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‘For huge chunks of American Jewish life, Israel has become an idol’ –Waskow

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Nearly fifty years ago Lyndon Johnson sent the army into Washington to quell unrest in the days after the killing of Martin Luther King Jr. and– seeing the soldiers with guns on his street as the Pharaoh’s army, Arthur Waskow wrote the Freedom Seder, which venerated Eldridge Cleaver and Allen Ginsberg and Hannah Arendt and, published in Ramparts, became an inspiration to the antiwar and civil-rights movements.

Last night Rabbi Waskow was at the Center for Jewish History to commemorate that work and talk about his “MLK+50 Interfaith Seder” haggadah (or guidebook), which aims to “reawaken” King’s prophetic spirit. Nobody on the panel mentioned Israel and Palestine, but in the Q-and-A, Robert Herbst of Jewish Voice for Peace asked what Waskow’s Seder says to Jews and African-Americans about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. “A lot of the people who are drowning these days are Palestinians, and there’s a lot of silent agony and callousness over there,” Herbst said.

Waskow said he’d decided not to touch on Palestine in his new seder. “Between taking on the big empire and taking on the little empire, I think the Shalom Center [his organization] should take on the big empire– that is the United States,” he said.

But he had often written about Palestine, including an article for Tikkun on the 50th anniversary of the occupation last year. And he went on:

“I did a whole series of attempts to bringing Torah to bear. I said, what is the line between loving the state and making it an idol?

“I quoted two passages from the Talmud about what makes something an idol. One is, they were living, you remember, under the Roman empire. One tells the story: A Jew goes to a rabbi, and says, I just bought a house from a Roman. It’s a wonderful house, it’s got a wonderful pool, and at the end of the pool there’s a statue of a naked lady. I really worry it might be Venus. In which case I guess it’s an idol. Do I have to tear it down, destroy it?

“The rabbi says, Well it depends. If the statue was built to make the pool still more beautiful, it’s a statue. If the pool was put there to venerate the statue, it’s an idol.

“The second story from the Talmud is this. The rabbis decided to go hunt for yetzer hara for idolatry, the evil impulse for idolatry. They thought if they could find it they could kill it and then idolatry would end. So they hunted and they hunted and they hunted and they hunted, and they finally found it in the holy of holies, in the center. That’s where the impulse to idolatry was. So I take it as a warning that it may be the most sacred thing you can nevertheless turn into an idol. And I ask myself, what makes the difference? It seems to me, the ability to criticize the living god, as Abraham did, as Jacob who wrestled I think with God. ‘Why did you set up the world so that the only way I could get to be who I was supposed to be was to rob and steal and lie? What kind of a God is that?’ Wrestling!

“When you can’t wrestle with something you think is sacred, when you can’t criticize it, when you can’t call it into account, it’s an idol.

“And for huge chunks of American Jewish life, but not for all– for huge chunks, Israel has become an idol.

“Our tradition teaches us that’s the most dangerous disastrous thing in the world. The Psalm says, what are these things, they have noses but they can’t breathe. they have legs and they can’t walk, they have arms and they can’t touch. And those who make them will become like them.”

Waskow went on that in his seder he was “dealing with the Pharaohs of Washington, of corporations,” but that’s not to say that this is not a moral question.

“I talk about the carbon pharaohs who not only killed human beings, but are bringing plagues upon the earth, disastrous plagues that are also killing human beings…

“My own view is there are two serious tests for the Jewish people in the most basic sense, in this generation. One is to treat Israel not as an idol. If it could be, it has to be made to be the creative center for Jewish thought and culture and action. But that center could not possibly, could not possibly!– expel people who are looking for asylum… Not possibly. The Torah says if somebody comes to you fleeing his master, a runaway slave comes to you, then you must let him live wherever he wants within your gates. You must not expel him. How could a people that sees itself as a band of runaway slaves act any differently from that? Well, the present government of the state of Israel absolutely does act like that– about the Palestinians and the asylum seekers.”



Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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8 Responses

  1. Kathleen on March 26, 2018, 6:02 pm

    “When you can’t wrestle with something you think is sacred, when you can’t criticize it, when you can’t call it into account, it’s an idol.

    “And for huge chunks of American Jewish life, but not for all– for huge chunks, Israel has become an idol.


    Wonder if you could ask him about the power that the “little empire” has over the “big empire” when it comes to convincing the U.S. to invade other countries that Israel has labeled “existential” enemies

    • Citizen on March 26, 2018, 8:38 pm

      He might do as Chomsky has done–minimize the power of the Israel Lobby, which is so stupid in a plutocratic land like USA where SCOTUS has given money human rights. What’s anthropomorphic about a dollar bill, or billions of them? Nothing. They are created out of thin air. Nobody could write a horror story like this, not even The Thing.

    • Misterioso on March 27, 2018, 10:08 am

      For Zionist Jews, the entity known as “Israel” is another “golden calf.”

  2. JLewisDickerson on March 26, 2018, 9:52 pm

    RE: Waskow went on that in his seder he was “dealing with the Pharaohs of Washington, of corporations, . .” ~ Weiss

    MY COMMENT: When Trump has his grandiose military parade this upcoming Veterans Day, his Pharaoh-like mindset will be on full display. Not only can you not wrestle with him, you best not even politely disagree with him. The only safe thing to do is to make abundant, increasingly sycophantic offerings in his honor. In short, you best worship him far more devoutly than you do any other god.


    ■ Narcissistic rage and narcissistic injury
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ~

    [EXCERPTS] Narcissistic rage is a reaction to narcissistic injury, which is a perceived threat to a narcissist’s self-esteem or self-worth. Narcissistic injury (or narcissistic scar) is a phrase used by Sigmund Freud in the 1920s; narcissistic wound and narcissistic blow are further, almost interchangeable terms.[1] The term narcissistic rage was coined by Heinz Kohut in 1972.

    Narcissistic injury occurs when a narcissist feels that their hidden, “true self” has been revealed. This may be the case when the narcissist experiences a “fall from grace”, such as when their hidden behaviors or motivations are revealed, or when their importance is brought into question. Narcissistic injury is a cause of distress and can lead to dysregulation of behaviors as in narcissistic rage.

    Narcissistic rage occurs on a continuum, which may range from instances of aloofness and expressions of mild irritation or annoyance to serious outbursts, including violent attacks and murder.[2] Narcissistic rage reactions are not limited to personality disorders and may be also seen in catatonic, paranoid delusion and depressive episodes.[2] It has also been suggested that narcissists have two layers of rage. The first layer of rage can be thought of as a constant anger (towards someone else), with the second layer being a self-aimed wrath.[3] . . .

    • Kohut and self psychology
    Heinz Kohut explored a wide range of rage experiences in his seminal article “Thoughts on Narcissism and Narcissistic Rage” (1972).[17] He considered narcissistic rage as one major form among many, contrasting it especially with mature aggression.[18] Because the very structure of the self itself is weakened in the narcissist, their rage cannot flower into real assertiveness;[19] and they are left instead prone to oversensitivity to perceived or imagined narcissistic injuries resulting in narcissistic rage.[20]

    For Kohut, narcissistic rage is related to narcissists’ need for total control of their environment, including “the need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means”.[21] It is an attempt by the narcissist to turn from a passive sense of victimization to an active role in giving pain to others [The Marquis de Trump ~ J.L.D.], while at the same time attempting to rebuild their own (actually false) sense of self-worth. It may also involve self-protection and preservation, with rage serving to restore a sense of safety and power by destroying that which had threatened the narcissist.[21]

    Alternatively, according to Kohut, rages can be seen as a result of the shame at being faced with failure.[22] Narcissistic rage is the uncontrollable and unexpected anger that results from a narcissistic injury – a threat to a narcissist’s self-esteem or worth. Rage comes in many forms, but all pertain to the same important thing: revenge. Narcissistic rages are based on fear and will endure even after the threat is gone.[23]

    To the narcissist, the rage is directed towards the person that they feel has slighted them; to other people, the rage is incoherent and unjust. This rage impairs their cognition, therefore impairing their judgment. During the rage they are prone to shouting, fact distortion and making groundless accusations.[24] In his book The Analysis of the Self, Kohut explains that expressions caused by a sense of things not going the expected way blossom into rages, and narcissists may even search for conflict to find a way to alleviate pain or suffering.[25]

    • Perfectionism
    Narcissists are often pseudo-perfectionists and create situations in which they are the center of attention. [citation needed] The narcissist’s attempts at being seen as perfect are necessary for their grandiose self-image. If a perceived state of perfection is not reached, it can lead to guilt, shame, anger or anxiety because the subject believes that they will lose the admiration and love from other people if they are imperfect.[26]

    Behind such perfectionism, self psychology would see earlier traumatic injuries to the grandiose self.[27] . . .

    • JLewisDickerson on March 26, 2018, 10:54 pm

      P.S. RE: “To the narcissist, the rage is directed towards the person that they feel has slighted them; to other people, the rage is incoherent and unjust. This rage impairs their cognition, therefore impairing their judgment. During the rage they are prone to shouting, fact distortion and making groundless accusations.[24]” ~ Wikipedia (from my comment above)

      SEE: “How Many Violations of US Arms Laws are Too Many?” ~ by Franklin Lamb, Counterpunch, 3/16/12

      [EXCERPTS] . . . Alarm centered on whether or not Israel had used U.S.-supplied antipersonnel cluster bombs against civilian targets during its carpet bombing West Beirut during the nearly three month siege.
      The House Foreign Affairs Committee held hearings on this issue in July and August 1982. On July 19, 1982, the Reagan Administration announced that it would prohibit new exports of cluster bombs to Israel. . .
      . . . During a late June 1982 meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Begin, Reagan was handed a note from George Shultz. Based on the information he had in hand, Reagan directly told Begin that the US had reliable information than Israel was using American weapons against civilians in Lebanon. At this point according to Reagan, Begin became very agitated. He lowered his glasses and while glaring at Reagan and shaking his index finger said, “Mr. President, Israel has never and would never use American weapons against civilians and to claim otherwise is a blood libel against every Jew, everywhere.” Following their meeting Reagan told Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger, as reported by Weinberger and by various biographers of Reagan that “I did not know what the term “blood libel” meant, but I know that the man looked me straight in the eyes and lied to me.” . . .


      • JLewisDickerson on March 27, 2018, 1:35 am

        P.P.S. ALSO SEE: “Israel’s sugar daddy, Sheldon Adelson”, by Brad A. Greenberg,, June 27, 2008

        [EXCERPT] . . . But what really shocked me was a portion a little closer to home for Adelson, whose non-union Venetian was in 1999 being picketed by the Culinary Union: Las Vegas’s Temple Beth Sholom was holding a dinner to fête the new mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman. Adelson, a member of Beth Sholom, had recently pledged two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to the temple’s new-building fund. The dinner was to be held at the Venetian, but Mayor Goodman said that he would not cross the picket line, and synagogue officials decided to go elsewhere. Adelson excoriated Beth Sholom’s rabbi, Felipe Goodman. Rabbi Goodman told the Review-Journal [later surreptitiously purchased at a premium by Adelson ~ J.L.D.] that Adelson had been “so verbally abusive. I was very upset because no one had ever talked to me like he talked to me.” After the dinner took place at the Four Seasons, Adelson withdrew his pledge to Beth Sholom. He gave large sums to the local Chabad, a branch of the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitchers, for the construction of a new center…



      • JLewisDickerson on March 27, 2018, 2:40 am

        P.P.P.S. RE: For Kohut, narcissistic rage is related to narcissists’ need for total control of their environment [in other words, they are ‘control freaks’ ~ J.L.D.] , including “the need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means”.[21] . . .

        FROM RICK PERLSTEIN (4/10/12):

        . . . In 1999, Adelson closed one casino, the Sands, and completed work on a new one, the Venetian, stiffing so many contractors that there were at one time 366 liens against the property. Taylor, of the Culinary Workers, said he and his colleagues presumed that “like every other casino that had done that, workers in the [closed] hotel would be given priority when the [new] hotel was built.” Instead, Adelson refused even to talk. All this, in a union town like Vegas, was unprecedented. “Even when you’re having battles, you continue to have talks. Shit, we’re talking to the North Koreans right now!” he told me. “The Israelis talk to the Arabs. Talking doesn’t necessarily solve anything, but at least you understand the other guy’s position.” Adelson, not much interested in understanding the other guy’s position, proceeded to launch a campaign against the Culinary Workers that Taylor calls “beyond aggressive.”
        Right before the grand opening of the Venetian, in 1999, the Culinary Workers staged a demonstration on the public sidewalk out front. Adelson told the cops to start making arrests
        ; the cops refused. Glen Arnodo, an official at the union at the time, relates what happened next [Sheldon’s gonna get his (Kontrol) freak on! – J.L.D.] “I was standing on the sidewalk and they had two security guards say I was on private property, and if I didn’t move they’d have to put me under ‘citizen’s arrest.’ I ignored them.” The guards once again told the police to arrest Arnodo and again, he says, they refused [JINSA apparently had not yet sent them to Israel for training. ~ J.L.D.] . The Civil Rights hero Rep. John Lewis, in town to support the rally, said the whole thing reminded him of living in the South during Jim Crow [minus the German Shepherds! -J.L.D.] . . .


      • JLewisDickerson on March 27, 2018, 4:10 am

        “Why GOP Mega-Donor Sheldon Adelson Is Mad, Bad and a Danger to the Republic”, By Rick Perlstein, Rolling Stone, 4/10/12

        [EXCERPTS] . . . Adelson’s anti-union mania (I would argue) is the most important thing to know about him. For it reveals just how crazy, and how unscrupulous, the man is.
        Let’s start at the very beginning. Adelson remembers meeting Gingrich [OK, OK, ’nuff said; we’ll stipulate that Adelson is as corrupt as they come! ~ J.L.D.] in Washington in 1995, when Gingrich was House Speaker and Adelson was lobbying [Kontrol Freek! ~ J.L.D.] to get the U.S. embassy in Israel moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Other reports have them being introduced in 1996 by a far-right anti-union operative in Nevada who worked for Adelson. Details of the subsequent courtship are murky, although the huge favor Gingrich did for Adelson in 1996 by turning off a federal investigation of the gambling industry probably did a lot to cement their friendship.
        Two years later, Nevada conservatives sponsored a “Paycheck Protection” ballot initiative – the right-wing term for measures weakening unions by banning them from automatically deducting dues from members’ pay. Adelson was gung-ho for it – and “would spend any amount of money,” D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of Las Vegas’s Culinary Workers Union Local 226, told me . . .
        . . . In 1999, Adelson closed one casino [EXCERPTED ABOVE] during Jim Crow. . .
        . . . Did I mention Adelson is nuts? [Bullseye; the “coup de grâce”! ~ J.L.D.] But don’t take my word for it – it was George W. Bush who called him “some crazy Jewish billionaire. [quite possibly like most of the other machers in the RJC” . . .


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