Note: not, the Nazification of Judaism, my religion, that of my parents, ancestors, from the shtetlach of Russia, a religion I revere for its secular associations with struggle for the underdog, devotion to working people and the poor, emancipation of thought about/specific participation in the achievement of, racial equality; for its cultural associations with beauty in all its affirming-of-life qualities, whether in literature, philosophy, painting, especially for me, music; its religious associations with moral principles imparted by Torah, love of the stranger, implicit sharing of bounty, authenticity of mindset concerning devotion and faith. Also, not the Nazification of Zionism, for while I believe Zionism has proven to be a colonialist-imperialist ideology, that was not always the case, and in its earlier stages perhaps still in the Yishuv the manifestation of labor radicalism rooted in the kibbutz. But rather, the Nazification of Israel, which has, I believe, corrupted, shamed, distorted, betrayed Judaism in all its historical reaching heavenward in the praising of God and its secular and cultural aspirations to freedom and democracy, in contrast to Israel’s own militarization of religion through arrogance, hubris, superiority complex, leading to contemptuous disregard of all that stands in its way—even the kibbutz integrated into the security system which feeds on population displacement and unimpeded fury directed to the Enemy, within as well as without.
Why the term “Nazification,” in the first place? The product of a self-hating Jew? Absolutistic defenders of Israel, who cannot, out of misguided loyalty, bring themselves even to denounce the recent atrocities in Gaza, may think so, regrettably including a preponderance of world Jewry especially in America today. As for Israelis themselves, opposition to ethnic cleansing, disproportionate application of force, second-class citizenship of Arab citizens, is near-nonexistent to dead on arrival. The Behemoth of the Middle East is taking on appropriate monolithic mental/ideological features of its own, so that internal critics, too, are seen as self-hating Jews. I have chosen the term “Nazification” deliberately because of what is currently going on, as stated in the New York Times heading for Isabel Kershner’s article, “Israel Cabinet Approves Nationality Bill,” (Nov. 24), the euphemism for the kind of Aryan laws seen in Germany at the advent of Hitler. This is troubling to say the least, a confirmation of what I have been suggesting all-along: The extreme pain and brutality of the Holocaust had become the seminal historical-psychological experience searing the Jewish mind as though a post-Apocalyptic barrenness had left Jews vulnerable to the psychodynamics of introjection—taking into oneself the mental framework and world view of the oppressor—under obviously dire conditions, and passed on as self-commending to future generations.
To this day, the cycle has not been broken, and indeed, it is replenished through “boots on the ground” savagery toward those pronounced weaker and inferior, the Palestinians. For it is they who have been rendered, a collective surrogate, as the Jews under Naziism, fulfilling the pathology of identification with the original captors. Liberation of this kind comes at the expense of the contrived scapegoat, and hence, not liberating at all but driving the mindset still deeper into the darkness of the horrific primal context of extermination. The cry of “Never Again” made sense, a sign of bravery, moral courage, consciousness of life from the profound depths of despair, but when the founding of Israel should have been the moment of supreme affirmation, the wound cankered rather than healed, the cry itself prostituted into a vehicle of unrestrained power and self-righteousness in the service of popular subjugation of those now made less fortunate.
Let’s turn first to Kershner’s article; she begins: “The Israeli cabinet on Sunday [Nov. 23] approved contentious draft legislation that emphasizes Israel’s Jewish character above its democratic nature in a move that critics said could undermine the fragile relationship with the country’s Arab minority at a time of heightened tensions.” The assumption of Israel’s “democratic nature” we’ll leave moot—at least the reporter recognizes the Nationality Bill is separate from it. But the proposed legislation has been long in the making, opponents (thus far a decided minority—mine) “fear[ing] that any legislation that gives pre-eminence to Israel’s Jewishness could lead to an internal rift as well as damage Israel’s relations with Jews in other countries and with the country’s international allies.” In Cabinet, “the bill, a proposal for a basic law titled ‘Israel, the Nation-State of the Jewish people,’ passed 14 to 6,” with opposition from two centrist coalition partners. The Knesset still has to vote.
Netanyahu defended the legislation, claiming that he would amend it before the final vote to include the principle of “’equal individual rights for every citizen,’” vague and to me suspect, because of the present situation, his track record, and the emphasis on “individual” rather than collective and communal rights. One critic, Ahmad Tibi, Arab member of the Knesset, sees “Jewish Democracy” as a contradiction in terms, “’confirm[ing] that the Jewish and democratic state is fiction.’” Kershner reports that preliminary drafts were “promoted as private initiatives by right-wing lawmakers,” which, among other things, had stripped Arabic of its status as an official language.
Yes, where this is heading is sending nervous ripples through the state, blatant discrimination feared not only tension-provoking but poor public relations that, according to Avinoam Bar-Yosef, of the Jewish People Policy Institute, “’may stain Israel in the eyes of the free world and distance diaspora Jews who are counted as supporters of the Zionist project.’” Netanyahu appears to remain firm, calling for new legislation that would revoke welfare benefits (and things unspecified) of those who throw stones and, presumably, their families. Lines already drawn with respect to Arab Israelis are further hardening. I give Netanyahu the last word in her dispatch: “’There are many who are challenging Israel’s character as the national state of the Jewish people. The Palestinians refuse to recognize this, and there is also opposition from within.’” Opposition, Arab Israelis but also miscreant Jews, now admittedly few, as the hatred of the many becomes self-devouring, placing the soul of Israel in jeopardy.
The Nationality Bill is still under the radar, but Peter Beaumont, of the Guardian, in his article, “Israeli Cabinet approves legislation defining nation-state of Jewish people,” (Nov. 23), fleshes out some details and implications of the measure, stating that cabinet approval comes “despite warnings that the move risks undermining the country’s democratic character,” particularly the definition of “reserved ‘national rights’ for Jews only” and not for Israel’s minorities. For as Beaumont writes, “The bill, which is intended to become part of Israel’s basic laws, would recognize Israel’s Jewish character, institutionalize Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation and delist Arabic as a second official language.” This last, of course, is intended to hurt, as though undermining the history-culture-identity of the Adversary, allowing then for impersonal treatment of the nameless—part of the salient trait of Israeli policy, deniability whenever convenient. Yet there is also the rough stuff: “In the West Bank, a Palestinian home was torched on Sunday [Nov. 23]. ‘The settlers came here and they hit the door, but I refused to open,’ said Huda Hamaiel, who owns the house. She said they then broke a terrace window and hurled a petrol bomb inside. ‘Death to Arabs’ and another slogan calling for revenge were also painted on the walls of Hamaiel’s home[.]” Whether the legal-constitutional or the storm-trooper mode of ensuring purity is worse, neither comports with pretensions of democracy.
I use the term “Aryan” here not to call names, but in its generic sense of stating a hypothetical ethnic type, PURITY, whether pertaining to race, religion, nationality, whatever suits the historical-ideological purpose of the totalitarian society. Israel? In the Nationality legislation, ethnocentrism is inscribed in its very being, Jews as a New Pseudo-Gemeinschaft, drawing inward, known to itself by whom is excluded, expanding outward in a combative spirit as a means of demanding respect and flexing military muscle, from Jew to Israeli marking the journey to supermensch, disdainful of international obligation and world esteem. Curiously, conversion comes into play, Israel’s rabbinate setting conditions which ensure that purity-of-type, while busily tilting the society further to the Right in areas having little to do with religion. Perhaps my New York Times Comment to Shmuly Yanklowitz’s op. ed., “Judaism Must Embrace the Convert,” (Nov. 24), himself an Orthodox rabbi who recognized the closed-nature of Israeli society, helps to extend my argument on Nazification (a term he would find abhorrent as applied to Israel):
Rabbi Yanklowitz’s article is deeply moving, sensible in its own right, but also, although perhaps not intended, of great significance about the current state of world Jewry with respect to values of Torah and Jewish moral-ethical principles as they apply to the Palestinians. Welcoming the stranger does not have to apply only to the convert–it applies fundamentally to all human beings—welcome, as in social justice and respect accorded to others.
Judaism presently is afflicted with ethnocentrism, the we-they dichotomy, that prevents reaching out, the acknowledgment of what is HUMAN in others.
Yes, develop a more enlightened, kinder attitude toward conversion, but also, contemplate the recent destruction to Gaza, the baseness of the Occupation, the strangling of internal dissent in Israel.
Judaism is at a cross-roads, its spiritual essence of compassion, its centuries-old experience of discrimination and suffering, all evaporating before our eyes in the cruelty of oppression exhibited by modern-day Israel with the complicity and acquiescence of the world Jewish community. Conversion is a test of inclusiveness, of raising moral principles to the defining level of the faith; but so too is the Palestinian Question a test–are we, as Jews, going to replicate the behavior of those who condemned, beat, and murdered us, or are we going to live up to our finest professions of faith, yes, Rabbi, the passage on the stranger. No one is a stranger in God’s sight.
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.