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Philosopher and public intellectual Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who brought an anti-mystical attitude to his Orthodox practice of Judaism and an anti-occupation attitude to his perception of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, was born in Riga on this date in 1903. He moved to Jerusalem in 1935 and taught at Hebrew University for six decades, in biochemistry, neurophysiology, philosophy, and the history of science while publishing ten books and innumerable essays on a broad range of subjects. Following the 1967 Six-Day War, Leibowitz became an outspoken critic of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, calling on the country to “liberate itself from this curse of dominating another people” and predicting that it would “bring about a catastrophe for the Jewish people as a whole.” Leibowitz also condemned Israel’s mixing of religion and politics, ridiculed as idolatry the Orthodox veneration of religious shrines, and called the Western Wall “a religious disco.” In 1993, Leibowitz turned down the prestigious Israel Prize after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin announced that he would boycott the award ceremony because Leibowitz had called upon Israeli soldiers to resist obeying immoral orders. Ever the gadfly, ever committed to a strictly halakhic form of Judaism, always engaged in public discussions in Israel, Leibowitz was actively engaged as a citizen until he died in his sleep at 91 in 1994. To see him speaking about the occupation, look below.
“The Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police — mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions... The administration would suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.” —Yeshayahu Leibowitz, 1968