I have just caught up with a quite disgusting item by Katya Adler, transmitted on Monday evening's Newsnight, on military rabbis in the Israel Defence Force. She presented as deeply shocking the fact that these rabbis are trained officers who carry arms and are now deployed in the front line of combat. Worse still, they actually seek to inspire and fortify Israeli soldiers by using the Jewish religion and the words of the Hebrew Bible! How shocking is that?! No mention of the fact that the British army has military chaplains who are also officers. True, they don’t bear arms – although some chaplains in Afghanistan are now saying they think that should change because it is too dangerous not to when on a battlefield that is far more lethal to them than any other on which they have served: the sole reason the IDF rabbis are armed.
But the really disgraceful element was Adler’s suggestion that that these rabbis were somehow the equivalent of Islamic jihadi fanatics who were transforming the mission of the IDF into ‘holy war’. Jewish religious belief, she implied, was the equivalent of the jihad. This appalling equation of course ignored the crucial difference between the jihad and the wars waged by the Israel Defence Force: that the jihad is aggressive and seeks to conquer, colonise, murder and enslave while the sole rationale for the IDF is to defend Israel against precisely such aggression.
Adler made this leap because to her, all orthodox Jewish religious observance is extreme, right-wing and aggressive; all settlers are orthodox and therefore extreme, right-wing and aggressive; thus all orthodox Jewish soldiers are settlers and therefore they are all extreme, right-wing and aggressive. Every aspect of that is tendentious, distorted, ignorant and bigoted.
The settlers believe the land was given to them by God, she charged. Well, they may well do so; but as Israel’s soldiers they are fighting to defend not the settlements but the State of Israel of which they are citizens and to which land they are fully and indisputably entitled under international law. Indeed, contrary to what she stated they are also entitled under international law to settle the disputed territories which are still the site of aggressive war waged against them; but that’s not in fact what they are in the IDF or were in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead to do.
You would never have known it from her report, but these religious soldiers were in Gaza not to conquer the Palestinians in accordance with their belief that Gaza was divinely given to them but to defend the State of Israel against rocket attack from Gaza – from where religious soldiers had actually been involved in the operation to remove the settlers in 2005. Maybe some of these rabbis had issued leaflets which really were politically extreme. So what? To suggest that this represents all of orthodox Judaism is like suggesting that preachers handing out leaflets proclaiming the end of days is nigh are representative of mainstream Christianity. Far worse, Adler made the doubly appalling suggestion that the IDF had singled out Gazan infants and other civilians for ill-treatment – and that they had been encouraged to do so by the tenets of Jewish religious belief. Neither element, of course, was true.
Her report thus went much further than the usual BBC boilerplate bigotry against Israel. This was open bigotry against Judaism itself. One of the most deeply offensive sections was the ‘aha!’ moment where she pointed accusingly at soldiers visiting Masada who were wearing the ritual fringed garment worn by all orthodox Jewish men as if this was a sign of their moral perfidy. To be an orthodox Jew, she was in effect saying, was to be guilty of malevolent intent towards the Palestinians: to be aggressive and warlike and fanatical, characteristics they allegedly got from the Hebrew Bible.