Next time people react only out of reason, will be the first


In the XIX Century, a groups of Jewish intellectuals developed an ideology called “Zionism”, which they defined as the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish People. This definition implies:


a) Jews are a Nation

b) Jews are oppressed

c) Jews have the right to take action to correct the situation


But not all Jews agreed. On one hand, there were those among the Orthodox, most notably among Hassidim, who believed that taking action meant to violate God's plan for the Jewish people since Jews couldn't establish political sovereignty over the land of Israel without the Messiah. Another groups, those following the ideological line of German Classical Reform, did not believe that Jews were a people. Judaism was seen as a religious affiliation best kept to private life; as a consequence, the whole concept of a National Liberation Movement was preposterous. Even those who agreed with the basic premises of Zionism, looked at the goals of the movement differently.


For some Zionists, the movement was exclusively about political sovereignty and self-reliance. The Zionist enterprise didn't need any justification other than the liberation of the Jewish people. For others, however, Zionism could only be justified through the goal of establishing a State based on the ethical and moral principles of Judaism; and for yet others, that State needed to be based on the ideals an ethics of their own Socialist ideas. This ideological struggle to define Zionism is ongoing, and the basic ideas of the different groups have not changed – yet they control how the different groups react to specific actions by the Israeli government.


The interesting things about Ideologies is that at their foundation they are all based on some kind of axiomatic or dogmatic belief which does not need to be explained nor justified. If any other group questions those basic beliefs, the group holding the beliefs under attack will feel attacked and will respond in kind. Not out of a logical chain of reasoned decisions, but – as my grandfather used to say – from “the kishkes” (a “gut reaction”). If pressed to put their reactions in terms of intellectual reasoning, most people will fail the test.


Let's follow one case. If God exist, and we accept as axiomatic that God has a special relationship with the Jewish people, it follows that the Jewish people is defined by Torah and the ethical system it teaches. If the people distance themselves from those ethical standards, they are no longer entitled to the special relationship or to the Covenant which includes the land. Ironically, on the other extreme of the political spectrum, Socialist Zionists believe that political sovereignty is justified exclusively in terms of Social Justice and Human Rights. When a leader fails the test of these two principles, he or she is no longer acceptable – in a way a pretty close match with the first case, differentiated only by the origin of the moral standards.


As Human beings we are also defensive. As we learn through life, we define our own “ideology”, our own way of looking at the world. And that ideology is also based on dogmatic and/or axiomatic beliefs we take for granted. But what happens if somebody questions not our ideas, but our beliefs? They put at risk the whole edifice we built around those beliefs – the very foundation of how we look at the world. And that can be frightening. More often than not, our reaction will be to lash back and invalidate our opponents using the same currency.


So at very basis of our political activity, which is based on our ideological beliefs, we encounter an uncomfortable fact: we are governed by our fears as much as by our ideas; we are creatures struggling to separate ourselves of our animal instincts, and failing.


Muslims, for most of their history as a culture, based their interaction with the non Muslim elements living among them on the premise of the supremacy of the Muslim ideals and the perfection of the Quranic revelation. And for almost a thousand years they could show that their science and their technology was indeed superior to the West. But when they were confronted with the superiority of the European technology starting in the XVI and XVII centuries, the foundations of their beliefs of superiority came apart. And when the West expelled Islam from Europe they couldn't understand it. And when Israel was established in what they believed was the heartland of their civilization, it became the proverbial straw due to a series of historical circumstances. Israel became a symbol of how the West became superior to Islam and its very existence puts into question the axiomatic truths which lie at the foundations of Muslim ideology. In addition to Israel, that honor is shared by the Western idea of Modernity as a separation between religion and politics. What is their reaction? Denying the existence of the Jewish people, denying the connection of the modern Jews with our biblical ancestors, and defining Modernity as an evil and perverted way to look at the world.


On the Jewish side, being denied recognition as a people or a connection with our history triggers in many cases our own fears and paranoia (a paranoia, by the way, not always unjustified).


Human beings react both, out of our intellectual as well as emotional intelligence; out of our knowledge and our beliefs. One without the other is without form or direction.


A Talmudic saying claims that a strong person is he or she capable of controlling the passions. It says “controlling”, not “suppressing”, not “eliminating”. Me we all learn to control our passions so we can grow from strength to strength.


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