Today Israel resumed its attack on Gaza, presumably in response to rocket launches into Israeli territory. I say “presumably,” because it seeks and has sought, from the initial displacement of the Palestinian people from their homes, using force, repression, and violence, since the early days of post-World War II settlement, any and every opportunity to advance an exterminationist policy directed against them. A humane world religion, giving birth in modern times to leading radicals, scholars, philosophers, writers, leaders of the working class, indeed, wherever the cause of social justice was championed, including the civil rights movement, has, for the last four decades, turned sour, ugly, cynical, in its blind defense of an Israel—constituted as a Warrior State taking pride in the subjugation of others, supporting dictators on the world scene, identifying itself with assassination—which represents the falsification of everything good and decent the religion and the Jewish people expressed and acted upon as willing participants in social struggles making no distinctions among humankind.
This extreme perversion of its former self is difficult to explain, but the way Israel was developed and how Israel came to be a precipitate of modern Judaism, the wraparound dark glasses of the Strongman, proving to all a hardness, toughness, bulldozing homes, elevating militarism into a national ideology, has to be part of the explanation, with American Jewry falling into line, indeed, going well beyond Israel to embrace the very forces responsible for oppression, past and present, that had already degraded the previous generations who fought for human rights, our own included. As a Jew, I do not consider myself a “self-hating Jew,” a vicious charge worthy of Goebbels to silence dissent within the Jewish Community.
Obviously I am not a psychoanalyst, and gladly accept criticism for what follows, but Israel’s behavior, the actual record of its government, its cooperation with retrograde forces in the world (e.g., the US military and intelligence communities), its support of the wars, interventions, regime changes of its friends and allies, its hatred of and opposition to national liberation struggles, and at home its avowedly racist value system (“racist” in deeming and judging others inferior, unworthy, unclean), implementation of policies specifically to disparage the identity and break the will of the Palestinians, and construction of a mythology of victimhood while meting out punishment, seemingly for its own sake, to the pervasive Other.
Hermetically sealed in self-righteousness (only American Jews, in defense of Israel, exceed them in that capacity), Israelis have somehow come full circle from the unspeakable Nazi atrocities practiced against the Jewish people. “Somehow” is a term that covers much ground, generally open to dispute, as in all psychoanalytic interpretation, but what I see, from the observable behavior and expression of values, is the introjection of the persecutor’s mindset—the Holocaust as breeding ground and seminal historical experience–to account for internalizing the poisons of superior force and hatred imposed on a captive people. Jews, while not alone in this Nazification of the contemporary psyche, have, because of their direct exposure to the gas chambers and concentration camps, have become particularly vulnerable to appeals of power, strength, even invincibility—whether as compensation for the past or to ward off a similar fate in the future, but in either case, wholesale contempt for and dismissal of the perspective and fate of the victim.
Palestinians, like Blacks in the American South through at least the 1970s, were viewed as open-season for hunting humans, i.e., forced to accept subordination, humiliation, menial labor, limited education, in sum, always taught their place (the Israeli phrase recently surfacing in the American press, the periodic need for “cutting the grass” or “mowing the lawn,” which means teaching Palestinians to know and keep their place through bombardments, police tactics, turning the screws of repression on and off, whatever it takes to maintain superiority). Fronting the world through an absolutistic ethos of authoritarian pride and a reliance on force, the message both to the world itself and those subject to Israel’s dominance, is not a hopeful sign for peace in the Middle East, nor the revitalization of Jewish Humanism, let alone an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people.
My New York Times Comment to Jodi Rudoren and Anne Barnard’s article, “Israel Resumes Attack After Militants Spurn Cease-Fire Plan,” (July 15), follows. The article, as the heading suggests, places the onus on Hamas for Israel’s actions, although in fairness to the reporters, the description of the damage and deaths inflicted by its attack are brought out. My reason for writing, however, is not to take issue with the account, but, first, to discuss the current situation and its wider background, the Comment proper, and second, because in replies to my Comment I encountered a wall of such hostility directed against the Palestinians as practically subhuman and, less important, my implied traitorousness as a Jew, that, in addition, a reply to the replies appeared warranted and necessary—one respondent even daring me to reply (same date as the article):
Gaza is densely populated; the Israeli airstrikes are inhumane, with casualties and resulting presumed capitulation the objective. Egypt under the military government is a questionable source for a fair-minded ceasefire proposal. Your article states the problem clearly: “The question…is where a cease-fire would lead, and whether it would bring any change to Gaza.”
No, cease-fire is merely a return to the status quo, blockade and all. Israel has lost all moral standing in the world through its promiscuous campaign of shock and awe, including the bombing of a center for the disabled, as well as the large number of children and women killed by the campaign. Should a land invasion follow, this would be, if it is not already, a sad day in the history of Judaism.
The Israeli leadership is brazen to the point of leaving hubris and contempt for world opinion far behind. Cruelty of this kind finds no place in Torah, and the reported silencing of criticism is but one more indication of the corruption of the Jewish spirit of Freedom, a process underway, now at a galloping rate, since perhaps the 1960s, before which American Jews in particular were in the forefront of progressive politics, esp. the struggle for civil rights and resistance to the rabid anticommunism of McCarthyism and–still with us–its subsequent expounders.
I do respond. I am a proud Jew; my wife reads Torah in our Saturday morning minyan. But I am a Jew of another generation, one involved in the civil rights and antiwar movements, one who experienced American Jewry as a progressive force.
I see Israel as a disgrace to the eloquence, humanity, and social justice of Judaism as a world religion and global ethical experience. Not Neo-Cons of today itching for war, not American Jews and Israelis alike, who see Palestinians as vermin and worse (Golda’s famous remark about Schwarzas), not Mossad with its assassinations, not the Israel of today who use disproportionate force to enforce the degradation of another people.
If thing go hard with Israel on the international scene, it won’t be because of so-called “self-hating Jews,” the way Israelis and AIPAC described all Jewish critics of Israeli policies and actions, but God who punishes Jews who commit murder in His name.
I’m embarrassed by all the replies to my Comment, because, rather than reasoned analysis I find only this massive defense-reaction which ignores the initial ethnic cleansing of an indigenous population, the stranglehold of the blockade, the callous shooting of children in the intafadas. Would world Jewry of today be jubilant if all Palestinians were exterminated? My guess is Yes, so full of hate we’ve become as a people.
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.