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Since I wrote recently about the evil mullahs of the Middle East who ferociously resist the slightest spark of progress, I think it’s worth pointing out – in the name of fairness – that destructive, theocratic insanity can be found in every religion. Christopher Hitchens has written an excellent column this week in Slate to remind us of that.

The right-wing government that’s currently in charge of Israel is continuing the policy of building homes for Jewish settlers on land seized by force from Palestinians. Understandably, the Palestinians have demanded a freeze on these settlements as a condition of resuming peace talks. But Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has been intransigent – and much of the blame for that can be laid on one man, a right-wing rabbi named Ovadia Yosef, who’s the de facto head of a crucial party in Netanyahu’s coalition. Hitchens calls Yosef an “elderly Sephardic ayatollah”, and from a look at his record, that assessment is spot-on.

Last month, Yosef proclaimed that the sole purpose for the existence of gentiles is to be servants for Jews (and I should note that by “Jews”, Yosef doubtlessly doesn’t mean all people who claim Jewish heritage, but only the minority who are ultra-Orthodox like himself). Before that, he was well-known for publicly wishing that God would send a plague to eradicate the Palestinians, showing himself to be a staunch supporter of the Hebrew Bible’s policy of holy genocide. He’s also attributed Hurricane Katrina to insufficient Torah study in New Orleans, said that Holocaust victims were reincarnated sinners whom God was punishing, and proclaimed that Orthodox conversion, and only Orthodox conversion, gifts the convert with the “Jewish gene”.

And this is the person whose consent is a necessary element of the settlement freeze. This is the person whom all the peace negotiations and all the diplomatic efforts depend on – not a reasonable person of good will who wants to promote peace, but a religious maniac who openly doubts the humanity of everyone outside his narrow circle of dogma. It’s enough to make me despair of hoping that it will ever stop.

If it weren’t for all the innocent people caught on both sides of the conflict, I’d say that we should withdraw from this region entirely and let the fanatics fight it out forever – let their endless war continue until the last two fall with their hands around each other’s throats, while the rest of humanity moves on. But even the most bloodthirsty, fanatical partisans on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides are still human beings, and should be capable of better than this. There must be a way, some way of persuasion, that will get them to put their spiral of grievance aside and get them all to see reason. I just wish that I could see what it was.

DAYLIGHT ATHEISM—Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...

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