If you are a person who claims to be concerned about foreign policy and the affairs of governments in general, you can’t get very far into this kind of awareness without encountering a stance on Israel. I recall during my participation in the huge Manhattan protest against the Iraq War in 2003 that people were handing out leaflets in the crowd with facts on Israel, and here we are again. Those opposed have memes now and online petitions and YouTube videos, but it remains an incredibly dicey subject with plenty of sensitivities abound. What really lies at the core of it all is a deep lack of information. The mainstream media does not report on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict with any kind of depth or accuracy, and for our allies in Israel, we spin the same kind of defensive cocoon that we wrap ourselves in when dealing with so-called terrorism.
The information vacuum that exits is ripe for the veiled racist conjecture that we apply to our own situations. The Israelis are perceived as white and the Palestinians as Arab and the good guy/bad guy lines are drawn. Lost are the subtleties of the conditions that spawned the violence which the Western nations are reacting to. Many critics will call Israel an illegal occupation, and it is, but what I find to be even more interesting is the justification behind it. Buried somewhere beneath all of this conflict and retaliation and cultural history of atrocity is the prime idea that God said that Jews should live in this specific location. This is often criticized when dealing with American support of Israel, as in, fundamentalist Christians believe that the Jews must return to the Holy Land in order for the Second Coming of Christ, but rarely do I ever hear how absurd it is to legitimize a nation and displace human beings based on the notion of religion.
You would think that in this day and age of heightened atheist sentiment on the internet, it would be more common. Scientific materialist champions like Richard Dawkins have a fervent following and go to great lengths to demonize the stupidity of anti-science Christianity or the violence of Islamic extremism, but rarely do the same folk highlight the strife and turmoil caused by Zionism. In fact, I was most shocked by this very omission in 2004’s The End Of Faith by Sam Harris. Harris made his name with this book and seated himself at the right hand of Dawkins after its popularity put it on the best seller lists. When I read it back then, I was frustrated and disgusted for many reasons.
The main premise of the book goes something like this: Religion has done more harm than good and any good it has done can be arrived at without it. It’s the kind of philosophy that I would consider common amongst friends in a hazy blacklit teenage bedroom, but sure, I don’t disagree. Where I got disgusted was with how his reasoning played out from there. I won’t even go in to all the madness of his calls for benevolent dictatorships and accusations of moral relativism, but in the end, I went to the index of the book and found no mention of the word Zionism. I read the book cover to cover and not once did Harris criticize the idea of causing bloodshed because of a god-made claim on land. He did have an extended (the longest in the book) chapter on how only a religion as backwards and demonic as Islam could produce a suicide bomber, but no mention of Israel.
This baffled me so much that I decided to do some research. I uncovered that Harris’ father was a Quaker and his mother was Jewish. Now, I know I am dancing on a very precarious edge here, but Bill Maher is the same case. He went through the trouble of an entire documentary on how stupid religion is, but remains a supporter of Israel. He has Jewish heritage as well. My point here is a point I have made before in this column: Our ties to identity remain amongst the most dangerous illusions that human beings are struggling to overcome. I would love to ask Harris or Maher what separates this in their minds. Religion is as much of an identity as ethnicity, and we, human beings, are in the midst of an identity crisis. You see, it is identity that causes separation. It causes us to be violent to another and see his or her suffering as necessary or at best, unfortunate, but never unacceptable.
Please do not mistake me. I am, at the core of my being, non-violent, and I abhor violence in all instances. But, this is the irony of the Israeli justification for Israeli actions. They whisper, “Never again,” behind each offensive, even though the atrocities committed therein are identical to the atrocities they once suffered. Nazis were fueled exactly by identity. It was the core of their beliefs. It is the real enemy, and until we transcend it, we are all doomed to suffer.