Who Is Really Betraying Jewish Values?
Eva Illouz wrote a dramatic New Year’s piece for Haaretz, in which she accused fellow Jews who support Trump of falling prey to messianic fantasies and “betraying Jews, Jewish history and humanity.” She also claimed for “liberal Jews” like herself the sole mantle of “authentic opposition to anti-Semitism.” Invoking Freud’s definition of the uncanny — the sense that something familiar is now foreign and menacing — she claimed that “the [Trump-riddled] world at the beginning of 2017 elicits the same feeling of the uncanny: It is the same old world we knew, yet we sense it has become inhabited by foreign ghosts, hybrid creatures never seen before.”
Illouz’s article, and her striking image of an uncanny recognition, brought me back to the year 2000 — when I was part of the Left. Then, suddenly, I realized that fellow Jews — good, smart, imaginative Jews, people I loved to talk with, argue with, struggle with — had suddenly gone deaf to the cries of their own people in Israel, facing daily terrorism from a terrifying, religiously-inspired assault on civilians. Instead, they rushed to announce “as a Jew,” that they abhorred the abominations committed by Israel.
Somehow, for these uncanny Jews, their moral urgency about Israeli crimes went hand in hand with a corresponding reluctance to discuss Palestinian behavior. “What choice do they have?” “One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.” “Don’t demonize the Palestinian people.” “We’re worse terrorists.”
And yet, within this matrix of alternating moral indifference to Palestinians, and hysteria about Israelis, arose a reckless cognitive disorientation. Palestinian hostility could be inserted into a post-colonial narrative in which Israel was the colonial racist, and the Palestinians the indigenous victims. Genocidal jihadis could masquerade in the global public sphere as heroic “resistance fighters,” struggling for “human rights.”
The uncanny at the turn against Israel at the start of the millennium went far beyond the progressive Jews and their “friends.” After 2000, comparisons of Israel with the Nazis went mainstream on the global progressive Left. In the new narrative, the Al Durrah icon replaced and erased that of the boy in the Warsaw Ghetto, just as Gaza replaced that ghetto. And the Israeli Goliath — already an uncanny image — morphed into the Israeli Nazi: the secular Antichrist.
Of course, the fiercest foes of Jewish freedom, from the supersessionists to the most delirious Judeophobes, embraced this replacement narrative with glee. And, insofar as they thought themselves progressive, this glee worked much to their own damage and to the damage of a progressive and peaceful world. When, in 2002, drunk on a wave of lethal journalism about the IDF “massacre” at Jenin, demonstrators wore mock suicide belts to cheer on the Palestinian “resistance,” they actually helped glorify a terrible new apocalyptic weapon, blight of the new century, soon to be turned on their own people and other Muslims.
The uncanny horror first happened for me in 2000 — witnessing the reaction of Jewish progressives to the sight of their own people — the only sovereign Jews in the world – fighting off a suicidally vicious Palestinian onslaught. Rather than acknowledge Israel’s failure of good intentions when faced with deeply nurtured hatred, and their own disastrous advice to ignore belligerent signs in the PA and go on with the “peace process,” Liberals preferred to turning against the “right-wingers” whom the Israelis elected to clean up the disaster that they themselves had wrought with the Oslo “peace” process.
When Eva Illouz deplores today’s “right wing” pro-Trumpers as people for whom “[n]ationalism has replaced historical memory as the nexus of Jewish institutions and Jewish identity,” she might think about the several times that Jewish internationalism has done just that, including in the early 20th century, and again now. When she claims that “only liberal Jews in Israel and in the democratic world can claim to be the authentic opponents of anti-Semitism,” she might consider the decades of terrifying, uncanny, unrepentant behavior among those (claiming to be) liberals, behavior that enabled and globally promoted the most poisonous of Jew-hatreds, thereby feeding global Jihad, the worst imperialist movement of our day.
If, instead of penning alarmed and divisive rants, she were to introspect, she might find the empathy to understand why those who reject the global Left’s moral leadership are not deplorable, and why the uncanny persistence of progressive Jews and Israelis in promoting antisemitic anti-Zionism in the global public sphere has terrified those of us who do track antisemitism over the centuries and millennia.
She might also discover why these liberal Jews’ decision to partner with wolves in progressive clothing who grotesquely accuse Israel of genocide, has made them unrecognizable to their fellow, critical, Jews.
Indeed, she might even ponder the possibility that Obama’s policies, perceived by many as civilizationally suicidal, might have provoked a popular abreaction, without which a candidate as crude and unstable as Trump could never have “taken” with the American public, including with Jews.
Then, in that silence and opening borne of self-reflection, maybe sane, progressive, tribal, Jewish voices might arise above the din of civilizational madness that grows louder every year in this troubled dawn of a new century.
Haaretz passed on publishing an earlier draft of this response to a piece it had published. A longer version with links is available at The Augean Stables.