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Christopher Hitchens and the Secular, Humanist Argument FOR the Settlement Movement

April 22, 2014

I find it hard to believe that the controversial and prolific writer Christopher Hitchens has been gone now for almost three years. During his last three years, I found myself  surprisingly interested in his body of work, even if I strongly disagreed with most of what he had to say. I believe it was because I did agree with his ideas concerning the spread of Islamofascism and his critiques of organized religion helped me to realize that the organized Jewish religion had strayed from the ideals of the prophets and the rationalist rishonim, foremost among them Maimonides, whose writings have been singularly the greatest influence on modern scholarship’s understanding of the Talmud.

If you want to know more about Hitchens and his opinions, just google him. At the moment, I would like to take issue with only some of his views. As you can easily discover, Hitchens was of the view that the Arabs native to Israel, Judea, Samaria, and Gaza had been victimized by the founding of the State and the subsequent liberation of the Jordanian-Occupied territories, and subsequent Israeli adminstartive policy over those areas was racist and oppressive. American policy seemed to allow and even to sometimes encourage and reward said Israeli policy. Thus, the aforementioned Arabs were justified in their violent and non-violent resistance to Israeli authority. Further, Israel itself was founded on religious and messianic ideals, two of his pet peeves, and as such were poisoned with irrationality. The state was illegitimate, and by extension, so was its rule over any liberated areas. Becasue the settlement  movement was motivated by Jewish religious beliefs, it was espesically dangerous to world society. The Jewish claim to the Land was illegitimate simply because it was based on religious beliefs, which to Hitchens not only carried no weight, but actually proved there were no other viable claims to be made. This can all be confirmed by perusing his writings and Youtube videos.

In his anti-zionist zeal, Hitchens dutifully ignored decades of religiously inspired, anti-semitic violence perpetrated against the Jews of even pre-state Palestine and the ensuing Israeli state. The fact that Arab terror, intrinsically connected with Muslim holy war, had the power to refute most of his claims against the mostly secular Israeli political establishment was something that, unsurprisingly, Hitchens refused to adress for decades. Even after 9/11, when he came to argue passionatetly for western military intervention against Islamic terror groups, he was adept at ignoring that those same groups work just as much among so-called Palestinian society against the Jews and Israel as they do against the UK and the US.

More importantly, his opponents at the time failed to point out that although Jews like myself  make a religoius claim to lands under Israeli control, they really should be considered secular claims, and even humanist claims, of the kind Hitchens was want to make.

Previously, I argued that many of the biblical commandments are specifically geared to the pacifist and kind nature of the Jewish people: The commandment to procreate as a counter to those who would claim that celibacy is an ideal; the command to go to war against those who would dare to perpetrate another holocaust; the command to put to death those violent criminals who would seek to destroy society from within. The rationale for these and similar commands does not have to be religious. Indeed, secular societies should always come to the conclusion that their members need to procreate and be protected from bodily harm. The Jewish people, by standing for such values, may feel that they have been the recipients of a divine command to do such things, but with regards to their relationship with the rest of the community of nations, they have no need to make the religious argument.

Rashi begins his commentary on the bible with the following (Genesis 1:1):

Said Rabbi Isaac: It was not necessary to begin the Torah except from “This month is to you,” (Exod. 12:2) which is the first commandment that the Israelites were commanded, (for the main purpose of the Torah is its commandments, and although several commandments are found in Genesis, e.g., circumcision and the prohibition of eating the thigh sinew, they could have been included together with the other commandments). Now for what reason did He commence with “In the beginning?” Because of [the verse] “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations” (Ps. 111:6). For if the nations of the world should say to Israel, “You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan],” they will reply, “The entire earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it (this we learn from the story of the Creation) and gave it to whomever He deemed proper When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us.

Now, the question usually asked is, “In what way will this argument satisfy the nations? The Hitchens’s of the world neither believe in God nor the Torah!”

The answer is along the same lines as my previous arguments above. Between ourselves and God, we know the truth, but when translated into real-world terminology, the kind meant to be used when dealing with those who only deal with the secular, when the Torah says that God wished for something or gave something, it means that that is the way things are. (See the beginning of the Guide to the Perplexed). This passage is telling us that we should argue that we that we are entitled to our land and borders just like every other nation is entitled to its land and its borders, and just like the Bulgarians, Russians, and Americans do not have to justify their presence and settlement within their own borders, neither do we. Now, if this argument is so simple, why would Rashi claim that this is the grand lesson gleaned from the historical preamble to the commandments? Because the Jewish people, by nature, are more inclined to debate and analyze issues dealing with abstract laws, like the kind enumerated in the subsequent books of the Pentateuch, than to want to have to legally defend their right to secure borders, and thus it was necessary for the Torah to begin with some practical political science: so that the Jews would know how to respond to spurious accusations concerning their having stolen their homeland from others. Note that the only major biblical personality to expand on these themes was the judge Jephtah, who was considered to be one of the less saintly and scholarly leaders we have had.

It fills me with pride to see the newer generation of politicians, like Naftali Bennet, making points similar to this one on international TV. Telling CNN and its viewers the hard truth is something Israeli talking heads had forgotten to do for three decades.

It should be noted that before his death, Hitchens found out that his mother’s family was Jewish, making him a member of the tribe, and then he was suddenly  able to start finding the good side of the Jewish religious tradition and even acknowledge that his long-time collaborator in Palestinian-victimhood propagandizing, Edward Said, perhaps was somewhat inclined to excuse the growing radicalization of Israeli-Arab society. I recall how Hitchens praised the Jewish people for being the first to reject the false prophets of Christianity and Islam, and how the introspective and inquisitive Jewish culture has consistently cultivated a disproportionate number of enlightened thinkers and philosophers. I used to read his writings and listen to  his speeches so much that I am certain of these last two points, but because there are so articles and recordings to go through, I find it too difficult to find the exact sources at the moment.


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