Why Are We Jews So Self-Destructive?

Why do so many members of Israel's elite ruling classes - the politicians, the journalists, the academic "experts", the legal and police establishments, even some senior officers of the army - support unilateral Israeli concessions to a treacherous and ruthless enemy in the first place?

Rachel Neuwirth

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On the face of it, Israel's decision to expel some 9,000 of its own citizens from Gaza and Samaria, and to withdraw their military outposts from these strategically vital areas, absolutely necessary for the defense of the Israeli homeland and population, has something self-destructive and insane about it. What could possibly motivate such a decision, when the Palestinian leaders say openly that it will not bring peace, when the terrorist factions openly vow to continue their "struggle" and "resistance" (meaning the deliberate slaughter of unarmed children, women and the elderly of both sexes) while the so-called "disengagement" is in progress and after it is completed? When the withdrawal will expose Israeli communities within the pre-1967 borders to more intense bombardments of Palestinian rockets and mortars? And above all, when the feelings of betrayal and disillusionment by the loyal Israeli citizens about to be expelled from their homes, and the fears of 400,000 other Israelis living outside the pre-1967 "Green Line" that their communities may be next on the chopping block, threaten to so divide and demoralize the Israeli people that they will be unable to defend themselves from future assaults by their enemies?

Relentless pressure from the entire "international community", including the only nation willing to give Israel any sort of support at all, the United States, was certainly one immediate motive for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's endorsement of the "disengagement" scheme. In addition, some Israeli journalists have suggested that Sharon may have been blackmailed by Israel's Prosecutor's Office into implementing a plan that initially had been proposed by his leftist opponents. (Israel's prosecutors, who had been investigating Sharon's questionable business relationships and political fundraising for years, are nearly all leftist "peace" advocates, as are Israel's judges and the higher echelons of the Israeli police force.)

In support of this theory, it is a fact that the criminal investigations of Sharon and his two sons, during which the prime minister had been subjected to thirteen-hour, non-stop interrogations by the police, and which had dominated Israeli press coverage for months, seemed to evaporate within days after he announced the retreat-and-expulsion scheme. Israel's Attorney General even took the unprecedented step of publicly chastising the prosecutors for overzealousness in their pursuit of the prime minister! And once he had approved the "disengagement" himself, Sharon put relentless pressure on his fellow government ministers and on the Israeli parliament to rubber-stamp it.

But surely these facts cannot fully explain the irrationality and self-destructiveness of the "disengagement". Why do so many members of Israel's elite ruling classes - the politicians, the journalists, the academic "experts", the legal and police establishments, even some senior officers of the army - support unilateral Israeli concessions to a treacherous and ruthless enemy in the first place? Why have they continued to hand over strategic land to this enemy after thirteen years of a "peace process" marked by non-stop terrorism and the killing of nearly two thousand Israelis, two-thirds of them defenseless civilians? There must be deeper influences at work to explain such bizarre, suicidal behavior.

One underlying psychological motive, I think, is a belief born of the hundreds of years when Jews were a powerless, unarmed and persecuted minority crowded into the ghettoes of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East: the only way to survive was to accommodate and cooperate with the powers that be, no matter how hostile. Resistance to the enemies of the Jews was considered impossible; the Jewish community would submit to all of their decrees in the belief that any resistance would only result in still harsher persecution. On the other hand, if any Gentile ruler made any effort at all to protect the Jews from the wrath of the mob, or the rantings of fanatical priests who incited the crowds to massacre them, then the Jews would fall on their faces in displays of loyalty, gratitude and obedience. Yet, all too often, these powerful "friends" proved unreliable in a crisis, giving the Jews only half-hearted protection, or none at all, when they were most in need of it.

We can see these hoary and deeply ingrained assumptions about Jewish powerlessness and dependence in the Sharon government's willingness to accommodate Arab demands for unilateral withdrawal and other concessions, in the absence of any evidence that this compliance will lead to a lessening of Arab violence or a softening of the Arab goal of destroying Israel. We can also see this mindset in Sharon's eagerness to comply with the incessant demands from the Bush administration that Israel take unilateral steps to appease the Arabs - demands made not out of concern for Israel, nor even for the Palestinians, but in order to ease Saudi pressure on the United States.

Convinced that maintaining the goodwill of Israel's only powerful friend, the United States, is a supreme priority that supersedes all other considerations of Israel's security, Sharon and his minions have complied with US demands to freeze all new construction in the "settlements" of Judea and Samaria, close down checkpoints vitally needed to prevent terrorists from entering Israel, suspend work on the security barrier that is a necessity for keeping terrorist infiltrators out, reroute the barrier so as to exclude Israeli communities outside the "Green Line" from its protection, and release terrorist prisoners, who then immediately resume their murderous attacks on Israeli civilians; and to perform all of these unilateral "confidence-building measures" in the absence of any effort at all by the Palestinian Authority to restrain the terrorist organizations or disarm them, or to take any measures whatsoever to halt terrorist attacks. Yet, this eagerness to comply with Saudi-inspired demands from the State Department and White House has done nothing to reduce US criticism of, and pressure on, Israel. Still less have the unilateral Israeli concessions resulted in any improvement of Israel's relations with the Arab nations. Least of all have they resulted in any moderation of Palestinian hatred and violence directed against Israel.

Faced with a situation in which their external enemies appeared all-powerful and immovable, the ghettoized Jews of past centuries frequently turned on each other as an outlet for their pent-up anger. For example, fervently Orthodox Jews in medieval France complained to the French authorities about Moses Maimonides' philosophical work The Guide to the Perplexed, which they regarded as unorthodox and heretical, and asked them to ban the work. The French authorities were only too happy to comply - and they then proceeded to ban the Talmud, as well, and to burn all copies of it that they could get their hands on. Hundreds of Talmud manuscripts, all painstakingly copied out by hand in this pre-printing-press era, were then burned in a public square in Paris; the manuscripts destined for the flames filled several large wagonloads.

We can see a continuation of this impulse toward internal conflict and "self-hatred" in the actions of the Sharon government directed against the Gaza Jews and their supporters. It is a hatred manifested in the decision to brutally drive them from their homes, in the imprisonment of those attempting to protest this gross violation of human rights, in the bringing of criminal charges against those who have spoken out against the injustice, in the beating and manhandling of peaceful protest demonstrators by the police, and in incessant slanders and false accusations against the opponents of the expulsion. The incessant verbal abuse of the "settlers" and their supporters by Israel's left-leaning press, such as the newspaper Ha'aretz, the false accusations of "incitement", violence and subversive intentions constantly leveled against people who are asking only to be allowed to keep their homes and farms, may be another manifestation of this tendency to substitute verbal battering of one's fellow Jews for confronting their enemies and less-than-loyal friends. It is almost like a man who is given a very hard time by his boss at work, has a very dangerous and stressful job, and is not paid enough to support his family, who goes home from a tough day at work and beats up on his wife and kids, or at any rate, screams at them. The wife and kids are vulnerable; the boss, and others who make life difficult for him at work, are not. Jews learned many years ago that it was safe and easy to beat up on their fellow Jews, verbally at any rate, while confronting external adversaries who tormented entire Jewish communities was neither safe nor easy. Nevertheless, this displacement of anger onto our Jewish brothers and sisters is a self-destructive and morally wrong behavior.

The great Jewish sage Hillel asked pointedly two millennia ago, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" It is long overdue for us Jews to be for ourselves - and above all, for each other - if we are to survive in a hostile world. Or as an American sage, Benjamin Franklin, told his fellow patriots during the American War of Independence, "If we don't hang together, we will most assuredly hang separately."

[John Landau contributed to this column.]