What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

Don’t Blame Religion for the Israel-Palestine Divide

November 26, 2012, 1:24 PM

In his recent post, fellow Big Think blogger Adam Lee blames the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict on competing religious fundamentalisms. The recent renewal of fighting on the Gaza border, he writes, 

is being inflamed and prolonged by religious zealotry on both sides. Whether it's Israelis who cite the Old Testament to advocate genocidal war, or Hamas' enforcers legislating "religiously proper" behavior, fundamentalism only makes both sides more vicious and compromise less thinkable. Making peace requires diplomacy and mutual concession, and religion is poisonous to this process because it turns ordinary values, which can be used as bargaining chips, into sacred values which can never be compromised.

Though I share Adam’s concern about the increasing influence of ultra-Orthodox parties in Israel’s political system and have written about the tenuous balance between the “Jewish” and “democratic” elements of the Israeli constitution, I think Adam’s view of the Gaza conflict emerges from a basic misconception.

In short, the conflict is more about realpolitik, territory and security than about religious faith. This is apparent when considering the arguments and religious identity of those who have made the most inflammatory pronouncements. When Gilad Sharon, son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, called for “flattening all of Gaza,” he was motivated not by Deuteronomy or a biblical vision of the Greater Land of Israel but by a morally and practically perverted sense of military strategy and a callous disregard for the lives of Palestinians. He is not a religious man, let alone an orthodox Jew, and his political views do not flow from his interpretation of perceived biblical imperatives.

To be sure, there are religious elements of Israeli society for whom the Hebrew Bible is a guide to international politics. The Zo Artzeinu (“this is our land”) movement from the 1990s which evolved into the Manhigut Yehudit faction of the Likud party, begins from the premise that God granted the land west of the Jordan river to the Jews for evermore, and founder Moshe Feiglin writes that such a commitment is not only religiously commanded but “realistic.”

But there are alternative views in this conflict. There are religious perspectives that urge a softer hand to bridge the Israeli-Palestinian divide and which interpret biblical commands quite differently. I’m not referring only to left-leaning Jewish elements for whom continued occupation of lands in which Palestinians reside is problematic religiously. I’m talking about a branch of fundamentalist ultra-Orthodox Jews who reject Zionism and deny the legitimacy of the modern state of Israel, along with its military campaigns:

The Neturei Karta party this rabbi associates with is small and few religious Jews in Israel ascribe to the political views he expresses, but a significant bloc of ultra-Orthodox Jewry shares the basic premise of his argument: that the fundamentally secular state of Israel is neither holy nor a harbinger of the coming of the Messiah. There is a long history of anti-Zionist sentiment within Judaism. Some fringe ultra-Orthodox Jews even developed biblical justifications for this month's Hamas missile strikes on Israel.       

On the other side of the border, Hamas is a militant Islamic movement for whom Muslim control of the holy land is a primary goal. Hamas won’t rest, according to its charter, until "the banner of Allah waves over every inch of Palestine." But the Hamas platform is equally nationalist in its motivation:

While other nationalisms consist of material, human and territorial considerations, the nationality of Hamas also carries, in addition to all those, the all important divine factors which lend to it its spirit and life; so much so that it connects with the origin of the spirit and the source of life and raises in the skies of the Homeland the Banner of the Lord, thus inexorably connecting earth with Heaven.

On one hand, this quotation shows the sacred dimension of Hamas’s nationalism. On the other, ironically, it gives non-fundamentalist Palestinians a way to support Hamas despite its Islamo-fascist ontology. Hamas has not always seen widespread support among Palestinians; in 2009, the figure was only 18.8 percent. In 2011, 67 percent of Palestinians supported replacing Hamas regime. From the recent conflict it appears that Hamas won wider popular support not because of the particular way it reads the Qur'an but by demonstrating the organization’s ability to strike Israel with long-range missiles. That’s military nationalism, not religious fundamentalism, winning the war of public opinion.

Adam claims that religious values are “sacred” while “ordinary values” are easily compromised. But religious values are never monolithic, even among the faithful. Non-religious zealots can be just as intransigent about their “ordinary” values as religious zealots are about their biblical values. Navigating this conflict wouldn’t be any easier if both sides suddenly shed their religious identities. Religion may be more than window dressing on the conflict, but realpolitik and nationalism are the main fuel.

Follow Steven Mazie on Twitter: @stevenmazie


Don’t Blame Religion for th...

Newsletter: Share: