Dr. Richard Landes has written a great deal about honor-shame cultures, like the Arab culture. In an honor-shame culture, what’s important is not how you see yourself, but how others see you. Loss of honor in such a culture is disastrous and can lead to suicide or murder – as in the case of so-called “honor killings” carried out to recover the honor of a family after a perceived act of sexual delinquency.
Modern Westerners are usually less concerned with honor and shame. Especially in America, it is laudable, even heroic, to do the right thing no matter what others think. This would make no sense in an honor-shame culture.
In the West, the operative concepts are usually morality and guilt, which are independent of what others think. Landes explains the difference:
…for guilt, it’s the awareness of the deed and its meaning, for shame, it’s whether others know. In some countries in the world, it’s not a question of whether you’re corrupt or not (everyone is, everyone knows), but just if you get caught. How many teenagers apologize for getting caught? Some adulterers have no sense of wrongdoing, as long as no one else knows. On some level everyone is subject to these concerns.
While honor-shame cultures have moral codes, however, their vulnerability to the fear of shame can readily lead to a jettisoning of any moral concerns. After all, the limbic dread of shame – its disastrous psychological and practical impact on them – kicks in in times of humiliation and fear.
Guilt is expiated by compensating the victim of an evil act and vowing to never commit the offense again (in Jewish terminology, doing tshuvah). Shame only requires that the awareness of the crime in the public consciousness be cancelled out.
But the honor-shame dynamic still does exist to some extent in the West, and Landes finds it in the European obsession with Israel. In traditional Christian supersessionim, the Church replaces the Jews as God’s people. Landes refers to a different “supersessionist narrative,” in which the Israelis replace the Nazis and the “Palestinians” become the Jews:
When Europeans (or Christians) adopt the Palestinian replacement narrative, when the universalization of the Holocaust leads to silence about its prime victim, the driver of the megadeath industry, when academics and politicians engage in “holocaust abuse” by replacing the (old) Jewish victim, with the (new) Palestinian one, and denouncing Israel’s genocide against the Palestinians, they reveal that they are driven not by Holocaust guilt, but Holocaust shame, and the result is the exact opposite of what one might/should expect. Instead of making sure they don’t participate in another genocide against the same people their foreathers had so grievously treated only a couple of generations ago – Nie Weider! [sic] – they adopt the narrative of those who would “finish the job.”
Young Europeans especially feel shame rather than guilt. After all, they weren’t even born when their grandfathers committed the crimes that they are constantly pressed to remember and atone for. They aren’t guilty of anything. But still, who wants to be known as a descendant of mass murderers or part of the nation that committed the greatest genocide in history?
This new supersessionist narrative works by canceling shame. If the Jews are Nazis, Israel’s crimes replace and supersede those of the Nazis and their collaborators in the public consciousness. Europeans and especially Germans have struggled with their feelings since the war, and here is a way to finally lift the burden!
Landes’ discussion is thought-provoking. And it occurred to me that it explains something that has been puzzling me about the behavior of Germany today for some time.
Since the war, Germany has had what is called a “special relationship” with Israel. Germany has paid reparations to the state of Israel and to Holocaust survivors there and gives Israel aid in the form of large discounts on purchases of military items like submarines. There is close security cooperation. Germany has often voted against anti-Israel initiatives in the UN, and for several years, it even gave Israel the maximum number of points in the Eurovision contest, regardless of the quality of our entry. There are extensive contacts in the areas of trade, science, education and culture. Israel and Germany have numerous sister cities.
And yet, the German government both by itself and through the EU is by far the largest donor to Israeli NGOs that support BDS, anti-Zionism, anti-Israel lawfare and even terrorism. The activity of foreign-funded anti-state NGOs in Israel is on a massive scale involving millions of Euros a year, and constitutes a form of cognitive warfare against the Jewish state. Just yesterday, PM Netanyahu canceled a meeting with the German foreign minister after he met with representatives of two particularly subversive NGOs, B’tselem and Breaking the Silence. German money, as Tuvia Tenenbom wrote in his book “Catch the Jew” is everywhere in Israel, even funding pro-Palestinian movies.
How can we explain this seeming contradiction? Do they want to support us or to help our enemies kill us? Landes’ analysis suggests an answer. If he’s right and the Germans today are primarily motivated by shame, then it makes sense that they would do as much as possible in public to counteract the perception that they are the heirs of the murderous Nazis. On the other hand, their shame drives them to work privately at the same time to transfer the responsibility to Israel, to make the Jewish state into the new Third Reich. And as a matter of fact, German funding for anti-state NGOs in Israel is highly non-transparent. While Germany is a public friend of Israel, in private it helps our enemies drive their knives into our collective back.
In a way, we’re stuck. We don’t want the world to forget the horrors of the Holocaust, but the more we remind them, the more ashamed, and thus angry, they become. My own view is that we should stop trying to get sympathy for what was done to us 70-odd years ago, and concentrate on gaining respect for forcefully defending ourselves today.
There may be a great deal in the ‘shame instead of guilt explanation. I would however also think that there is a lot of continuity between the generations in Anti-Semitism.
If I wanted to play psychological games I would say the German support of the Palestinians is a continuation of the effort to destroy the Jewish people made by the Nazis. There is also of course ‘revenge’ against the Jews for staining the reputation of the German people throughout the world and perhaps for many generations. Wouldn’t after all the whole German success story be a much ‘purer’ one did it not have to have the relation to the Jews spoil it?
What I think is important is that this kind of evil anti- Israel action on the part of Germans is more and more recognized for what it is, and condemned. Whether however there is a way of making them pay the price for it so that it deters them is a question I suspect Israel and the Jewish world alone cannot answer.