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  Message 6960 of 8871  |  Previous | Next  [ Up Thread ] Message Index
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From:  Michael Neumann <mneumann@y...>
Date:  Mon Jan 27, 2003  12:53 pm
Subject:  Jews and Israel


I'm posting this personal statement in response to
some requests that I clarify my relationship to other

Michael Neumann

This Jew and Others

I have written a number of articles for Counterpunch
on the Israel-Palestine conflict. That their content
should have provoked outrage was to be expected. On
the other hand, sometimes the outrage has been a
reaction to my tone and the general hostility I seem
to display towards things Jewish. This is
counterproductive and a failure of communication on my
part. A correspondent has convinced me that, if I
explained the reasons and limits to my hostility, my
message might come across more clearly.

I am a Jew and take offense at attempts to make me
seem otherwise. You can be Jewish by birth alone:
whatever the significance of bar and bas mitzvahs, no
one seriously thinks that the babies of Jewish parents
are not Jewish. And it has been made brutally clear
on many occasions that being born Jewish is not a
status you can somehow rescind. Nor do I wish to
rescind it; in no way do I regret being born what I

As a Jew I inevitably have interests that coincide
with those of other Jews. If someone is out to
eliminate them, that person also is out to eliminate
me. If protections are extended to Jews, they are
extended to me as well. In some sense I might be said
to belong to 'the Jewish community', but not in all
senses. I feel no obligation or desire to
participate in something called Jewish culture or to
advance the interests of Jews. My reasons are partly
personal, partly political and moral.

First, a note of caution. In what follows I will from
time to time compare the position of Jews to the
position of Germans in the Nazi era and afterwards.
This is in no way an attempt to say that the Israelis
either are Nazis, or are as bad as the Nazis. I have
never at any time made such claims, and never will.
But you can be better than the Nazis and still be very
harmful or evil. My comparisons will bear on how one
incurs or avoids responsibility for the crimes of a
group or state with which, perhaps unwillingly, one is

On a personal level, and quite apart from any
political views I hold, I experience some of the
frustrations very common among members of most
minority groups. I don't like identity politics. I
don't like being pigeon-holed, particularly in
pigeon-holes others have made for me. I don't like it
any better when it comes from inside the group than
when it comes from outside it.

Many people are like me. Jewish, black, Italian, gay,
it makes no difference. We resent being declared part
of some largely fictitious 'community'. We have no
desire to celebrate 'our culture'. In fact, insofar
as there really is such a culture, we reserve the
right to dislike it, or even hate it. And while we
may not care how 'good' a Jew, or black person, or
Italian, or homosexual we are, we consider ourselves
not one bit less Jewish, or black, or Italian, or gay
for exercising that right.

It goes further. If we do make sharp criticisms or
our group, or the culture of our group, or express
dislike for the group or the culture, we do not
welcome outraged or even solicitous enquiries about
how we came to this unfortunate state of mind. We do
not consider it unfortunate. We believe that any
collection of mature human beings, of whatever group,
should be able to accommodate intense criticism, as
well as any dislike or rather teenage 'hatreds' of
traditional culture we may experience. This, we might
think, is part of how the human race improves. It is
precisely the denial of these claims that makes
identity politics so infantilizing: we Jews, or
blacks, or gays, are expected to play nice with one
another in our nice little sandbox, and to stay there
until our multicultural nanny hustles us off to the
next fun activity.

For these reasons, I see no need at all to apologize
for the fact that I am profoundly alienated from
anything called Jewish culture, or for the fact that I
see Jews generally - not all in the same way, nor as
part of some dark conspiracy, but all the same, Jews
generally - as treading on very thin moral ice. And,
as far as I am concerned, if people attack me for
this, they are just shooting the messenger.

I need not rehearse in any detail the message I claim
to bring. It is, first, that the government of Israel
not only commits terrible crimes, but has no good
reason to do so, because their real motivation is a
desire to perpetuate the occupation and extend, at any
cost to anyone, the usurpation of the occupied
territory. This is the view, not of most, but of
thousands of Jews, some of them highly respected.
Second, I claim that, just as the Germans were asked
to take responsibility for the crimes committed in
their name, so must Jews take responsibility for the
crimes of the self-styled Jewish state. Third, I
claim that, just as we did not accept passivity or
weak opposition as sufficient to discharge the Germans
of their responsibilities, so we should not accept
these inadequate responses from the Jews. Finally, I
claim that virtually all adult Jews either support
Israeli crimes, or oppose them much too weakly. And
this is what I mean when I claim that Jews, in
general, are responsible for Israeli crimes.

My purpose here is not to argue these claims but to
explain why I think that, if they have any effect at
all, it is to help Jews rather than harm them. I do
not claim that my *intention* is to help Jews; it
isn't. It is to help the Palestinians. This too I
think entirely consistent both with being Jewish and
with helping the Jews.

My reasons have nothing to do with sentimental
nonsense about a Jewish love for justice. This sort
of grandstanding is, in the light of current events,
becoming more and more ridiculous. But I think, first
of all, that Jews and Palestinians alike will benefit
from peace. Peace will not come through gentle
persuasion. Israel must hurt, and it must feel the
need to make peace, and this can happen only if both
its American and its American Jewish support is
undermined, and partly turned into strong opposition.
So even the sharpest criticism of Israel, even the
strongest condemnation of American Jewish complicity
in Israeli crimes, whatever its intentions, can
plausibly been seen as tending to benefit Jews.

But there is a less cut-and-dried reason for thinking
that my approach is in some sense beneficial to Jews.
I don't expect many people to find this reason
compelling, but perhaps they will find that it
explains why I don't see myself as an enemy of the
group to which, after all, I belong.

I think the Nazi era and Hitler's final solution (I
refuse to use the term 'holocaust') did not harm the
Jews only in obvious and immediately apparent ways.
To put it bluntly, I think it made them, by and large,
worse people. This is hardly surprising: if suffering
made people good, it would be a good thing. Hitler
had, I am afraid, a number of victories beyond the
grave. Here's how and why.

With the liberation of the concentration camps, Jews
instantly became the undisputed all-time champions of
victimhood. Historians may question the uniqueness of
the Final Solution, but at the very least no other
group has established a claim to rank higher. This
had momentous consequences. For one thing, it gave a
tremendous boost to Zionism, which before then had
been far less central to what Jews and the rest of the
world perceived as Jewishness. Nor was the boost
merely cultural or perceptual: it tilted the world in
favor of the Jews and against the Palestinians, not
entirely, but decisively. It enabled the
establishment of the state of Israel and, at the same
time, endorsed or excused all its brutalities and
robberies. Even if some people, Jews and non-Jews,
saw the injustices and crimes of Zionism, no one seems
to have felt that it was appropriate, so soon after
such a catastrophe as the camps, to call the Jews to
account for what they were doing. They had, it was
thought, suffered so much that they should be forgiven
their attempt, however brutal, to establish a
homeland, even at the expense of people who had done
them no harm. So the effect was both internal and
external. Internally, Jews increased their
identification with Zionism and excused its crimes,
and externally, most of the world accepted those

So the Jews got away with a crime against the
Palestinians. Of course, this wasn't bad for the Jews
but for the Palestinians. But with the passage of
time, it got worse for both. While it is only the
Palestinians who deserve any sympathy for what
happened, I have no doubt that the Jews suffered
enormous harm.

The main thing that happened to harm the Jews was...
nothing. Time, a lot of time passed, half a century.
The Jews did better and better. Less and less could
they claim to be victims, not least because 'they'
were for the most part no longer people who had been
victimized. And this is the hardest thing for Jews to
face: not that Israel commits crimes, but that the
Jews are not now victims of any crime, nor are they
now in any serious danger of becoming victims.

The self-image of Jews became so ingrained partly
because there was a sort of feedback effect,
especially within American culture. In 1945, Jews and
the whole world proclaimed them victims. American
Jews did much to project this image within American
culture: indeed, promoting general awareness of this
victimhood came to be seen as itself an important
defensive measure. And this effort reinforced the
image of Jews as victims already implanted within the
culture by Nazi atrocities. Jewish victimhood became
a prevailing orthodoxy which disseminated itself, not
only among non-Jewish Americans, but also back to
American Jews. Meanwhile Americans, their hearts
already open to the Jews, lapped up and collaborated
in creating the portrayal of Jews as humane, wise,
sexy, brilliant, funny, cute, heroic and charming.
This image, too, was fed right back to the Jews, until
their good opinion of themselves was deeply rooted in
their psyches. And all this made it seem all the
worse, both to Jews and to non-Jews, that Jews had
been - were still, it was usually thought - so

The result has been a complete inability, among Jews
and also among non-Jewish Americans, to see either the
extent of Jewish guilt for Israeli crimes, or the
rapid obsolescence of the Jew-as-victim image. And so
the image feeds on itself: the Jews have suffered
enough; they have done nothing wrong; they simply want
the sanctuary of a homeland against a world bent on
their destruction; yet the world has turned, not
inexplicably but all too explicably, against Israel
and the Jewish people. Even the Jewish left, no
matter how they deplore the crimes against the
Palestinians, cannot bring itself to advocate serious
measures against Israel, because this would involve
too great a departure from the Jewish self-image that
even the left can't shake. And even among the Jewish
left there persists a fear of antisemitism that defies
the plain facts, namely that the number of Jews killed
and injured in antisemitic incidents has for years
been negligible, in absolute terms but even moreso in
comparison with the statistics of genuinely persecuted
minorities all over the world.

And this is why I am so alienated from Jewish culture.
It has responded to contemporary realities with a
veritable orgy of hypocrisy and self-deception, one
which spoils everything Jewish for me. I can almost
see the mental strain with which virtually all Jews
persist in their determination to see themselves as
belonging to a persecuted yet enduring race. I can
almost feel the profound self-satisfaction with which
Jews regard their customs and culture. This persists
even to the point where the outrage of parents or
grandparents about intermarriage, surely today itself
outrageous and deeply offensive, is seen as just
another endearing foible.

People sometimes speak of Jewish tribalism, and often
this is a genuinely antisemitic slur, conjuring up
dark plans for world domination. But tribalism
certainly exists as a self-imposed orthodoxy which
imposes severe limits on Jewish self-criticism, and as
the almost frenzied cultivation, in Zionist circles
and beyond, of an intense us-and-them mentality. And
comically, this mentality, so oblivious to changes in
the external world, defends itself by proclaiming that
its critics simply don't understand the realities of
Jewish victimhood.

This is also why I view my efforts to undermine the
aura of sanctity that surrounds the Jews as an attempt
to help the Palestinians which also furthers the
interests of the Jewish people. My own background is
German Jewish, and as I grew up I became horrified to
learn how many Jews died because they were too
complacent to see what was coming. My mother even
told me once that in her home town, Magdeburg, the
Jews originally reacted to Hitler's rise by saying to
one another: "He has right idea about Eastern Jews,
because they all smell of bedsheets. He just
shouldn't go after us." Jews today feed such stories
into the hopper of victimhood, and this is a terrible
waste of knowledge. The real lesson is: be *aware*,
for God's sake, understand what is going on around
you, how times change, how you yourself may not be
what you seem to yourself. This has become perhaps my
very deepest conviction. From this conviction it
follows that the Jews' image of their own victimhood,
however gratifying, is profoundly dangerous, and to
destroy it is a service to the Jews. Today this is
very clear from the fact that Israel, which draws
opprobrium on Jews throughout the world and implicates
them in crimes which others are bound to avenge,
retains its sacred-cow status throughout the Jewish

Finally, Jewish self-deception and hypocrisy produce
more than mere alienation in me. They produce anger
and dislike. Jewish paranoia, once a natural
outgrowth of Jewish history, is now so lovingly and
skillfully nurtured that hardly any Jews can recognize
how profoundly dishonest it has become. And the more
Jews stand around preening themselves, the more they
fail to purge themselves of complicity in Israel's
crimes, the more Jews hide from the world, slipping
into the warm bath of false pride in their culture.
Things I once loved, from the majesty of the Old
Testament and the temple rituals to the simple
pleasures of Jewish food, have soured for me, because
they unceasingly remind me of how corrupt my own
people have become. Perhaps other critics can
sometimes see themselves as descendants of the
prophets who brought Israel face to face with its
sins. I would be embarrassed, today, to associate
myself with any Jewish tradition whatever, and I would
be fearful of perpetuating yet again the myths of
Jewish moral excellence. But I am not an antisemite.
I am a person who attempts to counter Jewish attitudes
which others labor to perpetuate, and which in my view
represent by far the greatest danger to Jews today.

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  Replies Name/Email Yahoo! ID Date Size
6963 Re: Jews and Israel Hanna Braun   Mon  1/27/2003   19 KB
6964 Re: Jews and Israel charlespottins@a... charlespottins Mon  1/27/2003   2 KB
6966 Re: Jews and Israel Deborah Maccoby   Tue  1/28/2003   20 KB

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