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Amos Elon Calls Religious Zeal over Jerusalem a Form of "Idolatry"

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
March-April 1997

Discussing plans for the construction of a large Jewish settlement at Har Homa in East Jerusalem and the demands made by ultra-Orthodox right wing members of Israel’s governing coalition that no compromise over the future of the city is negotiated, Israeli author Amos Elon calls the religious zeal over Jerusalem a form of "idolatry."  

Writing in The New York Review of Books (March 17, 1997), Elon notes that, "In monotheistic terms it is probably idolatrous to consider a shrine or a city — let alone the preservation of a national or ethnic identity — as the ultimate goal of a religion. Politicians and their supporters among the fanatic, small-minded clergy see it differently. The harsh discord between the communities is as merciless and uncompromising as in Belfast or in Bosnia-Herzegovina."  

Beyond this, Elon points out that ultra-Orthodox Israelis, who represent a small portion of the population but are key members of the Netanyahu coalition, have expanded their notion of w hat constitutes Jerusalem: "The sacred geography of Jerusalem nowadays covers much more than the old city. It has considerably grown and expanded in recent years — much as the True Cross grew and expanded in the Middle Ages when, thanks to the Miracle of Multiplication, no matter how many chips were cut off it by pilgrims, it remained wondrously whole. In the Jewish tradition, all continuously built-up areas, or those visible from Jerusalem, partake of the city and its holiness. The current assertion, however, that the holiness of a site makes it imperative that it be under Israeli sovereignty is a novelty in Jewish religious thought."  

Elon points out that some Israeli extremists prefer total control over Jerusalem to peace, and the same is true for their ultra-Orthodox supporters in the U.S. One of these is Irving Moscovitz, a multi-millionaire who made a fortune running bingo parlors in California and is a major investor in Jerusalem real estate. He is interested in accelerating the coming of the Messiah and in rebuilding the Jewish Temple. He states: "Jewish control of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is more important than peace. When Jews throughout the ages prayed, they did not pray for peace with the Arabs. They prayed for Jewish control of Jerusalem."  

Elon concludes that, "The forces making for tragedy through fanaticism or shortsightedness may still be more powerful than the desire for catharsis."  

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