The lethal pathology of the Jews
Published in: Jewish Chronicle
Last week I took part in an Intelligence Squared debate on Zionism. This was a more than usually disturbing experience. It wasn't just that the motion, 'Zionism today is the real enemy of the Jews', blamed Jewish self-determination for the current threat to Jewish existence. It was that this profoundly anti-Jewish motion was proposed by three Jews - and (unsuccessfully) opposed by three Jews.
Thus we had the spectacle of Jews being forced to defend themselves against other Jews arguing that anti-Jewish hatred was the Jews' own fault -the classic argument used by those who have hated Jews down the ages.
Of course, the motion's proposers - Professor Avi Shlaim, a 'revisionist' Israeli historian, Jacqueline Rose, a professor of English literature and Amira Hass, a Ha'aretz journalist based in the disputed territories -didn't see it that way. Shlaim insisted he was not an anti-Zionist or hostile to the state of Israel, but simply opposed the 'occupation' and the policies of Ariel Sharon. His side thus effectively defined 'Zionism today' as the 'occupation' and Sharonism.
This was patently absurd, not least because it begged the question of what to call the many Israeli political parties viscerally opposed to Sharon, and the many Israeli patriots opposed to the 'occupation'. Are they not Zionists, too? Zionism today is what it has always been, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, and as always it takes many different forms.
Whatever the disavowals of Shlaim and his team, through their distorted, factually wrong and grossly unfair analysis they powerfully contributed to the vicious delegitimisation of Israel that is now under way, and beyond that the attempt to undermine the Jews' moral role in history.
Jews like these are now doing real damage to the Jewish people. They don't just provide ammunition for its enemies, but make them fireproof against charges of anti-Jewish prejudice. That's why the media have now discovered the delightful sport of Jew-baiting - using Jews to denounce Israel and then setting them against other Jews, to watch them try to destroy each other.
Most of these Jewish tormentors are on the left, and see the world through a distorting prism that depicts all actions by the capitalist west, including self-defence, as colonialist aggression and all actions by the third world, including terrorist mass murder, as the behaviour of defenceless victims.
This warps the perspective even of those who have a firm attachment to their Jewish background. But many others in this camp have only the most superficial connection with Judaism. They tend to be highly secularised, or wholly assimilated; people with a profound ignorance of Judaism, who have rejected many if not most of its precepts and who are ashamed or embarrassed to be associated with it.
They are therefore all too prone to assimilate the prejudices of the surrounding society. Showing indifference or contempt for their people's culture and traditions, the only time they wrap themselves in their Jewish identity is when they trash it in public.
In Israel, one can see this pathology at work on a larger scale. Israelis who obsessively distort or exaggerate Israel's misdeeds and dismiss the existential threats that it faces seem to have internalised the truly murderous hatred that surrounds them.
There's nothing new in this. Throughout history, some Jews have taken on the mantle of their persecutors. The originator of the blood libel in the Middle Ages, after all, was reportedly a Jewish convert. And Marx and Freud - the inspiration for many of today's Jewish Israel-haters - turned anti-Jewish prejudice into political and psychological doctrine.
But it would be unwise to dismiss this as the pathology of a few on the fringes. For what they are saying strikes a more widespread chord. This is because they purport to speak the language of Jewish ethics, which they define around the role of the Jew as perpetual victim. Hence their eagerness to identify themselves with the suffering of the Shoah.
But what they define as unethical is the Jew as a fighter - the killer of terrorists, the destroyer of Palestinian houses and the occupier of land. The argument that such actions are taken of necessity to protect Israelis from being murdered has no resonance whatever - because the very image of the Jew who causes hardship and suffering even in self-defence is intrinsically unacceptable. And this strikes a chord because Jewish non-violence is indeed so deeply rooted in Jewish moral identity.
The implications of this are profound. Was Israel not founded, after all, on the belief that never again would Jews go passively to the slaughter but would fight to defend themselves? But if Jews believe that militarism is unethical, then defending Israel's right to defend itself may cause a loss of Jewish self-belief and a further spur to assimilation. It is this looming Jewish identity crisis that made last week's debate not merely a cause of revulsion but the symbol of a potentially lethal malaise.