Israel and the Psychological Dynamics of Totalitarianism


Silence, in the face of extreme moral provocation, is not golden; it is cowardice, in this case, for a Jewish person deeply respectful of Judaism for its ethical principles and writings, its “home” to much of modern radicalism and social protest across religious, racial, ethnic lines in struggles on behalf of all humankind, the seat of devotion for his parents, to be silent NOW, is to be complicit in the degradation of one’s faith as Israel taking the name of the Jewish State and claiming to represent world Jewry commits wanton war crimes and atrocities—and has for some time—on a helpless, desperate, defenseless people who have been under the Iron Heel of occupation for decades. Palestinians face subjugation on a daily basis; I, and my fellow Jews, face the long-term desecration of our faith and, ultimately, separation from God. For what purpose? To what end?

We all know the drill. Dare to criticize Israel on any ground, much less the militarization of its political culture and mindset, and consequent actions and displays of power, employing superior force for the purposes of intimidation (here, Palestinians, but also, dissident Israelis themselves), and one is labeled immediately a “self-hating” Jew, as though a full-scale propaganda apparatus following closely Jewish opinion and currents of thought were ready to pounce. An addiction to conspiracy theory on my part? No, whether highly organized or intuitively expressed by a large proportion of the Jewish community, especially in America, the charge comes quickly and doesn’t miss a trick: ostracism, isolation, for those presumably misguided/dishonored/ungrateful individuals who dare speak up but also invoked even on a whole range of issues, unrelated to Israel, but again organized and/or intuitively felt as questioning what has become an integrated world-view. If one questions American foreign policy, or recognizes Putin has a leg to stand on in his analysis of and response to the Ukraine crisis, one is therefore a self-hating Jew.

The rigidness of mind is revealed through its inner consistency where human rights are concerned (not Neo-Con “human rights,” liberal humanitarianism achieved through war, intervention, regime change, at the point of a gun), but as authentically realized by peoples often through social struggle, that which must necessarily be suppressed as a principle of national policy and statecraft lest world politics become democratized and freed from local, regional, and global pressures of domination. In its own right and as cheering section for Global Reaction, Israel has proven its mettle, not least in furthering US international objectives. But here I veer too much to the theoretical; meanwhile, the people of Gaza are writhing in pain—and the world does not care.

World Jewry, led by the US, in its ironclad embrace of Israel, is in process of constructing psychological walls of self-denial, a massive collective defense mechanism, prepared to tolerate anything in the name of what is perhaps an historically twisted version of Zionism (emphasizing those passages of Torah which glorify the chosen-people doctrine and legitimate the conquest of others, while ignoring the beauty and majesty of the universality embodied in the Decalogue), clearly fearful of the cosmopolitan, humane, yes, radical in many cases, and for even the poorest unskilled worker or farmer, a respect for learning and inclination toward the intellectual as part of daily life and Jewish identity—all being swept away presently by the vulgarization of extolling Repression and methodically practicing—perhaps to confirm one’s superiority—the suppression and humiliation of Palestinians. Do the cries of Gazan mothers holding their dead children not move Israelis? Apparently not, for otherwise this carpet-bombing-in-microcosm would never be considered.

We speak of “self-hating” Jews. It’s time to throw the ball back into the court of the Jewish militaristic, Super-Mensch of Israel and their complicit, frightened, subservient admirers in America. It’s time to cast off the epithet used to silence dissent among Jews themselves, and move from “self-hating” to what had always been “self-affirming” and “life-affirming” Jews, which also translates as, a time for self-respecting Jews in Israel to leave Israel, our contemporary Sodom, in every respect a denigration of Judaism itself. As I write, the juggernaut of Israeli might is on the move. From Jodi Rudoren and Fares Akram’s New York Times article, “Netanyahu Warns of Wider Israel Operation in Gaza,” (July 18), we see illustration of the ruthless push, even the photo of a family walking, father, mother, children, grandmother, down the road, meager possessions—a small bag in the father’s right hand is all, his other, clutching that of one of his children, a desolate scene, massive Israeli tanks reported to be hovering out of sight.

Thus: “Al Aksa radio station, which is run by Hamas [as if perhaps to discount the veracity, or a knee-jerk NYT instruction to its reporters to slur for its own sake], reported that three children of Ismail Abu Musalem—Walaa, 12, Mohammed, 13, and Ahmed, 14—had been killed when a shell hit their bedroom in Al Nada housing bloc, close to the Erez crossing from Israel.” So much for surgical strikes, so much for avoiding civilian casualties (“housing bloc”). Thus, too (here I apologize to the reporters; they are doing a conscientious job): “Dozens of families fled intense Israeli bombings in northern Gaza on foot and on donkey carts packed with up to 10 people, including children and older adults.” They continue: “Explosions from airstrikes could be seen, as well as outgoing rockets or mortars. Little else moved in Gaza City, where streets were mostly deserted and shops were closed.” This is not an incursion—a mere raid—but a full-scale assault: “An exception [to the quiet] was Shifa Hospital, where casualties continued to arrive, including one body blown to pieces and a boy whose face was pockmarked by shrapnel. Many staff members at the hospital have worked nearly nonstop for 11 days. A funeral was held nearby for two others killed overnight.”

In northern Gaza, “it was relatively calm at midday [Friday] after a night of shelling and machine-gun fire.” The palpable sense of terror: Residents “thought Israel [using tanks] might be clearing the way for further incursions [that word!] later.” And “in the town of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, at least nine people were killed overnight, including four members of the Radwan family,” as meanwhile, residents in the eastern part of the town said “bulldozers were leveling fields planted with crops near the border fence in eastern Gaza in what is known as the ‘buffer zone’–a strip where Israel prevented planting for years but lifted restrictions under a cease-fire agreement that ended the last Gaza battle in 2012” (this last an example, restrictions on planting, of the day-to-day humiliation intended by the occupation).

Too, air strikes by F-16s and Apache helicopters targeting “an apartment in Al Jawhara tower,” as, a mile inside Israeli territory, “dozens of tanks topped with Israeli flags were parked in fields, with soldiers on standby… The Israeli military has begun calling up 18,000 more reservists, adding to the 50,000 already mobilized for the campaign.” This all, in less than the first twenty-four hours, to which our estimable Secretary of State, John Kerry, urged precision and, according to the department, “the need to avoid further escalation.” For the record, the UN “estimates that three-quarters of the Palestinians killed in the operation were not militants and that the victims include MORE THAN 50 CHILDREN”(my caps). In addition to the four children killed on the beachfront in Gaza City, four more “were killed in an airstrike as they played on a Gaza City rooftop at around 6 p.m. on Thursday,” i.e., the start of the operation.

Let’s give the final word to Netanyahu, that he might metaphorically hang himself. This today (the 18th): Israel’s is “a moral army like no other… [and] does not aspire to hurt even one innocent person, not even one.” When I speak of the psychological dynamics of totalitarianism, I mean that wall of denial, which in turn masks a profoundly deep guilt for the inhumanity not allowed self-recognition (or in this case, the nation’s), but for that reason there and taking aggressive outlet. Israelis are everything the Palestinians are not, and must shatter the mirror which holds them up to themselves so as not to see what they have become: incapable of feeling, unable to respond to the tears of the mothers and fathers (they, too, not ashamed to cry) over the death or maiming of their child; seeing that living simply is a refutation of the Israeli hedonistic-sybaritic lifestyle, and its gated-communities a stark contrast to the overcrowded norm of conditions and ascetic manner of a people going about their daily life. Youths have been killed waiting to attend morning prayers, and in Jerusalem itself the Israel Home Front Command has barred men under 50 from Al Aksa Mosque compound for Friday prayers, even though this is the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Psychological totalitarianism: nothing must be permitted to penetrate the tightly-locked worldview of dominance, license to conquer, arrogance, certitude, for any glimmer of doubt might shatter the whole mental-cultural-ideological edifice and the corrupted institutional framework on which it rests. And then, just perhaps, Judaism can rediscover its roots in the struggle for human betterment of all peoples in the world. Shalom.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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