The Curse of Victimhood
Earlier this month, Mahmoud Abbas called together a meeting of the PLO’s Central Council, and delivered a speech marked more by its rancor than by its accuracy. For well over two hours Abbas ranted against a whole range of characters, both historical and contemporary, whom he blamed for the dire situation of his people.
According to Abbas, the trouble all began with Oliver Cromwell, who “staged a coup against [King Charles I of Great Britain] and became the head of a republic.” According to Abbas, it was Cromwell who “came up with the idea of transferring the Jews from Europe to the Middle East … because they wanted this region to become an outpost to protect the interests and the convoys coming from Europe to the East.” According to this twisted narrative, Jews were the expedient pawns of colonialist expansion.
Next up on the blame list was Napoleon Bonaparte, who, in Abbas’ alternative universe, had declared that “a Jewish state must be established in Palestine,” and was only thwarted in this aspiration when he “failed at the walls of Acre,” — a victory that Abbas claimed for the Palestinians, even though no such national entity appeared until the second half of the 20th century.
This fantasy thesis, popular among anti-Zionist pseudo-historians, is based on a French newspaper report of May 1799, which claimed that Napoleon had invited “all the Jews of Asia and Africa to gather under his flag in order to re-establish the ancient Jerusalem.” Most respectable historians dismiss this as a wartime rumor, and even those who take the report seriously consider it a tactical gesture by Napoleon, who hoped that such a declaration would help tip the Battle of Acre in his favor. In short, no serious academic believes that Napoleon was a proto-Zionist.
The rest of the names on the Abbas hit list were equally bizarre: Warder Cresson, the first United States consul in Jerusalem, later a convert to Judaism and founder of an agricultural settlement in Palestine — but by no means a political operator; Colonel Charles Henry Churchill, a 19th-century British diplomat in Damascus, who Abbas erroneously identified as Sir Winston Churchill’s grandfather; and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, a British prime minister who is spuriously purported to have authored the “Campbell-Bannerman document” in 1907, proposing the creation of a buffer state in the Middle East to serve European interests, by preventing Muslim nations from gaining an upper hand in world affairs.
The list of crimes and criminals went on. David Ben-Gurion forced Jews to move to Israel after its creation (as if you can force Jews to do anything); American air carrier TWA transferred 50,000 Jews to Israel from Yemen as part of a US conspiracy against the Palestinians; referring to the Palestinians as “terrorists” is willful misrepresentation; Palestinians have never rejected negotiations, etc.
Abbas’ rambling speech presented an alternative reality that is utterly deranged — and its author is clearly unhinged.
This week, it was claimed that former US Secretary of State John Kerry sent Abbas a message to “hold on and be strong” in his resistance to President Donald Trump. If true, this is proof that even senior diplomats fail to understand the level of cognitive dissonance prevalent in the Palestinian narrative.
No Palestinian who believes in a Zionist conspiracy dating back over 350 years is ever going to “define peace principles,” nor will a Palestinian fantasist such as Abbas ever come up with any kind of peace plan.
But, I hear you say, surely the Palestinians want to end their miserable existence as the perpetual victims of the modern era? Actually, that is exactly what many of them — especially their leaders– do not want. This dawned on me as I studied a Midrash addressing an anomaly at the beginning of this week’s parsha — Beshalach.
The portion begins: “vayehi beshalach” — “and it came to pass when Pharaoh sent away the nation.” The Talmud has a principle that whenever the Hebrew word “vayehi” is used in scripture, it indicates the beginning of a sad story. And yet, surely a chapter that ends with the destruction of the entire Egyptian army is happy, not sad? Why would it begin with a negative opening word?
The Midrash explains that the opener reflects the Pharaoh’s perception of events, and then offers an analogy to explain this: Someone kidnaps the son of a mighty king. The king sends him letters and messages to release his son, but the kidnapper takes no notice. Eventually, the king comes to the kidnapper’s hideout and rescues his son. Afterwards, the kidnapper complains that while he had held the prince, he had been the recipient of daily communications from the king. With the prince gone, the king was ignoring him.
Pharaoh was upset. For months, he had interacted constantly with God, via Moses and the ten plagues. With the Jews gone, God was ignoring him.
This Midrash is extremely peculiar, and appears to suggest that Pharaoh enjoyed being God’s victim — craving the negative repercussions of God’s daily attention. How does this make any sense? Actually, it shows a remarkable understanding of a well-known psychosis associated with both a range of personality disorders — and with Munchausen’s syndrome, in which attention-seeking is achieved by chronic victimism. Pharaoh realized that after the Exodus, God was no longer interested in him and his nation. He therefore manufactured a situation that would demand God’s attention, even if it meant utter devastation and disaster.
Abbas is a modern-day Pharaoh, craving the world’s attention. But the world has passed him and his people by. He therefore wishes to perpetuate a narrative of wanton victimhood stretching back centuries, and involving multiple international actors, so that the Palestinians can continue to attract the attention of world players. Defining peace principles and coming up with a definitive plan would end the attention forever. That is something that the Palestinians will never accept.