Seminar goes fanatic

Scores of speakers from across the academic and politic spectrum gathered Monday to discuss one of today's most hot-button issues: fanaticism. A day-long seminar hosted by the Friends of the Hebrew University entitled "Fanaticism and Fanatics" was attended by more than two hundred people at Jerusalem's Inbal Hotel. The event, the fifth in a series of biannual conferences dealing with salient Jewish issues, featured notable speakers from the academic, literary and intelligence worlds who deliberated over a wide variety of related topics such as jihad, the concept of martyrdom and the moral dimensions of zealotry. In one session, lead by Professor of political science Shlomo Aronson and former MK and Lechi (Lochame Cherut Israel, or Fighters for the Freedom of Israel) member Geula Cohen, a heated debate ensued over the historical significance of Aronson's claim in his book Hitler, Allies and the Jews that the extreme right-wing Stern gang had forged a relationship with the Nazis during World War II to save Jews. Cohen was adamant that the nature of this relationship had been exaggerated and that Lechi had done everything in its power to protect as many of their European brethren as possible from extermination. Aronson, however, told The Jerusalem Post that, "it is vital that school children are given a balanced account of the actions of their predecessors." Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevi's talk "In Defense of Fanaticism" focused on the importance of contextualizing every individual act of zealotry in order to accurately evaluate its moral standing. He noted that it was essential to make a clear distinction between acts of terror committed by suicide bombers and those carried out by "fanatics" such as the biblical character Pinchas who publicly killed a fellow wayward Israelite but was nevertheless, granted a "covenant of peace" by God. "History will always judge an act by virtue of the circumstances surrounding it," he said. Event organizer Efrat Toussia-Cohen told the Post that the overall subject of the seminar had been chosen because "it is a relevant problem of the day that people want to hear about," though she added that the occasion was meant to be "apolitical and unbiased." Participant Rabbi Gideon Sylvester commented, "It has been a fascinating day, as I think it is very important to study and think about one of the most pertinent issues in current affairs." Other speakers at the seminar, who also provided separate simultaneous lectures in both Hebrew and English, included Professor Muhammad Dajani of Al-Quds University, journalist Eitan Haber and playwright Joshua Sobol.