Watching Bibi speak ever since October 7, one senses that, for far too long, he has been told that he is King Bibi—and that he truly believes in the prophetic claims of his role as Israel’s unrivaled and divinely installed leader. Even though Bibi is not religious, he presides over the most religiously extreme and messianic coalition in Israel’s history, a throwback to the kind of ideologically tainted mysticism invoked by Nathan of Gaza to elevate Sabbatai Zevi [1626–1676] to the status of messiah—and to promise a new era to Jews across the world. Bibi’s promises at the 2023 United Nations General Assembly of “a new Middle East that will transform lands once ridden with conflict and chaos into fields of prosperity and peace”—just a few weeks before the Hamas massacre and the destruction of Gaza that ensued—smack of the kind of delusional dreams that seemed just as real to Sabbatai Zevi when he was brought before the Turkish Sultan Mehmed IV for sedition. Despite the reason for his summons, Zevi expected to walk out with a crown on his head, as Nathan of Gaza had prophesied. Instead, he was offered a choice between death or conversion to Islam. Sabbatai Zevi believed his meeting with the sultan would leave him a Jewish king. Bibi believes that a meeting with the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who has dangled normalization with Israel in return for American nuclear know how, will confirm his reign as King Bibi. Both conceptions are delusional, and both rely on a kind of messianic faith that can only lead to ever-greater disasters.
The cult of personality is never a one-person show. Without others, after all, there can be no cult. Without Nathan of Gaza, Sabbatai Zevi may have simply continued his aimless tours around the world, a highly educated and gifted personality with, as some scholars have hazarded, severe bipolar disorder, oscillating between high moments when he called himself the messiah and low spells that sent him into reclusion. Similarly, Bibi continues to manipulate Israeli society with the support of his false prophets and accomplices, turning people against each other in ways they never would have imagined otherwise. He has destroyed the integrity of Israel’s national infrastructure without people realizing the extent of its disintegration. He has personally stoked the greatest internal rift between Jews, both inside Israel and across the world, since the time of Sabbatai Zevi. Not for three hundred and fifty years have so many Jews been thrown into such utter distress or despair because of a single person and his unhinged personality.
Today, as real dangers from without combine with the results of decades of neglect from within, Israel’s society runs ever faster into the arms of messianic elements overtaking its political landscape. Israelis live under the forceful influence of those who believe—who truly have faith—that the modern State of Israel is athalta de-geula, the beginning of the redemption, as Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, founder of Religious Zionism, viewed the establishment of the Jewish state. On a spiritual level, this sentiment can be seen as an expression of religious yearning, but when it turns into government policy, it portends nothing but more misery for everyone in the region. Jewish self-determination, which is shared by secular and religious people alike, has been perverted into a kind of manifest destiny that usurps what secular and religious cultures had achieved together and exploits it for messianic ends. [Continue reading…]