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November 11, 2009

Humanity endangered by "chosen people"

Reuel S. Amdur

Reuel S. AmdurDésiré Munyaneza got the bad news on October 29.  That’s when Judge André Denis released his judgment in the case against him. 

Guilty on seven counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.  Life in the slammer with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Munyaneza was an active participant in the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi minority.  He murdered, raped, and looted and encouraged others to do likewise. 

He also oversaw roadblocks that stopped all comers to identify the Tutsis, who were killed.  He supplied killers with machetes which he ordered from the wholesaler.  He took victims by car to places where they were dispatched.  Many witnesses testified to his crimes. 

Judge Denis received testimony not only in Canada but also in Africa and France, and so Munyaneza made history—the first war criminal convicted in Canada. 

What the judge said in sentencing Munyaneza resonates broadly.  “History,” he said, “has shown that what happened there can happen anywhere in the world, that nobody is immune to such a tragedy.”  Munyaneza, “an educated man of privilege, chose to kill, rape, and pillage in the name of supremacy of his ethnic group, reminding us that every time a man claims to belong to a superior race, a chosen people, humanity is in danger.”

Rwanda lost some 800,000 to a million people in the genocide, but, as Judge Denis said, such crimes can occur anywhere.  They occurred in the Holocaust against Jews and Roma. In other situations the crimes may be less horrific but no less real.  Take the situation in Palestine.

The Israeli government, especially in its Likud face, illustrates the caution about claims for chosen peoplehood.  In the case of Gaza, the devastation caused and the blockade inflicted are indicative of that danger.  Israel claimed justification for its behavior because of rockets fired from Gaza into the Negev.  This excuse did not convince Judge Richard Goldstone.  However, the behavior and ideology of Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories constitute an illustration of Denis’ concern without even such an excuse.

In 1974, Gush Emunim was founded “To bring about a major spiritual reawakening in the Jewish people for the sake of the full realization of the Zionist vision, in the knowledge that this vision’s source and goal in the Jewish history and in Judaism’s roots are the total redemption both of the Jewish people and of the whole world.” 

Gush Enumim set out to establish settlements throughout the Occupied Territories as part of the fulfillment of the scriptures, in this their messianic age. 

Prior to this, back just before the Six Day War in 1967, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook gave a speech in which he spoke of the UN resolution founding Israel as a tragedy: “They have . . . divided my land.’ (Joel 4:2)!”  And, “All that lies beyond the Jordan—each and every clod of earth, every region, hill, valley, every plot of land, that is part of the Land of Israel—have we the right to give up even one grain of the Land of Israel?!”

Commenting on this kind of messianic thinking, Ehud Sprinzak, in an article on the web site of the American Jewish Committee, said, “The danger of the fundamentalist mind is its conviction that reality is bound to follow ideology and not vice versa.  Facts can simply be disregarded: the Palestinians do not exist, the Arab countries do not count, world public opinion is rubbish, and the U.S. government is merely a nuisance.  The only reality that counts is Jewish redemption, which is imminent—to be realized by massive aliyah [return of Jews to Israel], negation of the Diaspora, and the building of the Third Temple.” 

Settlers today express the chosen people theme that Judge Denis identifies as a danger wherever it crops up. 

Aryeh Davis, a Hebron settler, recently illustrated both Denis’ concerns and Sprinzak’s analysis of an ideologically driven conception of reality: “It says in the Bible that this land is ours; it will stay ours and we will keep building more and more.  God is stronger than Obama.” 

Another settler declared that “Building settlements is the most important commandment in the Torah.”

While Gush Emunim has not carried out large-scale massacres, Israelis who embrace their ideology have made a shrine of the grave of Baruch Goldstein.  He is the man who entered the Abrahimi mosque in Hebron (Al-Khalil) during Friday prayer and opened fire with an automatic weapon, killing indiscriminately until he was overcome and killed himself. 

No, the settlers do not fully emulate Goldstein, but they do attack Arab children on their way to school.  They steal farm animals and destroy olive groves.  They beat Arabs and fire at their homes. 

One Israeli rabbi, a member of Rabbis for Human Rights, remarked that the Bibles of the settlers doing such deeds seem to be missing some pages.  Because of their ideological exceptionalism, the settlers will, if made aware of Judge Denis’ remarks, dismiss them.  The words can’t possibly apply to them.

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