Delusions of a people under siege
Published in: Jewish Chronicle
One of the most distressing features of the current hostility towards Israel is the part being played by Jews themselves, both in Britain and in Israel.
Many struggle to explain why they choose to disseminate lies and libels about Israel, thus lining themselves up squarely alongside those who hate the Jewish people. It is hard to exaggerate the importance of certain Israeli academics in this process of demonisation and delegitimisation.
For their value to those who wish Israel ill is that, however extreme or mendacious their claims about Israel might be, they cannot be accused of prejudice against the Jews because they are Jews themselves. Thus they provide a crucial alibi for those who wish harm against Israel and the Jews, and have led many others who are simply ignorant horribly astray.
Now, however, an impressive new book torpedoes the myth that Jews cannot be Jew-haters. In 'The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People under Siege' (Smith and Kraus), American psychiatrist Kenneth Levin demonstrates that the phenomenon of Jews who side with the oppressors of their own people has very deep roots indeed.
The 12th century Jewish traveller Benjamin of Tudela wrote of the Jews of Constantinople that much of the enmity they attracted was the fault of the Jewish tanners who made leather and polluted their streets with filthy water. The psychological terror caused by persistent enmity and persecution caused Jews over the centuries to convert, to force others to convert and to oppose such marks of identification as Jewish schooling.
Over and over again in 19th and 20th century Europe, emancipated Jews looked down in contempt upon Jews from the east who inconveniently drew attention to their origins through their appearance and behaviour. In order to protect themselves, the enlightened Jews - the maskilim -absorbed the anti-Jewish feeling that surrounded them and re-directed it at the religiously observant.
The founding father of the Jewish Enlightenment, Moses Mendelssohn, denounced Yiddish as 'a language of stammerers, corrupt and deformed'. Karl Marx, whose father converted from Judaism to Christianity in order to blend into society, agreed with the Jew-baiters of the time that the Jews were immutably materialistic and degenerate and that it was this that drove them to be corrupted by trade.
In order to gain acceptance from the surrounding society, the maskilim jettisoned not just the religion but the goal of the return to Zion. Instead, they embraced universalism and assimilation, declaring that the Jews should become citizens of the world's nations and promoting Enlightenment principles of individual worth, reason and liberty.
Between the wars, widespread anti-Jewish prejudice in the United States similarly resulted in a flight of the intellectual classes from Jewish identity through conversion, changes of name and - perhaps most tellingly from the point of view of today's difficulties - a tendency to blame fellow Jews for the hatred directed at them.
The real sting of Levin's book, however, is to relate this ancient historical pathology among a beleaguered and traumatised people to the attitude of today's Jews towards the plight of Israel, and in particular the flight from reality, logic and common sense displayed during the years of the Oslo 'peace process'.
Controversially, he roots this in the revulsion felt by the Labour left at the election in 1977 of Menachem Begin - not so much because of his expansionist policies but on account of his support from the religious, the Sephardim and the petit bourgeoisie (horrors!), the victory of which disdained constituencies the left regarded as a great national catastrophe.
Refusing to sympathise with the discrimination suffered by the Sephardim, they directed their egalitarian fervour instead at the Arabs. The Likud government became the 'other', and thus the way was paved for the great moral inversion by the Israeli left in which Israel - the victims of the Arabs - were blamed for instead for oppressing them.
What followed was Peace Now, the systematic demonisation of Israel by a significant slice of the Israeli intelligentsia and the terrible delusion that peace with the Arabs was round the corner if only Israel made enough concessions. Levin sets this in the important context of the 'New Historians' - the Israeli anti-Zionists and post-Zionists who rewrote and falsified Israel's history and thus handed the enemies of the Jews the intellectual weapons with which they are currently pursuing the destruction of Jewish nationhood.
What is fascinating and sobering about Levin's account is the common threads linking the Jew-hating Jews of antiquity with those of today: the intellectual snobbery, the sucking up to powerful patrons, the internalisation of the surrounding hatred, the belief that they could become invisible as Jews, and the blaming of fellow-Jews for their own persecution.
Those who are not thus broken by this psychological siege of the Jews, concludes Levin, have to become not just resisters but educators. 'The alternative, however disguised in claims of higher principle, is an ignoble capitulation to murderous bigotry'- and Israel's annihilation.