Religion and politics
Like many people, I care deeply about moral issues and the character of the society I am part of. Since views about religion and politics are known to generate tensions, most people are well advised to keep those private and I usually do so too. Nevertheless, in the last few years, I feel that the developing worrisome situation in our area demands that even private apolitical individuals, like me, should take a stand. So I will share some private views, and if you disagree (which is to be expected, since rarely people agree on such issues), I will be happy if you take the time to write to me [marius.usher @ gmail.com, with Subject: RP, or Religion, or Politics] explaining me your view.
The text below was writen few years back. In the last few years, I kept away from commenting on the situation of Israel or the world. Looking back at what I wrote below it all appears somewhat distant and perhaps less relevant. The world appears to have changed in ways (Trump, Brexit, etc) that are difficult for people like me to accept. Ideals, such as truth, equality, and pluralism are in retreat. In the world of 2018, the Israeli situation is, while very worying to me, perhaps not very different from what we have in other “civilized” places, like US or UK. As I find this reality somehow depressing, I prefered to keep myself “occupied” with other issues (work, reading, etc). I hope that this negative cycle will turn around and we may again be able to enjoy a positive outlook. I will probably write less in this section (till this happens).
Deep concerns about the Israeli situation
Most of the things in the pages below were written few years ago. Meanwhile, and especially after the last Israeli elections, I got somewhat discouraged and alarmed about the direction Israel is taking. Under Netanyahu we have moved away from any serious engagement in negotiations concerning the two-state solution (I seriously doubt that Netanyahu ever intended to engage in this, unlike some previous prime ministers). I also see increased tendencies towards limiting freedom of press (I am afraid that we are heading in the direction of Turkey; see this about Erdoğan’s crackdown on journalists), antagonism towards any type of self examination and towards friendly criticisms, as well as racist attitudes (in particular towards non-Jews and Ethiopians). Meanwhile, the Israeli society itself is deeply divided and much less coherent than it used to be. The recent wave of violence seems to reflect this stalemate. Those things deeply concern me and I wish I could find some way to understand this situation, and more importantly, to know what can be done to improve it. Among the interesting analyzes that attempt to explain the deep problems that underlie the Israeli condition, I can recommend Ari Shavit’s: My promised land: the Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. Unfortunately, while Shavit does a good job in analyzing the elements and presenting the history of the Israeli puzzle, he stops short of offering any solutions (in fact his book makes the conflict appear unsolvable). I also feel the influence that people like me can have is quite negligible, in face of stronger historical currents. Nevertheless, here is a modest attempt for an argument between the position I favour and that of an intelligent opponent.
My general moral/political philosophy is liberal-humanism. Growing up in Communist Romania, I am repelled by any political system that is dictatorial, and which denies full freedom of thought and expression (when I hear people disparaging the “fake” Western democracies, I wish they would have lived under a real dictatorship, so that they could have experienced the difference). I also strongly reject any kind of discrimination based on innate factors, such as race, color, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. This also means that when religious values collide (as, unfortunately, they often do) with humanistic ones, I strongly support the latter.
State, religion and democracy
While I respect people whose religious beliefs involve an attempt to live according to a sacred/spiritual value system, rather than a purely materialistic one (see Eliade entry in my Literature), I strongly reject the assumption that religion is the only way to achieve spiritual values. Science, art, literature, philosophy and humanism in general are much more productive and unifying ways to achieve such goals. While various religions, even sub-religions, are strongly divisive, it is one of the most uplifting experience in Science or Philosophy that people from various places, cultures and even periods can communicate productively and harmoniously. Moreover, I am very skeptic of any positive role of any organized religion (mainly the 3 dominant monotheistic ones) in organizing human life and promoting moral values (read here to see why and for more thoughts on religion, morality and democracy).
Zionism, the Jewish State and the middle-East conflict
I still admire the original Zionist project, the one Herzel conceived; here is a link to AltNeuland, a most inspiring book that lays out Herzel’s vision of the New-Society. Although Herzel’s New Society was being developed mostly by Jews, who had an acute need for a country where they could develop their culture freely, it remained multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and egalitarian. While the founders of Israel, have attempted to follow some of this vision, which was not an easy thing to do following a difficult war, I am afraid that in recent years a new version of Zionism is gaining prominence, the one supported by right wing populist politicians, like Liberman, Bennett and quite a number of Likud members. Interestingly this right-wing Zionism echoes what Herzel was warning us against — the Geyer party, the villain of Altneuland, aspiring for exclusivity of citizens’ rights for Jews. At the same time, I feel a change in which Israel is becoming more inward looking and less open to self-examination or willingness to consider any (even friendly) criticism, which is usually dismissed as antisemitic. In addition, the deadlock over the peace negotiations and the continual holding of Palestinians in the West-Bank without citizenship rights, while the settlement project develops, makes the chance of a two-state solution more difficult. All of this makes me feel uncomfortable. Obviously we live in a difficult situation to which both sides have been contributing (e.g., Hamas). However, while in the past I felt capable to explain the Israeli perspective abroad, these days it has become much more difficult to do so. Definitely, I am worried of where we are heading to, and like many around me, I feel that the future prospects, unless we wake up and change course very soon, are not very hopeful. The lack of progress towards a two-state solution together with the changes I described above, are threatening the perceived legitimacy of the Zionist project (recent article about this process in the US). Here is also an attempt of mine to analyze some of the sources of the problem we face (Jewish State and Democracy).