It’s Hanukkah, and what that means

Jonathan Ofir – December 5, 2018
Happy Hanukkah, first of all.

This is known as the Festival of Lights. Often compared to the Christian Christmas, it is supposed to be about the light of renewal, birth, and a fresh start.
I like to think about how history is mythologized, and how it is translated into politics today. 
The story of it is based upon the Judean Maccabean revolt against the Greco-Syrian Seleucid Empire around mid-2nd Century B.C. The imperial faith was Hellenic, and the Second Temple in Jerusalem was said to have been altered into a Hellenic temple. There were also Hellenized Jews, and this also became a competition for religious dominance between Jews themselves. One of the central stories is how Matityahu the priest killed a Jew with his sword when the latter was about to offer sacrifice to the Greek Gods.
The more fundamentalist Maccabees revolted with guerrilla tactics, and over a few years managed to gain control over the Judean area, took over the temple and emptied it from the polytheistic Hellenic elements to re-inaugurate it as a monotheistic temple for what they perceived as the true faith based upon the one God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “Hanukkah” actually means “inauguration.”
But now you see, there are politics in there, in that history, and they are tightly connected to religion. And that leads us to today.
Because nowadays, the Netanyahu and Trump supporting Jewish-Zionist casino-magnate billionaire Sheldon Adelson, has formed the Maccabee Task Force, or “Campus Maccabees”, which is a task force made ostensibly in order to tackle “anti-Semitism” on U.S. campuses, but really intended to stifle critique against Israel. The force seeks to fight those who take Israel to task for its violations, mostly the BDS movement, which is a peaceful grassroots movement working to Boycott, Divest from, and Sanction Israel until it complies with some basic clauses of international law and UN resolutions. Adelson is that Jewish-fundamentalist who sends (mostly American) Jews on “Birthright trips” to Israel and urges them to make “more Jewish babies,” in addition to his advocacies on attacking Iran with nuclear weapons. Adelson’s Campus Maccabees operation is now said to be running on a budget of about $10 million, in about 80 U.S. campuses, and extending to Canada. The task force’s most successful program is said to be recruiting of influencers on campus – including student leaders who might already favor BDS – sending them to Israel on “fact-finding” tours. Adelson wants to re-educate them with those tours, which Jewish “birthrighters” themselves are jumping off with increasing numbers. And now, Trump’s civil rights enforcer at the Department of Education is Kenneth Marcus, whose mission is “lawfare” against Palestinian rights activists on campuses. Before his new role, he was director of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, an Israel lobby group. The censored Al Jazeera documentary film on the U.S. Israel lobby featured him telling how “you have to show that [Palestinian rights groups] are racist hate groups.”
So you see, now it’s really about Zionism, and the Zionist state alignment is generally with a fundamentalist form of Jewish worship, which has a monopoly on religion in Israel. This has become very clear recently, when in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre – the most violent anti-Semitic event in modern U.S. history– the chief Israeli rabbi would not call the Tree of Life synagogue a synagogue, because it wasn’t Orthodox, it was Conservative. This is not even a question of monotheism vs. polytheism, but simply of an allowance of a certain pluralism in worship of the one God.
And it really is not about God as such. It’s really about pluralism. Because there are many Zionists who do not perceive themselves as religious, yet they can be quite fundamentalist about their Zionism, which involves a kind of Jewish preservationist vein. Hence, we get “liberal-Zionists” like the former left-leader Isaac Herzog (who is now head of Jewish Agency), saying that intermarriage is a “plague.” Herzog’s statement is the other side of Adelson’s “make lots of Jewish babies”.
Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has already called out Zionism as Israel’s fundamentalist, racist religion. Nowadays we get people like former Israeli minister Tzipi Livni (a left-centrist), saying how “separation” between Israelis (read: mostly Jews) and Palestinians is like “separation between the yolk and the white” of eggs in order to make a good cake. That’s Zionist mainstream talk! 
For Zionists, this is the “fight” that the Jews need to fight in our times. They generally believe that Jews have really returned to this kind of promised homeland, after millennia of exile (although this exile doubtfully even happened en masse – most of the population in 70 A.D. would have remained, and many converted). Their belief (and this generally includes those who consider themselves secular), is that they have come back to inherit this land, from a people who were largely not even present or local, to supposedly reassert their “national self-determination” as Jews.
The amount of mythology in this modern day “religion” of Zionism is staggering, yet it is basically akin to other colonialist ventures, not least to the South African case.
These Zionists thus believe that ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population (most will not even recognize them as anything but “Arabs”), was just a necessary evil, if they even think it was evil. Most write it off as a result of war, even the historian Benny Morris, who alas suggests that the “expulsion” should have been total (and he defines himself a leftist).
Thus, the perception of Hanukkah from a Zionist perspective, has a modern-day parallel, as if the story is simply recurring, and that the “others” are simply changing versions of non-Jews.
So then there’s Jerusalem, and this year Israel got an early “Hanukkah” gift if you will – a recognition by the U.S. of its illegal annexation of East Jerusalem from 1967 (which expanded the borders of the annexed city more than tenfold).
The Third Temple is not yet built (upon the ruins of al-Aqsa), but government sponsored organizations and lawmakers are certainly envisioning it.
So there’s a political connection. It’s not all just spirit, light and happiness – and there’s a very dark aspect here.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word Hanukkah, is very close to another word: “hannikah” (although of a different root with kuf rather than kaf) – that means “strangling.” It is interesting how a supposed “liberation” can mean an actual strangling of others in colonialist paradigms.
Although not being religious as such, between the mono-idea of Judaism and the poly-idea of Hellenism, I prefer the latter. At least, I believe that pluralism can be an aspect of religious culture also for Jews. Jewish worship has to a great extent become a worship of the exclusivist, racist, fundamentalist, Zionist Jewish State of Israel. I’m certainly not going to worship that. And I think that Judaism desperately needs the pluralism that many Jews seek to promote, but that many others fight against. It is very much a question of whether Judaism is to be reduced to blood, or preserved as a spiritual faith or religious tradition. Zionism decided that it’s ultimately about blood – and I’m not there.
I’m really for the separation of church and state, a classical liberal notion, and something which Zionism, in its conflation of state, religion and nationality is ultimately against. So for all those wishing to celebrate Hanukkah as a religiously affiliated tradition, rather than a fundamentalist ethno-nationalist manifesto, I want to wish a Happy Hanukkah.