Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Schism in the Jewish Psyche: The Jewish Divide Over Israel...Revisited

I came across this review I wrote, just over 4 years ago. In the current climate of 'Rifts' and 'Shifts,' tectonic and Intra-Jewish, it seemed apropos to republish on this blog.
Excerpts are offered below and the review in its entirety, first published in Congress Monthly, is linked to below.
david in Seattle

Schism in the Jewish Psyche: Defending Israel's Right to Exist

The Jewish Divide Over Israel: Accusers and Defenders. Edited by Edward Alexander and Paul Bogdanor. Transaction. 310 pages. $39.95

Reviewed by David Brumer

The publication of The Jewish Divide Over Israel: Accusers and Defenders, edited by Edward Alexander and Paul Bogdanor, could not be more timely, given the recent ascent of the unrepentant terrorist organization Hamas, the fevered rantings of the President of Iran calling for the elimination of Israel, and the recent Harvard publication of Professors Mearsheimer and Walt’s “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.”
While Israel’s external enemies continue their unabashed war against the very existence of a Jewish state, within our own ranks dwell many who also harbor grave doubts about the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise in its modern configuration. They argue that Israel today is an abnormality among modern nations, an historical mistake, and an anachronism on the modern stage of nations.
The Jewish Divide Over Israel alerts us to a pernicious trend, where extremists like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, the late Israel Shahak, and scores of others debase, demonize and de-legitimize Israel to the point where we as Jews find ourselves in the bizarre position of having to defend our very right to exist as a sovereign, legitimate nation, something no other country, no matter how much a threat to the world, has ever been called upon to do.
Other books have been published in the recent past, addressing this very issue, the two most notable being Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel and the lesser known, but vital Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel’s Wars by Yaacov Lozowick. Cynthia Ozick, who has contributed the opening essay to The Jewish Divide Over Israel, hails Lozowick’s Right to Exist as “one of the most important political histories of our generation.” She goes on to point out that the “the title alone—the scandal of calling into question a living nation’s existence—ought to shame the prevaricators and defamers, whether they be professors in universities, media distorters, ‘peace activists’ who justify terror, morally deformed intellectuals, self-deceiving unconfessed haters, or merely the herd of the easily led.”

The editors of The Jewish Divide Over Israel contend that there is a conspicuous correlation between progressive Jewish politics in Israel and the West and the tendency to blame Israel for the predicament it finds itself in. In other words, it’s not enough that most of the Arab world, including a majority of the Palestinians, and much of Europe see Israel as the main culprit in the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; adding insult to injury, legions of Jewish intellectuals concur.

Why are so many Jewish intellectuals unable to make the logical connections-or distinctions-between cause and effect, restraint and disproportionality, the arsonist and firefighter? Why can’t they sift out the blatant propaganda or at the very least, be discerning enough to demand a single standard of behavior from all the players? In Kosovo, NATO bombed from the safety of 35,000 feet in the air. In contrast, Israel sacrificed the lives of 23 of her own soldiers because she would not carpet bomb from the air during the Jenin incursion of April 2002, even though Jenin was a well-established hotbed and incubator of terrorists, a “refugee” camp under the supposed oversight of the United Nations. At the end of the day, 53 Palestinians lay dead (the majority combatants), yet the cries of massacre and genocide are still heard today. In fact, Israel’s exercise of self-defense became known in progressive circles as Jeningrad.
Today, after the war with Lebanon, once again we hear much more about Israel’s supposedly ‘disproportionate’ response than we hear about Hezbollah’s practice of hiding among civilians and using innocent people as human shields. Their deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians in the north was in direct contravention of the often-cited Geneva Convention, yet it is Israel alone who has repeatedly been accused of war crimes.
Paul Berman points to this perverseness and the convoluted, twisted logic that seeks to blame the victim, when he writes in his book, Terror and Liberalism: “Each new act of murder and suicide testified to how oppressive were the Israelis. Palestinian terror, in this view, was the measure of Israeli guilt. The more grotesque the terror, the deeper the guilt…And even Nazism struck many of Israel’s critics as much too pale an explanation for the horrific nature of Israeli actions. For the pathos of suicide terror is limitless, and if Palestinian teenagers were blowing themselves up in the acts of random murder, a rational explanation was going to require ever more extreme tropes, beyond even Nazism.”

But is there a whiff of overkill in these rebuttals of anti-Israel, anti-Zionist rantings? After all, so many of Israel accusers are at the far end of the political and intellectual world’s spectrum. Co-editor Paul Bogdanor’s devotion of three chapters to the likes of Chomsky, Shahak and Finkelstein, seemed perhaps a bit excessive and repetitive. After all, who listens to these fringe voices of extremism? But in fact, sadly, tragically, the answer is that there are legions who do listen, pay very close attention, and cite the outrageous pronouncements of these prevaricators and distorters of reality as the gospel truth. One begins to appreciate the extent of the damage these supposedly ‘fringe” voices wreak on public discourse when we note that Walt and Mearsheimer cite both Chomsky and Finkelstein on several occasions in their “working paper” on “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”.

In conclusion, The Jewish Divide Over Israel is much more than the sum of its parts. Taken as a whole, it reflects a deep schism in the Jewish psyche.
Disputations, passionate debates, and wrestling with ethical dilemmas are part of our proud Talmudic tradition. But these essays are about something far more insidious than healthy disagreements within a tribe. The kinds of self-flagellation, self-abnegation, and yes, self-hatred that are displayed on some of these pages calls for an urgent reassessment of who we are, who speaks for us, and who we wish to become as a people-about knowing the difference between healthy internal debate and self-destructive words and deeds.
These are not just academic matters, ivory-tower squabbles or harmless philosophical differences. These schisms pose existential dangers to our collective ability to both define and defend ourselves in an increasingly dangerous and hostile world, a world where Iranian mullahs are perilously close to realizing their dream of having the means to incinerate another six million Jews. With the kind of threats that exist in today’s world, it behooves us to pay close attention to whether or not we are aiding and abetting those committed to our destruction. Yes, we face grave problems within Zionism: issues of social justice, corruption, and the like.
But we can only tackle those pressing issues when we stand unified as a people, exposing the illegitimacy of any and all who call into question our very Right to Exist.

David Brumer
May 24, 2006

Congress Monthly, July/August 2006: Defending Israel's Right to Exist


George Jochnowitz said...

Before and during World War II, Jews who were upper-class or intellectual or both were geneerally Reuplicans. They distanced themselves from most of the Jewish community. The New York Times hid stories of the Holocaust in its inner pages.
Today, Jews who are upper-class or intellectual or both are leftists. They distance themselves from most of the Jewish community. They ignore news about the rigid hostility to Israel expressed in the Hamas Charter and elsewhere.

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