CRUCIBLE: Israel’s Exceptionalism

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 13 Aug) – There are no words enough to express the disgust and revulsion of peoples around the world over Israel’s arrogant display of exceptionalism in the current war in Gaza. It should be said, too, that Hamas’s action is equally contemptible. Any peace loving people does not condone the violence of Hamas against Israeli civilians.

No less than the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon declared the need to end “senseless killing and suffering in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” as “massive death and destruction in Gaza have shocked and shamed the world.” He rallied the UN General Assembly, saying “we will build again” and that “this must be the last time to rebuild. This must stop now. They must go back to the negotiating table.”

Few days ago, two UN officials could do nothing but cry as they reported the inexplicable condition experienced by the Palestinians in Gaza due to overwhelming use of firepower by the Israeli Defense Forces. As we talk now, the ceasefire is uncertain. The casualty and destruction are expected to increase and worsen.

War in Gaza: 2008 and 2014

The situation now is more than the “War in Gaza” in December 2008 with almost similar intensity. Today, the casualty has reached 1,900 deaths, with 144 schools and other facilities damaged and that public health system accordingly is on the verge of collapse. One-third of hospitals, 14 primary health cares and 29 ambulances were damaged. There are more than one million people without access to water and electricity. By the way, the Palestinians in Gaza number around 1.5 million. As declared there is no accountability for the conflict in 2008, in 2009, in 2012, including the current war. In the “War in Gaza” in 2008, there were 1,050 Palestinians killed; 10 Israeli soldiers, and three civilians died. This time, the casualty is now close to 2,000, with only 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians killed.

International media hardly weigh the asymmetry of the war. They succumbed to Israeli’s propaganda of anti-Semitism. We agree with Prime Minister Erdogan’s statements: “Israel’s action in Gaza surpassed what Hitler did to them.” In fact, according to one of Erdogan’s advisers:

“Each Israeli attack undermines peace and tranquility of Jews living all around the world and turn them into targets of hate speech.” He said further: “We therefore recommend that you (White House) instead of trying to silence the legitimate criticism toward Israel, call on and pressure the Israeli government to put an end to its policy of occupation and destruction. This would be the best and the strongest response to anti-Semitism.”

We concur with the clamor of many world leaders including civil society groups and progressive movements across the world calling for a ceasefire and to stop the Israel’s carnage in Gaza.

When we compare previous atrocities like the war in 2008 and the war in Gaza today, we could hardly accept an unimaginably blatant fact: despite more than thousands of lives lost and enormous destruction committed in both wars, there was nothing substantial actions done between those six years. Except for a pretext like the kidnapping of three Israeli youth by alleged Hamas members that was to justify Israel’s fury on Gaza, the major configuration of both wars remains essentially the same. Like many instances in the past, today no less than the United Nations and its sub-agencies could simply cringe helplessness amid Israel’s display of exceptionalism in Palestine.

Ford and Hitler

We are fully aware of the fact that not all Jews support Israel and that Zionism is not a monolith. There are many enlightened and respectable Jews who are in fact opposed to Israel’s occupation of Palestine including the waging of past and present war in Gaza. Quite a number of them are equally disgusted over Israeli government’s savagery, as they are opposed to using Judaism as justification to what Avi Shlaim, a respected Jewish academic at Oxford, refers to Israel’s “State terrorism” in Palestine.

Yet, we could not understand why the world could be held hostage by a select or ideological group of Zionists and extremist Israelis in perpetuating control and domination in Palestine particularly in the remaining Occupied Territories like Gaza and the West Bank. We are lost of explanation. We hate to say this, but we are not far in concluding that the claim for civility of modern society must be illusory as there is an utter failure by those who claimed to be civilized in taming Zionists and Israeli extremists to undo of their brutality against helpless civilians, women and children. We are lost of explanation why modern society that trumpets civility and that has long cast down primitivism could allow such wicked display of ruthlessness to happen not just once but again and again.

We don’t want to raise sensitive subject that may border on anti-Semitism. We are fully aware of the controversy surrounding this subject. But social media, unlike mainstream or traditional media, could not be regulated. Streams of post and comment usually raise points and questions that are terse and frank and which are even more poignant than Prime Minister Erdogan’s comparison with Israel’s brutality against Palestinians today and Hitler’s Holocaust’s against the Jews.

We are treading into a controversy given the long subject of anti-Semitism debate in Europe and the United States. Instead of being cowed or be too subjective, let us grab the bull by the horn so to speak by reflecting on two major works from both known and notorious personalities particularly Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler. From their works, let us draw common denominator that defined the depth of Arab-Israeli conflict and how an Abrahamic perspective of the Qur’an and the universality of human nature could be raised as antidote to increasing religious divide in the Middle East and other areas. On this basis, we call on world leaders to undo their myopia and embrace civility and virtue against racism, bigotry, and violence. For, their silence and complicity with Israel’s exceptionalism would not only make the Middle East dangerous to live, but exceedingly catastrophic for the rest of the world.

It is generally known that Hitler carried strong antipathy against the Jews. Unknown to many people even respected American industrialist like Henry Ford, owner of the Ford Company, spoke of the same subject about the Jews. Both Ford and Hitler recognized the role of Jews in history, albeit they obviously differed in their ways in dealing with them. But what is quite not known is, there is part of Hitler’s work that shows high regard of Jews as “the mightiest counterpart to the Aryan.” Hitler, in his work, “Mein Kampf,” wrote:

“The mightiest counterpart to the Aryan is represented by the Jew. In hardly any people in the world is the instinct of self-preservation developed more strongly than in the so-called chosen. Of this, the mere fact of the survival of this race may be considered the best proof. Where is the people which is last 2,000 years has been exposed to so slight changes of inner disposition, character, etc. as the Jewish people? What one – and nevertheless issued from the mightiest catastrophes of mankind unchanged? What an infinitely tough will to live and persevere the species speak from these facts (p. 300)!”

We cannot read the other statements of Hitler against the Jews, as these are too strong a characterization, although they are not necessarily groundless. To say the least, as Hitler recognized that “the mightiest counterpart to the Aryan is represented by the Jew,” it is no wonder why Hitler has been exceedingly emboldened with the issue of race as he projected too the Aryan where he believed his Germanic tribe to have evolved from allowing him to envision the clash of two mighty races (i.e., Aryan, Semites) in history. This view must be at the heart of Nazi’s antipathy against the Jews culminating with what is known as the Holocaust.

Incidentally, we raise the question: if it was the Aryans or that select group of Germans following Hitler’s argument who committed the Holocaust against the Jews, why do extremist Zionist Jews do the same on helpless people like the Palestinians who have nothing to do with the Aryan/Germanic tribes, while they, in fact, Biblically speaking, their Semitic and Abrahamic brethren?

We are hard-pressed in explaining this subject. We have yet to explore if there is such a thing as racial psychology and what is its explanation, if any, in the Arab-Israeli conflict. To say the least, what we could say this time is that the war we see in Gaza today is based on a deeply entrenched ideological postulation that could hardly be resolved by superficial call to peace.

If we turn to Henry Ford’s “The International Jew (The World’s Foremost Problem),” somehow it identifies two reasons why the sense of Jewish exceptionalism. It is based on the belief of “a separation of ‘nation’ above the rest of the nations.” Moreover, Ford said: “there is a mass of evidence in Jewish writings that the leaders expect both of these conditions to come – a separate nation and a super nation; indeed the heart of Jewish teaching is that Jewry is a separate nation now and on the way to becoming a super nation.”

In fact, the work of Ford describes how America had long succumbed to what he referred to as Jewry that well started since Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America in 1492. Accordingly, after repelling the Muslims from Spain in the Reconquesta, Queen Isabella with around 300 Jews engaged in an adventure by financing the Columbus expedition in search for the new world. According to Ford and his researchers, the people that Columbus led in the expedition executed him eventually.

The narrative of this subject is very long. In fact, each period of history is punctuated with narratives of war and bigotry and so on. It is the reason, we said, we are helpless in explaining this sense of Israel’s exceptionalism and why the modern world has seemingly succumbed to the same.

Beyond lineage and race

When we say that the cycle of Jewry following Ford’s term is so entrenched so much so that past episodes of relatively similar propensities went back eons ago; where, in fact, no less than the time of prophets were such experience has been consistently displayed and continued even until the time of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). According to Ibn Ishaq in “Seeratu l-rasulullah” (The Life of Muhammad), the early chronicler of the Prophet’s life: “About this time (the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad), the Jewish Rabbis showed hostility to the apostle in envy, hatred, and malice, because God had chosen His Apostle from the Arabs (p. 238).”

If you remember the history of the Prophet in Madinah, he faced varied challenges posed by the Jews there. But his approach was simply to defend himself and not to fight them; instead he forged the Shahifatu l-madinah or the “Charter of Madina” together with the Jews and Christians referring to them as Ahlu l-kitab (People of the Book). He invited them to “kalimatu s-sawa” or “common terms.” In Sura Al-imran, the Qur’an reads:

“Say: ‘O people of the Book: come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among yourselves, lords and patrons other than God.’ If then they turn back, say ye: ‘bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to God’s Will) (64)’.”

In fact, the Qur’an reminds them in the same Surah: “Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was true in Faith and bowed his will to God’s (which is Islam) and he joined not gods with God (67).”

Incidentally, there is a popular notion of so-called Abrahamic faith and the religions that claimed affinity to Prophet Ibrahim (AS) namely: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – suggesting some kind of a genealogy or lineage by these three monotheistic religions where they claimed legitimacy.

The Qur’an is clear: Abraham is neither a Jew nor a Christian. But Abraham is somebody who bows his will (Muslim) to Allah (SWT). We do not refer, when we speak of Muslims, as persons who are Arabs, Moros, or people who happen to be born to Muslim parents. The word “Muslim” is someone who submits willingly to God. By the way, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was not around obviously during Prophet’s Ibrahim’s time. Yet the latter already declares: “I am of those who submit.”

The point we would like to raise is that the affinity of religion to certain lineage or to certain prophetic line is simply incidental. What is primordial is actually the idea or principle that prophets and their respective followers adhere to, which is faith in God. Religious legitimacy is not based on a claim to certain race, to certain prophetic line, or to certain genealogy. Also, in the same Surah, the Qur’an says: “Without doubt, among men, the nearest of kin to Abraham, are those who follow him, as are also the Apostle and those who believe: And God is the Protector of those who have faith (68).”

To reiterate, relationship or affinity to Prophet Ibrahim (AS) is not something determined through kinship, race or genealogy. It is more fundamentally connected to higher principles of belief in the oneness of God. This line of argument extends even more to usual Jewish’s argument of anti-Semitism against critics. Claim of anti-Semitism does not hold if it is meant to simply apply to the Jews as if Arabs are non-Semitic people. It must be remembered that one of Prophet Noah’s sons (Shem) is where generally Semitic peoples like Arab and Jews sprang from. Indeed, the Palestinians are as Semitic as the Jews.

When we argue the need to factor out the issue of race in the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is because Hitler exploited it as he justified the reification of Aryan race in order to confront the Jews, whose consequence – the Holocaust – left an indelible mark in modern European history, and whose after effect, too, is being suffered by another Semitic people (e.g., Palestinians) perpetrated by another Semites cum Holocaust victims. Given the circuitry of false victimization, we agree with PM Erdogan’s argument: it is time to end the cycle of war now; or else, Israel would take the dark shadow of Hitler if she continuously insists with her brand of exceptionalism in Gaza and the rest of Palestine.

This point is our attempt to emphasize the fact that we should not fall into making a sweeping generalization that Jews because of the atrocities they committed throughout history are exceptional relative to the universality of religion. In other words, we maintain that, despite being hard-pressed to explain Jew’s sense of exceptionalism, mankind is governed with the same principle common in human nature. The Jews have the Divine light in them like others. Therefore, whatever pitfalls or actions they commit, it should not create an impression that they are of different nature short of the light given to them like other mankind. In other words, let us not fall into the trap of becoming anti-Jew and become so sweeping with our claim. In truth, if we remove all the ideological trappings of people, we will see the same existential nakedness in every person. We will see the same men and women breathing the same air, longing for freedom, peace, and justice.

The problem however is if the conception of human nature is clouded with too constricted an ideology that is not willing to engage with the world, but would insist to separate itself and to claim that it is a super ideology or a “super nation.” That is where the danger of such conception. By then, they will turn exceptional and they will succumb to Adamic pitfalls with what the Qur’an refers to as shajaratu l-khuld wa l-mulk laa yabqa or the craving for immortality and power without end.

Hence, let us stare the issue at the face. Let us not become like Hitler who advanced an equally potent ideology by raising the Aryan race as the mightiest group of people to confront the Jew. The approach of the Qur’an is to call the people of the Book: “Come to common terms as between us and you.” Of course, this call has been raised many times, but its echo in history seemed to be for naught. It has been violated then and now.

The danger according to Ford is the notion of “super nation” has already dominated the Big power like the United States. Ford was quite prophetic when he commissioned his researchers to write “The International Jew” in 1920s. As proven by many scholars including respectable Jewish academics themselves like Noam Chomsky and Norman Filkenstein and many others, the US has now succumbed to Jewry. It could be seen of Jewish influence over the US military-industrial complex, Christian fundamentalism and the Israel lobby as studied by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Hence, the strength of Israel is not in Israel herself; it is hooked into the political and economic fabric of the United States. And we could hardly believe how the supposed ideals of “American dream,” the land of the free, the home of the brave could succumb to such form of domination.

From fear to hope

Our fear is there are equally potent theaters of conflict surrounding Palestine, whose directions are uncertain. In fact, as we talk, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Levant (ISIS) has already controlled parts of Kurdistan and is gaining much ground in Iraq including Lebanon and possibly some parts of Turkey. Incidentally, there are many conspiracy theories floating around regarding the ISIS; that it is a pawn of the CIA and Mossad and so on. Our test is this: If the ISIS struggle would be directed to Israel then such conspiracy theory must be false, but we are heading into a catastrophe in the Middle East. And if it will not head to Israel, so conspiracy theory will be true: that the ISIS is a project to create chaos in the Arab world so that Israel would be saved and secured and could do whatever she wants in Gaza, in the West Bank and other parts of Palestine and the rest of the Arab world.

Our fear is very much connected to what we said last time of a prevailing notion of end time history: the rise of black flag bearers as millenarian signs – a reason why we do not want to touch heavily on this subject as it is something in the realm of “alamu l-ghayb” or unseen. As we said, too, part of the sign is when Bedouin tribes compete to build high rise buildings instead in addressing the source of their humiliation in Palestine or to simply resort to what Richard Falk, the UN Rapporteur of Palestine Human Rights, referred to as “Arab complicity” in the war in Gaza by resorting to deafening silence amid Israel’s worsening atrocities. We just hope that the trajectory of conflict in the Middle East would not prove our worst nightmare.

Incidentally, the difference between today’s war in Gaza and previous ones is that before there were authoritarian regimes that took the cudgels as shown, for instance, in the October war in 1973. In subsequent years, Arab leaders became petrified, as they were not even able to register their voice. Now, with many of them falling one by one and with many Arab countries around Israel bleeding due mainly to their own self-contradiction, how could they raise their voice and dictate terms to resolve the crisis in Palestine and the rest of the Arab world? Indeed, the over-all crisis in the Middle East should not be divorced from our understanding with what is happening in Gaza.

We just hope that some coherence would transpire in the way world leaders realize the danger looming ahead if extremist Zionist is allowed to continue to think they are exceptional. The world must act and normalize Gaza and the rest of Palestine with much urgency now. Doing so would convince many people that there is still reason to hope for a better Middle East.

[MindaViews is opinion section of MindaViews. A revised Friday khutbah delivered at the UP Institute of Islamic Studies on 08 August 2014. Julkipli Wadi is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, University of the Philippines.]