The Resurgence of Religion Is No Mystery

June 19 2015

In The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions, Michael Walzer compares three countries—Algeria, India, and Israel—that gained their independence from European rule thanks to secular revolutionary movements and are now experiencing a resurgence of religion. In his review, Peter Berger suggests that there is nothing paradoxical about Walzer’s “paradox”:

[N]othing Walzer says . . . seems to really recognize the transcendent claims, consolatory appeal, or experiences provided by the religions under discussion. Nor does it recognize religion as a context in which to express the most basic questions about our place in the universe. Pascal described the human condition as standing at the midpoint between “the nothing and the infinite,” and religion has been the principal vehicle through which this truly paradoxical position and our ensuing wonder at the universe have been expressed.

Walzer’s central case is Israel. He is both puzzled and frankly disappointed that its founders failed to create a new secular culture “thick or robust enough to sustain itself” without the unwanted help of traditionalism. I am not quite sure that this is the way the issue should be framed. On the one hand, groups that assert their superior wisdom and virtue with great pretensions of certitude always have a tactical edge over those whose convictions are less apodictic and more moderate. On the other hand, there is, by almost any measure, a robust secular culture in Israel, which is very much alive and tempting to those outside it.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Algeria, India, Israel, Religion & Holidays, Religion and politics, Secularization

Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship