The irony of history, when descendants of the Holocaust commit localized holocausts of their own, is presently, and for some time has been, before us, now, the bombing of a center for the disabled by Israeli missiles in Gaza. Why not, Israelis think—and do not stop to ask, why Hamas rockets in the first place, Palestinians especially knowing the futility of their actions, that they are hopelessly overpowered and outgunned, that “shock and awe” awaits them…and yet they persist. They persist because otherwise is to suffer a different form of gas chamber, the slow death of humiliation, overcrowding, poverty, and, publicly admitted, “the grass needs periodic cutting” to keep them in their place. Actually “cynicism” is too kind a term (Webster’s “sneering disbelief in” (fill in the word: democracy, humanity, integrity, etc.), because the sneer, already now emptied of moral content, is backed by the ruthless application of force to make its point.
To be the “Chosen People” is not license for ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and worse, unscrupulousness with regard to human life; in fact, just the reverse, a standard to live up to, in this case, the ethical principles of Torah which knowingly or not are inscribed in the DNA of all Jewish radicals, whether Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, or Schwerner and Goodman, Chaney’s compatriots in the depraved murders by white Mississippians. Indeed, in America, there was a time when Jews and Blacks formed the nucleus of progressive change, or at the very least based our closeness (for I speak as a Jew, who from my early teens pushed for interracial justice) on the mutual recognition of having suffered oppression. That nexus, regrettably, has broken down in Black expressions of racial solidarity for Obama (an authoritarian monster if there ever was one) and Jewish blindness to Israeli war crimes.
It is important to speak frankly. This is crisis-time in America, a wholesale shift to the Right, when liberalism itself is tarnished by its complicity (again, too charitable a term; in reality, outright leadership) in war, intervention, regime change, impoverishment of large sections of the globe, and, a sure sign of impending fascism at home, the massive surveillance of the American people. In and of themselves, we have been through these practices before, but NEVER in the climate of present apathy, self-indulgence and moral blindness. There had always been resistance before, spearheads in industrial unionism, in left-wing politics, in everyday opposition to the mega-structures of American capitalism and commensurate red-baiting to keep radicals in line. Repression has been the raw stuff of American history as the basis for and precondition to the prevailing consensus of today, so that one-by-one the sources of progressive change—Jews, Blacks, the labor movement, engaged clergy (as in the antiwar/civil rights movements, for both owed their strength to their reciprocal nature), grass-roots organization of myriad kinds, in which Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign summarized decades of protest, like tenants’ strikes in Harlem in the interwar period, or before that, agrarian protest and prairie radicalism—are benumbed, lost in the welter of pressures from consumerism to patriotism to just plain social paralysis.
Is this a tangent from discussion of the Israeli attack on a center for the disabled, not to mention the promiscuous selection of targets designed to terrorize a people in the name of Israeli justice? No it’s not. American Jewry has been the shield behind which Israel hides, or rather, strikes out at others while manipulating US public opinion to do its bidding. Jewish radicalism, so proud a tradition in the New Deal years and as late as into the 1960s, has all but lost its voice. Matching the racial solidarity of Blacks toward Obama, it allows AIPAC to present a party line Maoists at their best in the Cultural Revolution would have envied. To most self-regarding Jews in America today, anything goes, Palestinians being a despicable people, unclean, Golda Meir’s schwartzas, or the Israeli Establishment’s equally pejorative reading of fellow human beings. What happened to Jewish radicalism, the nobility of struggle on behalf of all peoples, a spirit with which I grew up and instinctively felt?
Israel has become the worst-case scenario of the degradation of Torah, and worst-case scenario of what was once the deep unadulterated humaneness of worldwide Jews, a people under whose capacious tent one could simultaneously honor Marx and Freud, and equally honor non-Jews, from Paul Robeson to Arturo Toscanini, two of my favorites from late childhood. The people who experienced the most loathsome tragedy in modern times, which should have led to compassion by survivors and descendants alike, more than compassion, the placement of human freedom above all else, have proven ourselves unworthy of our heritage of oppression and thirst for a life based on justice and equality. Perhaps the human being internalizes persecution or its threat as a warning to flee from independence and grasp for safety and security. Perhaps the human constitution accepts limits as a condition of survival, and when possible, strikes out at perceived threats—or merely delights in conquest and cruelty. I’d like to think otherwise, that humanity is forever projecting from within itself widening the scope of freedom for all.
At least, that is what one Jewish person was, not even taught to believe, but rather took for granted as the path to life itself. Israelis by their actions callously mock the teachings of our religion. Whether one is a believer or nonbeliever, Judaism has until recently had its cultural roots in the Jewish psyche, even when God was an open question the possibility of some form of retribution being present should love of humanity be abandoned. The present Gaza bombardment is sickening, and in addition to the loss of life among Palestinians serves to drive deeper the blackness-and-blankness of our souls, a feeling of impunity that Israelis can play God themselves—or even displace God altogether in their pursuit of madness and power. Meanwhile, the world turns away, a collective respecter of violence when it has been committed against the powerless.
Netanyahu has become a World Citizen in one easy leap to fame. Killing the disabled is emblematic of today’s statesmanship. He is in friendly competition with Obama, who is glued to his hit list of targeted assassination. Will either Israel or America ever receive their just deserts? It is far easier to demonize Putin and Li, in the American case, than to look candidly and honestly at America’s demanding for itself global supremacy, at the cost of suffering abroad and despotic corporate rule and social control at home.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.