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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

1.1 – Introduction to Jewish Extremism: Millennialism and Zionism

This chapter forms the introduction to terrorism perpetrated in the name of Judaism, the oldest of the Abrahamic faiths. It will address the theological aims and justifications for violence provided by two key strands of Jewish extremism, Millennialism and Zionism, and will oppose Bymen’s theory that, ‘Jews operate far more as an ethnic group than as a community motivated by and organized according to religious doctrine’.[1] It suggests that religion in fact provides a strong Jewish identity, and certainly plays a central role in Jewish extremist ideology.

The relationship between Judaism and terrorist violence is complex, and the two are not understood as being instantly compatible. However, the Old Testament is replete with depictions of a vengeful and aggressive God – ‘The Lord is a warrior’ (Ex 15:3) – and reveals an ancient mandate for a state of conflict between Jews and any foreign occupiers of Eretz Yisrael. Despite this, there have been far fewer Jewish terrorist groups and attacks than there have been Christian or Islamic. Jewish terrorism is largely domestic to Israel and the surrounding Arab countries, although there have been examples of militant activity in the United States, usually perpetrated by the Jewish Defence League (JDL), who attack groups and individuals deemed to be anti-Semitic or opposed to the State of Israel.

The three key goals of Jewish terrorism are: the creation of a theocratic state; to hasten redemption; and to retain the Holy Lands from the Arabs. They are all steeped in theology and provide the basis for modern-day extremist rhetoric. Jewish extremists tend to belong to one of the two main schools of theological understanding – Millennialism and Zionism. Millennialism is presented as a purely theological creed, comprised of apocalyptic visions and rooted in the Jewish tradition. Zionism is also anchored in religious history, but is usually defined as a political concept. However, radical Jewish groups have persistently claimed the principles of Zionism to be religious rather than nationalist in nature. Both Millennialism and Zionism produce terrorist groups who claim to be acting in accordance with God’s wishes, and cite faith as their primary motivation.

The Plot to blow up the Dome of the Rock, the Cave of Patriarchs massacre, and the 1995 assassination of President Yitzhak Rabin, provide three of the most notorious examples of religiously motivated Jewish terrorism. This article will assess the legitimacy of these claims and whether Jewish terrorism truly has a theological core, or if nationalism and politics eclipse faith.

Eschatology is the area of theology that refers to the study of the impending  End of Days – a period of judgment that will mark the coming age of salvation and a new world. Jewish eschatology is concerned with a number of related themes: the Redemption; ‘the Jewish Messiah; and the olam haba (the world to come).’[2] Millennialism is a significant component of eschatology, and it plays a role in the worldviews of the Abrahamic faiths, which is fuelled by references found within their Holy Scriptures. It is also a prominent ideological feature of religiously inspired terrorist groups, from those representing the Abrahamic faiths, to fringe sects and cults including Aum Shinrikyo, and the Hindu-inspired movement Rajneeshpuram. Millennialism is often proposed as being Christian in origin[3], but the theory predates the Christian era and is found throughout Jewish history. The concept is deeply rooted in Jewish theology:

The vision of an ingathering of Jews in the present day to the land of Israel is an essential part of the Jewish eschatology. Upon the defeat of Israel’s enemies and the reconstruction of the third Temple, the period of resurrection of the dead and the advent of the Messiah are anticipated, to be followed by an age of peace, tranquility, and spirituality.[4]

Adherents to Jewish millennial theology believe that humans should not passively wait for Redemption, but must attempt to activate the process themselves through dramatic action. This understanding has provided the religious impetus behind several devastating terrorist acts: In 1984 authorities uncovered a plot to blow up the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem by a group of Jewish extremists from the ultranationalist Gush Emunim settler movement. The Dome of the Rock, located on Temple Mount, has huge theological significance for both Jews and Muslims as it was constructed on the site of the Second Jewish Temple and also established as the location of the Isra and Miraj,  the night journey taken by the prophet Muhammad in CE 621. The group held millennial beliefs and were ardent followers of Kahane, but the destruction was not designed as an act of retaliation or resentment, but to generate the resurrection of the Jewish Third Temple and enable the Messiah’s return:

By obliterating so venerated an Islamic shrine, they also sought to spark a cataclysmic war between Israel and the Muslim world. The terrorists’ vision was that a beleaguered Jewish state, attacked on all sides by enraged, unrelenting, savage forces, would have no option but to unleash its nuclear arsenal. The result would be the complete annihilation of Israel’s Arab enemies, and the establishment on earth of a new ‘Kingdom of Israel’ – a theocracy governed by a divinely anointed Jewish king, and held in judgement by a true ‘Supreme Court.[5]

Another violent embodiment of radical millennial beliefs occurred a decade later in February 1994. Dr. Baruch Goldstein, an ultra-orthodox, nationalist Jew and a member of the far-right Kach movement, committed one of the most notorious Jewish terrorist attacks in modern history, known as the cave of Patriarchs massacre. During the Islamic festival of Ramadan (which falls at the same time as the Jewish holiday Purim), Goldstein opened fire on Muslims praying in the Ibrahim Mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron. Goldstein’s actions appear to have been motivated by (a militant interpretation of) religious belief rather than any secular goals – he saw himself as a latter-day saviour of the Jews and believed his attack would hasten redemption through unleashing calamitous forces. He believed it ‘would ensure not only Israel’s perennial position of its biblical birthright but the coming of the Messiah as foretold by Kahane’.[6] Yigal Amir shared a similar worldview to Goldstein, (and Timothy McVeigh to some extent), and believed himself to be an ‘agent of Redemption, obligated to change history and return the messianic process to its course’.[7]

Zionism is the most commonly cited radical Jewish ideology and is the ‘national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel’.[8] Jews of all persuasions adhere to Zionism, but whilst all Zionist Jews would define themselves as highly religious, there is a sub-sect referred to as Religious Zionism, which implies an additional theological dimension. Again, not all Zionists are violent, but the principles are frequently employed as motivation by extremists.

Religious Zionism
Religious Zionists are Orthodox Jews who adhere to a blend of the Jewish faith and Zionist principles, and have formed a branch of the Zionist movement that uses Old Testament theology to justify efforts to build a Jewish theocratic state in Eretz Yisrael. Imbued with the religious ideology of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine) and his son Rabbi Zevi Judah, religious Zionists believe that the Bible unquestioningly shows God giving the Holy Lands to the Jews, and they are thus the legitimate governors of the land  of Israel.

Kook proposed that Zionism is:

A tool of God to promote His divine scheme and to initiate the return of the Jews to their homeland - the land He promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God wants the children of Israel to return to their home in order to establish a Jewish sovereign state in which Jews could live according to the laws of Torah and Halakha and commit the Mitzvot of Eretz Israel (these are religious commandments which can be performed only in the land of Israel).[9]

His words bear striking similarity to those uttered by militant Islamists who also explain their goal of a global Islamic state as being divinely decreed. In both instances, the lines between religion, politics, and issues of territory have become so blurred they become almost indefinable.

[1] Bymen (1998), p. 151
[2] Madawi & Marat (2008), p. 152
[3] Revelations 20:1-7 is frequently cited as scriptural justification.
[5] Hoffman (2006), pp. 99-100
[6] Ibid p. 100
[7] Al-Rasheed & Shterin (2008), p. 157

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