The Roots of Israel’s Purge & Purify Strategy

Religion tied to state power can breed a murderous ideological impulse, writes Lawrence Davidson. 

St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome at sundown. (Dnalor 01, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

By Lawrence Davidson

In the 16th century, the Catholic Church claimed to be the one true form of Christianity.

Centered in Rome, it had ideologically created a largely unified Europe — in accordance with the belief that for a state to be stable, the citizens must follow the same religion (or ideology). 

And indeed, the Catholic Church was organized like a state, owned about one-third of the land of central and Western Europe, collected taxes throughout this area, and had grown exceedingly rich.

The church bureaucracy, empowered and well-to-do, claimed to represent God’s will on Earth and they usually had sufficient authority to enforce that claim. 

However, as is so common in history, wealth and power led to corruption. Poor leaders among the popes and local bishops came as often as the adequate ones, and so weakness crept into the affairs of state.

This, in turn, raised doubts about the divine nature of church doctrine. In the years following 1520, rebellion in the form of the Protestant Reformation set in.

This rebellion fragmented Christendom and created divergent Christian sects, most allied to secular noble authorities. Each sect sought to lay claim to being the true Christian faith. 

During the chaos that followed, both the Catholic Church and the Protestant sects waged war after war. Christianity, in its now numerous forms, became a faith rationalizing fratricidal slaughter.

One hundred years later, in 1618, they were still at it. It was then that the worst of these wars, known as the Thirty Years War (for it lasted till 1648), occurred. 

This war ravaged central Europe and killed at least 4 million people. A singular lesson to be drawn from this prolonged bloodbath was, and still is, that religion tied to state power can breed a murderous ideological impulse. 

In 2015 Nicholas Terpstra of the University of Toronto published Religious Refugees in the Early Modern World (Cambridge University Press). This book, which is set against the background of the above history, has several themes:

1) Involuntary mass expulsion is an ancient practice.

2) By the end of the 15th century this practice took on a “national scope.” It did so with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s 1492 decree ordering the expulsion of Jews from their Spanish kingdom.

3) By the 1600s “the forced migration of religious minorities became a normal … feature of popular public policy” — a policy designed to build stronger homogenous  communities.

4) The victims of expulsion, refugees and “transplanted exiles,” often do not learn the importance of tolerance from their experience. Indeed, such exiles can become “the most hard-line advocates of religious intolerance and purification” wherever they resettle.

5) By the 20th century “radicalized nationalism” became the prevailing political religion. “The drive to purge various impure groups” from the true tribal community remains “as strong as ever.”

The Zionist Response

The Battle of Rocroi during Thirty Years War, by contemporary artist Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau. (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The average citizen in the West knows none of this history and therefore cannot be expected to draw lessons from the multiple tragedies which ensued.

On the other hand, some Americans know the historical reasons the founders of the nation chose to constitutionally separate church and state. But even here, given the selective nature and uncertainties in teaching U.S. history the numbers might be few. 

However, there is one group of people who claim to have a long and relevant memory of the consequences of this Church-State arrangement. A prevailing memory of expulsion going back as far as Catholicism’s universal sway.

This is the Jews. In fact, being the victims of the historical drive to create homogenous societies based on religious (or some other kind of ideological) belief, race or ethnicity is the major theme of European Jewish history.

Yet, keep in mind Nicholas Terpstra’s point No. 4. It is one of recent history’s saddest turn of events that nationalistic Jews, that is Zionists, seem to have concluded that their best defense against future suffering is to mimic their historical persecutors in terms of intolerance and the strategy of purge and purification. 

It should be understood that Zionists are but a subset of world Jewry, though one of great influence in the decades following World War II.

However, as time has gone by, their penchant for intolerance and group purity has produced a split in the Jewish world between those for and those against Zionist strategy and tactics.

There are multiple historical backstories to this tragedy: 

— The long history of European anti-Semitism that involved violent pogroms as well as expulsions.

 — The decision by the Zionist subgroup of Western Jews to end this history by following a colonialist path (backed by Western Imperial powers) so as to create a Jewish nation state (Israel) in Palestine.

(The World Zionist Organization presented a map detailing their territorial claims to the League of Nations in 1919. In the north it included what is now Lebanon up to the southern spur of the Litani River, to the east it ran right up to the outskirts of Amman, Jordan, to the west it included a slice of the Sinai, and to the south the map encompassed the Red Sea port of Aqaba. ) 

Borders of the British Mandate of Palestine after WWI. (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

— The inevitable resistance, both violent and non-violent, of the indigenous population of Palestine. 

— The Israeli attempts to subdue Palestinian resistance which simultaneously turned the Palestinians into a conscious national group and Israel into an apartheid state. 

— The present effort on the part of Israel to violently expel the Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. This includes their genocidal destruction of Gaza.

All of these backstories can be tied together into one calamitous drama ending in the present tragic state of affairs.

For the Palestinians it has been a long story of oppression, involuntary exile and now genocidal slaughter. 

For the Jews it has been an object lesson in the fact given above — that religion tied to state power can breed a murderous ideological impulse.

That impulse is in the process of tearing Jewish communities apart and has shaped the Zionists into a harrowing caricature of their own historical persecutors.

(Gaza under Israeli attack brings to mind Picasso’s image of Guernica — the Spanish town bombed to rubble by the Nazis in 1937. Today, the Israelis even use Gaza as a testing ground for their weaponry, as the Nazis used Guernica.)

[See: Chris Hedges: Israel Shutting Down Gaza Human Lab]

A sense of the Jewish part of this tragedy can be had by considering an essay recently published by Amanda Gelender, writer and mental health advocate, in The Middle East Eye.

1819 Hep Hep Riots in Wurzburg, during anti-Jewish pogroms in Germany; from a contemporary engraving by Johann Michael Voltz. (Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel – Objektdatenbank, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Here Gelender laments the fact that “Israel’s use of religious symbols” in its ongoing slaughter in Gaza “has robbed Jews of a faith practice divorced from nationalist barbarism … After Palestinians, Zionism’s next victim is the Jewish faith.” 

Indeed, the whole Zionist argument that Judaism and Zionism are the same thing links religion to political power, just as Catholicism was bound to a Papal state in the 16th century, and the various Protestant sects to secular states in the 17th. 

It also resurrects as present policy the most inhuman aspects of the Old Testament wherein God commands the Israelites to “attack the Amalekites and completely destroy everything they have.”

Just to be sure the divine order is not misunderstood, God itemizes the targets: “Kill men, women, infants and nursing babies, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.” 

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has referred to the Palestinians as Amalekites, and so in Gaza, his government seems to be reenacting the biblical conquest of Canaan. 

[See: SA’s Impassioned Plea to Stop Israel’s Genocide]

Today, as Gelender points out,

“Israel has murdered more than 20,000 Palestinians and counting. It has displaced almost two million people and intentionally destroyed homes, the ecosystem and infrastructure to render Gaza uninhabitable for those who manage to survive starvation, dehydration and carpet bombing.”

All of this has energized Amanda Gelender’s opposition to the connection between Judaism and the Israeli state.

She accurately points out that, “so long as Zionist nationalism has existed, so have anti-Zionist Jews” and concludes that it is now the mission of such Jews to “Disentangle Zionism from Judaism.”

In fact, this is a life and death struggle for world Jewry. 

Today, a growing number of Americans, about one-third of both Jews and non-Jews, disapprove of Israeli aggression in Gaza as well as President Joe Biden’s military and political support of it.

This will not be enough to save either the Jews or the Palestinians from the horrors of a religion tied to state power — a state that claims Palestinian land on the basis of Biblical mythology and colonial sanction rather than enduring residence. 

One-third is, however, a start. Just a few decades ago the number of Americans critical of Israel would have been noticeably lower. And, thanks to Israel’s built in (actually educated in) myopic worldview we can rely on that state to continue its barbaric ways even if it manages to get rid of its present set of fascistic leaders. 

So the numbers of those alienated from Zionism will grow, and do so throughout the West. There will, at some point, come a day of reckoning.

The real question is how many dead and maimed Palestinians will it take to get there and how many Jews will have lost their ethical souls in the process.

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010. 

This article is from his site,

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

15 comments for “The Roots of Israel’s Purge & Purify Strategy

  1. January 26, 2024 at 13:53

    Albert Einstein, who was a Jew and is almost universally well-regarded and respected, gave a warning regarding the then new Jewish state of Israel:

    “Should we be unable to find a way to honest cooperation and honest pacts with the Arabs, then we have learned absolutely nothing during our 2,000 years of suffering and deserve all that will come to us.”


    Sadly that warning is being and has been completely disregarded by the Zionists and by those in power in Israel.

  2. January 24, 2024 at 17:55

    But the underlying conflict is political, not religious: it’s about land, resources, and power, not religious doctrine.

    • robert e williamson jr
      January 26, 2024 at 12:59

      You have your opinion, which seems to be based on some other information. I wold love to see that info.

      You seem to agree with others that religion is not involved here. This means you and I are diametrically opposed in our views. Did you read Davidson’s article?

      Zionism and religion, in this case are inseparable. Zionism was created in such a fashion as to achieve this.

      You are entitled to your own opinion but not you own facts, read the history of Zionism my friend.

      Thanks CN

  3. jamie
    January 24, 2024 at 16:11

    Religious fanaticism is sure a huge social problem, catastrophic when a state has its roots on it; Israel is prime example, making Iran a fairly “rational and even secular” country in comparison; Israel has killed and buried the myth that a democracy is an evolved higher sociopolitical system, that it is better than authoritarian states. Israel has also shown that any culture could turn into a brutal one.

    Regardless, the political system (or any other systems), the thing that matter the most is its culture (and the information valued and allowed in it); if its culture (like the western’s) is based on fanaticism, narcissism, violence, xenophobia, etc. the perceptive-cognitive-behavioral attitude of the people growing within such system is “dysfunctional”, kept in constant “disharmony” with reality, kept at “sub-human” level, well below the optimal functional capacity; a dysfunctional system is only capable of surviving by predating other systems of their “energy”.

    However, I think it is a mistake to believe that only religion leads to fanaticism, western governments are extremist in term of political and social ideology, and the trail of death, whether with sanctions, wars, destabilization, economic depredation and manipulation is unrivalled. Western ideological fanaticism is today the most dangerous, inhumane, and brutal.

  4. John Manning
    January 24, 2024 at 13:59

    Davidson lists the facts of barbarism, seeks to create an academic explanation for Israeli barbarism, He has even started using the word genocide. He has seen the truth but does not understand its meaning, He still describes Jews as victims and never once does he condemn Israel.

  5. firstpersoninfinite
    January 24, 2024 at 11:58

    Authoritarian states always use religion as the backdrop to their rise to power. And since Israel is dependent upon the US for the carrying out of this genocide, they are of course invoking the Old Testament to authenticate their destruction of Gaza. Both national parties in the US invoke God regularly as the caretaker of our murderous Empire. It isn’t a mistake for the Israeli government to invoke Judaism in their destruction of Palestinians – it’s a chosen feature. Why do so many Christians believe Trump is their secular savior? Because the narrative makes sense to others when actions are committed which are criminal and unforgivable. If it worked for the Catholic Church and Western Europe for fifteen hundred years, why would it not be used now? But do not be mistaken – it is all a chance for authoritarian powers in the US to test just what destruction they can wreak upon society in pursuit of their true religion: global capitalism. Religion, as it always has been, is now just a candy wrapper around the sweet center of societal control.

  6. forceOfHabit
    January 24, 2024 at 11:24

    Jewish Zionists have become the poster children for the aphorism “Hurt people hurt people.”.

  7. Vera Gottlieb
    January 24, 2024 at 11:04

    Hard to believe…we are living in the 21st century and religions still cling to ideology dating back to when humans lived in caves. So what good has all this culture and education done? We are not advancing, we are regressing to the lowest we can get. Animals? Who really ARE the ‘animals’ ???

  8. hetro
    January 24, 2024 at 10:56

    Very helpful analysis here, well-done. I would like to highlight this statement: “[Gelender] accurately points out that, “so long as Zionist nationalism has existed, so have anti-Zionist Jews” and concludes that it is now the mission of such Jews to ‘Disentangle Zionism from Judaism’.”

    The fallacy of associating all Jews with Zionism, whereas many oppose it vigorously–and calling this criticisim “anti-semitic”–needs continual emphasis and clarification. Ground for the propaganda needs frequent turning over and exposing, as here with this brilliant history. Thank you, Lawrence and CN.

  9. January 24, 2024 at 10:25

    I wish that an objective presentation and understanding of history mattered…to more than a selected few…and was guiding in our actions. Unfortunately, it is immediate power-relations that matter and “history” is a tool to be distorted to advantage. Of course, rational reality is just about all we have to struggle against power-relations, but such reality more often only finds its way into post hoc historical texts rather than into the political moment. Still, I see no option other than trying to inform; becoming ahistorical and power driven certainly isn’t an answer.

  10. lidia
    January 24, 2024 at 03:36

    It is not bout religion. “Founding fathers” were genocidal colonizers like Zionists!

    • robert e williamson jr
      January 24, 2024 at 11:23

      You are obviously missing a very important Ma’am. However, you are entitled to your opinion.

      The point is that throughout history religion has been used as a front for the “Bad guys” who hijack religion to serve their personal perverse agendas. Enter Zionism.

      The truth is throughout history religions have required unconditional faith from followers. Unrequited love and obedience as it were. Such power falling into the hands of the unsavory, corrupted individuals has caused great human suffering, as Mr. Davidson aptly points out. Read the article. The history is what it is.

      The rub, the contradiction that is impossible to deal with manifests itself when believers in any religion turn to violence as religiously justified end to a means. Enter Zionism.

      I happen to agree with your statement about “Founding Fathers”, by the way. This history is what it is also. The tragedy again was the White man could not perceive himself as being of the same “human stuff” as the natives were of. The arrogance of the human displayed recently enough for all to see and comprehend.

      Importantly and to the point, your error is this definitely is about religion and what results when human frailties corrupt it. This corruption, in my opinion, is revealed in the founding fathers continued references to “God” in their effort to sedateness to the puritan witch hunters, they intended to rule rather than govern. They compromised the very “idea” or “experiment” by doing so. A trend seems to rule the day in our world these days.

      You are either part of the solution or part of the problem, this is your choice.

      Thanks CN

  11. robert e williamson jr
    January 23, 2024 at 23:14

    As a call to all for their edification and better understanding of the impact of the AIPAC lobby in the U.S. Congress I would beg everyone interested in the true cost of the U.S. government having been compromised by that lobby to read this and think about what it could mean.

    I have mentioned many times the The information there in is the result of the tireless work of Grant Smith and his Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, IRmep. This is the site, hXXps:// that presents the israellobby Archives at | hXXps://

    The address takes one to the main page.

    I have followed and supported Mr. Smith’s organization for several years now and encourage any who hope to make a difference visit the site and become educated in the history of AIPAC and it’s predecessor the AZC, the American Zionist Council. You stand to learn the sordid details of how the congress of the US was subjugated by Zionists led efforts.

    I know of no one doing more to stimulate the “hapless American public” into becoming involved in this fight.

    This is our country, our earth and we all need to begin to act as though it matters and immerse ourselves in this battle.

    This, all from Grumpa, the agnostic, dyslexic, insomniac who lies awake nights, now tormented by having to put down his beloved “Poochy” because of ill health.

    I have no clue about this “GOD” so many talk about and worship however my hat is off to Mr. Davidson for pointing out some very powerful history of the humans who, are apparently unequipped to handle practicing simple humane conduct toward and loving their brothers and sisters.

    May my Poochy condemn and haunt the greedy, blood thirsty bastards who are arrogantly driven to kill and maim in the name of any religion or political belief.

    Do you know the difference between dogs and assholes who become presidents? Dogs never seem to live long enough and these self-promoting arrogant assholes live far to long.

    Wake up folks!

    Thanks to CN and crew.

  12. Sam F
    January 23, 2024 at 18:36

    A good summary of the cycle of transmission of the disease of tribal extremism to the victim group.

    The tribes of race, ethnicity, region, nationality, and party, as well as religion, create social and economic dependencies on the tribe, easily exploited by tyrants to rise to power. Tribe members come to fear tribal leaders. the perfect opportunity for tribal tyrants, who demand power as defenders of the tribe, by simply inventing threats from another tribe, and accusing their opponents of disloyalty. All virtues are of the tribe, all wrongs due to others, and all who oppose the tyrant are tribal enemies. Soon no one dares to disagree.

    Tyrants demonize the “other” tribe, and create tyrants there who demonize their own, each creating fear of the other tribe. Tyrants demand spoils for supporters from demonized groups, so tribalism always leads to aggression. It is the tyrants who oppose and prevent communication to find common ground, in domestic as well as foreign relations. In severe conflicts of group interests, negotiation is merely a show for the tyrant.

    Groups that espouse fundamental values may have sincere leaders, but create tyrants who praise their lord and wave their flag while betraying the group values.

    Without respectful debate of the issues, entrenched conflicts cannot be resolved without mass suffering, which generally prolongs and exacerbates conflict. See CongressOfDebate dot com for solution details: suggestions and comments are appreciated.

  13. susan
    January 23, 2024 at 15:54

    “Religion” will be the death of us all!

Comments are closed.