Pulling the Plug on Israel


Whether or not it has reached critical mass, there exists a heterogeneous agglomeration of Jewish people around the world– e.g., moi–for whom the state of Israel has come to represent an 800-pound albatross that needs to be pried from our necks before it drags us over a cliff. A sense of urgency is propelled by the U.S.-sanctioned bloodletting in Lebanon and Gaza (which now seems to have been planned in advance) and the evident flimsiness of its official justification. With Israeli adventurism on the march, there are well founded fears concerning the general threat that country poses to the peace of the world.

And there is a paticularized danger which stirs a thick chunk of self-interest into the universalism of enlightened Jewish concern. In terms of the fabled Jewish-interest litmus, it is proving decidedly not “good for the Jews” when Israel gets away with murder. The spillover is ubiquitous. After all, we have it on no lesser authority than New York Times heavyweight Thomas Friedman that, in the early days of the American occupation of Iraq, American soldiers in Iraq were being referred to on the Iraqi street as “the Jews”.

The worst-case scenario was laid out with characteristic bluntness by dissident Israeli historian Ilan Pappe in a Zmag interview:

“I believe what Israel is doing will destroy the Jewish people in the near or distant future as well. Even with 250 nuclear weapons and the support of the world,s only superpower.” Supporting scenario has been sketched in by veteran peace activist Uri Avnery:

“What would happen for example if the United States sank ever deeper into the bloody swamp of Iraq, into an atmosphere of national calamity? When the search for a scapegoat is on, the Jewish neo-cons will stick out. . . .One should not exaggerate these dangers. At present they are hardly specks on the horizon. But I would advise the leaders of the Jewish institutions in the United States to exercise some self-restraint. Intoxication with power can easily lead to dangerous excesses.”

Sadly, this advice has not been taken. As a result, it is neither surrealistic or irresponsibly alarmist to worry about a multi-continental outburst of anti-Semitism– especially when fuel for a new firestorm is being splashed about by those representing themselves as the quintessential defenders of Jewish interests. This present concern should not be confounded with the perennial wolf-crying (the flip side of wolf-baiting) by apologists like the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman. The current unease is a spontaneous phenomenon– rippling across a broad range of independently minded Jews, stoking a visceral need to express (even if only in the privacy of their own minds) emphatic disavowal of the self-proclaimed Jewish State.

The endgame denoted in the title of this piece, although a seemingly chimerical wet dream today, is a wish list with three main components.

1. In terms of immediate impact, the highest priority would be the withdrawal of lockstep United States support for Israel’s provocative adventurism and its brutal stranglehold on Gaza and the West Bank. Maximum U.S. pressure would be applied to hold Israel to its responsibilities under international law and force it to address the basic issues that have generated most of its problems.

2. Another high-impact development would be the voluntary drying up of the river of financial support Israel receives from its many supporters in North America. Obviously, such a stoppage would presuppose a prior psychological upheaval within and among those supporters– indeed in all diaspora Zionists, i.e., those who believe that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people

3. Such a psychosocial earthquake would involve upending deeply entrenched and cherished beliefs that contribute to a sense of entitlement, such as that which comes to play when, at any point in his/her life, a North American Jew discovers his/her inner Zionist. He/She can draw on sacred and secular authorization to jet off to the homeland and get fast tracked to a swimming pool in a hillside villa–down below which the indigenous holdouts line up for water from the well.

Given Israel’s present commanding hegemony of resources and discourse, such an upheaval may appear as unlikely as the “spiritual seizure” which a pessimistic George McGovern wished for on a long-ago Election Day. Nevertheless, there is abundant anecdotal evidence of increasing Jewish alienation. While Israel’s life-disrupting separation wall goes forward on the ground, Israel itself is being walled off in independently minded Jewish minds and hearts around the world. (Even some of those who consider their metaphysical identity and destiny thoroughly intertwined with the nation of Israel are troubled by twitches in a vestigial generic– not proprietary– human sensitivity. However, the fundamentalist core will cling even more fervently to triumphalism, and carry on with the sanctimonious gong-ringing.)

Always seeking ways to “think outside the box”, this writer sees advantage in recycling a pop-psych chestnut to offer non-Jews (not to mention Jews) a certain scope on the unspoken-for world Jewish community. The lens consists of Elsabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Interestingly, they were first labeled the five stages of receiving catastrophic news. Both terms are applicable here: decades of “catastrophic news” about Israel and its history have culminated (sometimes outside of conscious awareness) in widespread Jewish mourning and grieving for a lost Zio-innocence.

The most immediate catastrophic news is coming out of Lebanon, but a steady stream has emerged from Gaza and the West Bank during the four decades of Israeli occupation. Perhaps even more unsettling is the cloud of ethnic cleansing which increasingly hangs over the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. And any rewind winds up in the original traumatic “primal scene”: early Zionist settlers’ shocked discovery that Palestine was not, in fact, the “land without people” they’d been led to believe.

Many Jews have been shaken out of the denial stage by the substantive force of the bad news, but anger, bargaining (“I promise –.”) and depression remain seductive lures. Getting to acceptance implies uncomfortable acknowledgements and adjustments. In the most optimistic of images, it will be a bumpy ride. But no alternative exists. And the hour is late.

There will be no peace in the Middle East without justice, and no justice without truth.

DAVID HIMMELSTEIN is a writer and teacher in Montreal. Reachable at chebrexy@hotmail.com.