Nel's New Day

April 22, 2019

Judaism v. Zionism

One of the most sensitive topics in politics these days—other than Dictator Donald Trump (DDT)—is Zionism. Despite his anti-Semitic ideology during his campaign, DDT now loves Israel, probably because the newly elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is perhaps farther right that DDT is. Republicans grab at any issue that they can use to criticize Democrats. Evangelicals want Israelis to control large swaths of land so that Jesus will have a big place to land during the rapture to save fundamentalist Christians. Some Democrats support Israel’s taking over Palestinian land in violation of international law.

Carolyn Karcher, author of Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism: Stories of Personal Transformation, tries to unravel the difference between a religion and a political interest group. She points out that “ethical precepts lie at the heart of Judaism: pursue justice, love the stranger, love your neighbor and repair the world.” Zionist policy violates all these teachings. The new Basic Law, passed by Israel, calls for the nation-state of only Jewish people in the country and gives the indigenous Palestinians no rights.

Zionism’s main founder Theodor Herzl, an Austrian Jew, created a version of a settler colonial movement in the 19th century not as a religious group, but a separatist political society that excluded all non-Jews. Zionism has developed into a nationalist organization with the same approach as white nationalism, comparable to persecuted Puritans seeking a place where they could rule. Having left England for America in the 17th century, they dispossessed and killed the indigenous peoples with no ethical concerns. In both cases, one group of people elevated themselves over another and then tried to eradicate considered a sub-group.

Younger Jews are protesting this Israeli position of domination. Members of one group, “If Not Now,” were thrown out of Israel because of their difficult questions about birthrights in the Israeli-Palestinian region. Others in Jewish Voice for Peace started the “Return the Birthright” campaign with the claim that Palestinians as indigenous people have a birthright to the land.

Karcher states that questioning birthright and Israel can lead to “revitalizing Judaism and redefining Jewish identity that does not depend on identifying with a Jewish state, and that does not depend on claiming a right to a land that you were not born in and have no real connection to.” Like the philosophy of democracy, she espouses all people having the same rights and the same access to economic and political rights.

From another writer and Jewish voice, Michelle Goldberg, comes this column, “Zionists Deserve Free Speech”:

The Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, was supposed to be on a speaking tour of the United States this week, with stops at N.Y.U.’s Washington campus and at Harvard. He was going to attend his daughter’s wedding in Texas. I had plans to interview him for “The Argument,” the debate podcast that I co-host, about B.D.S., the controversial campaign to make Israel pay an economic and cultural price for its treatment of the Palestinians.

Yet when Barghouti, a permanent resident of Israel, showed up for his flight from Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport last week, he was informed that the United States was denying him entry. When I spoke to him on Sunday, he still didn’t know exactly why the country where he went to college and lived for many years wasn’t letting him in, but he assumed it was because of his political views. If that’s the case, Barghouti said, it was the first time someone has been barred from America for B.D.S. advocacy. He has proceeded with his public events, but he’s been appearing at them via Skype.

In recent years, the American right has presented itself as a champion of free expression. Conservatives are constantly bemoaning a censorious campus climate that stigmatizes their ideas; last month, Donald Trump signed an executive order on campus free speech, decrying those who would keep Americans from “challenging rigid far-left ideology.” The president said, “People who are confident in their beliefs do not censor others.”

If that last line is true — and, uncharacteristically for Trump, I think it is — it says something about the insecurity of Israel’s defenders. There have indeed been illiberal attempts to silence conservative voices on college campuses, but they pale beside the assault on pro-Palestinian speech, particularly speech calling for an economic boycott of Israel. Around two dozen states have laws and regulations denouncing, and in many cases penalizing, B.D.S. activities, and the Senate recently passed a bill supporting such measures. According to the American Association of University Professors, some public universities in states with such laws require speakers and other contractors to “sign a statement pledging that they do not now, nor will they in the future, endorse B.D.S.” It’s hard to think of comparable speech restrictions on any other subject.

What are pro-Israel forces afraid of? The B.D.S. movement doesn’t engage in or promote violence. Its leaders make an effort to separate anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism; the Palestinian B.D.S. National Committee recently demanded that a Moroccan group stop using the term “B.D.S.” in its name because it featured anti-Semitic cartoons on its Facebook page.

Barghouti couches his opposition to Zionism in the language of humanist universalism. The official position of the B.D.S. movement, he says, is that “any supremacist, exclusionary state in historic Palestine — be it a ‘Jewish state,’ an ‘Islamic state,’ or a ‘Christian state’ — would by definition conflict with international law and basic human rights principles.”

The movement is agnostic on a final dispensation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But it calls for the right of Palestinian refugees — both those displaced by the creation of Israel and their descendants — to return to their familial homes, which would likely end Israel’s Jewish majority. Barghouti told me he personally believes in the creation of a single state in which Israeli Jews, as individuals, would have civil rights, but Jews as a people would not have national rights.

I’d planned to argue with him about this view, which is largely dismissive of Jewish claims on Israel, and would likely lead to oppression or worse for Israeli Jews. My guess is that many if not most Jews find such a position offensive, even frightening.

But for years now, the right has been lecturing us all about the need to listen to and debate ideas we might consider dangerous. Barghouti wants this sort of dialogue. “We’ve been dying to debate anyone on the other side,” he told me. “We would debate anyone except Israeli government officials and professional lobbyists.” A government that tries to prevent Americans from engaging with his views cannot claim a commitment to free speech.

You could argue, I suppose, that Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state should not be up for discussion. If you do, realize it’s the exact same sort of argument that certain campus leftists make when they refuse to debate people they see as racist, sexist or otherwise bigoted. Sometimes this refusal is justified, because certain ideas shouldn’t be dignified with discussion. But sometimes it just makes the people unwilling to test their ideas in public look scared.

Ultimately, Barghouti threatens Israel’s American defenders not because he’s hateful, but because he isn’t. Israel has aligned itself with the global far right. Recently re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to unilaterally annex the West Bank, which would create a single state where Jews rule over Arabs. That prospect makes it ever more difficult for Israel’s American defenders to make coherent arguments against the sort of one-state solution that Barghouti espouses. “Israel is winning the far right around the world,” Barghouti said at an N.Y.U. event last week, where the journalist Peter Beinart interviewed him remotely. But, he added, “it is losing its moral stature around the world.” American authorities may be able to quash this message on some college campuses, but it won’t stop being true.

The United States has freely sanctioned countries that violate human rights to pressure them for change. Boycott has long been an individual practice from people on both the right and left to express displeasure about positions. Yet Ilhan Omar, a U.S. representative, black woman, Muslim, and Somali refugee, has been pilloried, not only by Republicans but by her own party of Democrats, because she was brave enough to speak out against the Israeli control over the U.S. federal government.

Pressure from Israeli is causing even Democrats to punish corporations that use their constitutional right to use a boycott as a form of free speech. A bipartisan House bill opposes the boycott, divestment and sanctions, or “BDS,” movement and gives states the legal right to punish companies choosing not to do business with Israel or Israeli-owned enterprises. In the 26 states already passing anti-BDS laws, courts in two of them, Kansas and Arizona, have declared the legislation unconstitutional. To take free speech from companies, Congress would have to remove their classification as “persons” or take away the right of real people to free speech. Meanwhile Republicans have another wedge device by equating Palestinian support and human rights with anti-Semitism.

April 28, 2013

Fundamentalist Religion Creates RTS

Raised in the Assemblies of God denomination, Dr. Marlene Winell is a human development consultant in the San Francisco Area and the daughter of Pentecostal missionaries. For 20 years she has counseled men and women in recovery from various forms of fundamentalist religion, people whose psychological symptoms whose psychological symptoms were either exacerbated by religion or caused by it. Two years ago, she began to wrote and speak about “Religious Trauma Syndrome” (RTS), raising the question of whether toxic religion is merely misinterpretation.

Winell explains RTS as

“a set of symptoms and characteristics that tend to go together and which are related to harmful experiences with religion. They are the result of two things: immersion in a controlling religion and the secondary impact of leaving a religious group… Emotional and mental treatment in authoritarian religious groups also can be damaging because of 1) toxic teachings like eternal damnation or original sin 2) religious practices or mindset, such as punishment, black and white thinking, or sexual guilt, and 3) neglect that prevents a person from having the information or opportunities to develop normally.”

One example of RTS comes from children’s fear and anxiety caused by images of hell while they are too young to process these ideas. Many people have suffered trauma from seeing the film A Thief in the Night that shows the horrors of “end times” for nonbelievers.

Depression, cognitive difficulties, and problems with social functioning are other problems from RTS. Because fundamentalist Christians believe that people are depraved and in need of salvation, teachings result in a loss of self-worth. Winell explained, “A core message is ‘You are bad and wrong and deserve to die.’” Some people deliberately injure themselves, engaging in cutting and burning their arms, because they believe they must be punished.

Devout Christians and Catholics try to persuade people that they are weak and dependent, that they must lean on God but “trust and obey.” The result is an inability to make decision.

People who are forced into conformity as children, as fundamentalists force them into, are left with no support system without the religion. They are left without a real choice, either stay in the terror of the religious beliefs or the terror without it. Fundamentalist religious teach fear about the world so that its members will not have the skills to leave. Losing this support results in anger, depression, and grief.

Asked about the difference between RTS and PTSD, Winell explained that RTS is about a specific harmful experience. Another difference is the difference in social context. For example, survivors of domestic abuse can easily be understood and supported. No one sends them back for more abuse in the way that someone might want people to return to their religion in the form of pastoral counseling, AA, or another church.

Labeling RTS is important because it gives the experience validity. It also encourages professionals to take it seriously, offering treatment and training.

Winell doesn’t lump all religions together. She explains:

“Religion causes trauma when it is highly controlling and prevents people from thinking for themselves and trusting their own feelings. Groups that demand obedience and conformity produce fear, not love and growth. With constant judgment of self and others, people become alienated from themselves, each other, and the world. Religion in its worst forms causes separation.

“Conversely, groups that connect people and promote self-knowledge and personal growth can be said to be healthy. Such groups put high value on respecting differences, and members feel empowered as individuals. They provide social support, a place for events and rites of passage, exchange of ideas, inspiration, opportunities for service, and connection to social causes. They encourage spiritual practices that promote health like meditation or principles for living like the golden rule.

“More and more, nontheists are asking how they can create similar spiritual communities without the supernaturalism. An atheist congregation in London launched this year and has received over 200 inquiries from people wanting to replicate their model.”

Polls show that more and more people are leaving religion; within just the last five years the “religiously unaffiliated” in the U.S. have grown from just over 15 percent to just under 20 percent. More and more people are discussing RTS with almost 8 million hits on the Internet.

One major problem with fundamentalism in the United States is that it mirrors the Islam religion that they hate. Rebellion against a government, religious control, denial of science, absence of democratic process, religious law, subjugation of women, threats of violent force—all these are indicative not only of the Islam law but also the Christian fundamentalist approach. Megachurches and fundamentalist sects encourage violence, promoting gun ownership to overthrow the U.S. government.

The people who are frightened of what they call sharia law, based on the Koran, fail to realize that they are trying to impose the fundamentalist Christian law onto all the people in the United States. Evangelical fundamentalist Christians are the real terrorists who will destroy the United States if they gain power.

One prime example is the $130-million church in Dallas (TX), the First Baptist Church, with 11,000 members many of them oil company presidents, corporate lawyers, real estate barons, and a collection of very rich, very widowed dowagers. Before last fall’s election, Rev. Robert Jeffress told his congregation that if Obama’s winning the election would lead to the rise of the Anti-Christ. He had serious problems with Mitt Romney, however, because, according to Jeffress, Mormonism is not Christianity but a cult.

Judaism?  “Judaism, you can’t be saved being a Jew, you know who said that by the way, the three greatest Jews in the New Testament, Peter, Paul, and Jesus Christ, they all said Judaism won’t do it,” said Jeffress. Islam (like Mormonism) is “from the pit of hell,” a religion that promotes pedophilia, according to Jeffress.

In  Dallas money is holy, a form of blessing from God, instead of a temptation to evil for the soul. To be poor is a moral failing, and to be needy is to be diseased. Desegregation is also unchristian, according to Jeffress’ predecessor, W. A. Criswell, who was at the First Baptist Church in Dallas for over 50 years. True ministers, he argued, must passionately resist government-mandated desegregation because it is “a denial of all that we believe in.”

His belief remains in other churches throughout the South. The Appleby Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Texas, is one of the country’s fundamentalist churches openly promoting the idea that the Biblical Noah pronounced a curse on descendants of his son, Ham, whose descendants were black and fated to be an underclass of slaves. Their belief is that Satan is who “wants to eliminate color by interracial marriages.”

The teaching of such bigotry and ignorance doesn’t stay in the churches; thousands and thousands of children in the United States are homeschooled or in private schools—sometimes paid for by taxpayers—that teach the fundamentalist Biblical justification of racism and slavery.”

Freedom of religion in the United States has taught reasonable people that they must accept all religions, including those that would take over the country and remove our freedoms. All non-fundamentalists need to gather together—the religious and the non-religious—to keep the United States free for new ideas and progressive development.

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