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Date

November 14, 2010

Over the rainbow

The Prince of Poets: Arab Poetry’s Answer to American Idol


Imagine an American TV network deciding to take the American Idol format and apply it to poetry; lining up poets to read their poems in front of temperamental judges while the nation gets out its mobile phones to vote for its favorite poet. One can be sure the show would not survive the first commercial break before the chastened executives pull the plug on it and replace it with yet another series on the Life and Times of Nicole Ritchie. Yet, that was exactly the formula for the latest TV sensation to take Arab countries by storm.

Perhaps the only thing that is as hard as translating Arab poetry to other languages is trying to explain to non-Arabs the extent of poetry’s popularity, importance and Arabs’ strong attachment to it. Whereas poetry in America has been largely reduced to a ceremonial eccentricity that survives thanks to grants and subsidies from fanatics who care about it too much, in the Arab world it remains amongst the most popular forms of both literature and entertainment. Whereas America’s top poets may struggle to fill a small Barnes & Noble store for a reading, Palestine’s Mahmoud Darwish has filled football stadiums with thousands of fans eager to hear his unique recital of his powerful poems. And while in America a good poetry collection can expect to sell some 2,000 copies, in the Arab world the poems of pre-Islamic era poets are still widely read today in their original words, as are those from the different Islamic eras leading to the present. The late Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani had a cult following across the Arab world, and his romantic poems have for decades constituted standard covert currency between lovers.

The Arab World has had its own enormously successful pop music answer to American Idol in Superstar which has concluded its fourth season with resounding success, unearthing some real stars of today’s thriving Arabic cheesy pop scene. But a few months ago, the governors of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi took a bold move by organizing a similar contest for poets. This comes as another step in Abu Dhabi’s ambitious attempts to use its petro-dollars to transform itself into the capital of Arab culture, and one of the world’s leading cultural centers; a Florence to Dubai’s London.

The show, named Prince of Poets, was an enormous success. Some 4,000 poets from across the Arab world sent in submissions to be considered. 35 were chosen for the show, and millions of viewers from across the Arab world tuned in to watch them recite their poetry, get criticized by Arab poetry’s answer to Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson (5 older poets and professors), improvise verses on the spot, and address wide-ranging issues from women’s rights, Iraq, love, democratization, Palestine and the old staple of Arab poetry: self-aggrandization. The winner would not only gain fame, but also a grand prize of 1,000,000 UAE Dirhams ($270,000).

The success of the show was wilder than anyone could’ve expected. The Arab press has had reports about how it has achieved the highest ratings in its spot, overtaking football matches and reality-TV; and millions have paid for text messages to vote for their favorite poet.

The turning point in the show’s popularity, many have speculated, came when young Palestinian poet, Tamim Al-Barghouti, read his poem “In Jerusalem“. Tamim, who is a distant cousin and close friend of mine, is the son of famous Palestinian poet and writer Mourid Al-Barghouti (author of the excellent I Saw Ramallah) and Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour. Tamim’s charisma, poetry, personality and politics captured the imagination of the Arab world. A veteran of years of student political activism in Palestine and Egypt, Tamim was once deported from Egypt by the authorities after engaging in one too many anti-Iraq War protests for the liking of Egypt’s regime. He then moved to America where he completed a Ph.D. in Political Science at Boston University in only three years, before working for the United Nations in Sudan. Through all of this, he has managed to publish four collections of poetry that have received critical acclaim and is expanding his Ph.D. thesis into a book on political identity in the Middle East to be published in 2008. He is now headed to Germany to become a fellow at the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study.

While many contestants opted away from talking about politics in their poems, hoping to not cause any grievance to the generous leaders of the United Arab Emirates who are hosting this show, or to any of the other Arab leaders, Tamim’s poetry was almost entirely political. Whether it was about Palestine, Iraq, or Arab dictatorships, Tamim was as courageous as he was eloquent, raising a few eyebrows in the quiet Emirate where discussing regional politics is not considered the wisest choice of discussion topic.

“In Jerusalem” is a poetic diary of Tamim’s last visit to his land’s occupied capital; a sad traverse through its occupied streets defiled by the occupation soldiers and the illegal settlers living on stolen Palestinian land, and around the apartheid walls choking the city with their racist denial of Palestinians’ basic freedoms and rights. Nonetheless, the poem ends on a cheery and optimistic tone, leading to the jubilant excitement with which the Arab world enjoyed the poem.

Palestinian newspapers have dubbed Tamim The Poet of Al-Aqsa; his posters hang on the streets of Jerusalem and other Palestinian cities, where key-chains are being sold with his picture on them. Sections of the poem have even become ring-tones blaring out from mobile phones across the Arab World, and 10-year-old kids compete in memorizing and reciting it. Hundreds of thousands of people have seen Tamim’s poems on Youtube and other video websites.

But perhaps Tamim’s most amazing feat was how he has galvanized all Palestinians into following him and supporting him. After all of the troubles that Palestine has been through recently, and all the divisions that have been spawned within the Palestinian people, it was very refreshing to finally find something that unequivocally unites all Palestinians, and rouses millions of Arabs behind the cause that was tarred recently by the actions of some Palestinians.

This unifying effect was most glaringly captured when the TV stations of both Hamas and Fatah threw their support behind the unsuspecting Tamim, broadcasting his poems repeatedly, and urging people to vote for him, catapulting him from a little known young poet into a symbol of national resistance and unity. Finally, after months of divisions amongst Palestinians, there was something uniting them: a reminder of the true essence of the cause of the Palestinians, of the real problem, the real enemies and the real need for unity to face these challenges for the sake of Palestinian people and their just cause.

All of which made the final result of the contest most surprising. After having consistently received the highest ranking from the viewers’ votes and the unanimous flattery of the judges, and after a barn-storming flawless last poem that had the judges gushing, Tamim ended up in fifth place out of the five finalists. The poetess that was expected to most strongly challenge Tamim, the Sudanese Rawda Al-Hajj, who had focused her poems on women’s empowerment, finished fourth. The winner, perhaps unsurprisingly, was Abdulkareem Maatouk, a poet from the host country, the United Arab Emirates, whose poems had steered clear of anything political or controversial.

Though Tamim refused to comment, speculation was rife that the results were rigged. That Tamim and Rawda, widely viewed as the two best poets, would finish bottom of the finalists was certainly implausible, and one could not help but imagine that politics came into play. Abu Dhabi may want to fashion itself as the capital of culture, but it probably values its political stability more than any cultural pretenses. Arab regimes may have behaved like warring tribes with narrow self-interest over the past century, but there is one thing in which their cooperation was always exemplary: the effective suppression of all voices of dissent. As the contest became more popular, and the crown of the Prince of Poets more prestigious, it may have become too hard for the organizers to accept giving the trophy to a Palestinian rabble-rouser who in one of his poems bemoaned the times that have “degraded the free amongst us, and made scoundrels into our rulers.”

Nonetheless, there is no doubt who the real winner was; it was not just Tamim and his poetry which will now rival Mahmoud Darwish’s as the voice of the Palestinians, but also the Palestinian people who were reminded of the meaning of their unity, and their cause, which has found its best advertisement that has strengthened the mutual affection, dedication and support of millions of Arabs in the midst of one of its darkest hours.

Al-Quds “In Jerusalem” by Tamim Al-Barghouthi

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text in Arabic below
Source of translation
By our lover’s house we passed but we were turned away…
By the enemy’s laws and walls
A blessing it could be for me I said…
When you see it, what do you see?
What you cannot bear is what you see…
When from the side of the road its houses appear…
When every soul sees its lover …
And every absentee surrenders to happiness…
To see him before their meeting is her secret as much as it is his…
Even her happiness does not give her safety…
When old Al-Quds you see once…
When the eye shall see it, where ever it turns the eye shall see it…
In Al-Quds… a cabbage vender from Georgia…
Tiring of his wife… a holiday he plans or his walls he shall paint…
In Al-Quds a Torah and an old man from upper Manhattan did come…
Its codes and rules a Polish kid teaches…
In Al-Quds an Abyssinian policeman closes a road in the market…
A machinegun on a twenty years old settler’s shoulder is carried…
A skullcap greeting the Wailing Wall…
Blond European tourists, Al-Quds they never see…
Photos they take for each other or with a reddish woman vender…
In Al-Quds soldiers with their boots as if over the clouds they creep…
In Al-Quds on the asphalt we prayed…
In Al-Quds. Others are in Al-Quds, except you…

History stirred at me smiling…
To see somebody else or err you thought???
Here they are facing you, they are the writing, and you are the margin …
O son… a veil you thought your visit from city’s face you shall remove…
To see from under it the hard reality of Al-Quds…

In Al-Quds everybody is there except you…
The city’s epoch is two epochs…
A foreign epoch steps in tranquilly, it doesn’t change…
As if in sleep it is walking…
And there is another one, latent and veiled…
Avoiding the foreign it is without sound walking…
Al-Quds knows itself…
Ask any creature, and then all shall indulge you…
With a tongue everything in the city is, when you ask it shall disclose…
In Al-Quds the crescent is like an embryo more vaulting it becomes…
Hunched-like it rests over domes…
Through the years relations developed…
The father’s relations with his children…
In Al-Quds buildings’ stones are citations from the Koran and the Gospels…
In Al-Quds beauty’s identification is octagonal and blue…

A golden dome looking like a curved mirror on top of it…
Synopsized in it you see the sky’s face…
Coddled and brought near…
Distributed like relief bags for the needy under siege…
After the Friday sermon of a people
For help open their hands…
In Al-Quds the sky got mixed with the people, we protect it, it protects us…
On our shoulders we always carry it…
If time aggrieves its moons…
In Al-Quds as if like smoke is the texture of the swarthy marble pillars…
Overtops mosques, churches and windows…
The morning’s hand it holds to show its colored engraving…
He says: “no it is like this”…
She replies: “no like this it is”…
If disagreement lengthy it becomes… they partake…
Because outside the threshold the morning is free…
But to enter if he wants, he has to accept God’s judgment…

In Al-Quds a school there is for a Mamluke* from beyond the river he came…
In an Asfahan slave market they sold him…
To a Baghdadi merchant…
To Aleppo he came, its amir frightened he became of the blueness in his left eye…
To a caravan going to Egypt he was given…
To become years later the Mongol’s defeater and the sultan…

In Al-Quds a smell there is, which establishes Babylon and India in a perfumer’s shop…
By God a language it has, you will understand if you listen…
And it tells me when tear gas bombs they shoot at me: “Don’t worry…”
Defused it gets when the smell of the gas wanes to tell me: “Did you see”…
In Al-Quds contradictions and miracles at ease it becomes and God’s people won’t deny…
As if cloth pieces new and old they check…
Wonders there by the hand are felt…
In Al-Quds an old man’s hand you shake…
Or a building you touch…
A poem or two, you, the son of the noble, on your hand palms you shall find incised…
In Al-Quds in spite of the chain of nakabat (tragedies) a smell of childhood there is in the wind…
The wind of innocence…
In the wind between two bullets, pigeons you shall see flying announcing a state …

In Al-Quds graves arrayed in lines they are, as if lines they are in the city’s history and the book is its soil…
Everybody passed from here…
Al-Quds accepts anybody who visits it whether infidel or believer he is…
In it I pass and its tombstones I read in all the world’s languages…
In it there is African, European, Kafjaks, Syklabs, Bushnaks, Tartars, Turks, and God’s peoples.
The doomed, the poor, landlords, the dissolute, and hermits…
In it there is whoever treaded on the earth…
Do you think it could hardly provide us alone with living???

O you history writer what happened to exclude us alone…
You old man, again reread and rewrite… mistakes you committed…
The eye shuts and opens…
Left wise the yellow car driver turned…
Away from Al-Quds’ gate…
Al-Quds we bypassed…
The eye sees it in the right mirror…
Its colors changed before sunset…
If a smile surprises me…
How it sneaked in between tears I don’t know, she told me when I went far too far…
“You weeper behind the wall… fatuous you are?
Are you mad… Your eye shouldn’t cry, you forgotten one from the book’s text…
You Arab your eye shouldn’t cry… You should know that…
In Al-Quds, all mankind is in Al-Quds but I see nobody in Al-Quds except you…”

تميم البرغوثي

في القدس

مرَرْنا عَلى دارِ الحبيب فرَدَّنا                 عَنِ الدارِ قانونُ الأعادي وسورُها

فَقُلْتُ لنفسي رُبما هِيَ نِعْمَةٌ                   فماذا تَرَى في القدسِ حينَ تَزُورُها

تَرَى كُلَّ ما لا تستطيعُ احتِمالَهُ              إذا ما بَدَتْ من جَانِبِ الدَّرْبِ دورُها

وما كلُّ نفسٍ حينَ تَلْقَى حَبِيبَها              تُسَرُّ ولا كُلُّ الغِيابِ يُضِيرُها

فإن سرَّها قبلَ الفِراقِ لِقاؤُه                  فليسَ بمأمونٍ عليها سرُورُها

متى  تُبْصِرِ القدسَ العتيقةَ مَرَّةً                فسوفَ تراها العَيْنُ حَيْثُ تُدِيرُها

في القدسِ، بائعُ خضرةٍ من جورجيا برمٌ بزوجته

يفكرُ في قضاءِ إجازةٍ أو في في طلاءِ البيتْ

في القدس، توراةٌ وكهلٌ جاءَ من مَنْهاتِنَ العُليا

يُفَقَّهُ فتيةَ البُولُونِ في أحكامها

في القدسِ شرطيٌ من الأحباشِ يُغْلِقُ شَارِعاً في السوقِ،

رشَّاشٌ على مستوطنٍ لم يبلغِ العشرينَ،

قُبَّعة تُحَيِّي حائطَ المبكَى

وسياحٌ من الإفرنجِ شُقْرٌ لا يَرَوْنَ القدسَ إطلاقاً

تَراهُم يأخذونَ لبعضهم صُوَرَاً

مَعَ امْرَأَةٍ تبيعُ الفِجْلَ في الساحاتِ طُولَ اليَومْ

في القدسِ دَبَّ الجندُ مُنْتَعِلِينَ فوقَ الغَيمْ

في القدسِ صَلَّينا على الأَسْفَلْتْ

في القدسِ مَن في القدسِ إلا أنْتْ

وَتَلَفَّتَ التاريخُ لي مُتَبَسِّماً

أَظَنَنْتَ حقاً أنَّ عينَك سوفَ تخطئهم، وتبصرُ غيرَهم

ها هُم أمامَكَ، مَتْنُ نصٍّ أنتَ حاشيةٌ عليهِ وَهَامشٌ

أَحَسبتَ أنَّ زيارةً سَتُزيحُ عن وجهِ المدينةِ يابُنَيَّ

حجابَ واقِعِها السميكَ لكي ترى فيها هَواكْ

في القدسِ كلًّ فتى سواكْ

وهي الغزالةُ في المدى، حَكَمَ الزمانُ بِبَيْنِها

ما زِلتَ تَرْكُضُ إثْرَهَا مُذْ وَدَّعَتْكَ بِعَيْنِها

رفقاً بِنَفسكَ ساعةً إني أراكَ وَهَنْتْ

في القدسِ من في القدسِ إلا أَنْتْ

يا كاتبَ التاريخِ مَهْلاً،

فالمدينةُ دهرُها دهرانِ

دهر مطمئنٌ  لا يغيرُ خطوَه وكأنَّه يمشي خلالَ النومْ

وهناك دهرٌ، كامنٌ متلثمٌ يمشي بلا صوتٍ حِذار القومْ

والقدس تعرف نفسها،

إسأل هناك الخلق يدْلُلْكَ الجميعُ

فكلُّ شيئ في المدينةِ

ذو لسانٍ، حين تَسأَلُهُ، يُبينْ

في القدس يزدادُ الهلالُ تقوساً مثلَ الجنينْ

حَدْباً على أشباهه فوقَ القبابِ

تَطَوَّرَتْ ما بَيْنَهم عَبْرَ السنينَ عِلاقةُ الأَبِ بالبَنينْ

في القدس أبنيةٌ حجارتُها اقتباساتٌ من الإنجيلِ والقرآنْ

في القدس تعريفُ الجمالِ مُثَمَّنُ الأضلاعِ أزرقُ،

فَوْقَهُ، يا دامَ عِزُّكَ، قُبَّةٌ ذَهَبِيَّةٌ،

تبدو برأيي، مثل مرآة محدبة ترى وجه السماء مُلَخَّصَاً فيها

تُدَلِّلُها وَتُدْنِيها

تُوَزِّعُها كَأَكْياسِ المعُونَةِ في الحِصَارِ لمستَحِقِّيها

إذا ما أُمَّةٌ من بعدِ خُطْبَةِ جُمْعَةٍ مَدَّتْ بِأَيْدِيها

وفي القدس السماءُ تَفَرَّقَتْ في الناسِ تحمينا ونحميها

ونحملُها على أكتافِنا حَمْلاً

إذا جَارَت على أقمارِها الأزمانْ

في القدس أعمدةُ الرُّخامِ الداكناتُ

كأنَّ تعريقَ الرُّخامِ دخانْ

ونوافذٌ تعلو المساجدَ والكنائس،

أَمْسَكَتْ بيدِ الصُّباحِ تُرِيهِ كيفَ النقشُ بالألوانِ،

وَهْوَ يقول: “لا بل هكذا”،

فَتَقُولُ: “لا بل هكذا”،

حتى إذا طال الخلافُ تقاسما

فالصبحُ حُرٌّ خارجَ العَتَبَاتِ لَكِنْ

إن أرادَ دخولَها

فَعَلَيهِ أن يَرْضَى بحُكْمِ نوافذِ الرَّحمنْ

في القدس مدرسةٌ لمملوكٍ أتى مما وراءَ النهرِ،

باعوهُ بسوقِ نِخَاسَةٍ في إصفهانَ  لتاجرٍ من أهلِ بغدادٍ أتى حلباً  فخافَ أميرُها من زُرْقَةٍ في عَيْنِهِ اليُسْرَى،

فأعطاهُ لقافلةٍ أتت مصراً، فأصبحَ بعدَ بضعِ سنينَ غَلاَّبَ المغولِ وصاحبَ السلطانْ

في القدس رائحةٌ تُلَخِّصُ بابلاً والهندَ في دكانِ عطارٍ بخانِ الزيتْ

واللهِ رائحةٌ لها لغةٌ سَتَفْهَمُها إذا أصْغَيتْ

وتقولُ لي إذ يطلقونَ قنابل الغاز المسيِّلِ للدموعِ عَلَيَّ: “لا تحفل بهم”

وتفوحُ من بعدِ انحسارِ الغازِ، وَهْيَ تقولُ لي: “أرأيتْ!”

في القدس يرتاحُ التناقضُ، والعجائبُ ليسَ ينكرُها العِبادُ،

كأنها قِطَعُ القِمَاشِ يُقَلِّبُونَ قَدِيمها وَجَدِيدَها،

والمعجزاتُ هناكَ تُلْمَسُ باليَدَيْنْ

في القدس لو صافحتَ شيخاً أو لمستَ بنايةً

لَوَجَدْتَ منقوشاً على كَفَّيكَ نَصَّ قصيدَةٍ

يابْنَ الكرامِ أو اثْنَتَيْنْ

في القدس، رغمَ تتابعِ النَّكَباتِ،  ريحُ براءةٍ في الجوِّ، ريحُ طُفُولَةٍ،

فَتَرى الحمامَ يَطِيرُ يُعلِنُ دَوْلَةً في الريحِ بَيْنَ رَصَاصَتَيْنْ

في القدس تنتظمُ القبورُ، كأنهنَّ سطورُ تاريخِ المدينةِ والكتابُ ترابُها

الكل مرُّوا من هُنا

فالقدسُ تقبلُ من أتاها كافراً أو مؤمنا

أُمرر بها واقرأ شواهدَها بكلِّ لغاتِ أهلِ الأرضِ

فيها الزنجُ والإفرنجُ والقِفْجَاقُ والصِّقْلابُ والبُشْنَاقُ

والتاتارُ والأتراكُ، أهلُ الله والهلاك،  والفقراءُ والملاك، والفجارُ والنساكُ،

فيها كلُّ من وطئَ الثَّرى

كانوا الهوامشَ في الكتابِ فأصبحوا نَصَّ المدينةِ قبلنا

يا كاتب التاريخِ ماذا جَدَّ فاستثنيتنا

يا شيخُ فلتُعِدِ الكتابةَ والقراءةَ مرةً أخرى، أراك لَحَنْتْ

العين تُغْمِضُ، ثمَّ تنظُرُ، سائقُ السيارةِ الصفراءِ، مالَ بنا شَمالاً نائياً عن بابها

والقدس صارت خلفنا

والعينُ تبصرُها بمرآةِ اليمينِ،

تَغَيَّرَتْ ألوانُها في الشمسِ، مِنْ قبلِ الغيابْ

إذ فاجَأَتْني بسمةٌ لم أدْرِ كيفَ تَسَلَّلَتْ للوَجْهِ

قالت لي وقد أَمْعَنْتُ ما أَمْعنْتْ

يا أيها الباكي وراءَ السورِ، أحمقُ أَنْتْ؟

أَجُنِنْتْ؟

لا تبكِ عينُكَ أيها المنسيُّ من متنِ الكتابْ

لا تبكِ عينُكَ أيها العَرَبِيُّ واعلمْ أنَّهُ

في القدسِ من في القدسِ لكنْ

لا أَرَى في القدسِ إلا أَنْتْ

 

Radical Judaism in Israel

by Anait Brutian on November 13, 2010

Infamous Rabbi Ovadia Yosef 

Khalid Amayreh‘s article “Major Rabbi Says All We Non-Jews Are Donkeys, Created to Serve Jews” is an eye opener for the world that has no idea as to what the concept of “Gentile” means in Orthodox Judaism. Amayreh’s description – “infra-human beings or quasi-animals” – accurately depicts the attitude towards Gentiles in Jewish tradition. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef – the spiritual leader of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Shas party that “forms part of the ruling coalition” – expressed the sentiments held by Israeli political and religious leaders: “the sole purpose of non-Jews is to serve Jews.” “Non-Jews were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel … The lives of non-Jews in Israel are preserved by God in order to prevent losses to Jews … In Israel, death has no dominion over them … With gentiles, it will be like any person. They need to die, but God will give them longevity. Why? Imagine that one’s donkey would die, they’d lose their money … This is his servant … That’s why he gets a long life, to work well for this Jew.”

In view of his large following – Rabbi Yosef “is considered a major religious leader,” “a prominent Torah sage” and an “authority on the interpretation of Talmud” that “enjoys the allegiance of hundreds of thousands of followers” – the Sabbath homily that contained these remarks will affect countless Israelis, who subscribe to the fanatical notion that they are chosen by God to be the rulers of the world. Numerous passages from the Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible) encourage similar notions: ” Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall till your land and dress you vines; but you shall be called priests of the Lord, you shall be named ministers of our God; you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory” (Isaiah 61:5-6). Rabbi Yosef’s “comparison between animals of burden and non-Jews,” further elucidated in the following statement – “Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap; and we will sit like an effendi and eat” – thus reflects the zealous notion expressed in Isaiah 61:5-6.

The Torah-and- Talmud-based prejudice against Gentiles has been taking place for centuries, encouraged by Jewish religious authorities (see The Tale of Christmas Trees at Hanukkah and Menorahs at Christmas). As the article on “Theodicy” enlightens, “God is always God, but by no means good to all.” According to the Oral Torah, God is good “to those who keep the Torah” (see Religious Intolerance in Classical Judaism). The Halachic laws (the collective body of Jewish religious law, including the 613 biblical laws) as practiced by all Jews from the 9th to the 18th centuries and upheld by Orthodox Judaism today, permit the killing of Gentiles that have violated the seven Noachian Laws, which according to the Talmud, should be followed by all mankind. The Yeshiva World News official website justified Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira’s and Yossi Elitzur‘s Torah HaMelech’s (The King’s Torah) (see The Ugly Face of the Zionist Jihad: The Halachic Guide for the Killing of Gentiles) permission to kill Gentiles with the following statement: “The sefer [Hebrew for book] adds that killing a non-Jew who has violated the Seven Mitzvos [Hebrew for commandments] given to non-Jews because we care about torah and mitzvos, then this is acceptable. It stresses the importance of Eretz Yisrael, the halachic requirements of the land, and living within a torah framework.”

According to Jewish Encyclopaedia, “the barbarian Gentiles who could not be prevailed upon to observe law and order” were not supposed to benefit from the Jewish civil laws, “framed to regulate a stable and orderly society,” “based on reciprocity.” Deuteronomy 33:2 that refers to Moses’ farewell address to the Jews – “[2] The LORD came from Sinai, and rose from Seir unto them; He shined forth from mount Paran, and He came from the myriads holy, at His right hand was a fiery law unto them” – is interpreted to mean that God “offered the Torah to the Gentile nations also, but since they refused to accept it, He withdrew His ‘shining’ legal protection from them, and transferred their property rights to Israel, who observed His Law.” The Jewish Encyclopaedia justifies the discrimination against Gentiles, connecting it to “the vile and vicious character of the Gentiles.” Moreover, Gentiles are considered unreliable – “it would … be quite unsafe to trust a Gentile as a witness, either in a criminal case or in a civil suit. He could not be depended upon to keep his promise or word of honour like a Jew.” The Talmud comments on the dishonesty of Gentiles – “a band of strange children whose mouth speaketh vanity and their right hand [in raising it to take an oath] is a right hand of falsehood.”

Rabbi Yosef’s call for a “plague on Mahmoud Abbas” or his wish for Abbas “to vanish from our world” is rooted in Classical Judaism that discriminates against Gentiles. Halacha 16 in Chapter Nine of the Tractate Avodah Zarah from Mishneh Torah by Maimonides – Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, born at Cordova March 30, 1135, died at Cairo December 13, 1204, whose acronym forms “Rambam” – states: “A Jewish woman should not nurse the child of an idolater, since, by doing so, she raises a son who will be an idolater. She should not serve as a midwife for an idolatrous woman [without charge]. She may, however, do so for a fee, lest strife arise. An idolatrous woman may serve as a midwife for a Jewess and nurse her child. [This must be done] in premises belonging to a Jew, lest the idolatrous woman kill the child.” The prejudice against Gentiles is curbed down only in fear of creating a negative posture against Jews living among Gentiles – “lest strife arise” – but not out of empathy. Halacha 2 in Chapter Ten explains: “It is forbidden to offer medical treatment to an idolater even when offered a wage. If, however, one is afraid of the consequences or fears that ill feeling will be aroused, one may treat them for a wage, but to treat them free is forbidden.” An exception to the prohibition occurs when a doctor treats a Ger Toshav – a resident, who accepts monotheism and upholds the seven Noachian Laws: “[With regard to] a ger toshav, since we are commanded to secure his well-being, he may be given medical treatment at no cost.”

Besides its overtly discriminatory content, Halacha 1 in Chapter Ten illustrates its author’s, anti-Gentile sentiments. “We may not draw up a covenant with idolaters, which will establish peace between them [and us] and yet allow them to worship idols, as [Deuteronomy 7:2] states: ‘Do not establish a covenant with them’. Rather, they must renounce their [idol] worship or be slain. It is forbidden to have mercy upon them, as [Deuteronomy, ibid.] states: ‘Do not be gracious to them’. Accordingly, if we see an idolater being swept away or drowning in the river, we should not help him. If we see that his life is in danger, we should not save him. It is, however, forbidden to cause one of them to sink or push him into a pit or the like, since he is not waging war against us.” The prohibition against saving a Gentile’s life comes from a Talmudic interpretation of Leviticus 19:18 – “[18] Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” – where the Hebrew “re’akha,” rendered as “thy neighbour,” “thy fellow” or “thy friend” in various translations, is interpreted as “thy fellow Jew,” not any fellow human being. Consequently, Leviticus 19:16 – “[16] Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people; neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbour” – is interpreted as an injunction against standing idly when the life of a fellow Jew is in danger, but not when the life of a Gentile is threatened.

The phrase “Rather, they must renounce their [idol] worship or be slain” is justified through Deuteronomy 20:17 that states: “Thou shalt utterly destroy them.” Thus “any gentile who does not accept the seven universal laws commanded to Noah and his descendants should be slain.” Two qualifying statements – “Surely, this applies to nations which we conquer” and “Anyone who chances upon one of them and does not kill them violates a negative commandment, as [Deuteronomy 20:16] states: ‘Do not allow a soul to live'” – further clarify the murderous intent of Halacha 1. The rule indiscriminately applies to all Gentiles. But it is a “mitzvah … to eradicate Jewish traitors, minnim, and apikorsim, and to cause them to descend to the pit of destruction, since they cause difficulty to the Jews and sway the people away from God, {as did Jesus of Nazareth and his students, and Tzadok, Baithos, and their students. May the name of the wicked rot.}.” The Commentary on the “mitzvah … to eradicate Jewish traitors” states: “This refers to a person who betrays either Jewish lives or Jewish property to gentiles … It is a mitzvah to kill a traitor wherever he is located. [This applies] even in the present era when cases involving capital punishment are not tried. It is permitted to kill him before he betrays [someone]…. Whoever kills him first merits. If, however, the traitor accomplished his objective and betrayed [a Jew to the gentiles], it is forbidden to kill him unless we presume that he will betray others.”

In light of the present discussion, Rabbi Mordecahi Eliyahu’s attitudes towards civilians in Gaza or the victims of the Asian Tsunami – “those who died were paying for their governments’ support of the Palestinians”– can be identified as relating to Talmud’s position towards Gentiles. Talmud’s interpretation of the Commandment against stealing is a good example. Exodus 20:12 “Thou shalt not steal” is understood to mean “Not to kidnap a Jewish person (see article 243), while the same law in Leviticus 19:11 “Ye shall not steal” is interpreted as an injunction against “stealing money” (see article 244). Since the interpretation of “thy neighbour,” “thy fellow” or “thy friend” is fixed to mean “thy fellow Jew” and not “thy fellow human being,” article 285 referring to an injunction against giving “false testimony,” article 297 against the “neglect” of “thy neighbour” (Leviticus 19:16) “in mortal danger” and articles 301, 302, 303, 304, 305 referring to injunctions against “gossip,” “bearing hatred,” “embarrassing any Jewish person,” “taking revenge” and “bearing a grudge” restrict these acts only when they are committed against a “fellow Jew.”

“Utter destruction” and “annihilation” are presented as a Positive Commandment and the prohibition against having mercy upon Gentiles, as a Negative Commandment, “one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah.” The decree that even peaceful Gentiles that are not at war with the Jews do not deserve to be saved is justified on purely religious grounds – “Our Sages declared, ‘Kill even the best of the gentiles’,” or “Any gentile who does not accept the seven universal laws commanded to Noah and his descendants should be slain.” In an attempt to validate the decision, two qualifying statements follow: “These directives, however, can be interpreted to apply only in a time of war or in a time when the Jews have control over the gentiles. When the Jews are in exile or must take into consideration the dictates of gentile authorities, an idolater cannot be slain merely because of the sin of idol worship.” In other words, intolerance towards other beliefs – part and parcel of the Talmudic teaching – and the genocidal nature of the halachic laws become fully evident at times of war, Jewish autonomy, and Jewish power over Gentiles. The same laws are modified or dispensed with at times when Israel is “subject to the good will of the gentile powers.” “Hence, the laws mentioned in this halacha cannot be put into practice at present.”

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s likening of “non-Jews to donkeys and beasts of burden” is in line with his attitude towards the U.S. President Barack Obama, whom he likened to a “slave” ruling over slaves. “We are being ruled by slaves,” the spiritual leader of Shas pronounced in relation to the proposed “freeze” of settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Rabbi Yosef articulated the sentiments of many who do not have the political muscle to dictate their will to the President of Israel’s Godfather, the United States. His weekly sermon contained the following statement: “What right do they have to tell us ‘here you can build, here you can’t build … We are not their slaves,” partially aired on Israeli radios – a fact of great importance, dismissed by most commentators. Publicly inciting hatred against a U.S. president, because of the Administration’s demands to “halt settlement activity,” should have sent shock-waves around the world and opened the eyes of Americans as to the cunning nature of this so-called close ally. Yet, it didn’t because the Zionist Media deliberately kept it off the news (see The Hijacked Democracy and the Zionist Media).

The radical views expressed in Rabbi Yosef’s other remarks did not make to the headlines either – he “referred to Arabs and Palestinians as “snakes” and “vipers” who were “swarming like ants.” Nor did the Iraqi born former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel spare his own – “He called on God to strike down then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over the 2005 withdrawal of settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip, and during the Lebanon war in July-August 2006, implied that Israeli soldiers killed in battle died because they didn’t follow Jewish commandments.” The views articulated by the leader of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Shas party are shared by Prime Minister Netanyahu who told his Cabinet “there would be no limits on Jewish construction anywhere in ‘unified Jerusalem’: “We cannot accept the fact that Jews wouldn’t be entitled to live and buy anywhere in Jerusalem.” Netanyahu’s argument that calls for Israeli sovereignty over the entire city of Jerusalem is echoed in Rabbi Yosef’s question: “Where is our Temple? There are Arabs there!” and promise that the messiah “will throw all these evil ones out of here.”

The presence of the Noble Sanctuary or Haram Al-Sharif in Arabic on The Temple Mount or Har Habayit in Hebrew (har – Hebrew for “mount,” “hill,” “mountain”; bayit – Hebrew for “house” with an attached definite article ha) is an irritant for radical rabbis like Ovadia Yosef and others. The Orthodox Yeshiva Ateret Cohanim also known as Ateret Yerushalayim, founded by Motti Dan Hacohen, since its establishment in 1978, has helped Israeli Jews move to East Jerusalem and settle in the Arab neighbourhoods of the Old City, to solidify their presence near the Temple Mount in preparation for rebuilding the Third Temple. The Ateret Yerushalayim’s website calls The Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem “the holiest spot in the world” without, however, mentioning that this “holiest spot in the world” is called the Noble Sanctuary or Haram Al-Sharif in Arabic, and is as holy for Muslims as it is for Jews. Orthodox Jews insist that the Noble Sanctuary must be destroyed before the Third Temple can be built. According to Desmond Alexander and Simon Gathercole, Chaim Richman of the Temple Institute claims that “detailed blueprints for the Third Temple have existed for several years” and other buildings related to the future Temple are “planned or have already been built,” including a replica Sanhedrin, in the Jewish Quarter.

In 1982, Yoel Lerner, a member of Meir Kahane’s racist Kach Party, who had served a three-year sentence for “plotting to overthrow the Israeli government” and establish a Torah-based theocracy, was convicted and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for attempting to blow up the Dome of the Rock because he believed the site was once the place where an ancient Jewish Temple had stood and that Jews must insure the coming of the Messiah by removing obstacles like the Dome of the Rock: “The Messiah will come to earth only after the temple is rebuilt and made ready for him.” Ateret Yerushalayim’s website announces that the Yeshiva “sees as its purpose the preparation of young men, from all strands of Israeli society, to love Torah and to be G-d-fearing” but avoids citing its head Rabbi Shlomo Aviner’s statement quoted by Gideon Levy in his Haaretz article of June 1, 1998, entitled “The High Priests of Calamity”: “We will settle more and more of our holy city, until all of it is ours … [we] won’t be able to buy all the houses in the city … Instead, … [we] will make the [Arab] residents’ life so bitter that the latter will eventually have to flee the city.”

Similarly, the website proudly announces that “they follow in the footsteps of … revered teacher Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook and his son … Rabbi Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah [Kook]” but fails to mention that Rabbi Abraham Kook taught Jewish supremacy: “The difference between a Jewish soul and souls of non-Jews – all of them in all different levels – is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the souls of cattle.” Neither does it mention the fact that the good rabbi’s fanatical son, Rabbi Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, founded the extremist group Gush Emunim with the slogan: “The Land of Israel, for the people of Israel, according to the Torah of Israel” and that Gush Emunim believes that “God created the world for Jews, others are lesser beings, Greater Israel belongs to Jews alone, and holy wars are acceptable to attain it.” Rabbi Shlomo Aviner’s educational background includes the fundamentalist religious school Merkaz Harav in Jerusalem, founded and headed by Rabbi Abraham Kook from 1924 to 1935, headed by Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Harlap form 1935 to 1951and Rabbi Abraham Kook’s son, Tzvi Yehudah Kook from 1951 to 1982, but omits to summarize the teachings of the Yeshiva: “Non-Jews living under Jewish law in Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) must either be enslaved as water carriers and wood hewers, or banished, or exterminated” (see The Zionist Experiment of Eretz Israel).

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s notion of Gentiles as “infra-human beings,” or “quasi-animals” follows a well-established tradition in Orthodox Judaism. The critical question of the Oral Torah: “Might one suppose that God is good to all?” is answered in the negative. Moreover, the gentile solution “to the theology of world order” is considered “thin” and “one-dimensional” – “the gentiles serve God’s will in ruling Israel, thereby punishing Israel for its sin, but will themselves give way to Israel at the last – nicely served.” In the eyes of Westerners, the notion of religious fundamentalism is erroneously linked to Islam (see In the Shadow of the Commandments of Religion and The Zionist Strategy of Demonizing Islam). Yet, Islamic fundamentalism has its counterpart in Israel in the form of radical Judaism. Unlike Israeli political leaders that since the Six-Day War of 1967 have adopted a policy of downright duplicity (see America Is Easy to Push Around), whereby religious zealots are criticized in public only to be complimented in private – Ateret Yerushalayim’s approbation by Ehud Olmert, who called it “fighters on the Jerusalem front,” Benjamin Netanyahu, who praised its work as “the expression of an age-old aspiration,” and Teddy Kollek, a moderate by reputation, who supported its actions, are examples out of so many – Israeli radical religious leaders express their views freely. As appalling as their comments are, these, nevertheless, serve to enlighten the rest of humanity to the true nature of radical Judaism. What these modern-day pseudo-prophets don’t realize is the simple truth that the deep-seated beliefs of “chosen people,” “superior race” and the myth of their entitlement to rule over inferior races affect not only the way in which Jews relate to the world but also how the world relates to the Jews.

* Anait Brutian (B. Mus. with Honours in Theory, McGill University; M. A. in Music Theory, McGill University) is a student in the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill. Her previous research includes a self-published book entitled: Reconciling Geometry, Rhetoric and Harmony: A Fresh Look at C. P. E. Bach. She is currently working on another book on mathematical paradigms in literature (Old and New Testaments), art, architecture, and music. She can be contacted at anaitbrutian@videotron.ca

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