Being the Jew that fights back

Recently, Palestinian human rights activist (really) Bassem Eid was threatened by anti-Israel demonstrators, and had to have a police escort out of a talk he gave at the University of Chicago. Caroline Glick noted this incident as more evidence that the goal of the supposedly pro-Palestinian movement is not to help Palestinians but rather to hurt Israel.

Eid was a researcher for B’Tselem, and founded the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHMRG). PHMRG has criticized Israel sharply on occasion. But it also attacks the PA and Hamas for human rights abuses of Palestinians, such as murder and torture of prisoners, executions of ‘collaborators’, suppression of journalists, and so forth.

Glick also mentioned that Eid was challenged by ‘Emily’, a Jewish member of J Street (probably the tamest of the Jewish anti-Israel organizations), who thought his message should have been about “occupation and settlements.”

None of this is new or surprising. But it made me ask this question: why are there so few Bassem Eids in the world and so many Emilys, especially in America?

One reason there aren’t more Eids is the very behavior of the Palestinian leadership that he opposes. In areas under the control of the PA or Hamas, dissidents to the official line are afraid for their lives and those of their families. Even in Arab towns inside the Green line, the influence of radicals makes it dangerous to speak out.

But in the US and other places where it is relatively safe, it is a rare – not unheard of, but rare – Palestinian, Arab or other Muslim who will admit that Israel bears anything less than full responsibility for the conflict. While I am convinced that they base their opinions on false history, made up facts and deliberate blindness, I admire their solidarity.

And I wonder what is wrong with so many Jews, who could cite true history and real facts to support a pro-Israel position if they wish, but who prefer to spit in the face of their own people.

They will tell you that it is because they are on the side of justice. But how did they decide where justice lies? The Arab narrative is not the only one that they are exposed to. The Jewish/Israeli one is accessible to them as well. They had to make a choice, and they chose to believe the Arab story and to align themselves with the Arab side, despite the fact that their liberal sensitivities ought to be outraged by the corruption, racism, sexism, homophobia and brutality that characterizes the Palestinian Arab culture.

In a recent essay, Richard Landes proposes a surprising answer. The motivator is shame.

Landes makes an analogy between the shame that makes an Arab father murder his own daughter in order to clear a stain on the family honor, and the shame felt by a progressive Jew when his family member, Israel, is believed by his community – the “global progressive Left” – to have sinned against progressive values:

The feelings stem not because of what Israel has (often enough not) done, and certainly not in comparison with the behavior of our neighbors, but because of “how it looks” to outsiders. Shame comes from looking bad – awful – in the eyes of people whose opinion matters. When it comes to the emotion, it matters little what actually happened. In the most toxic of honor-shame communities, men kill their daughters and sisters not because they did something shameful, but because others think it, true or not.

And the source of “how it looks” is what he calls the “ferociously negative depiction of Israel in the global public sphere” today, the well-documented tendency of the media to distort news of the conflict to portray Israel as the villain in every incident, and in many cases, as being motivated by racism and hatred for innocent Palestinians.

But Landes doesn’t explain how it came about that progressive American Jews, the very antitheses of the honor killers of the Mideast, exhibit honor-shame behavior. In other words, why do they care so much about how they look to others in this respect? To understand this, we must consider the history of the European Jews that are the ancestors of most of those paradigms of modernity.

Those Jews lived in communities where they were at the mercy of the gentile rulers and majority populations. They faced periodic pogroms, expulsions and expropriations of their property. Those that didn’t try to assimilate – a choice that wasn’t even available in most cases until the 19th Century – learned to get along, to appease, to buy off, to flatter. What they didn’t do was directly confront Jew-haters, because that would most likely have gotten them killed.

This situation was recognized as both unsustainable and dishonorable by Herzl and other early Zionists. But the non-Zionists and anti-Zionists chose to continue the policy of appeasement. From the beginning of the Zionist movement, a sharp line was drawn between the fighters – the Zionists – and the appeasers.

These are the folks that supported Roosevelt’s policy of inaction during the Holocaust, and vilified the Zionists of the Bergson Group who tried to change that policy. And their grandchildren created J Street, which supports Barack Obama’s policy of forcing Israel into indefensible borders and preventing her from actively defending herself.

At the same time, these Jews grew up in America and have absorbed the American ethos of self-reliance and self-defense.

To this type of Jew, nothing is more embarrassing than the Jew that fights back, because they are still afraid that assertive behavior endangers the Jewish community, while at the same time they are ashamed of themselves for not fighting back.

This is the source of the shame that drives the irrational and highly emotional hatred of Israel – the Israeli being the paradigm case of ‘the Jew that fights back’ – that characterizes the progressive Jews active in J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine.

If this is correct, then there isn’t much that Zionists can say to these shame-obsessed Jews. We are not only supporters of the country they are ashamed of, but ourselves objects of shame. No wonder they are so angry at us!

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2 Responses to Being the Jew that fights back

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    This is an extremely delicate subject and I know no history of the subject of Jewish cowardice. But I do believe that this is what is involved in many Jews support of the enemies of Israel. It involves a kind of effort to avoid being blamed, targeted, shamed. It frees them of the need to risk themselves in fighting.
    And you rightly point out that this is a central theme of what the modern state of Israel and modern Zionism is about changing . It is about ‘fighting back’ about defending oneself one’s family one’s people.
    In my own mind and heart it is the fighters who I respect. Here in Israel however paradoxically in one sense it is easier to fight back, to join the Army here. Fighting back on a college campus in America is a different kind of thing because one is more alone in this, and without the sense that the society as a whole is behind you.
    Another point about this of course relates to the Haredim in Israel and there by and large having other Jews do the fighting and risking for them. This attitude is the Galut attitude and the attitude which would make us subject to the whims of others.
    My own respect and admiration is for those Jews who do participate in the defense of Israel and through this the Jewish people.

  2. Keefe Goldfisher says:

    There is a certain synthesis that emerges here, a Eureka moment, for those of us who’ve been reading your blogs for a while… you recall that you called out various European states for bargaining with terrorists to keep the terrorism off themselves. Spain, Italy, France and England (for known examples) were willing accomplices to the PLO’s terrorism against Jews and Israelis so long as it wasn’t directed at their countries. The Jew that fights back raises the ante for the modern-day terrorists. If it’s too hard to hit at the Jews, then these other places and their weak leaders look like more attractive targets. For leverage if nothing else. Of course we admire the fighters, and the degree of sympathy for them should inspire a normal survival instinct amongst other Jews. That’s what’s so misbegotten about American Leftist, anti-Israeli Jews. They don’t realize they have to fight.

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