Settler Judaism: The Destructive Idol Worship of Our Time

A Palestinian man crying.

A Palestinian man cries after identifying the body of a loved one killed in Israel’s July 2014 attack on Gaza. “Settler Judaism” uses memories of past Jewish suffering to distract from Israel’s abuses against Palestinians. Credit: AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis.

The Jewish people’s openness toward the love-oriented, emancipatory, transformative aspects of Judaism is increasingly being subordinated to what I call “Settler Judaism,” a Judaism that scoffs at universal values and human rights and valorizes power over others as the ultimate “realism” to which post-Holocaust Jews must be subservient.

Settler Judaism is the contemporary form of idol worship that has the greatest appeal to twenty-first-century Jews who see the world through the framework of the past suffering of our people. As I have explored at greater length in my book Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation, members of this emerging Jewish majority believe that loyalty to the State of Israel and its army is an appropriate replacement for service to YHVH (God)—the voice of Transformative Power that commands us to “love the stranger” and to pursue justice, kindness, generosity, and peace

The recent intensification of violence in Israel/Palestine broke my heart, not only because of the disastrous consequences for Palestinians of the war in Gaza—including the deaths of over 2,000 Palestinians, the maiming of over 6,000 more, the destruction of most Palestinian factories and many hospitals and UN schools, the sudden homelessness of an estimated one-quarter of the population following a massive Israeli attack on apartment buildings, and the total traumatization of the population—but also because Israelis and many American Jews, understandably fearful of the bombardment of Israeli population centers by Hamas, seem to have completely forgotten that it is Israel that is occupying Palestine and it is Gazans who have been traumatized by seven years of blockade of needed food and other basic materials. This is fanning global anger at Jews and is also undermining the credibility of Judaism for many ethically sensitive younger Jews.

This growing moral insensitivity derives from what I see as the implicit Ten Commandments of Settler Jews, which I draw from statements that I’ve repeatedly seen and heard made by people who embrace the worship of the State of Israel.

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