Andrea Zanardo
The Zionist Rabbi your woke friends warned you about

The peace with Sudan and its discontents

The folk of the Far Left must have become frum. The vociferous militants and supporters of Yachad, who tweet almost every day, have become silent all of a sudden. Shabbat began as soon as the media announced that Israel is about to establish diplomatic relations with another Arab State, Sudan; and since then we have heard nothing from the “pro-Israel pro-peace” community,

Obviously, I do not question their good faith; I know they are all good Jews of good WASP (White AShkenazi Peacenicks) stock. Sometimes I may question how many signatories of their petitions are actually informed of what they later discover to have signed, but I trust them when they claim to be “pro-Israel”. Even if imposing security policies to a country where I do not live is not my idea of being pro. 

And of course, I trust them when they claim to be “pro-peace”. They certainly rejoice because the relations between Israel and Sudan, a State of almost 42 million population, are entering an era of peace. Probably they refrain from sharing their happiness because they have decided to embrace an Orthodox lifestyle and the happy news has arrived on Shabbat.

I am not Orthodox. I am a Reform rabbi, and thus I rejoice.

We Reform Jews accept Biblical scholarship. The Torah for us is a collection of different texts whose authors are human beings (as modern scholarship maintains) which I consider divinely inspired. We believe in gender equality, and we reckon that our religious tradition has been influenced by patriarchal customs that we must emend. And we regard the separation between religion and State as a blessing which we would love to see established in Israel too.  

Many Christians share our views; and probably more Muslims than we know. 

For example, the Sudanese theologian Mahmoud Mohammed Taha (1909-1985)  maintained that the Koran was a collection of two different texts. The first revealed in Mecca, where Mohammad and his followers were a minority and lived a life of “sincere worship, kindness, and peaceful coexistence with all other people”. And the second, more belligerent, written to establish legislation (the Shari’a) influenced by the historical context – thus: not divinely revealed. 

As Reform Jews, we recognise something very familiar in this theological distinction between a core of Divine revelation and human legislation. We have a spiritual affinity with Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, who published his main book (“The Second Message of Islam”) in 1967 with the dedication “To humanity!”.

Like us, Taha regarded equality between men and women as a fundamental principle. Unsurprisingly the Party he founded in 1983 had several female members. The name of the Party was Republican Brotherhood, as it was antagonistic to the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Since its independence, Sudan has been plagued by conflicts between the Arabs, the majority in the Northern part of the country, and the Christians who are the majority in the Southern regions. In order to subjugate these regions, the President Nimeiry -himself a secular person- allied himself with the Muslim Brotherhood to impose the Islamic Law. 

Taha, who -like us Reform Jews- believed in the separation between religion and State, threw himself in the battle.  On Christmas day 1984 Taha released a leaflet, denouncing Islamists’ and police’s abuses. After a few days, he was arrested and charged with apostasy. In less than two hours, they sentenced Taha to death; behind closed doors: the Government was afraid of a public debate, which would have given publicity to his theological vision.  

Probably Nimeiry wanted him dead, to please the Islamists. However, Nimeiry himself had always blamed for the decision Hasan al-Turabi, Minister for Justice and leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Whether al-Turabi or Nasser carry the responsibility, is for the historians to debate. Certainly, Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, the spiritual giant of 20th century Sudan, has been murdered because he was a Muslim in the same way we Reform Jews are Jews: because he believed in human reason, tolerance, equality. 

Few months after the execution of Taha a civil war erupted in Sudan; as a result, the country fell under the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood, led by al-Turabi. It became a murderous dictatorship and a rogue State. The rest is, as we know, tragic and recent history. The ethnic cleansing in Darfour; the war of attrition against Chad; the hospitality to terrorists such as Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, (“Carlos the Jackal”), the Palestinian Abu Nidal, whose organisations murdered more than 900 civilians; and Osama bin Laden, who gave one of his nieces as wife to al-Turabi. The list of crimes is endless.

The execution of Mahmoud Mohammed Taha opened a dark chapter of Sudanese history; such a chapter is now, we pray, coming to an end. 

The Muslim Brotherhood is still strong in the country, and it’s obviously enraged by the relations with Israel. But they are far less influential than they used to be, and still licking their wounds after South Sudan finally achieved independence with a referendum in 2011. Israel, by the way, established relations with South Sudan literally from day one. 

And now Israel has relation also with Sudan. Hopefully, it is the beginning of a new era, which we Reform Jews should salute with enthusiasm. Of course, Donald Trump will sell this achievement as one of his successes. But who cares! We may find him problematic; but certainly, we have a debt of gratitude, and a spiritual affinity, with Mahmoud Mohammed Taha. 

Yes, but – I hear from the Left – if we celebrate the peace with Sudan we may alienate the Palestinians. Haven’t I read the reaction of the Joint List? To which I reply that yes, I have read. And yet I don’t understand why Ayman Odeh, should have the right to judge about what I can or cannot celebrate or worse the authority to decide whether I am consistent with my Jewish values.

These Jewish values make me honour the memory and the teachings of Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, and bless the Almighty because S/he has granted us life, sustained us, enable us to reach this occasion and make me witness the peace between Israel and Sudan. 

And I rejoice. On social media also. And on Shabbat too. 

About the Author
Italian by birth, Israeli by choice, Rabbi of the largest synagogue in Sussex (UK). Uncompromising Zionist.
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