Wednesday, June 6, 2018

It's Not Even Past #22 - Israel, Gaza, The Impossibility of Dialogue? - Part 2 - 80%

For whatever little it's worth, and I'm sure it's worth very little indeed, I'm going to begin this with something like the creed of Daniel Pearl. My name is Evan Tucker. I'm a Jewish American from Pikesville, Maryland, USA. There is not a single member of my immediate family, and perhaps even my extended family, who is not a fervent Zionist, and that most certainly includes me. On my father's side I have an uncle who followed Menachem Begin to Palestine in 1930 to fight for IrgunOn my mother's side the lion's share of my relatives who were Communists and Socialists when Israel was a cause of the Left, and when Israel ceased to be a Leftist cause, they seemed from the vantage point of fifty years later to convert en masse overnight to neoconservative Republicans almost purely because of the issue of Israel. I am a practicing Jew who was raised in Jewish day schools and in a Kosher home who still goes many weeks to synagogue on Shabbos and even if I don't technically keep Kosher these days, I spend more than a hundred dollars every week at a kosher supermarket. I am conversational in Hebrew and Yiddish, and I at least used spoke both of them rather well. I lived in Israel for nearly a year, and not only lived in Israel but in the Negev desert, the part of the country not even Israelis live in, to be part of a program that was part of David Ben-Gurion's dream of letting the desert bloom. If I'm not Jewish to the foreskin, if every bit of me from my neurological hard wiring to my kishkes is not Jewish at the cellular level , then I'm nothing at all. So my concern in the Israel/Palestine conflict is not the Palestinians, they seem to have the entire world to look after them, it's the Israelis. Even if I didn't think that the welfare of Israel is directly relational to the welfare of Jews everywhere, and obviously particularly Jews in the United States, I would be a hundred times more concerned about Israel than I am about Palestine. I have family and friends that move back there for years at a time, and I have family and friends who were there long before I ever arrived and will never leave. And even if those family and friends did not ever live in Israel, I would still be 100x more concerned about Israel, because the Jewish right to Israel is a right, not a colonial occupation.

But even if I weren't all that, these affidavits of identity have become so cheapened, so meaningless, so obnoxious, that how can they mean anything? It's a complete non sequitur to say that only Jews have the right to opinions on Israel, or only Israelis do, or only Zionists do, because whether or not they have a right to opinions - they will have opinions anyway. If people say that non-Jews, non-Zionists, have no right to opinions on Israel, the opinions we don't like we don't like will only grow stronger. If Jews dismiss all criticism of Israel, and unfortunately I have all too much experience of how so many Jews do at the most visceral level, then it will be the loudest, most irrational, and strident anti-semites who control worldwide discourse about this most important subject to us. Yes, identity does matter somewhat - and everybody seems to pretend that identity matters completely when it's beneficial to them and not at all when it isn't, one of the many things that matters much more than identity is veracity. And one of the most obvious examples of the foolishness of identity politics in the entire world is how Jewish anti-Zionists are trotted out these days every time the anti-Zionists need a somebody to speak out against this horrible state that is the State of Israel, and Jewish anti-Zionists are all too willing, because what matters far more to them than their identity as a Jew is their identity as an asshole. 

We are living in yet another age in which being Jewish is the mirror image of the rest of the world. In country after country, we seem the most prosperous minority who has little reason to complain when so many groups suffer worse than us, until the moment we're slain in the span of a year at numbers that more obviously oppressed groups don't equal in a hundred. We've seen this movie hundreds of times, and while we don't know how long the movie is, we know its ending. And yet there are always Jews, politically conservative ones, who want to crow about Jewish achievements to the world, who think that all it takes is for us to preserve ourselves better is to be more assertive, to antisemites, to gentiles, to anyone whom an antisemitic thought might occasionally cross their mind; which is of course everybody, and in doing so, they sign our eventual death warrants.

The antisemitism of the hundred years before the Shoah would not exist as it did without the 19th century's most obvious precursor to neoconservatism: Benjamin Disraeli. How he was precisely that is material for another episode of course - we won't deal with Disraeli the politician today. Today, we'll deal just briefly with Disraeli the writer. I've never read a novel by Disraeli, I doubt too many people have in a hundred years, but believe it or not, Disraeli was a respected and prolific writer of fiction in his time during a time and place when, for better or worse, eminent politicians had to be intellectually distinguished. Adam Gopnik, one of the major writers for the New Yorker in recent decades, compared him to the recently late Tom Wolfe, like Wolfe, the novels of Disraeli are apparently populated with the archetypes of London - satires of every kind of status seeker and fashionable trend, contrasted with a protagonist who is an alpha male from a rural part of the country whom, through his boring manly stoicism, personifies the moral rectitude which it would never occur to these fragmented souls to emulate. Such seems to be the weird plight of the conservative intellectual in every age, so pornographically fascinated by all those things they inveigh against that they seem far more animated when speaking of what they hate than of what they love. 

Anyway, when it came to Jews, Disraeli's fiction had plenty of hooked-nose Jewish mizers, but he was often quite triumphalist about Jewish achievement and power. Some of it can be forgiven. According to the Little Brown Book of Anecdotes, Disraeli once responded to an antisemitic insult in Parliament by Daniel O'Connell, leader of the Irish Catholics with the retort: "Yes, I am a Jew, and while the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon." Though sadly, I doubt he would have used this retort if the antisemite were an Englishman rather than an Irishman. 

Other quips were, in some ways, playing with fire, and a man as intelligent as Disraeli obviously was, should have probably known better. He once quipped about Lord Rothschild with pride: "Rothschild is the Lord and Master of the money markets of the world, and of course virtually Lord and Master of everything else. He literally held the revenues of Southern Italy in pawn, and Monarchs and Ministers of all countries courted his advice and were guided by his suggestions.." Rothschild is still the Jewish family around which every conspiracy theory seems to turn, and Disraeli's witticism is still used as though it's an admission of guilt. 

But much more damaging was the novel Conningsby, in which the eponymous hero meets a sage of the forest named Sidonia, a latter-day old testament prophet who believes that race is a heirarchy of pre-destined power, and that Jews sit atop the racial heirarchy - the true extent of their power over other nations unseen by the world. Here's one quote I found from Conningsby: 

"The Jews, independently of the capital qualities for citizenship which they possess, are a race essentially monarchical, deeply religious, and essentially Tories. The fact is, you can not crush a pure race of Caucasian organization. It is a physiological fact, a simple law of nature, which has baffled Egyptian and Assyrian kings, Roman emperors, and Christian inquisitors."
Sidonia then remarks with pride that Jews lead all the intellectual movements in Europe, monopolize professorial chairs, and enter into political affairs. I have no idea if Disraeli truly believed all this or if it was just ideas he put in the mouth of a character, but antisemites certainly thought these to be Disraeli's beliefs, and what Disraeli's fictional character noted with pride, antisemites the world over noted with delusional, terrified alarm. 

Yes, these are certainly offensive notions according to our day, though hardly as offensive as most of the racial theories going around in the 19th century cause it was fiction, and surely his theory was nowhere near so fleshed out. But because England had a long standing conservative Prime Minister who espoused, at least in fiction, a theory of Jewish racial superiority and hidden Jewish power, a century of Europeans were all too willing to believe this fiction fact. They then combine this passage with another quote from the same book, "The world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined by those who are not behind the scenes." This quote is not in reference to secret Jewish power, but to the Reform Bill of 1832, pushed through by the Whig Party, Disraeli's lifelong opponents, to change the British electoral system. 

This is hardly the only example from our history that Jewish triumphalism often, perhaps even usually, ends with Jewish death, and perhaps its the weakest example when you consider how destructive the path to which Bar Kochba lead us, and Isaac of Diocesaria, and in a rather different way, Shabbetai Tzvi, who in a fit of what we would today call psychotic delusion, announced himself to the Ottoman Empire as the Messiah almost directly after the Bogdan Chmielnicki massacres of the Ukraine in 1648, perhaps even partially because of them. Old estimates used to put the Chmielnicki massacres at as many as 400,000, but the true number is probably much closer to fifty-thousand, which, when you consider that the total number of Jews in the Ukraine at that period was roughly a hundred thousand, meant that the genocide of Jews in the Ukraine was half successful - compare that in the twentieth century to even the worst genocides, perhaps Armenia or Rwanda, and you realize that those two were one-third successful, and yet again, you begin to imagine the full scope of horror in Jewish history, where genocide against us is something that just happens every so often. In fact, the genocide consisted of roughly one-third of the entire Jewish population in Europe at the time. 

Technically, the rebellion was not against the Jews, it was against the Polish landowners who were responsible for oppressing the Ukranian underclass. But the Jews were the leaseholders of the land, and therefore were blamed for oppression which was mostly due to the policies of other, more powerful people. I think you see where this is going, but there is no Shabbetai Tzvi story without the Chmielnicki massacres, because had it not been for the Chmielnicki massacres, Jews would never have been so desperate to believe that they had been cleansed in a new era in which the old rules of antisemitism may no longer apply. 

It took another seventeen years for Shabbetai Tzvi to become a mass movement, after the trauma of Chmielnicki, Jews were so willing to believe that Shabbetai Tzvi was Moshiach that the rumors about Shabbetai Tzvi took on a life of their own and neither Shabbetai Tzvi or his prime promotor, Nathan of Gaza, could even control them. Every Shtetl in Europe, every ghetto in every city, every Jewish neighborhood and town in the Sephardic lands, had followers of Shabbetai Tzvi, and some even sold their possessions so that they could come to Jerusalem to be with Shabbetai Tzvi in what they believed was the start of a new messianic age. When Shabbetai Tzvi sailed to Constantinople in 1666, where Nathan of Gaza prophesized that Shabbetai Tzvi would place the crown of the Sultan on his own head. The Islamic lands, generally speaking, were a little bit more enlightened than their Christian equivalents - perhaps not overly so but there were certainly many fortunate moments in earlier Jewish-Islamic relations. When Shabbetai Tzvi arrived in Constantinople, he was immediately arrested and taken to prison, where he was apparently extremely well treated with his own private secretary and chef. The Sultan gave him a choice - convert to Islam and receive a Royal Stipend of 150 Gold Crowns every month, or decapitation. Shabbetai Tzvi chose conversion. It is one of the ultimate humiliations of Jewish history, and was bully fodder for Christians and Muslims everywhere Jews lived for generations. 

It's now seventy-three years after the Shoah, and however bad the trauma after Chmielnicki, the trauma of the Shoah is much much worse and may yet take still longer than the seventy years since the founding of Israel and seventy-three years since World War II's end to reveal itself. We have so assembled in Jerusalem now that we even have an American embassy there. Perhaps this era of fake news means that it may soon be easier for journalistic lies to redouble themselves more than it's been since before the invention of the telegraph. In this secular age of ours, messianic claims need not be divine, they just need to be false and dangerous. They need to make Jews, or anybody else, believe that an age is at hand in which we can transcend the old problems that exist for our people from generation to generation. Whether his lies are merely humiliating like Shabbetai Tzvi's were, or put millions of Jews in mortal danger the way the Polish landowners did, the opportunity for another Jewish false Messiah is exceedingly ripe. 

In age after age, we exist as the model minority, the semi-privileged class who serves as a buffer to the truly privileged, and when the truly privileged need someone to blame, they throw us to the lions every time. The fanaticism of the Likud party has brought us to the most familiar position in all Jewish history - the most protected minority by rulers who allow us to rise to the height of achievement, and therefore earn the perpetual envy of the underclass. We are therefore can most easily be blamed when circumstances get particularly dire.

Everybody else from every other minority who's enraged with the double standards to which their identity is subject finds themselves on the Left, Jews who are enraged with the double standards to which our identity is subject find themselves on the Right. Maybe there are a few other ethnic groups for which that's true - Cubans, maybe Kurds, perhaps it was true of descendents of former Russian satellite states before the Trump era, but where can they find themselves when after a century of Republican accusations against of fellow travelling with the Russkies, it's a Republican President who turned out to be a collaborator with a Russian dictator? If most neoconservatives were of a different racial composition they'd have kind things to say about the Black Panthers or the Sandinistas.

History would seem to show that every time a Jewish leader arrives to proclaim that the pragmatic rules of dealing with antisemites needn't apply anymore and that if Jews proclaim themselves a great nation unashamed because people will finally realize that there is a price for attacking Jews, that leader is proven a false Messiah, and either right before or right after, we've paid for that notion in blood unimaginable. 

Netanyahu, fanatic though he can be, has at least pragmatism enough in his makeup that he is clearly not that leader; but if Likud keeps following its rightward tread, Netanyahu's stoking of his right-wing base could end up devouring him. Netanyahu, in comparison to his talk, is wisely relatively gun shy. If he launched a military operation every time he threatened to, Israel would know very little but war over the course of his premiereship. There are so many younger Likud candidates who could unseat Netanyahu, and all it would take is to promise that they would back up the words of Netanyahu with the actions he never provided. Naftali Bennet, Ayelet Shaked, Gideon Sa'ar, Gilad Erdan, Yisrael Katz, Yuli Edelstein. With so many younger right-wing politicians jockeying for position, how will any of the six distinguish themselves from each other? Every major voice in Likud who believed in pragmatism over ideology followed Ariel Sharon to Kadima in 2005 - Ehud Olmert yes, and also Tzippi Livni, Meir Sheetrit, Gideon Ezra, Avraham Hirschorn. Likud is now an ideological party that believes in magical thinking - that Israel does not have to accommodate the obvious practical realities of its situation and can still pursue a goal of eventual control over Gaza and the West Bank. Should Netanyahu's successor present himself in the next ten years, he or she will, in all likelihood, be the one who tells the most extreme lies about Israel's situation the loudest. 

 So Israel's choices are therefore these:

1. It must learn to live with the possibility of daily terror.

2. It will die.

Yes, that double standard is horrific and outrageous, but it always has been. This is what it means to be Jewish. Enraging as it is, there is no third option. What? You say that no country can live with such terror? Perhaps you're right, but when has being Jewish ever meant anything but living with the possibility of daily attacks on our persons? This is what it means to live as a Jew, it is sometimes what it means to die as a Jew, and it has never meant anything else. The eternal insecurity of the Jewish position, eternal upstarts, newly prosperous in every civilization, means that the double standard will forever be applied to us. Seventy years into Israel's existence, the full span of a biblically allotted lifetime, it becomes ever more clear that the return from the Diaspora will never eliminate the threat of Jews getting killed, it only minimized the threat. To riff on an Eric Hoffer saying about Israel, the world expects Jews to be the only real Christians. As there have always been a disproportionate number of Jewish high achievers in civilizations that have always belonged to somebody else, there is also greatly disproportionate scrutiny, and, one might controversially add, also slightly disproportionate opportunities for us to sin before we are sinned against in manners far disproportionate to our sins. 

Even since the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, the world has changed immeasurably. And yet many if not most Jews still pretend we live in 1967 – the year when the Jewish idea of a prosperous secure Israel lined up best with the world opinion’s image of a secular, semi-socialist state that took no side in the Cold War. By the end of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, both images were shattered. Within those six years, it became clear that Israel would be insecure for the duration of its existence, and its survival could only be ensured by the backing of American military and financial power, and sometimes by its most distasteful elements. Since 1973, Israel underwent an eighteen-year quagmire in Lebanon and assumed an endless series of ground assaults in Gaza and the West Bank. Whatever one’s feelings about the morality of these actions, you would have to be blind to not see that this is an unsustainable reality for which, at some point, Israel will get a comeuppance far worse than anything which they'd inflicted. 

The era when Israel was seen as an important liberal cause is a half-century in the past. And yet we address the Israel problem to the larger public as though the Holocaust still means what it did to public memory in the 1960’s, as though Israel is still a plucky little quasi-socialist state with little infrastructure or foreign investment. Every time we allow this discussion to proceed as though we’re still living in 1967, we allow authoritarians who live in 2018 to get away with whatever they wish.  Ze’ev Sternhall, chair of the Political Science Department at Hebrew University and a worldwide expert on fascism remarked, “The last time politicians holding views similar to theirs were in power in post-World War II Western Europe was in Franco’s Spain…a crude and multi-faceted campaign is being waged against the foundations of the democratic and liberal order.” In 2008, a settler set off a pipe bomb in his house.

Israel has, Jews in general have, to face the fact that as much as Putin or Erdogan, Netanyahu was a rough draft of right-wing populism of Trump and Brexit and Orban and the Polish Law and Justice party - all manner of political reactionaries around the world who are knee-deep in antisemitism on the one hand and use a benediction from Netanyahu to give them cover as much as political progressives can use an insult from Netanyahu to give them cover.  

I'm not interested in rehashing the same old Israel/Palestine arguments of who has a right to the land for the fifty-thousandth time which every member of my generation has heard a hundred thousand times already. But I do want to emphasize, in case it's not clear, just how much Israel's presence has meant to the Jewish psyche. You cannot expect that a people who are, again and again, subjected the very worst of Western brutality by mere virtue of their proximity to the West for longer and harder than any colony will suddenly change on a dime just because the West decided on a dime that nationalism was evil the very moment when their most oppressed minority finally got a nation of their own. For two-thousand years, European gentiles didn't let us define the terms of who's the sinner and who's the saint, so now that we have a modicum of power over our destinies, we're sure as the hell you introduced to the world not letting you define the terms of that debate from now on.
Israel is everything to us. It is worth dying for, it is worth killing for, it is worth hating for, precisely because you all have demonstrated, in literally every single era of recorded human history, that you are willing to kill us to a man, woman, and child, for the crime of being among you. There was once a place where we were relatively safe from your evil, and after literally millennia of suffering from you, there is now a place where we are relatively safe from your evil again. You will have to kill us all yet again before we ever give that up, and we have clearly demonstrated that we will kill some people without overly much remorse to keep it ours. 

But that word, some, is the key, the sum total, of the hypocrisy, the crocodile tears, the fanaticism and the dangerously diseased idealism that never stops infecting people from age to age.  The demand for all wrongs to be righted, the demand for the world to be free of contradictions, the demand that the crooked timber of humanity to be made into something straight. The only direct line that seems to exist in the world is the line from believing that the world can be made into something peaceful and to embracing those people who would kill as many people as it takes to make some version of a peaceful world possible. 
True believers demand lives completely without indignity when every indication shows that the world is a prison, tailor made to humiliate us all. And that, to a fanatical believer, is ultimately much more threatening than a different kind of fanatic. Again, the enemy to the fanatic is inevitably not the heathen but the heretic. And in the case of the Left, the real Left and not the Left that includes liberals and moderates the way modern conservatives allege - and modern American-style conservatives are almost invariably their own form of fanatics - it is no longer the conservatives who are the primary enemy, but the liberals who have failed to prevent conservatism's onslaught. In one of language's more sinister maneuvers, they group conservatives and liberals together under the rubric of 'neoliberalism.' And instead of preaching the peace and love which they swear is their end goal just as the Communists and Christians of the old school once did, they feed off their indignance to add their voices into the fanatical echo chamber that Putin exploits which brought us Trump and Netanyahu and Brexit and Orban and Erdogan and now the Polish Law and Justice Party and, in Italy, the first coalition of our time that unites the League, the far right populists, and the Five Star coalition, the far left populists. I've already heard it told me that it's hilarious that anybody could consider the Five Star coalition a far-left party. But inevitably, when the agendas of far-left parties are exposed to a modicum of air from reality, their principles of peace and universality seem to fold when they realize that the only way their agenda will be pushed through is through the same force and violence which the far right always encourages. I doubt the coalition will last for very long, but I can't imagine some far leftist won't pick up a few lessons along the way about what it takes to achieve power.

No matter how nationalist Israel continues to grow, the Left doesn't deserve to be exonerated for its anti-semitism. It was always a given that the Left's current pathologies would eventually take a bullseye aim at Israel. It doesn't take a genius to connect Israel's operations in the Palestinian territories to the policing tactics against African-Americans in American cities, or to tie Israeli prosperity to what they perceive to be the evils of capitalism and imperialism - which they obviously see as completely interconnected with each other, or to use Israel's misdeeds to defend Hamas and Iran in precisely the way they allied themselves with self-parodyingly evil hard left leaders like Chavez, Castro, and once upon a time, much more famous dictators of the Left still far more evil than they. The Syrian Civil War should have been well over enough to show what happens when you exonerate a dictator who is supposedly anti-imperialism. And yet, when you see the world as a simple syllogism that blames all violence on the West and capitalism, there's no need for nuance or to hold anybody truly accountable.

The difference between my beliefs and the beliefs of most people who are critical of Israel's actions in the West Bank and Gaza is that if I truly believed that Israel's actions there would actually keep it secure, I would have no problem backing it. So much of life, political and personal, is about embracing the lesser evil; and the evil of forcing a few million people to be refugees when any of the 22 Arab countries could have long since taken them in or provided them with some sort of workable assistance, let alone any number of European countries constantly critical of Israeli policy, seventy years after the Arab world expelled just as many Jews from their lands, and seventy years of the Middle East's only liberal democracy being surrounded by autocracies committed to Israel's extermination, means that yes, I stand with Israel, now and probably for my life's duration. Am Yisrael Chai. 

Israeli wars are always overdramatic events, with the stakes always feeling nothing short of existential when they're just the same teacup tempests as ever before. But I can't deny the sinking feeling that this is the long-delayed moment the hard left has been longing for when they purportedly unmask the Zionist enterprise for precisely the imperial/capitalist/police state abomination they think it is. I know, in my head, that this won't be anything like an historical moment in which a Hitler discovers he can whip people up into a frenzy by blaming it all on the Jews, but my protruding gut certainly feels that way.

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