Ultra-Orthodox Jews Confront the Philosophy of Freedom

Having recently taught an intensive two-day seminar on the idea of freedom in modern Western thought to a group of male Israeli Ḥaredim—most of whom had had little or no secular education—Peter Berkowitz reflects on the experience:

The students were particularly intrigued by the limits on the exercise of individual rights that John Locke grounded in God’s sovereignty, the priority that the U.S. Constitution gives to the protection of religious freedom, and Alexis de Tocqueville’s insistence that religion makes a surpassing contribution to political stability in America by remaining separate from politics.

Passions flared when we turned to John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. Students readily appreciated the importance of a public sphere—newspapers, broadcast media, and parliament—in which the condition of their freedom of speech was the freedom of speech of all others. After all, the ultra-Orthodox, too, have interests to advance through the political process. At the same time, they immediately grasped the danger to their way of life posed by the vigorous promotion within the private sphere, embracing their families and communities, of Mill’s core conviction—indeed the conviction at the core of all moral and political education worthy of the name—that “he who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” Exposing their sons and daughters to Mill’s case for the sovereign individual, they justly feared, might weaken their children’s attachment to the stringent ultra-Orthodox interpretation of God’s commandments. . . .

Ultimately, both the ultra-Orthodox and broader Israeli society stand to profit from rapprochement. The ultra-Orthodox can acquaint themselves with the pleasures and the pride that stem from developing skills valued by the workplace, providing for one’s family, and contributing to the national defense. And Israel’s secular majority, who—like America’s—tenaciously seek fame and fortune, rigorously choreograph leisure, and restlessly chase after quiet time, can enliven their imagination and deepen their understanding of human diversity by acquainting themselves with those devoted to fulfilling God’s law.

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More about: Alexis de Tocqueville, Freedom, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Religion & Holidays, Ultra-Orthodox

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy