Nobody mentions the Jewish Brotherhood

Israelis bemoan the alleged rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, ignoring their own local variety

While Israelis pay plenty of attention to the fear of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, they steadfastly ignore the rise of the Jewish brotherhood in their own country.

The motto of the MB is “Islam is the solution”: faced with the failure of modernity in the Arab world, they want to step back into an imagined past of a pure Islamic rule – Sunni Islamism, of course. This interpretation of Islamic history has little relation to Islamic rule as it was in fact.

The Jewish Brotherhood, which uses widespread slogans such as “Jehova is the King” and “Return the Crown to its old glory”, address a much more mythical world: No “pure” Jewish regime ever existed. The very short years of independence in Judea – under the Hasmoneans – were run under a purely Hellenistic fusion of the rule of a king (who was, in Hellenistic and Roman propriety but hardly a Jewish one, also the high priest) and a council of notables, the Sanhedrin. Many of the Hasmonean kings relied on the Sadducees rather than on the Pharisees, who would give birth to rabbinical Judaism as we know it.

The rabbis would, in later ages, almost completely remove the hated Hasmoneans from history – the references to them in the Talmud would fill a very short brochure – and imagine their own independent government. It still has a king, but he was playing a decidedly second fiddle to the rabbis. And since the marking sign of Jewish thought from Talmudic days onwards was fanatical hatred of non-Jews (to whom they referred as “goyim”, similar to the Hellenistic/Roman usage of “Barbarian”), the future Jewish kingdom was supposed to be free of non-Jews, unless those who would either be subservient to the Jews, or would accept a version of Jewish law (“The laws of the sons of Noah”).

The Jewish state coming into being in 1948 was, as far as many Jewish fanatics thought, a total failure. It was the result of distinctly foreign ideologies, running the gamut between socialism and eastern European nationalism. Neither was particularly interested in Jewish law. The nationalists would show respect to its symbols – wearing the yarmulka when appropriate, held a kiddush from time to time – but would recognize the full monstrosity of Jewish law as their guide to life.

As a result, terrorist groups of ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox-nationalists abounded in the earlier days of the state; the famous if such terrorists was Mordechai Eliyahu, later to become Chief Rabbi and the father of Shmuel Eliyahu, the main engine of current ultra-Orthodox nationalism. Their purpose was to bring down the pseudo-democracy of the 1950s – Israel still held its Arab citizens under military law – and create, in its stead, a theocratic state.

They failed to win support. And, like the extremists among the MB, the Jewish right adopted terrorism as a tool. Jewish terrorists killed mostly non-Jews, but they put Jews in their sights, as well: Emil Grunzweig in 1983; Yizhak Rabin in 1995; The attempt by Ohad Bart, a Bnei Akiva (right wing Jewish Scouts) guide and later a National Unity Knesset candidate, to run minister Yossi Sarid off the road and into an abyss in 1996 (two months after the assassination of Rabin); The attempt by Chabad member Harry Shapiro on Shimon Peres’ life in Jacksonville in 1997; and various less deadly attacks, from the defacement of offices of human rights organizations and leftist organizations to arson.

Terrorism failed, as did rebellion. During the disengagement of 2005 – the removal of Jewish settlements from Gaza – there was a widespread attempt to bring about a revolt. I once interviewed the spokesman of the Yesha Council – the mainstream settler organization – about the focal point, the clash in Kfar Maimon, where Sharon forced the army to stand its ground and bring the revolt down. “They had tanks. They had gunship helicopters,” he told me. “Gunships! What could we be expected to do against that?” The Council was under attack by more radical settlers for not doing enough. I guess it’s a good thing the IDF brought along something heavier than jeeps.

Following the failure of the revolt, the movement’s ideologues – particularly Elyakim Levanon – began talking of taking over the establishment: more officers in the IDF, more “Emuniim” (“people of faith”) in every nook and cranny of the regime. It’s rather easy to identify religious reactionaries: the litmus test is their attitude towards women’s rights. Levanon forbade women from running in the elections for his settlement’s leadership (Hebrew), reminding them that Jewish law forbids “granting office to women.” His rabbinical position was strong enough to enforce the ruling.

Like the Muslim Brotherhood, whose basic assumption is that the first process towards a return to the glory days is cleansing society of non-Islamic elements, the Jewish Brotherhood always claimed that non-Jews ought to be removed from Jewish society. In this, they enjoyed wide support from most of Israeli Jewish society, which was always racist to the bone (a vast majority of Orthodox Jews in Israel consider a family member marrying a non-Jew to be a blot on the family’s honor). This process reached new peaks during the last few years.

About a year ago, some hitherto unknown group in Safed started demanding (Hebrew) employers sign their non-Jewish workers to a pledge to keep the “laws of the Sons of Noah” – i.e. recognize their subservience to Jewish law. By no accident, Safed is the town of Shmuel Eliyahu. The initiative spread to other towns. Then came Eliyahu’s ruling, forbidding renting apartments to non-Jews, which led to the “Rabbis’ Letter,” signed by more than 300 Israeli rabbis. Immediately afterward we were hit with the “assimilation” hysteria: The Rabbis Wives’ letter (apparently they’re denied political office, but are allowed carefully-vetted political expression), a ruling by the rabbi of Rosh Ha’Ayin forbidding the employment at Jewish women and Arab men in the same workplace; and the blood libel that Arab witches brew seduction potions, made of rabbits, to be used against Jewish females, particularly Orthodox ones (I shit you not; Hebrew).

The last few weeks have seen an acceleration: the LHVH organization, which focuses on “the danger of assimilation”, produced a new sort of kosher certificate –  one noting the business employs no non-Jews – and it seems to be doing brisk business (Hebrew). Soon, MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) will use the podium of the Women’s Promotion Committee of the Knesset to hold a debate on the “perils of women assimilating” – i.e. promote the standard racist libel that “they” are trying to ravish “our” women, and grant it the imprimatur of the Knesset. I mean, if the Knesset debates it, it must exist, no?

It should be noted that Israeli law already fights interfaith marriages: A Jew and a non-Jew (as well as any Muslim trying to marry a non-Muslim) cannot marry in Israel, which stubbornly refuses to permit civil marriages and leaves standing the formation of the old Turkish Millet, or religious sect. An Israeli Jew wishing to marry a non-Jew is forced to marry abroad.

And, soon enough, his or her partner won’t be able to work alongside Jews, and she (or he) will be severely rebuked by the Knesset for defiling all that is holy in Judaism. So, once again – which of the two is nearer power, the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, or the Israeli Jewish Brotherhood?