Thursday, August 10, 2006

Why are the Jews so Jew-y?

Norwegian novelist Jostein Gaarder breaks the ultimate taboo in an anti-Israel rant by tying the irrationality of Israeli violence to Judaism (the link is to an unofficial translation, which starts as follows):

“There is no turning back. It is time to learn a new lesson: We do no longer recognize the state of Israel. We could not recognize the South African apartheid regime, nor did we recognize the Afghan Taliban regime. Then there were many who did not recognize Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or the Serbs’ ethnic cleansing. We must now get used to the idea: The state of Israel in its current form is history.

We do not believe in the notion of God’s chosen people. We laugh at this people’s fancies and weep over its misdeeds. To act as God’s chosen people is not only stupid and arrogant, but a crime against humanity. We call it racism.

There are limits to our patience, and there are limits to our tolerance. We do not believe in divine promises as justification for occupation and apartheid. We have left the Middle Ages behind. We laugh uneasily at those who still believe that the God of flora, fauna, and galaxies has selected one people in particular as his favorite and given it funny stone tablets, burning bushes, and a license to kill.

We call child murderers ‘child murderers’ and will never accept that such have a divine or historic mandate excusing their outrages. We say but this: Shame on all apartheid, shame on ethnic cleansing, shame on every terrorist strike against civilians, be it carried out by Hamas, Hizballah, or the state of Israel!”

There has been a huge reaction to this little essay, and the author has decided to say no more on the subject.  There are a number of things that are strikingly unusual about Israel and the Jewish people:

  • Israeli attitudes to its neighbors and a large part of its own population are completely racist, and this racism allows for the most vile attacks against human beings with the almost total support of the Israeli population and its supporters outside Israel; 
  • Israeli attitudes and the attitudes of world-wide Jewry towards Israel are predicated on the basis of an alleged fear of being wiped off the map – ‘pushed into the sea’ – but we know that Israel has never been under any real existential threat (back to its earliest days, Israel always outgunned all its potential opponents), and has never been more militarily powerful than it is now;
  • the hypersensitivity of the Jewish people towards the security of Israel is supposed to derive from what the Nazis did, yet the complete set of ideas and attitudes about  the Jewish state, Zionism, predate National Socialism by fifty years;
  • The Jewish people are typically the most humanist and tolerant people in the world, except when it comes to Israel, when the only fair comparison of their worldview is to National Socialism (Dershowitz is now saying that international law protections for civilians do not apply to the entire civilian population of Lebanon - !!! - and he is just elucidating the common North American Jewish perception);
  • the international Jewish population, particularly in North America, identifies with Israel and its illegal and immoral actions to an extent that is both incomprehensible and unsettling.

When Benny Morris decided to examine the truth behind Palestinian stories about the Nakba, he was surprised to find that the worst of the Palestinian allegations about what the Israelis had done were absolutely true.  You would normally expect that his reaction would have been remorse, coupled with a desire to do right by the Palestinians.  Instead, he has argued that what Israel has done is so vile that it can never possibly be forgiven, meaning that the Palestinians can never stop trying to obtain revenge, meaning that the only solution is to put an end to any possible method for the Palestinians to get such revenge.  In other words, the solution to finding out that you are a moral monster is to try to become more of a moral monster.

I’ve always wondered whether this is a cultural problem.  The Jewish god isn’t big on the concept of forgiveness, or for that matter on anything else that can be thought of as sane.  As described in the Hebrew Bible, He is a psychopath.  The reforming religions of Christianity and Islam have a much more humane deity, one for which the concept of forgiveness is important.  Is it possible that Morris can’t understand the Palestinians in any terms other than revenge because he doesn’t understand that they are capable of the un-Jewish idea of forgiveness? 

My own personal genetic background is from a group that historically has been one of the most oppressed in the world.  Growing up, I was always aware of my background, but never for one minute had any particular interest in the plight of ‘my people’, any more at least than I had an interest in the plight of the Cambodians, or the South Africans, or the Palestinians.  Making politics out of my genetics is completely incomprehensible to me.  Why is it that a Jewish person I might meet on the street, possessed of a collection of the most liberal ideas of any person in the world, is fully prepared to treat much of the internal population of Israel, and all of its neighbors’ populations, as worse than vermin?  How is it that he can regale me with stories of how oppressed and mistreated ‘his people’ are, and simultaneously boast of the complete superiority of ‘his people’, as evidenced by the fact that they fill leadership roles in academia, law, medicine, business, and politics?  Just imagine how well they’d do if they weren’t so oppressed!  Is it possible that this perverse combination of a persecution complex and a superiority complex, all based on the idea of a ‘Jewish race’, is behind the peculiar attitude of world Jewry towards Israel and the violent racism of the Jewish state?  Does the evil in Israel and its supporters come out of a culturally transmitted series of ideas that come out of Judaism itself?  That’s the kind of big crackpot theory I normally don’t put much truck in, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to explain the actions of Israel and its Jewish apologists without some cultural/religious root causes.