Archive for January 2014

Shulamit Aloni “one of the last remaining Jews” in Israel dies

January 31, 2014



Shulamit Aloni, age 86,  died last week in Israel, the former leader of the Meretz Party and Minister of education  was a woman unknown even in the Jewish diaspora but she deserved to be lauded. ”Shula” as she was known, was a lifelong “activist” refusing to be silent on civil rights, human rights, the occupation, gay rights, the role of women.

Aloni and thousands  of others are the reason  I still think Israel has a chance to reverse its disastrous course of Occupation.

Aloni would have been booed out of most synagogues in Canada. She would hardly be invited to bring her prophetic message that to be a Jew is foremost to be a moral human being. Although a non-believer she believed in the ethical humanism the prophets preached and was deeply pained when the country she loved so obviously transgressed those demanding norms. The following is typical Aloni

I cannot live with the fact that our sharpshooters are killing people. I cannot live with the way we continually wail that we are the victim, and do not examine our own morality. It’s important to realize that appalling as suicide bombings are, aerial bombardment kills more. While we feel the pain of our 900 dead, we tend to forget that we have murdered 3000 Palestinian civilians. We are the violent ones; we are the cheats. Our very foundations have been undermined by our adulation of force, and all this is called a democracy. There cannot be democracy when we rule over three million people who have no voice. We simply have to get out of there. We do not even try to understand that what the Palestinians want is sovereignty and human rights.”

This brave woman pulled no punches. Contrast her candour (below) with the hissy fit in 2006 that  the media darling from  the Munk Centre  of Global Affairs, Janice Stein threw on Steve Paikin’s Agenda  slamming Jimmy Carter’s honest appraisal of Israel:

Jewish self-righteousness is taken for granted among ourselves to such an extent that we fail to see what’s right in front of our eyes. It’s simply inconceivable that the ultimate victims, the Jews, can carry out evil deeds. Nevertheless, the state of Israel practices its own, quite violent, form of Apartheid with the native Palestinian population.

The US Jewish Establishment’s onslaught on former President Jimmy Carter is based on him daring to tell the truth which is known to all: through its army, the government of Israel practices a brutal form of Apartheid in the territory it occupies.

Jerry Haber, an Orthodox professor who teaches both in Israel and the USA  is one of my favourite chroniclers of Israeli life. This is what he had to say about Aloni:

Aloni lived long enough to see the creation of the amoral Jew as an ideal, the proud Jewish nationalist who saw morality as a luxury that a besieged people like the Jews could little afford. She cried out repeatedly against this trend. Like many of her generation, she saw the rise of religious fundamentalism and ultra-nationalism as a threat to what had been the redeeming features of a society that she felt had much to repent for. She did not go into politics to make money and taste the high life, as so many of the Israel’s recent leaders have done. Not a suggestion of corruption was ever associated with her.

Where is the Judaism of my youth? Not an hour, not a day, not a minute goes by without the cold-hearted trampling of human rights in Israel.  Land is stolen, refugees are round up and thrown into prison, and all in the name of what? Jewish survival?

Hello, are there any Jews left?

Well, yes there is the surviving remnant, and the list is not short. They are the human rights activists harassed on the West Bank, the citizenship teachers hauled up before committees after right wing students complain that they are being political, the defenders of Africa refugees rights, the educators of Jewish values. Real Jewish values.  The children of Aloni.

We are left orphaned by the passing of a hero of Israel. May the memory of this tzadeket/righteous person be for a blessing.



Pete Seeger: the tall and the small

January 30, 2014


I looked at Pete, the first black president of the United States was seated to his right, and I thought of the incredible journey that Pete had taken. ..At some point, he decided he’d be a walking, singing reminder of all of America’s history. He’d be a living archive of America’s music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along, to push American events towards more humane and justified ends. It was like, “Pete, you outlasted the bastards, man! 

Bruce Springsteen  on Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday in 2009

Disagreement with the magisterium may render an important service to the Church, helping it to respond to the signs of the times in light of the Catholic faith…This may be a duty of conscience.” 

Gregory Baum

Pete Seeger died yesterday, a man beloved by most. He lived a long and principled life with music as his nonviolent weapon. I met Seeger about a decade ago when the film about his manager Harold Leventhal (Isn’t This a Time) was  shown at the old Downtown Loews. The remaining Weavers sang a few songs and there was a party later at the Royal York. I happened to be walking in with my friend Canadian jazz singer Don Francks when I literally bumped into the American legend. In retrospect I was shocked at how tall he was and  recalling that impression today about his physical size, I ruminated that he really did stand tall in his long commitment to justice and the common good. Pete  also paid a price he paid for his truth telling (The Weavers were blackballed in 50s  as part of the McCarthy scare). This set me thinking about all the “small” men in the last 35 years of Catholic reaction.

Here I am thinking of clergy and right wing bloviators who fit  the description  in W H Auden’s Unknown Citizen:

Our researchers into Public Opinion are content

That he held the proper opinions for the time of the year;

When there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he went.

No need to name them here but they were the ones who ascended in last 2 pontificates, who tailored their views to the forces of reaction. They were in vogue, on the telly and in the paper genuflecting to local bishops whose careers were rewarded for following the leader in Rome.

The last three decades were not a great time for the Catholic Church. The earth-shaking  Council created an equal reaction. It was simply Newton’s second law, pure physics. The reaction was led  by the Polish pope whose national church had been frozen in time next to the communist monolith. For historical reasons  Poland had not had its  Vatican ll spring.

As a great British theologian aptly said, “some people just show up at the wrong time.” John Paul ll was that man. A genuine justice man on the world stage, he was anything but inside the walls of the church. He literally imposed his ossified theology on the whole church and the Catholic Church lost a brilliant chance to modernize itself. Millions left in disgust as critical thinking was shut down. Power was totally centralized and the Church appeared more like a Politburo than a “discipleship of equals” and the People of God.

Pope Paul Vl, much maligned, was  a sophisticated Vatican insider who understood the necessity of ongoing renovation and he allowed our best theologians to exert peer review on the thousand flowers which were blooming. He silenced no theologians. He recognized them as loyal teachers in service to the universal church. Contrast that with the shocking intellectual abuse of Woytyla and his henchman Ratzinger. They both tried to shoe horn critical thought into one narrow channel. As Chicago theologian David Tracy said at the time, “It won’t work.” And it didn’t. Many careers however were ended and good men and women were sacrificed on the the narrow grounds of ideology. Uninspiring men, absolutely loyal to Rome,rock solid against birth control and  female ordination were placed in charge of major sees. It was if the clock stood still. All in all  It was a shameful period.

But like Pete Seeger, many stood tall, great principled resisters to the “ice age”(Rahner) we had to endure, There were many national theological conferences who refused to buckle under. Thse were professional theologians who loved the church but were cast into nether darkness by both Woytyla and Ratzinger. There were hundreds of such teachers who were denied positions in Catholic institutions. We know the names of the more famous ones but many felt the chill of non-promotion and marginalization. Theology in Catholic institutions particularly in the moral realm ground to a halt

”If the Pope does what does not belong to his office, he cannot demand obedience in the name of Catholicism,” some 163 theologians from West Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland stated in January of 1989.

Now known as the Cologne Declaration it said. ”In such a case, he must expect opposition.” Their objections were tripartite:

• John Paul’s appointment of bishops “without respecting the suggestions of the local churches and neglecting their established rights,” which runs counter to the Catholic tradition that the selection of bishops “is not some private choice of the pope’s”;

• The Vatican’s refusal to grant official license to theologians with whom it disagrees, part of its general campaign to silence dissent, representing “a dangerous intrusion into the freedom of research and teaching”;

• The pope’s “overstepping and enforcing in an inadmissible way” his proper doctrinal competence, insisting that every pronouncement of the magisterium be treated as ipso facto infallible. The declaration called special attention to the ban on birth control.

Complaining that the collegiality called for by Vatican II was “being smothered by a new Roman centralism,” the declaration predicted: “If the pope undertakes things that are not part of his role, then he cannot demand obedience in the name of Catholicism. He must expect dissent.”

From June 6-9 of 1990, the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) with Canadian Basilian Walter Principe as its president, affirmed “the right of theologians to freedom of research, their right to raise questions, their right to re-examine the meaning of dogmas, and even more to explore the import of past authoritative statements by the magisterium, and finally the right within a faithful unprejudiced presentation of the official teaching to disagree publicly with that teaching under certain circumstances.”

The statement “Do not Extinguish the Spirit” was critical of the growing chill within the Church and the increasing denigration of theologians who were now seen as “dissenters,” rather than loyalists who had a different opinion. Principe addressed the Vatican criticism about “harm being done to the faithful by theologians.” He countered with the harm being done by “the Vatican issuing of documents without prior discussion and consultation with bishops and theologians, their inhibiting legitimate discussion by premature decisions on complicated questions, their condemnation or silencing of theologians and their presentation of reformable teaching almost as if they were matters of faith.” Do not extinguish the Spirit was concerned about “excessive Roman centralization” that diminishes the role of local bishops and which impugned the authority of bishops’ conferences.

This brave statement well summarizes the general disenchantment with this papacy.

While the theologians raised objections, the best educated generation of Catholics were becoming restless at the attempted ecclesial coup and the overturning of Vatican ll.


And then 2002 happened, The explosion of the sex abuse scandal and church coverups, generally by the servile bishops promoted by JP ll and Ratzinger. 55 Boston priests told the imperious  Cardinal Law it was time to go. The Boston Globe won a Pulitzer prize for uncovering the rot  which a bloated church had allowed to fester for decades.

The laity was energized. The sensus fidelium was rediscovered, the fact that each baptized person has a sensus fidei,  the indwelling of the  Spirit which was not a preserve of  a celibate priesthood but was present in the whole Body. It was basic Vatican ll stuff we had forgotten:  “the whole body of the faithful have received an anointing” (Lumen Gentium #12,)

The Church i.e. the institution  cannot speak without listening to the sensus fidelium. Even the autocratic pope began to understand this shortly before his death. He was worn down by the fierce resistance to his dictatorial style and finally in 2004 said,  “Certainly this will involve a conscious effort on the part of each bishop to develop, within his particular Church, structures of communion and participation which make it possible, without prejudice to his personal responsibility for decisions he is called to make by virtue of his apostolic authority, to listen to the Spirit who lives and speaks in the faithful.”

This of course has yet to happen. Power historically concedes nothing and we have yet to be consulted on major issues.

And now a new pope has arrived, a Vatican ll man. The small men are in retreat. Meanwhile in the life of Pete Seeger we once again realize that “the Spirit blows where it wills” (John 3:8) and the Roman Church best realize that  a gale force may be coming.

The secular Jewish prophetic

January 26, 2014


Rabbi Dow Marmur, emeritus at Beth Shalom synagogue writes a regular column in The Toronto Star. The rebbe has had a long run with this gig and has run out of steam. His writing appeared to be a sop to the large Toronto Jewish community. There is no equivalent Palestinian voice though recently other columnists like Haroon Siddiqui, Tony Burman and Rick Salutin have penned excellent articles on Israel. At least the Star has attempted to allow some diverse thinking on the subject.

The Globe allows the recently named ambassador Bercovici  to flog her pure Zionist opinions and the National Post  gives right wing priest Raymond De Sousa free rein to pontificate on church and state. Fr De Sousa has strong links with the Tory Party and sits on the Centre for Jewish and israel Affairs  He recently was on Harper’s Magical Mystery Tour to Israel, the one that included 21 rabbis. He echoes PM Harper’s view of the Middle East,

Back to Rabbi Marmur who seems to skate around the Palestinian elephant in the room. Her lives in israel half time and has family there so like the 21 rabbis he is not counted among the prophetic wing of contemporary Judaism His column never ventures that far. He would be one brave rabbi to do so but there are such people among us. They have their model in the life and teaching of Toronto rabbi Reuben Slonim (d.2000) who simply could not abide the abuse of human rights he witnessed in his 2 trips to the Holy Land. All this is detailed in his stunning biography  To Kill a Rabbi (1987).


Prophets whatever their location or their  their faith community are exceedingly rare. I do have some sympathy for these brave believers.they have families and must dance to the tune of local board members.

I once gave a talk in a historic shul on the topic,”Can secular Jews carry the Torah”. It was well received—until I mentioned that “Arab lover” Reuben  Slonim. Then the emeritus reb went ballistic and accused me of being “just like Slonim-an idealist”!

Anyway before I evidence the secular Jewish prophetic, let me briefly expound on Harper’s Magical Mystery Tour of israel—widely panned by most observers. It was reported last week that the Tories have received over 1,000 letters disagreeing with their biased stance on israel. There is no doubt that he is out of synch with mosrt Canadians, and he is out of synch with Canadian musicians every time he sings a Beatle song. He is a sole man not a soul man.


When I saw him croon Hey Jude to Israeli PM  I cringed with embarrassment. He could have no inkling that JUDE is what the Nazis called Jews. But then this man is tone deaf to Palestinian suffering so we do not expect much from his crooning and his distance from Judaica.

Two letters from Jewish critics today. the prophetic is alive—but it’s obviously  passing the synagogue

Re: Harper shows you don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist, column, Opinion Jan. 20

Harper shows you don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist, column, Opinion Jan. 20

What universe is Dow Marmur living in? He applauds Ambassador Vivian Bercovici for describing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “a respected leader who has enhanced national security, immeasurably,” and Stephen Harper for his “deep commitment to Israel that is not tainted by expediency or political opportunism.”

Far from being “respected,” Netanyahu is roundly criticized by almost all national leaders (except our own of course) for his Fortress Israel mentality, his expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and his refusal to engage in any meaningful peace process — all of which have substantially decreased national security. And if Harper really is committed to Israel (i.e., to its right-wing government) because he’s a Christian Zionist, I fear for us all.

As Marmur states, Christian Zionism holds that “Jesus’ Second Coming is contingent upon the Jews returning to their homeland.” When all the Jews are “returned,” then the Rapture can begin. Well, thank you very much. Israel is not my homeland and I don’t want to be “returned” anywhere, let alone be taken up in the Rapture.

Zionism, whether Jewish or Christian, and whatever its historical legitimacy, has become a justification for the occupation of Palestinian land and the domination of one people by another. I would remind Rabbi Marmur of the words of Deuteronomy: “Justice, justice, must you pursue in order to inherit the land that the Lord has given you.” Can Israel seriously claim to have earned this right?

Stephen K. Levine, Professor Emeritus, York University

Rabbi Marmur twice questions “being naive.” Indeed his willful naivité is amazing.

He partially cites the 1917 Balfour Declaration, ignoring its call for a Jewish “national home” in Palestine not a Jewish state, omitting its warning “that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” and obfuscating its predating the League of Nations formally awarding the Palestine Mandate to Britain by several years.

However, his deliberate omission of the post-Second Coming Christian Zionist agenda requiring Jews to convert to Christianity or die goes way beyond mere naivité. Beware Harper!

Bernard Katz, Toronto

21 Rabbis

January 25, 2014

RHR_logo_for-Site21 rabbis accompanied Canadian PM Harper on his recent trip to Israel. this fact opens many lines of enquiry and reflection.


One wonders just exactly what these rabbis stand for, given the horrendous denial of human rights to the indigenous Palestinian community. Of the latter fact there can be no doubt. The wonderful irony of course is that it is often Israeli groups which document the tragic facts of both the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947-48, the theft of land taken in the Six Day War in 1967 and the ongoing illegal settlements. Most of the documentarians are secular “Jews of conscience” who publish the undeniable facts of this ongoing oppression and humiliation. In the age of the internet,all of this meticulous work is available to all. There is no excuse for an educated canadian rabbi no to know this—unless the state of Israel has replaced the Torah as the locus of the ultimate in Judaism.

These groups are well known in Israel, the foremost being B’Tselem The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories For over two decades this marvelous flowering of Jewish tradition has documented settler abuse and championed human rights in the West Bank and Gaza and as their website proclaims “ promoting a future where all Israelis and Palestinians will live in freedom and dignity.”

Before the Obama inauguration in January 2009, Israel unleashed a savage attack on Gaza entitled Operation Cast lead. B’tselem tallied up the result: 1398 Palestinians killed by the overwhelming forces of the IDF. Bear in mind the shocking asymmetry of the sides in this conflict.

The IDF has planes and an air force, missiles, tanks, gunboats, a professional army.They travel on “Jews only” roads. The Palestinians have none of these except the hopelessly  inaccurate Katyusha  rockets. They have neither army, air force, Apache helicopters provided by the USA, F-16s courtesy of same, tanks, defense of any kind, a pathetic leadership , an apartheid wall which has stolen 10% of their land and  divides families. It is a slow strangulating death.

So we have in this stunning slaughter in Gaza— 1398 Palestinians killed, 344 minors among them and only 22 who were taking part in the hostilities, 248 policemen killed inside their offices, 110 women among the dead, wholesale infrastructure demolished. And  on the other side 6 dead Israelis, soldiers in the security forces  who also carry the divine image.


And we remember the horrible pictures of Israelis watching the slaughter from distant hill tops. A family outing? A computer game?

Watching murder

The above is but a tiny picture of the colonial war on the territory of Palestine which has now lasted  65 years.  The suffering has been incalculable, the reporting absolutely abysmal and saddest of all, the silence of the synagogue, deeply regrettable.

Amidst this contemporary version of Dante’s hell, yet, we have rabbis who like the above have not been silent, who carry the Torah into this suffering. Rabbis for Human Rights ( ) are those men and women in Israel who are the “rabbinic voice of conscience in Israel, giving voice to the Jewish tradition of human rights”. The organization was founded in 1988, and includes 100 Israeli members from every branch of Judaism as well as some rabbinical students. It is supported by shuls in the diaspora.

Their vision statement says it all:

Our work expresses the view that as Jews, we are obligated to protest against every injustice enacted against any other person, a view based on the belief that man and women was created in God’s image. We believe that it is our obligation to inform the Israeli public about human rights violations, and that it is our role to pressure state institutions to fix these injustices.

One of those rabbis is American-born, Harvard educated Arilk Ascherman the recipient of the Gandhi Peace award in 2011. This reb shows up at as many house demolitions (there have been app.27,000)since 1967). Ascherman describes one of these heartbreaking incidents:


 The families were hysterical. The grandmother was wailing while the father of the family was clutching at his heart and others were begging us to do something. It was simply heartbreaking …We watched helplessly as the pneumatic drills tore into the final remaining home. To officer after officer I read off chapter and verse from various international conventions which Israel is a party to. Commanders ordered their people not to listen or take the paper….The charge sheet against me claims that I ran in front of the bulldozers, interfering with the work of security forces and endangering myself. I can say that I lost my kippah (the Jewish skull cap) in the ensuing moments….There isn’t much in the rubble of those houses, as the families succeeded in removing most of their belongings. It is not like some of the demolitions where we find children’s toys, clothes and schoolbooks among the rubble. However, there is a kippah and I feel that it means something. Perhaps it symbolizes the trampling and burial of the Jewish Values I grew up believing in. Perhaps it means the opposite. Perhaps it symbolizes the fact that their were Jews who stood against this injustice in the name of Torah.

And those 20 rabbis on the plane. What are they thinking?

New age market Catholicism

January 20, 2014


What happens to religion under capitalism and under uber-nationalism?

The answer is: It almost totally corrodes the religious impulse. It dries up the wells of compassion, central to the Abrahamic faiths. It breaks our solidarity with the weak.

Martin Buber was beginning to understand this as he aged. His Hebrew Humanism would lie in tatters as israel became a racist, settler state built on the occupation of another people. The Jews of the yishuv who had resided in Palestine side by side with Palestinians were appalled by the substitution of a  crude nationalism for the life of piety, Jewish ethics and mitzvahs (good deeds). As  one rabbi said, “The Torah is our land.”

Of course, this hollowing out of  true religion  is not germane only to Israel or to Judaism.

One only has to look at the awful blow dealt to evangelical Protestantism in the Bush years. War making in the name of the Prince of Peace.

The Serbian Orthodox bought the depredations of Milosevic. another failure and betrayal of Christ.

Catholics are as susceptible to this subversion as anybody else.

Many RCs have been suborned by “market Catholicism” where the  blandishments of the consumer society have subverted the call to the cross. This predictable hybrid bloomed in the post-war years with the explosion of affluence and the retreat to the suburbs. The God life was undermined by the good life or as Nietzsche would have it, “a life of pitiable comfort.”  Life was very good and the call to the cross was—well uncomfortable. Catholics who universally voted Democrat began to slide into the comfort zone of Reaganism. Their votes followed and they conveniently ignored  that the Gipper transferred more wealth to the rich than any president in history, made war all over Latin America and began the process of deregulating the banks which savaged the global economy in 2008. He was the perfect face for the new market Catholicism.

This is bad religion, all mysticism, therapeutic and non-prophetic. It is a sentimental betrayal of God’s call to the reign of God. Jesus was murdered at 33 but many new age Catholics, now economically privileged ran from this fact and retreated into an individualist  and consumerist religion  devoid of any social solidarity. John Paul ll though good on the social question , defended unions and the common good also promoted the ahistorical orders like Opus Dei and the Legions of Christ, neither of which in Pope Francis’ words had “the smell of the sheep on them.” They were run by twisted men and held up as models of the New evangelization. They were top down orders which placed the church not God’s reign of peace and justice at the heart of their calling. They courted the wealthy and were disengaged from the social question.

Market catholicism It is basically ahistorical,all consciousness and little conscience, all resurrection but no cross in sight. It is hyper individualistic. It disconnects the individual from the broader culture and allows him/her a zone of spiritual comfort. This abstracted faith leaves the realm of tears and suffering and settles on the self and personal fulfillment. The best example  is  Paul Ryan, the Ayn Rand loving Republican who  was on the last GOP ticket. Read his extraordinary confession:

It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged. People tell me I need to start with The Fountainhead then go to Atlas Shrugged. There’s a big debate about that. We go to Fountainhead, but then we move on, and we require Mises and Hayek as well.”

“But the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”

Mmm, Ayn Rand, the high priestess of individualism  but not Isaiah, Amos or Jesus?

New  age market Catholicism.


A new Catholic world

January 17, 2014


Everyone gets a tongue to speak

and everyone hears an inner voice

Paul Simon: “How can you live in the Northeast?”

A changed Catholic  world. A woman studying canon law.

And speaking publicly and critically  about Holy Mother Church. You gotta love it. Another educated Catholic assuming the fullness of her baptism—just as important as any priest including the pope. The sensus fidelium part of the Magisterium.

We are talking about Mary McAleese the first person from Northern Ireland to be President of the Irish Parliament whose  second term ended  in 2011. She then she moved to Rome to study canon law and is working on her doctorate.

She recently assailed Rome over its regressive  attitude toward homosexuality. She was hoping that resigned cardinal Keith O’Brien might break the taboo around the issue. O’Brien  was forced to resign as Scotland’s head prelate when he was outed by two younger priests

McAleese was hoping for some kind of public admission that he is gay as “a very large number” of Catholic priests are homosexuals. To her the denial must end.

“It isn’t so much the elephant in the room but a herd of elephants. I don’t like my church’s attitude to gay people. I don’t like ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’. If you are the so-called sinner, who likes to be called that? We also know that within the priesthood a very large number of priests are gay.”

The former pres wasn’t finished there either.

In the interview with the Glasgow based newpaper the Herald, she rejected Benedict XVl’s writing on the topic.

Things written by [Pope] Benedict, for example, were completely contradictory to modern science and to modern understanding, and to the understanding of most Catholics nowadays in relation to homosexuality.

Nowadays, it is not something that is perceived as something that is intrinsically disordered. Homosexual conduct is not seen as evil,”“I would have thought Cardinal Keith O’Brien, in telling the story of his life – if he was willing to do that – could have been of great assistance to gay people, not just in the church but elsewhere, who felt over many, many years constrained to pretend to be heterosexual while … acting a different life.”

Years ago the great Detroit bishop Tom Gumbleton said the same thing—if only the gay Catholic bishops came out of the closet we’d be better served.

Sharon’s War against the Palestinian people

January 15, 2014



Baruch Kimmerling was one of those brilliant Askenazik Jews, one of the “New Historians”  who flowered in Israel in the last 30 years. A Romanian Jew he arrived in Israel with his family in 1952. Born with cerebral palsy which confined him to a wheel chair for his last 30 years, he nevertheless scaled the heights of academia and was a  professor of sociology at Hebrew University and in his later years he had a joint posting at the U of T. He was among the first to challenge the official Zionist narrative of the founding of israel and the disposession of the Palestinians. Israel for Kimmerling “was built on the ruins of another society”.

I interviewed him in 2003 (he died in 2007) when his book Politicide: Ariel Sharon’s War  Against the Palestinian People (Verso) was published. This is my  review which incorporates some of our discussion.

Catholic New Times November 30, 2003 

Ariel Sharon’s war against the Palestinians

By Ted Schmidt

It was the witty remark of former Israeli ambassador to the UN, Abba Eban that the Palestinians never miss a chance to miss a chance (at making peace). The same unfortunately can now be said of the present prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon. The Second Intifada (also called the al-Aqsa Intifada) began, as many will recall, with Sharon’s provocative walk to the Temple Mount adjacent to the Arabic holy shrine in September, 2000. Since then, and during Sharon’s tenure as prime minister (since Feb. 6, 2001) 244 suicide attacks have been carried out, thousands of houses demolished, hundres of trees uprooted and 2,200 Palestinian deaths up to April 4, 2003. There have been 22,308 injured, with 691 Israeli deaths and 498 injured Often, as things were starting to quiet down and a hudna (ceasefire) was implemented by Palestinians in early August, it was Sharon who once again threw kerosene on the smoldering conflagration. With his preemptive strikes and extra-judicial executions, the lifelong Arab-hater followed his predictable pattern.

On October 30 of this year Israel’s army chief, Lieutenant-General Moshe Ya’alon, stated the obvious: Sharon’s hardline treatment of Palestinian civilians is counter-productive and his policies simply intensify hatred and strengthen terror organizations. To anybody with the slightest familiarity with Sharon’s career, this is entirely true to form, as was his hysterical rejection of the recent Geneva Accord and his construction of recent and notorious Wall through the West Bank, which in effect ended the American Road Map to Peace. Nobody is in a better position to analyze Sharon’s tumultuous career than Israeli academic Baruch Kimmerling, the distinguished research professor at the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto and the George S. Wise Professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Professor Kimmerling’s book is Politicide: Ariel Sharon’s War Against the Palestinians. Kimmerling outlines Sharon’s shameless career of opportunism which, to be fair, has also included fierce bravery in war. For him, “Israel under Sharon has become an agent of destruction … its domestic and foreign policy oriented toward one major goal: the politicide of the Palestinian people.” Politicide means the dissolution of the Palestinian people’s existence “as a legitimate social, political and economic entity.” The major tools of this policy are murders, localized massacres, the elimination of leadership and elite groups, the physical destruction of public institutions and infrastructure, land colonization, starvation, social and political isolation and partial ethnic cleansing.” For Kimmerling, this did not start with Sharon. Historian Benny Morris’ work shows how deep ethnic cleansing (“population transfer”) went in Zionist thinking. The first politicide was during the 1948 war which according to the author “is not yet common knowledge in Israel.”

In an interview with CNT Kimmerling ridiculed “the completely false and historically baseless book of Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial, the second bible of diaspora Jews. Jews want to look at Israel not as a real political and social entity, but mainly as a Utopian dream where everything is pure and right. They know it is not so but feel a ‘Jewish responsibility’ to defend the Jewish state. No one doubts Morris’ findings.” Sharon’s history Kimmerling details Sharon’s unhappy childhood 15 miles, north of Tel Aviv, as a mediocre student with a violent temper, one who picked up his basic attitudes toward Palestinians from his parents: “anxiety and scorn.” In the 1948 war, Sharon caught the eyes of two colonels, Yitzhak Rabin and Moshe Dayan who were both impressed with the 20-year-old. Yet they had to intervene to mitigate what would become a lifetime description of Sharon’s tendencies — “irresponsible, adventurous and imprecise reports.”

Sharon then made his mark in Unit 101 in 1953, a small secret commando unit formed to handle reprisal actions. On August 28, 1953 in the refugee camp called Al-Bureji, Sharon engineered a massacre of 43 Palestinian refugees, including seven women. So, began a career described by Egyptian journalist Azmi Bishara in these terms: “Kill unarmed civilians then lie through your teeth. Sharon’s been doing it for half a century.” Sharon’s defence was that the women were whores who served the murderers. As a reprisal, on October 15, 1953 Sharon blew up 45 houses in Qibya, the inhabitants inside. Sixty seven men, women and children died. In the investigation, Sharon maintained that he ordered his men to check every house and order everybody to leave. His soldiers denied any such order: “Kill unarmed civilians and lie through your teeth.” It was during this period that Sharon became a hero —“Arik, King of Israel” — among the Israeli military and the young, but always at a price. After Suez (1956), he was accused by fellow officers of grandstanding for personal fame, 28 soldiers having been killed and 100 injured in what many saw as pure opportunism, needless and unnecessary.

After the Six Day War Sharon moved into Gaza (1967-1970) with his brutal tactics, ripping up citrus groves, planning extra-judicial executions, both war crimes which made his cohorts uneasy. In 1977, as Minister of Defense Sharon became the main patron of the illegal settlers, developing the plan to create “facts on the ground,” which would make it impossible to remove Jewish control over the territories — still the major sticking point in peace negotiations.

Politicide #2 

Kimmerling then describes the second attempt at politicide, the brutal 1981 dismantling of PLO infrastructure in southern Lebanon. The resultant disaster should have ended Sharon’s career. As Minister of Defense he was responsible for the massive bombardment which killed, according to journalist Robert Fisk, over 18,000 civilians between March and July 1981. Then came Sabra and Shatila, the notorious massacre which outraged world opinion and put 400,000 Israelis in the streets demanding an inquiry. The national uproar, de facto, ended the career of Menachem Begin and the enquiry (Kahan Commission) found that Sharon bore a major part of the responsibility. As the author states, “Sharon was considered to be political dead wood from a moral and even a legal point of view.”

Had the Commission gone deeper as it should have, Kimmerling maintains “a wide spectrum of the Israeli leadership would, from a moral point of view would have been found to be war criminals, guilty not only of crimes against the Palestinians and Lebanese but against the Jewish people of Israel.” Sharon was unrepentant. Speaking to noted Israeli writer Amos Oz, he said, “Even if you prove to me the war in Lebanon is a dirty war, I don’t care. I am willing to volunteer to do the dirty work for Israel to kill as many Arabs as necessary, to deport, to expel and burn them, to have everyone hate us. Hang me if you want as a war criminal.”

Politicide #3 

The final attempt at politicide was Operation Defense Shield (April, 2002). Operating under the terrorist discourse of 9/11 and with the tacit approval of a weak U.S. president whom Sharon claimed he owned, the sheer wanton destruction in places like Jenin and Ramallah appalled many. To unbiased observers, such as UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, it was “horrifying beyond belief — forever a blot on the state of Israel. No military objective could justify such suffering by a civilian population.” It was the cynical destruction of computers in the Palestinian department of education, the razing of civilian institutions like universities, schools, clinics and infrastructure which proved the real intent of “the homicidal Sharon,” Edward said.

This is a fascinating study of Ariel Sharon, the man whom a frightened populace thought could bring peace. The results speak for themselves. Kimmerling describes Israelis as amnesiac as North Americans. “Many are young and new to Israel, the 1982 debacle is simply so much history. Many do not regard his prior history as sins. His fairly honest autobiography (2001) has never been published in Hebrew.” To my question is Israel’s culture “addicted to power, a militarist culture?” Kimmerling replied, “Israel is run by a junta of three generals Sharon, Mofaz and Yaalon. All decisions are taken by these military minded powerful holders. The parliament and civilian branches are completely neutralized. All this is aggravated by the deep economic crisis. It is easier to rule a people preoccupied by daily financial subsistence.” Kimmerling, like many Jewish humanists has no time for the accusations of anti-Semitism levelled against critics of Israel “used by North American Jewish organizations and functionaries as well as conservative intellectuals.” What he does have time for are the many brave Israelis to whom he dedicates his book, people like “all the brave Israeli women who stand before checkpoints in the early morning hours to prevent Palestinian laborers from being harassed.” These are the people who “better reflect the spirit of humanism and non-violent and active resistance against this bad regime which has hijacked the Israeli political culture. They have paid a high personal price for their conviction and give me hope for the future.” Politicide is an engrossing portrait of Ariel Sharon’s career, one which leaves little doubt that “Arik the King of Israel” is a major stumbling block to peace in the Middle East.

Ariel Sharon and Torah

January 14, 2014



Our nation only exists in Torah.

Saadia Gaon, legendary Egyptian rabbi 10th CE

The  danger is that national identity be transformed into statism and will to power.

Yeshayahu Leibowitz

Ariel Sharon was the  classic “tough Jew” who came to prominence after the creation of the Jewish state in 1948. Zionism was a secular movement whose apotheosis came after the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of 800,000 native Palestinians. No more soft Jews who were seen to be too compliant as the Nazis raged through the shtetls of eastern Europe. No more luftmenschen, scholars and Talmudists who had their heads in the clouds (the meaning of the Yiddish phrase) and walked into the death camps. Zionism wished to decouple itself from Torah, a catastrophic move away from the ethical heart of Judaism. Many prominent Jews such as Martin Buber  and the Orthodox thinker Yeshayahu Leibowitz  saw this as a betrayal. The moving Israeli national anthem  Ha-tikva alludes to this shift “to be a free people  on our land”—and free of Torah commitment.

Most Israelis came from eastern Europe and lived under the Tsars. They found it difficult to assimilate in a virulent antisemitic culture living as they did in densely compact areas, but under the new enlightenment (haskala) these forebears of Sharon et al surrendered the religious dimension of their lives. A new secular identity was born devoid of Judaism.

Many Israelis Hebraicized their names to symbolize the fact that they were new Jews. Sharon’s parents like Netanyahu’s, were Lithuanian. It is important however to stress that  these were not people of Torah Judaism. A new nationalism usurped those values.  The legendary Judaic prominence of compassion, introspection , deep learning and humility was sacrificed on the altar of nationalism and egotism. But then 1948 became 1967 and the Six Day  War with the capture of the new territory we call the West Bank unleashed  a still greater national chauvinism.

In Toronto it broke the heart of perhaps the greatest Canadian rabbi of the 20th century, Reuben Slonim. He looked out on his downtown congregation and noticed  a profound change  “The Six Day War (1967)  had plunged them   into an orgy of chauvinism from which they never recovered…messianic faith has become  intermingled with fanatical nationalism…the years went on and Israel won more wars but lost every peace…” he wrote in his autobiography To Kill a Rabbi.

As secularism corroded most faiths, for Jews in Israel, the military victories overwhelmed the ancestral faith and at the heart of those wars was the racist figure of Ariel Sharon  bent on Politicide-the destruction of the Palestinian people.

Ariel Sharon pt.1

January 13, 2014


“I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.”… so said Clarence Darrow. And many today are saying that about Ariel Sharon. I am not one of them. I take no pleasure in anybody’s death.  I am more of the De mortuis, nisi bonum  school (about the dead speak nothing but good.”) And yet I can barely find much good to say about Ariel Sharon.

The obits are flying about, most of them bland and almost cowardly. “On the one hand…” stuff. Most major dailies are afraid of offending Israel. Or they are simply unaware of this man’s shocking cruelty.

I believe Ariel Sharon was a war criminal and if he had lived I believe he should have been dragged before the Hague. I will write a few articles about Warrior as he styled himself in his autobiography, but in general I believe his election in 2000 was Israel’s admission that it had lost its way as a moral nation.

The worst comments outside of Israel were British PM David Cameron’s laughable  comment that he  “took brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace” You do remember that Sharon was in GW Bush’s words “a man of peace.” And how about this howler from  John McCain: “Few statesmen have made sacrifices that were as difficult, and were prepared to make more painful sacrifices still, for the sake of peace and the security for their nation.”

As the best Mideast journalist, the  Independent’s Robert Fisk  put it

Thus do we remake history. How speedily did toady journalists in Washington and New York patch up this brutal man’s image. 

Avi Shlaim one of the great New Historians who had to leave Israel and teach at Oxford, summed up Sharon’s career in today’s Guardian: c“Sharon was a deeply flawed character, renowned for his brutality, mendacity, and corruption.”But there is Canadian PM Stephen Harper, four cabinet ministers and a delegation of 150 going to Israel to pay homage.

Such is the parlous state of our foreign policy these days.

Pope Francis and clericalism

January 7, 2014


The chief occupational scandal of our time is not the disunity of the Christian church but institutional preoccupation of the church in the face of the suffering of the world.

Anglican Primate George Carey   1992

Pope Francis is beginning to give the JP ll bishops migraines. They don’t know what to make about a pope who actually puts the reign of God first—instead of the church.

On November 29 addressing 120 major superiors  about  would-be priests who merely “grit their teeth, try not to make mistakes, follow the rules smiling a lot, just waiting for the day when they are told `Good, you have finished formation. This is hypocrisy that is the result of clericalism, which is one of the worst evils.

“We must form their hearts,”the pontiff said,” otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the people of God. This really gives me goose bumps,”.

Well it’s been giving lay people a royal pain in the culo for decades.

Any Catholic can relate stories of some newly ordained cleric,  a “young fogey” as Andrew Greeley called them, who moves into a parish  and thinks his Roman collar is a sign of omniscience and gives him the right to dynamite a parish organized on the people of God model mandated by Vatican ll.

Andrew Greeley wrote about such types in 2004:

Today’s young priests tend to want to restore the power that the clergy held not only before Vatican II but also before a large educated Catholic laity emerged as a powerful force in the Church after World War II. Older priests today often complain that their younger colleagues are arrogant, pompous, and rigid, and that they love to parade around in clerical dress. The image that comes to mind is young versions of the old ethnic monsignors of the Depression era. 

A friend of mine, a great pastor, laughed when I told him I heard that his parish was getting a steady influx of new parishioners.

He knew exactly what I meant.

The young fogey in the adjoining parish  moved in an brought back the Latin mass, re-clericalized the whole apparatus (altar rails separating the holy from the non-ordained) and acted like a little medieval  pope in his parish.

This also happened to a feisty friend of mine who watched the Polish priest come in and give his marching orders to the lay people.

My friend who had only been in the parish for 60 years basically asked him who the hell he thought he was.

Francis knows— “a little monster.”

Vatican ll’s roots, despite the re-clericalization under JP ll and Benedict are simply too deep. The catholic people are slowly standing on their baptized legs and assuming their full identity. Clericalism is on its last legs.