As atheists we pride ourselves on our regard for evidence, and put this forth to distinguish ourselves from people of faith. As the recent interview of Amir Schnabel on AAI podcasts illustrates, atheists can have as much contempt for evidence, facts and objective reality as anyone else. We must ask how this comes about. We are here concerned with mass psychology and the allure of conforming.
Liel Leibovitz, in a recent confessional titled “Protest Porn,” describes his getting swept up in the anti-Trump madness, and eventual recovery from it. It makes for sobering reading. His most salient observations, for our purposes, are:
A few days after the November 2016 elections, I sat down to write out my feelings, which consisted mainly of fear and loathing. The president-elect, I intoned, was a dangerous lunatic, one likely to recall the ghosts of Fuehrers past. His election meant the death of America, of democracy itself, and maybe even scores of Americans. “Assume the worst is imminent,” I advised. Celebrities I’d admired my entire life praised the piece on Twitter. NPR came calling. Seven years later, my cri de coeur remains one of Tablet’s most widely read articles.
As a piece of writing, it was moving, forceful, and … entirely wrong.
You can find much to dislike about Trump—his policies, his personality, and an assortment of other failings—and, over the next four years, I did just that, often and with gusto. But my piece remains an embarrassment, more hysterical ululation than an attempt at the kind of useful or correct analysis that readers deserve. Reading it today, I realize that, for a brief moment there, I lost my goddamned mind.
Intellectual honesty, therefore, is a struggle, both against the crowd and against the ego. Leibovitz’s honesty eventually prevailed, something not given to all. Another that did prevail is that of Gustav Le Bon, who observes:
A man of science bent on verifying a phenomenon is not called upon to concern himself with the interests his verifications may hurt. In a recent publication an eminent thinker, M. Goblet d'Alviela, made the remark that, belonging to none of the contemporary schools, I am occasionally found in opposition of sundry of the conclusions of all of them. …To belong to a school is necessarily to espouse its prejudices and preconceived opinions.
One instance of honesty well and truly vanquished is that of Amir Schnabel. For Schnabel, atheism is not about the fearless pursuit of truth against all prejudice, including religious prejudice. His atheism is about belonging in a place apart from religion. For him, claims are not differentiated according to whether they are true or false, but according to whether they support or undermine the position he aligned himself with. Of paramount importance to those in his camp is that they love the right things and hate the right things. Facts and evidence play no role in the stances they take, or, as Prof. Thomas Sowell puts it, “facts are optional.”
All of this and much more besides are on full display in the Schnabel interview. What does Schnabel get from his atheism, besides licence to disparage religious believers? Holding an adversary to be less than oneself provides self-evident confirmation of one’s correctness, obviating the need for critique of one’s atheism, let alone critique of oneself. Since religious believers will always be among us, such self-evident confirmation of correctness becomes permanent, obviating the need even for reflection.
It is beyond Schnabel to ever consider the paradox of his animus towards religious Jews, their religion not commanding them to kill anybody (such commandments in their ancient narratives notwithstanding), and his empathy towards the “Palestinians,” their religion, if they are Muslim, definitely commanding them to kill all Jews. All Palestinians who kill Jews do so for religious reasons, yet far from insulting them, Schnabel supports them. The same goes for secular Israel in general. They have a big problem with religious Jews, but no problem with Muslims, who are all, if not explicitly religious, then far more religious than they are secular.
The idea that the great divide in Israel lies between the religious and the secular persists, perhaps even entrenched by the religious parties ascending to political power in the November 2022 elections. The far more significant divide, and one that atheists are wont to ignore, is that between socialists, i.e., Labour Zionism, and classical liberals i.e., Revisionist Zionism. While their respective representative organisations may have evolved since the Yishuv, their respective approaches to Zionism, and the accompanying antipathy, persist, right down to what happens in Judea and Samaria, and the eleven-year elevated struggle over which of them wields power in Israel, since Aharon Barak's presidency of the Supreme Court that has now come to a head in Judicial reform.
No one uses the terms Labour Zionism and Revisionist Zionism anymore, the focus of the division having been transferred first to the political parties representing the two sides, and finally settled on the leaders of those parties, with Benjamin Netanyahu now personally—it is not beneath the protesters to attack the Prime Minister's wife—bearing the brunt of Labour Zionist animus that used to be spread over the entire Revisionist Zionist movement and the sections of the population they uniquely champion. One would expect the leader of Israel’s atheists to know that directly after the re-founding of Israel, the two sides of Zionism fought a civil war, albeit brief, in which Jews on both sides died. Religion had nothing at all to do with it.
From someone invited to explain the events that have shaken Israel since the election to the Knesset in November 2022 of Netanyahu and the religious parties, one would be entitled to expect, at the very least, a potted history of how the relationship between the two sides of Zionism led to a struggle over Judicial reform. Not once does Schnabel mention either Aharon Barak or his “constitutional revolution,” of the 1990s, that enabled the Supreme Court to usurp the power of the elected government. Without this, it is impossible to explain either the Judicial reforms or the opposition to those reforms. If Amir Schnabel does not know this, or does not care to mention it, then one might begin to understand the curious equation of an attempt to restore democracy, i.e., restore power to the elected representatives of the people, with an attempt to destroy democracy, which is, in fact, what Barak has done.
Without going into the events leading up to Barak’s intervention, it was in fact, a Labour Zionist coup d’etat that sought to undo Menachem Begin’s bringing the hitherto marginalised Mizrahim into the centre of power, consistent with Revisionist Zionist values. Instead of explaining this, Amir Schnabel treats us to a torrent of bitter complaints against the Prime Minister. I shall quote only a fraction of it to convey the tone.
He [Netanyahu] said that he's going to lower the cost of living. Of course it didn’t happen. Especially now, when because of the Judicial process, the shekel was very weakened by about 10 percent. He dropped it during the last month. He was saying that he’s going to give us more security like, because there were some Palestinian attacks [in which] many some Israelis were killed in Tel Aviv and some other parts, and he was claiming that he’s going to solve the issue. People believed it. Of course, they didn’t. The situation never changed. It hasn’t changed for the last fifty years, but he was trying to say that he’s going to do it better. He said that the centre-left government that used to be last year gave money to terrorists. It was a lie.
It is not worth addressing each complaint, but just to illustrate the most egregious: “some Palestinian attacks”, “many some Israelis were killed”, “in Tel Aviv and some other parts”, “solve the issue.” On the one hand, Schnabel trivialises the terrorist mass murder of Israelis and distances the “Palestinians” from such mass murders, on the other, he blames Netanyahu for the terrorism and proposes no solution to the mass murders and has the gall to criticise someone who does propose a solution, whether one agrees with it or not. Inconsistency is a hallmark of all ideological discourse, as well as of the rhetoric of blind followers.
Let us also deal with something that has been going on not “for the last fifty years,” but for part of the term of the previous Israeli government. “He [Netanyahu] said that the centre-left government ...last year gave money to terrorists. It was a lie.” (My emphasis).
By now we know that Amir Schnabel offers neither reason nor evidence for his assertions. Certainly, Netanyahu might have accused the previous government of giving money to terrorists, referring to Benny Gantz circumventing the ban on funding to the Palestinian Authority for its Pay-for-Slay policy of paying Muslim Arabs for killing Jews. The evidence that does not interest this top atheist is:
- Many have so accused the previous government, but the one who did all the investigating, all the campaigning and formally levelled charges was not Netanyahu, but Lt. Col. (Res.) Maurice Hirsch, through whose efforts the current Israeli government was moved to legislate.
- Evidence for the PA Pay-for-Slay scheme, and for the former Israeli government helping fund it was presented here, here, here, here and here.
- The Israel Supreme Court, that had empowered itself to hear every trivial nag that anyone might bring before it, responded to Hirsch’s petition:
The Israeli Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, struck down a petition on Wednesday that claimed the previous government illegally transferred 500 million shekels (more than $140 million) to the Palestinian Authority.
In other words, according to Schnabel, there is no need to hear the case because, simply, “It was a lie.” Sadly, for many this is enough. Respect for evidence is supposedly what sets atheists apart from believers. Amir Schnabel, along with the “democracy-respecting” Supreme Court, cancel evidence. It is a feature of totalitarianism that evidence is fabricated and canceled as the desired outcome requires. In the case of the Israeli government helping the PA with its Pay-for-Slay payments, the outcome that the Supreme Court and hundreds of thousands of Leftwing Israelis required was that the case Maurice Hirsch brought against the previous government be struck, evidence or no evidence, and struck it duly was. Schnabel sees democracy at work in this and goes out on the street to protect it.
Many have remarked on the phenomenon of street mobs challenging of the democratically-expressed will of the electorate in the UK during the run-up to Brexit, in the US before, during and after both elections of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States, and immediately following the reelection of Netanyahu and a Right-wing government in Israel. Amir Schnabel implies that the voters effected an electoral coup d’etat while the Left wasn’t looking:
We’re finally starting to wake up to this. They [the protesters] didn’t know this was happening before we knew that it existed, but we didn’t understand how strong they are. We didn’t understand how they are using those specific Parliament members to vote for them. Now they’re not Parliament members, there are Ministers. We know that the Finance Minister is strongly aligned with them. We know that the Justice minister is strongly aligned with them. We know for sure that they wrote all those laws. Everything is known. Everything is publicised.
One wonders what the now-protesters thought elections were for. Schnabel and his protester comrades took their control of Israeli society for granted, and were asleep at the wheel when the marginalised people of Israel were hard at work preparing to restore the balance of power in their state through Judicial reform. Well before the election, Shlomo Ne’eman, leader of the Yesha Council that advocates for Israelis living in Judea and Samaria, predicted:
On November 1, a government will be elected that believes in our right to this land and nothing less than the fact that, unlike you [Merav Michaeli], it will take care of the citizens of Israel in every corner of the country.
Had Schnabel and the thousands disrupting Israel deigned to give the slightest regard to the “settlers” and the other marginalised groups, they might have “woken up” earlier and perhaps joined in the democratic process. Israel is not yet a country of mob-rule. You do not annul election results by taking to the streets and crying that the newly-elected government will not implement your policies. The media is in no rush to point out that that’s not how it works.
Not for a moment do they consider that a majority of the electorate had elected this government because it promised, amongst other things, to reform the Judiciary. Judicial reform is exactly what the electorate elected the government to carry out. It is neither something imposed on them by that ghastly man, Netanyahu, nor is it something they were duped into. It is a strange defender of democracy who does not know what democracy is.
They built a very strange coalition …that gives a lot of power to the extreme national[ist] right religious side, those groups that believe very religious. They believe that we should then uninstall the West Bank or the Palestinian land. We should, we might justify to not give rights to the Palestinians, and build more settlements, very extreme in that extent. We might get to a point where international community will not let Netanyahu do all their dreams, and then they will decide that if it’s not giving them the chance to build their maybe they decide to break and to break the Coalition because they will think that they might get a better in a better position after the new election maybe that will solve it.
Schnabel’s hyperbole (Israel is becoming a “dictatorship”, MK Itamar Ben-Gvir is a “fascist”) takes the place of factual evidence in his discourse. It is therefore especially ironic that Schnabel should warn, “There’s another scenario: the current Supreme Court will decide that all those laws that undermine democracy are illegal.” Having just spent almost an hour listening to a complete lack of reason and the most extraordinary irrationality, the interviewer offers Schnabel the abiding hope, “Well, hopefully people will choose the side of reason and rationality, at least those not on the far-Right.”
“The far-Right,” the contrived bogeyman that the Left implanted into the minds of so many in the West, is a more effective instrument of emotional manipulation than even the Islamic doctrine of Al-wala’a w’al-bara’a (Loyalty and disavowel). Whatever “the far-Right” says, you want to say the opposite and be heard to be saying the opposite. Whatever “the far-right” does, you want to do the opposite and be seen to be doing the opposite. The last thing on earth you want is to be heard sounding like, or seen doing as, the far-Right. What the far-Right says or does is relevant only in that it frames the utterances and conduct of the Left, the “woke” and the mediaeval. It provides these groups with something around which to virtue signal.
What threats loom over Israel, while Amir Schnabel and his self-righteous atheists get high on destroying their country? Just today, Dr Mordechai Kedar published the following in Jihad Watch:
Even if the chance of it [an Iran-led jihad war to obliterate Israel] happening in the foreseeable future is only one percent, the State of Israel must act as one united entity and it is very important that the coalition work with the opposition in order to prepare the country for this scenario in terms of the army with all its ammunition, troops, forces and bases, the police (including the National Guard and the Border Police), electrical infrastructure, communication and transportation, defensive and offensive cyber, emergency management, food and water supply, etc.
If the Israeli public wants to survive, it must prepare – mentally and physically – for war with the Iranian octopus that has managed to establish its grip on the failed countries adjacent to Israel: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Gaza, all countries that have almost nothing to lose. The Qatari money and the Jihad media channel Al Jazeera are constantly pouring jet fuel on the fire of hatred for Israel and preparing public opinion in the Middle East and the wider world for the great, final campaign. The Qatari money also bought politicians in the West so that they would not see what Qatar does not want them to see, from the violation of human rights and foreign workers in Qatar to what Qatar’s ally – Iran – is planning to do to Israel.
It’s time to wake up. This dangerous scenario may be realistic.
Unfortunately, “wokism” is now so deeply entrenched in Israeli society that all sides are calling on all sides to “wake up.” Towards the end of the exasperating Schnabel interview, in which the whole problem facing Israel today is reduced to Benjamin Netanyahu’s personality, attesting to the success of this atheist’s propaganda, we hear the following exchange:
AAI: What about those people within his [Netanyahu’s] party? Are they willing to stand up to him?
Amir Schnabel: Not at the moment. Not at the moment. We’re putting pressure on them. If it’s emails, phone, demonstration outside of the private residence; and we hope someone will wake up.”
There are atheists for whom it amounts to a dilution of sacred principles, heresy even, one might say, to acknowledge the unique evil and threat that Islam poses over and above those of other religions, because it implies, somehow, a concession towards those religions. This is insecure atheism. Yet, there are also atheists who come down severely on all religions, but will never touch Islam, the worst of all religions. Schnabel, for example, says of religious Jews:
They think that God gave them the land. They have to fulfil God's plan and God told them that it’s our land and we need to control it and who cares about whoever else. They don’t. Even now they say that since God is going to help them, they don’t care to get into a war. They don’t care that people will die because it’s God’s plan.
What Schnabel criticises religious people for here is exactly what started me on the road to atheism at the age of sixteen. Not only is Schnabel not a youth, he is the President of the Israeli Atheist Association. Is one not entitled to expect better of him? “People will die.” Really? Not “people will be murdered,” or more to the point, “Muslim Arabs will murder more people”? Have they not been murdering Jews long before there was even a State of Israel? Do the Qur’an and the Hadith not command such murder. Are these sources not the motivation for Gamal Abdel Nasser’s formation in the 1950s of a fedayeen army to attack the Jews, and for Hassan al-Banna in the 1940s to plot to kill all the Jews in Palestine? Is it not incumbent on an Israeli atheist to know this stuff?
Such atheists, the ones who respect Islam, are the most dangerous for the propaganda they spread, this interview of Schnabel being a case in point, for against the backdrop of religious irrationality, such people appear rational. They undermine the very means by which their society must not only defend itself against Islam, but take it on and defeat it. If Iranian hackers are unable to cyber-cripple Israel, they have enough counterparts in the West who, fed on a staple of Schnabel self-righteousness, will “do the right thing” themselves, facts not required. While Benjamin Netanyahu dabbled in the delusion of an accord amongst “Abrahamic” faiths, Israeli atheists were hard at work tossing the anti-Bibi/anti-religion/anti-Zionist word salad, instead of doing something constructive to stop the nihilist regime in Iran from initiating the next Shoah, its prelude to bringing the world to an end:
The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.
To try to finish on a positive note, those of us engaged in the intellectual endeavour of searching for truth would do well to recall the wisdom left to posterity by the ’Abbasid Arab philosopher Abu Yusuf Yaʻqub ibn ʼIshaq as-Sabbah al-Kindi, who strived for a high standard of intellectual honesty:
We ought not to be embarrassed of appreciating the truth and of obtaining it wherever it comes from, even if it comes from races distant and nations different from us. Nothing should be dearer to the seeker of truth than the truth itself, and there is no deterioration of the truth, nor belittling either of one who speaks it or conveys it.
In short, a truth from Amir Schnabel I will accept as readily as a truth from the Bible. I just wish that Schnabel could see what a terrible thing he is doing to himself, let alone to others, not to mention the country and people that sustain his life.
- AAI Podcast with the president of affiliate Israeli Atheists, Amir Schnabel, Atheist Alliance International, YouTube, 1 Mar 2023 https://youtu.be/SvMgpHhKT4E
- Liel Leibovitz, “Protest Porn: The pleasure-seeking behind today’s righteous causes,” Tablet, 9 March 2023. https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/israel-middle-east/articles/protest-porn
- Gustav Le Bon, Preface to The Crowd, A study of the popular mind, SMK Books, 2018.
- Justice Aharon Barak, "A ConstitutionaL Revolution: Israel's Basic Laws," 18 March 1992, Speech given at Haifa University, HeinOnline -- 4 Const. F. 83 1992-1993. https://openyls.law.yale.edu/bitstream/handle/20.500.13051/3114/A_Constitutional_Revolution_Israel_s_Basic_Laws.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y See also Evelyn Gordon, "Disorder in the Court," Mosaic, 5 December 2016 https://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/israel-zionism/2016/12/disorder-in-the-court/
- Shimon Sherman, "Israel’s High Court rejects petition claiming Gantz illegally transferred 500 million shekels to PA," Jewish News Syndicate, 16 February 2023. https://www.jns.org/israels-high-court-rejects-petition-claiming-gantz-illegally-transferred-500m-to-pa/
- Anjuli Pandavar, “De-demonising the settlers,” Murtadd to Human, https://www.murtaddtohuman.org/de-demonising-the-settlers/
- Mordechai Kedar, ‘Death to Israel’ – The Iranian Plan to Attack Israel, Jihad Watch, 11 April 2023. https://www.jihadwatch.org/2023/04/death-to-israel-the-iranian-plan-to-attack-israel
- Sahih Muslim/Book 41/6985. https://quranx.com/Hadith/Muslim/USC-MSA/Book-41/Hadith-6985
- Quoted in The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, Science and Technology in Islam, Vol. 1, p509.