mosaic law written six centuries earlier. The priests themselves may have created the covenant between God and Moses regarding the land, detailed in the scroll, which assigned ownership of the land to Israel in perpetuity. If true, should that covenant be considered valid now? The land belongs to Israel in perpetuity because the priests said it did in 622 bce? The scroll “found” during Temple renovations was an early version of Deuteronomy, and textual criticism shows this book to be later “priestly” writings which were collected into a book first, which led to the other books of Torah taking shape around the time of the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century bce. A forgery initiated the collection of documents that evolved into the Torah and Bible we have today. If the foundation isn’t true, nothing built on that foundation can be entirely true. Twenty-six centuries of claiming something is true doesn't make it true, if it wasn't true to begin with.

The hilltop youth and Derech Chaim and other radical groups could be shown that the Biblical writings on which they base their actions originated with a forgery—a book of law intended to give the priests of that time so much power that even the king had to seek their approval, written by the priests themselves—and that no subsequent writings can be credible if the writers assumed that previous writings were genuine. If they were shown that the basis for their violent “redemptive messianic acts” was unfounded, they would see that there was no reason to commit those acts, no messiah to draw out, no monarchy to establish. But that would require that all Israelis come to realize that Torah isn’t credible, which would, of course, remove the foundation for the modern state of Israel itself and Israel’s historic claim to the land. And that would domino outward and remove the basis for the faith of Jews and Christians around the world. And we can’t have that. That’s a solution no one wants to pursue. There are things worse than children being killed so that they don’t grow up to be evil like their parents.