Leadership: Israeli Religious Fanatics

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March 12, 2009: Israel is having a growing problem with their own religious establishment. Religious councils have a great deal of control over Israelis who are classified as Jews (whether they are practicing the religion or not). About 44 percent of Israeli Jews consider themselves secular (not practicing Judaism), but the third that practice Judaism according to Jewish religious law ("Orthodox") control the religious councils (rabbinate), and are not reluctant to try imposing their views on all Israelis. The Orthodox have political parties as well, and this sometimes causes problems for the military. A recent example was a booklet the rabbinate distributed to soldiers before the recent war in Gaza (Operation Cast Lead). The booklet advised soldiers that it was sometimes necessary to "be cruel" when fighting the enemies of Israel, and that it was the duty of an Israeli soldier to ensure that no Israeli territory is lost. This alludes to the belief of many Orthodox Jews that Israel is entitled to own and control the West Bank. This booklet got out before the military commanders could review it, and the generals were not happy with this bit of Orthodox propaganda. The military and police have also had problems with conservative, and politically active, rabbis urging security personnel to refuse to participate in the removal of radical Jews in illegal West Bank settlements. The army is concerned that these radical rabbis may stop being subtle, and demand that Jewish soldiers mutiny in cases where the army is ordered to do something the religious parties don't like. As some Israelis began to observe back in the 1980s, "Israel is turning into a Middle Eastern country."

 


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