Open Letter to Jostein Gaarder II: Fisking Crypto-Supersessionism

However, the state of Israel, with its unscrupulous art of war and its disgusting weapons, has massacred its own legitimacy.

This statement presumably reflects complete credence in the dominant Mainstream Media version of events in Lebanon. You, Mr Gaarder, have taken as accurate that which the Arab photographers and journalists who consider themselves combatants in the war against Israel have produced, the echoed by your media, who are addicted to the narrative of the Israeli Goliath and the Palestinian (and now Lebanese) David. Given the gathering mountain of evidence that many of these images are fabricated – especially those at Qana, which is presumably the major provocation for your prophetic outrage – don’t you think you need to pause before jumping in with both feet?

Israel’s “unscrupulous art of war” here is nothing other than the selective and credulous attribution of accuracy to what Arab media produce. Few statements better illustrate why Pallywood works: it appeals to precisely this thirst for ammunition to use against Israel. How treacherous the ground on which your moral indignation stands!

It has systematically flaunted International Law, international conventions, and countless UN resolutions, and it can no longer expect protection from same. It has carpet bombed the recognition of the world. But fear not! The time of trouble shall soon be over. The state of Israel has seen its Soweto.

Again we find the classic tropes of “progressive” anti-Zionism, invoking interpretations of international law as if they were already decided, and a UN whose deep corruption on both an ideological and fiscal scale goes unmentioned. This statement is a good example of a trajectory that we can draw from Muhammad al Durah to Durban to Jenin to the divestment and boycott campaigns. I understand you feel fully justified in your position. But as we shall see, not only is there important evidence you are mistaken, but that if you are, the consequences are truly frightening for everything you hold dear.

We are now at the watershed. There is no turning back. The state of Israel has raped the recognition of the world and shall have no peace until it lays down its arms.

This is choice language. Although you claim this is a warning, your judgment of Israel is remorseless. No turning back, no mercy, no relenting… and from a man who claims the moral high ground. Add to it the extraordinary claim that by laying down its arms Israel will have peace, or perhaps you mean that Israel will be destroyed but the world shall have peace. Do you, Mr. Gaarder, really believe this? Most Israelis would find this really malicious double-speak. But maybe it’s a reflection of some profound confusion, some feverish pacifist dream divorced from all reality.

Again, please put on your scientist’s thinking cap: What if the Israelis are not the problem? Will feeding them into the maw of global Jihad quiet the flames? Did giving Hitler Czechoslovakia work? If you are wrong, you have not only sacrificed the Jews – again! – but at your own peril. Does it make sense to be so supremely confident in your (and your media’s) judgment when so much is at stake, both existentially and morally?

Without defense, without skin

May spirit and word sweep away the apartheid walls of Israel. The state of Israel does not exist. It is now without defense, without skin. May the world therefore have mercy on the civilian population. For it is not civilian individuals at whom our doomsaying is directed.

I take this as a partial answer to my question. Spirit and word obviously applies to the moral spirit and the thunderous words with which you, Mr. Gaarder and your approving audience believe you all speak. May you have the power of the word to bring down Israel’s (evil) defenses.

Israel is (read: should be) without defense, without skin… in other words, the way the Jews were before the Holocaust, during the times of pogroms which, you have assured us, were the justifiable reason for a Jewish state that could defend itself. Now, because in defense of their people, Jews have killed some civilians – again, nothing that any country at war has not done – you want them defenseless again. Defenseless Jews certainly appealed to the Judeophobes of the Middle Ages who legislated that they could not bear weapons.

Here’s where we come to the crux of the issue of judgment about what is happening in the Middle East. The Israelis believe that they are surrounded by genocidal enemies. You, Mr. Gaarder, seem completely unaware of the evidence for this: are you aware of this. Have you ever visited Palestinian Media Watch and MEMRI to see how the Arab and Muslim media speak of Israel and of Jews? If this is even partially true, then the defenseless posture you call for is a recipe for the slaughter of Jews. Of course no less a moral giant than Gandhi advised Ben Gurion to try non-violent resistance to the Nazis. Are you suggesting the same? Why not suggest it to the Lebanese? Disarm entirely and Israel will never again attack you.

And yet, even as you call for a situation that will likely trigger massive civilian massacres – just what your morality abhors – you add a touching concern for the “civilian individuals” of Israel, may “the world” have mercy on them. Never mind that the surrounding enemies of Israel do not think there are any civilians and want to kill them all. Again we are faced with two possibilities: you genuinely pray for mercy for the Jews in Israel even as you demand that they be defenseless, in which case you are at best a fool; or this is hypocritical piety, crocodile tears shed as a moral posture even as you demand the holocaust of the Jews you so despise.

We wish the people of Israel well, nothing but well, but we reserve the right not to eat Jaffa oranges as long as they taste foul and are poisonous. It was endurable to live some years without the blue grapes of apartheid.

I’m sure the people of Israel are touched by your pious wishes, and I hope you can understand if they don’t rush to thank you for your benevolence.

And if you don’t like the moral taste of Jaffa oranges, please, take them from some other country you think is morally superior to Israel… hopefully at least a place with no capital punishment. But while you’re at it, let me recommend that you watch out for the poisons that flood the media you so readily imbibe. They may be far more toxic, and their effects far more dangerous.

They celebrate their triumphs

We do not believe that Israel mourns forty killed Lebanese children more than it for over three thousand years has lamented forty years in the desert. We note that many Israelis celebrate such triumphs like they once cheered the scourges of the Lord as “fitting punishment” for the people of Egypt. (In that tale, the Lord, God of Israel, appears as an insatiable sadist.) We query whether most Israelis think that one Israeli life is worth more than forty Palestinian or Lebanese lives.

Now we return to the theological subtext of your moral tirade, and we find familiar phenomena: gross ignorance and malevolent projection. In particular, the phrase “We do not believe…” is quite striking. On what basis do you not believe? Because the Israelis who apologize look like used car salesmen? Or because it is so vitally important to your moral outrage that they have done this killing on purpose – murder – that you cannot allow them the possibility that it was both accidental and regrettable? Why do you believe whatever the Lebanese sources – partisan, manipulated, and/or intimidated by Hizbullah – tell you, but you refuse to believe Israeli spokesmen, even on so personal issue as their feelings?

Some of the answer seems to come with your immediate switch to the biblical account; and here we come face to face with your (unconscious?) supersessionism. The invocation of the Israelite celebration at punishment meted out to Egypt is particularly interesting. First, the only incident you can refer to relates the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the Re(e)d sea, since at no other time in the narrative do the Israelites rejoice over the plagues that Pharaoh sends (they even shared some of them). Apparently you are not aware of the famous rabbinic tale of how the angels came to sing their morning song and God rebuked them, saying: “Forbear! My children [the Egyptians] are in distress, and you would sing!” This is the basis of considerable discussion both religious and political.

So, if we have this level of scruple over the enemy’s soldiers who planned to slaughter and enslave them, why would you, Mr. Gaarder, dismiss so blithely any protests of Israelis that they do not rejoice in the deaths of innocent Arabs? On what basis do you “note that many Israelis celebrate such triumphs”? Do you have any evidence of this? Are you aware of how often the Arabs celebrate? Do you care?

Is it that believing the blood libel – Jews murder innocent gentile children – is too important to let relevant information get in the way? Or is it that, however you feel about “fundamentalist” Christianity, you still accept their version of the Jews, no matter how that image has been distorted by a chosenness concept that cannot see the Jews for what they are, but needs to see them as the negative “other”?

Certainly, your confident dismissal of what the Israelis say about themselves, and your resounding silence about what Israel’s Muslim enemies say about themselves, suggests that you are not interested in an “I-thou” relationship with either group. And given what you say, it certainly seems that you are not dealing with real Jews, or that you know anything about Judaism and the Jewish ways of reading the biblical text. You are projecting your negative reading on to them and condemning them for your projections. The Jews have to be your fall guy; the Muslims just embarrass you. You can see neither for who they are, but only for who you need them to be.

This profoundly negative and projective reading of the “God of the Old Testament” is a common feature of zero-sum supersessionist Christianity: our God, of the New Testament, is loving and forgiving, but your Old Testament God is vengeful and violent. Of course the post-modern reality is otherwise. This Christian “grand narrative” of personal superiority at once underestimates the place of apocalyptic vengeance that lies embedded not only in the terrifying cataclysmic drama of Revelation, with its rivers of blood, but also the pervasive present of a loving and forgiving God in the Hebrew Bible. An understanding of the multiple narratives within both — let’s add Islam — all three monotheistic traditions reveal a far more complex and interesting dynamic at work… one in which your projections — are these from your Christian upbringing or from anti-clerical Enlightenment atttitudes? — produce far more heat than light.

But there’s more to this than just misreading the Jews. This rabbinic reading of the destruction of the Egyptians at the Red Sea offers insight into a key issue about the relationship between text and religious culture that accepts those texts as sacred. You have read the text as a fundamentalist (simple, literal, violent version), and assume that the Jews reads it your way. But the rabbis, for whom the God of the “Old Testament” is not primarily a God of vengeance, but one of love, have read it according to their understanding, just as they read “eye for an eye” as a form of egalitarian law handled by compensatory money damage payments. Here the Jews have read a compassionate God into the story, who weeps even over his chosen people’s worst enemy — the God of positive-sum for whom everyone counts; whereas you a (former?) Christian sees an insatiable sadist. Is your portrait of the Jews and their God a projection?

And yet this difference helps us address the larger and very troubling question of sacred texts and religious movements. Do anti-Jewish passages in the New Testament mean that Christianity, the religion of love, is inevitably committed to hatred? Or do the violent Jihadi passages in the Quran mean that Islam, the religion of peace is inherently violent and warlike? The point is not what the text says, but how people – individuals, communities, elites – read them.

So now let me answer your question about the value of another’s life. First of all, there are no people at war who do not treat their own people’s lives as more valuable than that of the enemy and their own civilians more valuable than that of the enemy. Caring about one’s neighbors is a moral luxury that civil societies can afford, and it does wonders for everyone’s well-being. But in the martial world of hard zero-sum it is not even possible without being suicidal.

Second, if we must make invidious comparisons about who cares more about the others’ life, what do we do when we discover that a) Israelis care more about Arab innocents than Arabs care about Israeli innocents — pin-point bombing vs. deliberately random bombing; b) Israelis care more about Arab innocents than Arabs care about Arab innocents — trying to avoid civilians vs using civilians as shields; andd c) Europeans like yourself care most about Arabs when the Israelis have killed them, not about Arabs killed by Arabs, or any other civilians killed by non-Israelis — where’s your outcry over the bombing of an orphanage by Sri Lankans in pursuit of Tamils? Are you calling for the dissolution of Sri Lanka?

And last, but not least, are you aware that, when it comes to reporting about casualties in the Arab world, forty can be one?

For we have seen pictures of little Israeli girls writing hateful greetings on the bombs to be dropped on the civilian population of Lebanon and Palestine. Little Israeli girls are not cute when they strut with glee at death and torment across the fronts.

Again we come face to face with your credulity and adoption of the Arab victim-Israeli demon narrative. Your account, like the Arab one, shows no empathy. These girls, who had been confined in shelters for days, who were encouraged by the press to write on the warheads, and who wrote messages Nasrallah, the man responsible for bombing them – civilians – at random, are not “strutting with glee at death and torment across the front.” Worse, your eagerness to see the Israelis in the worst light, comes hand in hand with your studious avoidance of any mention of the grotesque spectacles of children dressed up with suicide belts, and the rejoicing at the deliberate killing of children that one finds so commonly among Arab Muslims.

If this kind of behavior bothers you, why are you not mad with grief at the moral catastrophe that has befallen the Arab world and risks spreading to the Muslim world – taken over by an elite spreading a cult of death and murder? And why would you want to disarm the very people these people rejoice at killing?

The retribution of blood vengeance

We do not recognize the rhetoric of the state of Israel. We do not recognize the spiral of retribution of the blood vengeance with “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” We do not recognize the principle of one or a thousand Arab eyes for one Israeli eye. We do not recognize collective punishment or population-wide diets as political weapons. Two thousand years have passed since a Jewish rabbi criticized the ancient doctrine of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” He said: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

You may not realize it, but you’ve now stepped fully onto the stage of the classic Christian supersessionist reading of the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. “Old Testament”). Presumably your first sentence means we don’t grant moral authority or acceptability to Israel’s statements about why, in principle, it is at war. The second implies that the principle thus rejected is: “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.”

But as far as I can make out, you’ve made a classic double error. First, the carnal interpretation of an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” (a real eye for a real eye…) has nothing to do with Jewish readings of this text. Jewish literature, from the biblical texts onwards makes it clear that this is not a call to mutilation — Jews abhor that — but to monetary compensation. On the contrary, the principle embodied in the expression “eye for an eye” is one of equity – any man’s tooth is worth another’s. And this egalitarianism is at variance with virtually every other law code until modern times, in which the eye of an aristocrat counted for far more than the eye of a freeman, a fortiori, of a serf).

In other words, Jews, for millennia now, have renounced blood vengeance, unlike every other people (especially in the Mediterranean), including most periods of Christian and Muslim history. Indeed one can correlate closely the period of Christian culture’s enduring commitment to blood vengeance and their period of supersessionist theology, and correspondingly the period of renouncing blood vengeance with a willingness to shed supersessionist hegemonic claims. The people who have the hardest time renouncing blood vengeance, who carry it out not only on their enemies, but on members of their own households, are the Arabs. They are the ones who teach their children to hate the Jews (and Christians) so much that it is a blessing to blow yourself to shreds killing as many of them as one can.

So I don’t understand what’s going on in your mind, Jostein. Here you are, aggressively accusing the Jews of blood vengeance and murderous drives which they renounced – at least in principle, and significantly in practice – millennia ago. At the same time, you pass over in virtual silence the disturbingly plentiful evidence that the much larger number of people who have declared the Jews their ultimate enemy – to be exterminated – openly espouse and cultivate precisely this blood vengeance and these murderous instincts in their children. Now these are traits that you abhor and on the basis of which you condemn Israel to annihilation as a state and Jews to statelessness as a people.

And the framework in which you put this denunciation of Israel is a religious discourse, again classic supersessionism. If only the Jews had listened to their rabbi (obviously you mean Jesus even though it could have been Hillel three generations earlier) who tried to get them to give up blood vengeance! But you know so little about the Jews now, or then.

So my question to you is: Are you a straight and narrow-minded Christian supersessionist, out to get the Jews regardless of what else is going on because your self-image depends on it? Or are you unaware that that’s what you’re doing… unaware of the immense weight of Christian supersessionism – a form of chosenness that we both agree is arrogant and unacceptable – in your thinking?

And the Arabs and Muslims in all this? Do you really believe that all this hatred and violence is really “merely” a response to Israeli crimes? Or do you really not know about this hatred and violence.

We do not recognize a state founded on antihumanistic principles and on the ruins of an archaic national and war religion. Or as Albert Schweitzer expressed it: “Humanitarianism consists in never sacrificing a human being to a purpose.”

Part III and Conclusion Next…

10 Responses to Open Letter to Jostein Gaarder II: Fisking Crypto-Supersessionism

  1. pcm says:

    You are much too kind and deferential towards Gaarder. The article he wrote shows how appallingly ignorant he is of both Judaism and the history of the Middle East.

    Next time you fisk such a blatant antisemite, take off the kid gloves.

  2. nobody important says:


    I respectufully disagree; Prof. Landes’ approach is pitch perfect, impassioned yet restrained by intelligence and decency, and critically devastating.

    I’ve been reading this site for the past few months with great interest and enlightenment.

  3. Myackie says:

    wow…you are brilliant!

  4. Bruce Kodish says:

    You are brilliant, Richard. And you are also too nice to Gaarder. He is not less of an antisemite than the well-intentioned people in the past who read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, believed them, and then condemned Jews for plotting to take over the world. He is encouraging the haters and the killers. And he is too ignorant to feel ashamed.

    He is doing active harm to innocent Jews by believing the Pallywood/Hezbollah/Media lies and using his reputation to smear Israel further.

    After I finish writing this, I will take my copy of Sophie’s World and deposit it straight into the garbage can where it belongs.

    Gaarder would not know true philosophy if it bit him on the ass.

  5. RL says:

    to Bruce:

    sort of how i felt when i threw out all my mel gibson movies.

    but, stop. before you throw it in the trash, read some pages and ask yourself how someone who could write a book like that, could get sucked into the kind of thinking that produced the stuff he wrote. is he just some redneck in disguise, crude and unthinking hater, or does he think he’s “doing the right thing”?

    and if so, is there something we can say so that, even if it doesn’t reach him because he’s ego’s too far gone (a la HAL2000 — this kind of prophetic speech can rapidly become addictive), what we say may nonethess reach people in his audience, and render him less persuasive, less charismatic, make the prophetic addiction less attractive.

    (i’d happily consider posting your reflections)

    on one level this is unbelievably juvenile. on another, Gaarder’s a very sophisticated man and, i bet, an interesting fellow to be around. treat this as a mystery, not a simple tale of stupid hatreds.

    but ultimately, whether Jostein can wake up, is less significant (it would be nice, just like Enderlin coming clean)) than whether the people he seeks to persuade wake up.

    perhaps that’s one of the key ways that a civil society survives — by learning not to believe the prophecies of self-indulgent haters.

    that’s europe’s challenge in this generation.

    how ironic — european youth needing to learn from israelis rather than revile them.

    no wonder they find boycotting israelii academics attractive.


  6. Bruce Kodish says:

    You are right about the need to address someone like Gaarder with a civil and detailed response (as you have) if only to possibly have some effect not on him but on onlookers. I applaud your patience in addressing his baloney.

    As to what makes such a seemingly rational person spout the kind of nonsense he spouts, of course he uses his rationality to fool himself that he’s doing the right thing. His verbal abilities allow him to practice his deluded “self-righteousness” more successfully and make himself complicit with evil men. Like too many intellectuals he has apparently not advanced himself enough to challenge his own B.S.

    I speak from experience. I had to challenge my own B.S. which meant deflating my ego and detaching myself from flawed ways of thinking. That’s what I consider by true philosophy. I lived in Israel in the 1970s and as a good leftist ‘peacenik’ for a long while, i.e., years, I thought if a hand was extended to Arabs in peace and if concessions were made, things could be different. But like others who moved away from this view, I was ‘mugged by reality’. Now of all of the Jewish leaders of the 20th Century, I admire Zeev Jabotinsky the most. Israel, the U.S., and the rest of the Western World (if it has any sense) must build their figurative and literal ‘iron walls’ of defense against the Islamo-Nazi onslaught (which also includes good offense), stand strong, and have faith that if we do so we will ultimately triumph. As my late father, Mashe Kodish z’l’ , a WW II vet and a very tough Jew told me, “Don’t let anybody, s–t on you.” Because if you do, they will do it again, and again and again. Guaranteed! Thus the history of the State of Israel in a nutshell.

    With intellectuals like Gaarder so prevalent, I expect Sweden, Europe and other places (unfortunately apparently Israel and the U.S. too) are going to require more Islamo-Nazi education by murder. Because as we know, the Jews are only among the first on the Islamo-Nazi s–t list.

    In the meantime, we can shrei gevalt and warn whoever has ears to hear.

    This has turned out to be quite a diatribe, hasn’t it?

  7. RL says:

    to BK

    yes it did turn into a diatribe, but an interesting one. when did you have your awakening from what i call the PCP?
    as for the rest of the diatribe, in principle in civil society one need not adopt such hardline practices. that’s where we all came from. people like jabotinsky took one look at arab culture and said, “different rules here.” none of us want to believe that.
    as for your comments on the long hit list of what i prefer to call global jihad, i agree. and sadly we will have to wait, as you say, for further “education by murder.”

  8. Lawrence Barnes says:

    Responding to a writer like Gaarder will be effective, IMHO, only if the rebuttal is factual and calmly reasonable. The huge problem: one must go into detail. It takes several paragraphs to deal with a single bumper sticker.

    We have to admit that Gaarder’s style is flamboyant, eh? As a propagandist, he’s effective. RL is not, for he provides classifications, facts, chains of logical reasoning, and citation of sources (I hastily add that RL is not trying to be a propagandist, while Gaarder is). Gaarder can influence people quickly with his simple slogans and distortions, while those who deal in facts, reason and ethics are often ignored as boring. Gaarder appeals to relatively ignorant folks who are simply sick of the bad news from the Muddle East. RL is writing for a different audience — but both his and Gaarder’s audience vote.

    We live in an age of Procrustean headlines, “cut-to-the-chase” impatience, MTV-style fast-cut videos, and conspiracist sloganeering. Rascals like Gaarder flourish in that madcap environment. RL’s scholarship is a hard sell.

    It’s a carny barker versus Maimonides….

  9. Marty says:

    2 thoughts…

    1. Gaardner is an anti-semite. One can argue about how to deal with it, as he undoubtedly represents the resurgent anti-semitism that is conquering Europe and the Left, and cannot be lightly dismissed, but it is fantasy to mince words about what he is or try to think that he is anything other.

    2. I continue to find it fascinating how people assume that it would be immoral for a single Jew to live in a Palestinian area (i.e., Gaza or West Bank); not just impractical, but WRONG… endorsing vigorous and total ethnic cleansing, as long as it is removing Jews to accomodate Muslims. While about 1M Arabs (mostly Muslim, some Christian) live in Israel with full rights of citizenship. And no criticism of the Saudis who forbid possession of the Bible and have made large parts of their country off-limits to any but Muslims. There is no explanation for the double-standard, except it is antisemitic.

  10. Webloggin says:

    Open Letter to Jostein Gaarder II: Fisking Crypto-Supersessionism

    To add Jewish insult to Jewish injury, an organization headed by someone manifestly Jewish (or, at least, of Jewish ethnicity), comes charging out saying that the fact that there are Christians in the Pentagon is destroying America’s war effort, beca…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *