Historical Contexts: Brewing a Deadly Potion
Violins and Gas Chambers
In 1892, cofounder of the World Zionist Organization and social critic Max Nordau wrote his most famous work, Degeneration, which presented a scathing critique of European society as it devolved into what he described as a “horrible train of murder, incendiarism, rapine, [and] torture.” Nordau systematically analyzed and dismantled theories put forth by elite thinkers in his time, such as Nietzsche and Tolstoy. Specifically, Nietzsche’s premise, that, ‘there is no good and there is no evil,’ and his praise of sin as man’s ‘great consolation,’ was what Nordau found repugnant. The explicit approval of such notions was visible in European art and literature. In French society, for example, the “contempt for traditional views and customs of morality” led to conspicuous consumption and a devaluation of moral virtue, and by extent, a deterioration of societal structures which had till then promoted social cohesion. This was illustrated by the French’s inclination to imitate art which was inherently unrestrained and subject to fleeting passions as opposed to principles of decency. Nordau found the praise of such ideas and pseudo-intellectuals by elite society to be doubly offensive. In addition to advocating for morally bankrupt principles, calling such principles ‘enlightened‘ was a gross inversion of objective norms and values, a reflection of the degenerate state into which European society became immersed.
The culmination of such modes of thinking was of course two world wars which plagued the twentieth century and, its most tragic manifestation, the Shoah, the systematic extermination of two-thirds of European Jewry. Nordau, almost prophetically, predicted this and specifically the rise of Nazi Germany in the early 1890s. This to him was the inevitable product of Nietzsche’s ideal, which he described as, “a herd of blond beasts of prey, a race of conquerors and masters, with military organization.”
Yet the praise of evil as good has been a constant in the history of humanity. The so-called scientific racism pioneered by Herbert Spencer was once considered to be axiomatic in academia. Woodrow Wilson, founder of the League of nations was paradoxically a racist who spoke lovingly of the Ku Klux Klan and personally screened ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ a film which portrayed blacks as inferior. Today, Che Guevara, a man who referred to blacks as “indolent” and who personally oversaw Cuba’s communist firing squads is still praised in leftwing circles, his picture tacked up in “centers for diversity” on American college campuses. Curiously enough, most of these ideologies that have resulted in atrocities have the common denominator of purporting to lead to a utopian society. Communists claimed it. Nazis claimed it. Proponents of racism claimed it and still do so today. As though history were naturally moving towards an enlightened paragon of existence, proponents of such preposterous belief systems promote these ideas in the name of human virtue and good will. Melanie Philipps sums it up nicely. She asks, “Had not the architects of the Jewish genocide dispatched their victims to the gas chambers to the accompaniment of Mozart played by string quartets?” Indeed, and the advent of evil masquerading as virtue still continues largely unopposed.
Anti-Semitism, Adopted Persecution, and the search for Utopia
The praise of anti-Semitism as morally sound was an inevitable outgrowth of such modes of thinking and continues to be so today. Derived in part from traditional Christian anti-Semitism but, in Europe, taking on a radically different more secular “enlightened” form, Judeophobia became fashionable in political and cultured circles, being adopted by some of the most respected intellectuals of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Karl Marx, though a Jew by birth, was an anti-Semite and contended that anti-Semitism was the fault of the Jews’ own culture. Richard Wagner, a brilliant German composer, promoted anti-Semitism which permeated his writings and themes expressed in his music. From Dostoevsky to Henry Ford, the list of educated talented individuals who hated Jews goes on and on. The phenomenon of the rise in anti-Semitism juxtaposed with such an expressive era in the arts and literature can undoubtedly be explained by several factors but I am interested in looking at a more perplexing product of this ideology: The phenomenon of adopted persecution in the Jewish community in the Diaspora.
By adopted persecution, I mean the tendency both historically and in recent years of certain segments of the Jewish community to internalize the accusations foisted upon them and blame themselves for the evils of the world. What often happens is, in an effort to achieve ostensible peace with one’s adversaries, one essentially agrees with everything the adversary says, and works with the adversary to rid Jewish society of its alleged evils to obtain an idyllic utopian society of brotherhood. Benzion Netanyahu writes about this manifestation in pre-Zionist days when ideas were being debated in the Jewish community on how to stem the tide of European anti-Semitism. Communism was advanced by some Jews as an alternative to Jewish national pride, what we call Zionism today. One of the premises of this notion of thinking was that since communism proposed the dissolution of all distinctions, whether that be ethnic or national, Jews would no longer be persecuted. They would not be viewed as a distinct nation but rather apart of the larger brotherhood of the world. So, like the notion that a woman is responsible for being raped, certain Jews sided with those who proclaimed that their very “Jewishness” was what caused anti-Semitism in the first place. Anti-Semitism would necessarily cease with the eradication of this Jewish distinction, both cultural and national. But it is the very eradication of Jewish distinctiveness that is itself a form of anti-Semitism. Indeed, history proved this. Yet, this new variation of Stockholm Syndrome is still advanced as a legitimate position within the Jewish community.
Post Zionism and the rise of J Street
It is within these two historical contexts--‘Enlightened’ evil and Stockholm Syndrome-- that the conundrum of the so-called post-Zionist movement can perhaps be better comprehended. Post-Zionism posits that the Zionist era has passed and is at best a historical era which had its run but is no longer in session. Generally Jews who belong to this camp are of the left-wing progressive persuasion who also fail to understand what Zionism is. They usually understand Zionism to be merely a response to anti-Semitism and thus no longer necessary. They are largely ignorant of the emancipatory nature of Zionism, which, must like the civil rights movement in America, was rooted in ethnic and cultural pride. Zionism, while it was indeed reactionary, was also proactive in its advancement of an indigenous people’s rights. The Jewish right to settle in its ancient homeland is not simply due to the spread of anti-Semitism; It is a matter of fact, regardless of whatever political climate Jews find themselves in, in the Diaspora. Post-Zionists also do not grasp the scope of anti-Semitism, not in the Middle East nor its growth in Europe. Indeed, they often, through Stockholm Syndrome, contribute to it.
I realize that this is a very hard pill to swallow. Nevertheless the symptom must be properly diagnosed if the patient is to heal. Perhaps no greater example of such a festering sore on the heart of the Jewish people can be found then in that of the political organization, J Street. Claiming to be pro-Israel and pro-peace, J Street is neither and advances no such policies. Founded in 2008, its major pronouncement is that a two-state solution to the Arab-Jewish conflict is what must be advanced both for the sake of Israeli security and American stability in the region. This of course precludes a detailed analysis of the situation, and a study into all possible prognosis to the problem. This premature announcement of an end, rather then examining the complexity of the situation and then coming to an educated conclusion reflective of those same complex factors, epitomizes J Street’s creed: The end justifies the means.
This creed helps to explain what could otherwise only be described as J Street’s odd configuration of diametrically opposed objectives, its contradictory notions of peace, and its absurd policy prescriptions. Consider that this organization purporting to be pro-Israel hosted Salam al-Marayati at its 2009 Conference. Marayati is a notorious anti-Semite who once contended that Israel was responsible for 9/11 and who justified terror attacks in Israel as “the expected bitter result of the reckless policy of Israeli assassination that did not spare children and political figures.” Indeed he lauded the fact that Israel’s existence and birth in 1948 was, according to him, ‘unjust,’ and a ‘crime.’ There is something fundamentally psychotic about an organization claiming to be pro-Israel and inviting people who call for its annihilation to speak on their behalf.
How can J Street claim to be “pro-Israel” and simultaneously, in 2009, drop that title in its university arm for fear of “isolate[ing] people because they don’t feel quite so comfortable with ‘pro-Israel”? How can J Street claim to be pro-Israel and host Mustafa Barghouti who advocates for the boycotting of the Jewish State and calls Israel an “apartheid state”? These contradictions illustrate the fundamentally irrational, and indeed,schizophrenic nature of J Street’s constituency, and this irrationality arises as a natural outgrowth of the historical frameworks discussed above: “Enlightened” Evil and Stockholm Syndrome.
In an interview in the New Republic, Marc Tracy asks Jeremy Ben-Ami, cofounder of Jstreet if it was worth “releasing prisoners for the sake of peace talks, as the Palestinians are insisting.” Ben-Ami responds by answering affirmatively, saying that while the prisoners were “the hardest of the hardcore,” it certainly was worth releasing them as they represent the “center of the sense of Palestinian dignity and respect.” Tracy presses him further, asking how can Jstreet support this and simultaneously claim it is pro-Israel security. Ben-Ami responds by claiming that he would never claim to know more than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who agreed to make the conciliatory move. Given Ben-Ami’s record, this answer is curious.
In a recent article on Forward.com, Ben-Ami comments on the new agreement between world powers and Iran; he praises the US agreement, and described it in flowery words and likens it to “heal[ing] old wounds,” as though the powers that be were patching a Dora the Explorer bandaid on that darn impasse of a scratch that was the American-Iranian relationship, which was almost ruined by those inconsequential bruises such as terror attacks and whatnot. Conversely, Ben-Ami describes the Israeli position as “a dangerous policy that runs counter to American interests.”
Have you noted the dichotomy?
When policies are pursued by the Israeli governments that are in agreement with Ben-Ami’s viewpoints---like releasing terrorists---they represent Netanyahu’s obvious awareness of the security situation. Indeed, Ben-Ami cannot dare to disagree with him, because who is he to question the prime minister of Israel. Yet, when these policies are not representative of Jstreet’s objectives, they are “dangerous” and “risky.”
But rationality innately requires intellectual consistency and J Street is lacking in this regard.
Notice further that in Ben-Ami’s answer to the interviewer, he never laments the fact that these “hardcore” terrorists are the “center of Palestinian dignity and respect.” No, for him this is the precise reason why they must be released in order to jump start-talks with Palestinian Arab representatives who view those same murderers as heroes. Conversely, Ben-Ami believes that so-called settlements in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank) are an impediment to peace. Jewish communities, the very existence of Jewish populations on certain swaths of land, Ben-Ami believes, are impediments to making peace with representatives who praise terrorists. Apart from being an obvious reflection of Jstreet’s woeful inability to reason,pursuing “peace” even if it comes through suicide, comes with a hefty cost: the inability and the unwillingness to distinguish right from wrong. This is J Street’s modus operandi and a natural outgrowth of its pursuit of ‘enlightened’ evil for the sake of a false utopia.
On Friday, September 20, 2013, at Brandeis University, the J Street Chapter hosted Sam Bahour a “Ramallah-based businessman” whose activities in Judea and Samaria allegedly entail sowing seeds of peace in the region. But as Brandeis student Daniel Mael points out in a now censored but quite apropos article in the Times of Israel, “Sam Bahour, has publicly accused Zionism of ‘chartering a path to ethnically cleanse Palestinians [and has publicly called] for boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel.’ Mr. Bahour has stated that ‘Israel [is] a settler, colonial, apartheid movement clinging to a racialist, exclusivist ideology. [The Palestinians] were correct to call for a secular democratic state at the outset of this conflict.’” Moreover, Bahour mischaracterizes the second intifada--a brutal pre-planned campaign of terrorism against the civilian population of Israel--as a “civil uprising.” Deep down, does J Street believe this?
I contend that deep down, yes, they do.
But perhaps this requires a greater level of nuance. They certainly do believe there is some legitimacy in what anti-Israel adherents say, and this is why they host them. And this gets to the heart of the matter. For those who internalize perpetual bullying foisted upon them, it is their own selves who are the problem, not the aggressor. They are the root of the cancer, and they must work to destroy themselves by becoming aligned with the same bullies who maligned them in the first place. In doing so, they eliminate the bullies in question as a threat to their person.
Thus it is no surprise that, according to JPost columnist Isi Leibler, at the recent 2013 J Street Conference, audience members applauded when Fatah spokesperson Husam Zomlot called for recognition of the “Nakba” but were curiously silent when Minister Livni spoke against “the process of delegitimization” of the state of Israel. This is that all-too pervasive act of praising bullies and condemning victims. An inversion of moral standards to obtain goodness. While this is merely self-delusion, it is indeed the variant that makes Jstreet and organizations like them tick. Which is why the cofounder of J Street, Daniel Levy, once remarked in a debate that perhaps if Israel is hated because of what it is, namely a Jewish State, not because of what it does, then “Israel really aint a very good idea.”