Friday 4 June 2010

What Profit It A Nation?

One Man's Promise: Moses forged a collection of refugees into a nation on the promise of a home, and Joshua won it for them at the point of a sword. The State of Israel has grown true to its seed: born of longing, delivered by dispossession, held by violence.

"THIS LAND IS MINE." In that single, opening line of the Exodus theme-song, all the triumph and tragedy of Israel’s history is compressed into a single, defiant claim.

From the original, biblical exodus, in which Moses leads the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt; to the historical exodus, in which the Holocaust survivors begged, borrowed and stole their way out of post-war Europe; the mountains, valleys and rivers of Israel have beckoned, beguiled and ultimately betrayed the Jewish people.

This latest tragedy – Israel’s interdiction of the so-called "Freedom Flotilla" off the coast of the Gaza Strip – is but the latest vicious instalment in a tale of blood and conquest that spans 3,000 years.

Strip away the Christian gloss from the first books of the Old Testament and we are presented with a tale of unmitigated horror. Moses emerges from the secularised text as a bloodthirsty forerunner of Jim Jones and David Koresh – a fanatical cult leader who does not hesitate to butcher any individual or group who demonstrates the slightest deviation from the strictures of the new Mosaic order.

Moses chosen successor, Joshua, takes up the story where his bloodthirsty predecessor leaves off, falling upon the hapless peoples of the Jordan Valley with a ferocity that would not disgrace the Israeli Defence Force of today.

If the history of a nation is foreshadowed in the deeds of its makers, then Israel, born of innocent blood and raised on the ruins of broken cities, has grown true to its seed.

Never has this been more true than at the time of Israel’s refoundation in 1948, when, once again, a Jewish nation was erected upon the ruined properties and ravaged lives of the people it dispossessed.

And as the state of Israel has grown, so too has the evil that defined its birth. That first act of dispossession has been multiplied and refined through three generations – to the point where Israelis now stand guard over an imprisoned people even Pharaoh would have pitied.

"Let my people go!" Words that inspired countless oppressed nations down through the centuries have now become, in a paradox worthy of Israel’s tortured history, the cry not of the Chosen People – but of the Palestinians.

"Thou shalt have no other Gods before me!" cried Jehovah, but the Children of Modern Israel defy the Lord their God. For they have made of the land of Israel, from the peaks of its fortified mountains, to the polluted trickle that was once the holy River Jordan, a graven idol which they worship and feed with blood.

They have forgotten – or choose not to remember – that it was only when the Jewish people were conquered and scattered; persecuted and enslaved; that they came at last to understand that Israel is not a place, but a practice; that Jerusalem is not city, but an aspiration.

Their prophets understood – castigating Israel’s kings for allowing indifference, cruelty and selfishness to hold sway. They knew that the true Israel lived in men’s souls, and that it was compassionate and steadfast. They knew, too, that the true character of a man’s relationship with God will always be mirrored in his relationships with his fellow man.

"Do you know what I want?", cried the Prophet Amos. " I want justice – oceans of it. I want fairness – rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want."

And this is the tragedy of the Freedom Flotilla: that it looked so like the little flotilla of ships that defied the British blockade of Palestine in 1946; ships carrying Jewish refugees from the Nazi death-camps. They also carried banners. One, in particular, caught the world’s eye:

"We suffered Hitler", it read, "Death is no stranger to us. Nothing will keep us from our Jewish homeland. The blood be upon your head if you fire on this unarmed ship."

The even greater tragedy is that where the British stayed their hand, the children of those refugees did not.

A Jewish rabbi, born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth and executed outside the walls of Jerusalem – the man called by some The Messiah, told his followers that: "The Kingdom of God is not of this world."

In seizing Israel by force and making its continued possession a more important goal than justice, Israelis have not only lost their way – they have lost their souls.

This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 4 June 2010.


Anonymous said...

Man, you are going to get some hate mail! ;)

mike said...


The Italian philosopher of history, Giambattista Vico, made a similar point about the Jewish people: their uniqueness was that they had no homeland. Partly due to this, they stood outside the recurring cycles of history (ricorso) to which every other nation was condemned and developed one of the longest cultural continuities among the peoples of the Earth - and a kind of original cosmopolitanism.

Then again, post-WW2, you can't really blame them wanting a homeland. It's a very difficult problem.

Anonymous said...

The first son(entity) of God, in it's final fulfillment to the promise of the original intention being made available to all, during this sojourn known as the man Jesus, was only raised in Nazareth till early teens. The majority of the historical & spiritual evidence points to Persia, India & elsewhere where the works that helped create the final missionary of such lasting prominence, also received similar recognition abroad at the time during his maturation. And there's a lot more to the true backstory than all that.

"I pray for them. I pray not for the world, but for those whom you have given me; for they are yours; and all things that are mine are yours, and yours are mine: and I am glorified in them. And I am no more in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are. While i was with them, I kept them in your name which you have given me: and I guarded them, and not one of them perished, but the son of perdition, that the scriptures might be fulfilled. But now i come to you. These things i speak in the world, that they may have my joy made full in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as i am not of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world even as i am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth - your word is truth. as you sent me into the world, even so sent I them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. Not only do i pray for these, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one, even as you, father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. And the glory which you have given me I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one."
-John 17

Chris Trotter said...

To Anonymous:

All of which only serves to further convince me that the author/s of John were more than half way to being Gnostics.

How else to interpret this curious sentence?

"I have given them your word, and the world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one."

John has Jesus saying that he and God exist in a realm distinct from "The World" in which the words of God/Christ are despised, and where the will of the "Evil One" prevails over that of mortal men.

This is very close to the Gnostic tradition which places God, and the emanation of God which the Gnostics identified as Christ, utterly outside the material world.

The world of matter, they believed was ruled over by a force/being they called the "Demiurge" a.k.a Lucifer, Satan, the Evil One.

Salvation for mankind could only be achieved by the acquisition of sufficient knowledge ("gnosis") to see through and beyond the material world to the world of pure spirit - the world of God/Christ.

In Gnostic theology Jesus is presented as a sort of divine hologram - not as a flesh and blood human-being. His role on Earth was to give humanity the "word" - which, as John says, IS God - and which the Gnostics understood as the "knowledge" necessary for salvation.

By the lights of the official Roman church these ideas were dangerously heretical and it spared no effort in extirpating them whenever and wherever they appeared - c.f. the Albigensian Crusade.

John has always been the weirdest and most "mystical" of the four Christian gospels - well worth a read.

Anonymous said...

The various $ diverse Gnostic sects did all accept unequivocally Christianity n that Jesus of Nazareth was the long awaited Messiah, as was the Judaic sect that Mary & Joseph belonged to, avid believers n practitioners in attempting to prepare the way for the coming Messiah & redeemer.
For the Gnostics, a victory over matter as we know it was to be inaugurated & facilitated by the appearance of the God sent savior( the universal acceptance/incorporation of Christianity by the Gnostics implies that the resurrection was known as the inauguration or promise of that victory being held of the spirit over the flesh, not a holographic type exclusion or total dis-connect from the material realms however, in my understanding).

"Believe me, the hour comes, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, will you worship the Father...The hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to be his worshippers. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
John (4:20-24)

Anonymous said...


I thought both you and your readers may be interested in a brief and recent article from Britain's Chief Rabbi entitled:

"Our common humanity precedes our religious differences"

In it he concludes:

"The answer is not to abandon religion. When that happens people kill in the name of race, nationalism or political ideology, as the hundred million lives lost in the secular twentieth century tragically testify. Instead the answer stares at us from the first chapter of genesis, telling us that all human beings, them and us, enemy and friend, are equally in the image and likeness of God. Our common humanity precedes our religious differences.

Until the world religions stop taking sides and become instead an active force for peace, sectarian violence will continue, and God in heaven will weep. "

Kind regards

Tauhei Notts said...

We should all be grateful for your erudite remarks.
Gwynne Dyer in today's Waikato Times backs you up 100%.
I have often wondered how the people of Goethe, Beethoven et al could be so cruel to the Jewish people. This may sound dreadfully crass, but I am beginning to understand how that was so.

SPC said...

I will state the obvious ... there is no historical basis to the first 5 books of the bible. There was no act of god worldwide flood which only one family survived, nor is there any conquest of Canaan by Joshua evidenced by archaeological record.

The Americans today use the term "under God", in former times nations were established under God too, if only by myth.

There is I suppose a long Christian tradition behind the concept that

"Israel is not a place, but a practice; that Jerusalem is not city, but an aspiration." - which speaks to the resonance of the English Jerusalem (in this green and pleasant land) and the legend of Camelot being so confused.

2. "In seizing Israel by force and making its continued possession a more important goal than justice, Israelis have not only lost their way – they have lost their souls."

In reality, the state of Israel was established by the UN in 1947 and founded in 1948 within that legitimacy - regardless of British opposition and abstention on the vote. But whatever, maybe some will claim that the UN is the "evil one" for allowing a revival of a Jewish Zion.

The idea that Jews have to be liberated from Israel/self-government to discover true religion is not just the idea that true religion is distinct from nationalism and identity chauvinism. For more than a thousand years, two religions have tried to assert ruling authority over Jews to assert their primacy under God as successors to the Jewish “estate” as the people of God. Acceptance of the continuance of the state of Israel is a litmus test for whether these two religions have moved beyond their own historical legacy, and in the case of Moslems there is also the issue of their claim to succeed to the Christian estate as well as the Jewish one.

Anonymous said...

The spiritual & physical evidence of the deluge as well as the content in the first five books of the bible, can be, on the contrary, overwhelming SPC.
Or it can be obviously non-existent; all depending on the subjective awareness of the beholder.

A point that subjective crusaders of truth, whether it be ostensibly of an earth geo-physical nature or otherwise... never seem to respect.

SPC said...

Anyone can make something up and then others can find meaning in that, if they want to. On that I agree.

SPC said...

Some people, who believe in religion greater than the world, are unable to cope with the fact that their religion was invented as a way to understand that world and human existence within it. There is no basis to the idea that law comes from God or that acts of God involving the judgment of man in this world actually occured. The stories are clearly mythical to indicate that to those able to think for themselves. These myths were simply devices to invest government with the authority to act on behalf of God in this world – to enforce law unto death, including defence of national borders.

Anonymous said...

John goes out of his way to show us that Jesus was human and not a mere spiritual being after his resurrection - that's what the contact with Mary and serving of the fish is about in chs 20-21:

Jesus' affirmation of the created order begins right from the very first miracle at Cana (, and though John does speak in very negative terms about the world (kosmos) it is that very world that God is said to love and to have sent his son for (

@SPC: It is a very simplistic understanding of the history of Christianity that dismisses it as simply a device to invest government with authority.

Christian institutions have played a critical role in Western civilisation in resisting the powers of the state.

Anonymous said...

It surprises me that given how terribly the Jews suffered in places like the Warsaw ghetto, they are quite happy to perpetrate the same on the Palestinians in Gaza.

Victor said...

What is it about the Middle East that provokes otherwise sensible people to part company with reason?

Obviously, Chris, you are not responsible for Tauhei Nott's cute little apologia for the gas chambers at Treblinka.

But why should you assume that the Jewish scriptures owe their ethical status to the fact that they were taken over by Christians?

At their heart lies the Decalogue: "Thou shalt not kill", "Thou shalt not steal" etc. These precepts did not and do not depend for their validity on a Christian gloss.

Yes, there's a lot of other things in the Pentateuch that a modern sensibility would baulk at. The same is, of course, true of much of the "New Testament" (c.f. The Book of Revelation) and, I suspect, of any other scriptural texts.

Of course, the Sinai thing is a myth. So is the story of Joshua and the forceful occupation of the Land of Canaan. The available archeological evidence actually suggests continuity of population and cultural goods during the centuries in question.

But, whether it's myth or literal truth, the Pentateuch provides neither the template nor the explanation for the birth of the modern State of Israel, of which (although Jewish) I am a long-standing critic.

The template was provided by the rival, internecine European nationalisms of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and by European colonial adventures, such as that which led to the dispossession of the Maori by Victorian British settlers.

As to the explanation, that's summed up in one word: 'Holocaust'.

The experience of the years 1939-1945 seemed, to most Jews, to justify Theodore Herzl's belief that they could never hope to be accepted by the peoples amongst whom they lived and that they therefore needed a country of their own.

I stress that this is not my view and I'm certainly not arguing that it justified (as opposed to largely explained) the fate of the Palestinians. Another part of the tragedy was the pro-Nazi politics of the Palestinians' traditional leaders.

Prior to 1933, very few Jews (outside Poland or Palestine)were Zionists. After 1945, Zionism was almost universal. The change had very little to do with Judaism, although it owed almost everything to the Holocaust and it could also be argued that the Holocaust owed a lot to Christianity and its heritage. Most Zionists were decidedly secular, as are most Israeli Jews today.

The Israel/Palestine problem is not going to be solved by ratcheting up the rhetoric, indulging in far-fetched historical parallels or demonising any or all of the Abrahamic faiths.

All that does is strengthen the forces of hatred, self-pity and self-righteousness that bedevil this issue on both sides.

There are libraries filled with books on the collective traumas of both Jews and Palestinians. The one thing they have in common is that they are children of suffering.

It's yet another liberal delusion to believe that suffering makes people nobler, gentler or more compassionate. Like everyone else, they are "human, all too human".

SPC said...

As to the issue of any link between the veracity of the myth in the Torah, and questioning the history of Christianity, ... this speaks to the dependence of religion on an authoratative origin/claim of receipt of an inheritance from God.

The original cults were associated with ruling order in this world, the idea of a supra-national religion of the Kingdom of God for all men supposedly transcends this.

But by some "coincidence" the new religions of this type - both Christianity and Islam, either grew in association with an existing imperial power (as the state religion of Rome) or by a new conquest with the sword.

World religions are as dependent on being organised and established in the world to flourish as are/were traditional national cultural forms. The attempt to control and organise faith in the kingdom of God is as necessary (for the elites) to manage the public in the political process as in the days of Constantine. Thus there is always a convergence of interest between organised religion and the government of the people. I am not saying this is good within the nation state of Israel, or good for freedom of faith in the wider world, or for democracy.

Chris Trotter said...

I do not claim, Victor, that the Old testament is historically accurate, merely that it supplies the tradition out of which the Zionist dream was fashioned.

You may not believe in the probative value of the Pentateuch - but Orthodox Israeli Jews living in the "settlements" do.

Crucial to that tradition is the notion that Israel was bequeathed to the Jews by Yahweh, the God of Battles - working through his human instruments.

Like it says in the song: "This land is mine, God gave this land to me."

The modern State of Israel's birth mirrors uncannily those Biblical tropes.

My intention in the above posting is to critique the actions of the Israeli Government from within the traditions of Judaism itself rather than from a secular or Islamic perspective - to which most Jewish ears are firmly closed.

It matters little, now, what the original, "objective", causes of the conflict may have been. The reality on the ground is that the conflict is being played out religiously - on both sides of the wire.

Oh, and BTW, I think you're a little behind the times demographically-speaking. I think you'll find that religious now outnumber secular Israelis - and have done for a while.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the Zionist dream has anything to do with the Old Testament tradition - quite the opposite.

Shrouded in mystery and sinister dealings is the role of Zionism, Nazism, the holocaust & the creation of the modern Israel state.

If to understand the present you need to understand the past, historical consensus in the present will be very non-neutral, any inquiring mind would find this looking at any given period and place in the past epoch of experience...yet the reasons behind that no longer apply to our 'enlightened' civilization of the present?

Chris Trotter said...

I do hope, Anonymous, you're not encouraging us to veer off into that dark, conspiratorial view of history that gave birth to such anti-semitic excrescences as "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion"?

Because, while it is certainly true to say that there were connections between extreme Jewish nationalists and the fascist regimes in Italy and Germany, this was merely a reflection of their kindred elevation of the national (racial) principle above all others.

For a truly moving fictional exploration of the intellectual consanguinity of Zionism and Nazism, read George Steiner's 1981 novella, "The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H."

Victor said...


I think you are totally mistaken if you think that the majority of Israeli Jews are religious.

Finding a percentage figure is difficult because nobody can quite agree on terms. Is a Jew who visits the synagogue three times a year religious? Most Jews, in both Israel and the Diaspora, would regard such a person as secular

There has certainly been an increase in the numbers of fanatical religious Zionists (a group who barely existed before 1967). But they represent, at most, 10% of Israel's Jewish population.

Similarly, the religious Zionist insistence on hanging on to "Judea and Samaria" at all costs has been massively rejected in opinion poll after opinion poll. Many of the minority who continue to support the concept of 'Greater Israel' as a matter of principle, do so for secular nationalist reasons.

Conversely, the secular population has been massively increased by immigration from the former Soviet Union.

The 'Russians' tend to be strongly secularist, deeply nationalist, often highly racist but not interested in hanging on to territory for the sake of religious motivations that they do not share and which formed no part of their education. Avigor Lieberman, an identikit secular fascist, is their man.

There are many reasons why the secular majority of Israeli Jews, whilst theoretically in favour of a two state solution, are unwilling to accept an end to the occupation in their own life times and why their armed forces so often act with brutal lack of proportionality.

Most of these revolve around perceived security interests and reflect both a paranoia born of a traumatic history, a high degree of consensual ideological manipulation and the violent rhetoric and actions of many of their enemies. Religion barely factors at all in any of this.

Israelis, as has often been remarked, live in a bubble. They know that the majority of humanity disapproves of their way of doing things but they are convinced that the majority of humanity does not understand their situation and/or is irrevocably prejudiced against them. For evidence of the latter proposition, they draw on a partial but far from fantastical reading of Jewish history.

More to come.....

Anonymous said...

Mr Trotter, i would hope that you are not one who encourages the anti-semitic view point that being Jewish implies in any way automatic identification or support for what is outlined in the historical document, as well as an automatic taboo designation, of the content in the Protocols..

As Rabbi Moshe Shonfeld's work "The Holocaust Victims Accuse" outlines amongst many, many, many others, this only serves to promulgate false & destructive racial conflict when such generalizations are able to become legitimized uncontested in society.

Not so different to the Green/Maori nationalism situation, being also promoted by our friends in the National party govt. with it's off limits nature of scrutiny being unable to challenge the divisive generalizations & rhetoric being put forth as holy writ. or what such an agenda might really amount to.

Was the nature of the holocaust really because of dissidents not toeing the line of social truths required in the collectivism s of the time?

Victor said...

As to your original argument, Chris, I certainly have no problem with strenuous criticism of Israel from a standpoint of Judaism. I frequently engage in it myself.

But, in the first part of your post, you also seem to suggest that Judaism is just an inferior precursor of Christianity.....rule-bound, intolerant and just waiting for the Carpenter of Nazareth to kiss it into sweetness and light.

None of this would, of course, matter, had this not been one of the tropes used to justify two millennia of Christian persecution of Jews.

Be that as it may, I really don't see how you can hold Judaism up as a critical mirror to Israel whilst also apparently holding such a dismal view of the religion. It seems as if you're insisting on having your cake and eating it.

Or are you? The latter parts of your post approvingly mention the prophetic tradition and the transformation of Judaism into a less territorially-obsessed religion. So, I'm not really sure what you're saying.

A bit more clarity and bit less inflated rhetoric might help.

SPC said...

Anonymous, the origin of the state of Israel lies in both Jewish culture and world culture. From the former comes "next year in Jerusalem", and the latter the self-determination of national peoples.

Zionism was probably the most extreme form of the manifestation of self-determination in the world, and only possible because the identity of this people was maintained through their national cult religious heritage - and an associated sense of marginalisation within the Christian and Islamic "world".

There is some irony that it was their religion that allowed continuance as a people until the emergence of a secular age that enabled their political restoration. But that secular age also enabled an emergence out of empire for national self-determination (for all peoples). In many ways next year in Jerusalem, was national cult restoration - out of empire (and persecution of those of the faith). That has a religious and political meaning to Jews. Both intertwined in the term Zion.

SPC said...

My second paragraph (2.14pm) should have said "Zionism is". Though in the historical sense the myth of conquest of Canaan, by bequest of God, ensured "Zionism was" also historically the most extreme form of self-determination in the world.

If one is to cite the "prophets" in this matter, after initially referring to making provision for the sojourner amongst them - Ezekiel writing on the issue of a future Zion (after the times of the day of imperial siege on their sovereignty came to an end) stated that anyone living on the territory of one of the tribes was to be seen as one of that tribe.

Anonymous said...

Always the same with the friends of evil.
Attack the just the fair and the free and say nothing at all against the monster that will stop at nothing to destroy them and their way of life.
Hamas have murdered political opponents, machine gunned wedding parties that dared to sing a song or two, indoctrinated little kids to hate and lust to kill, murder horribly anyone they believe was just friendly to an israeli(a fellow human being)and if I were to try to mention all their crimes against humanity I would run out of space here long before I even finished listing the horrors they inflict on their own people.
Hamas are now the number one oppressor and creator of misery for the Palestinians.
Fuck you ,you despicable friend and enabler of evil.

Chris Trotter said...

Yeah, Anonymous, Hamas aren't the fount of all that is good and noble - but, so what?

Is it Israel's mission to make itself as evil as Hamas? If so, it's claim to the West's support, now strained to breaking point, is void.

Victor said...

Oh come on, Chris!

Israel's brutish trajectory still ensures that it falls a long way short of the US, UK or Australia in terms of recent bloodshed.

These three great Anglophone democracies conspired to invade Iraq, for no good reason, with a more or less predictable body count of more than half a million, by the time the worst of the violence had started to abate.

Yes, the Israeli's egged them on but their own(wholly reprehensible) recent wars have produced a combined body count of less than 5,000. And, unlike the Anglophone powers, they face real threats (which, I would agree, they tend to exaggerate somewhat).

So it's hard to see the 'West' as representing some sort of high ethical standard that Israel has fallen woefully short of.

And that's before we start delving into the past, with Vietnam, French involvement in the Ruanda genocide, neo-colonialism, colonialism etc.

In a sense, Theodor Herzl has been vindicated. The founder of modern Zionism wanted the Jews to have their own country so that they could be just like everyone else.

And guess what? Much of Israel is now as stupid, violent and brutal as everyone else. However, they retain the annoying self-righteousness of former victims.

I would, however, agree that claiming you are better than Hamas is no sign of great virtue.