Back to the Idealized Ghetto: Bradley Burston’s Solution to Zionist ‘Toxic Masculinity”
According to Bradley Burston’s latest in Haaretz, we Jews are currently awash in a sea of Zionist “toxic masculinity” from which he needs to desperately purge himself because of “how many people it hurts, demeans, infuriates, oppresses.”
The symptoms of Zionist toxic masculinity, in Burston’s diagnosis, include:
- “settlers pressuring cabinet ministers to attend a protest AGAINST their own government, for not acting fast enough to respond to terrorist attacks by immediately legalizing — in the vernacular, ‘Koshering’ — thousands of settlement homes which even Israel recognizes were built illegally on Palestinian-owned land. Obedient as dogs under a threatening stick, nine ministers, one short of a cabinet majority, attended the protest.”
- “[crushing] underfoot — all imaginable bounds, just because you can … [like] the U.S. state and federal government to enact anti-BDS legislation, and reportedly asking German Chancellor Angela Merkel to act to cut-off German funding to organizations and institutions which Benjamin Netanyahu’s office views as critical of its policies … most astonishing, the Jewish Museum in Berlin.”
- “[and even extending to] those who oppose Zionism, and who have adopted its aversion to sympathy and compassion for any of those who stand on the other side of the conflict.”
Burston’s prognosis for today’s Jewish people is none too good because we have succumbed to Zionist toxic masculinity “all for the sake of the new Greater Israel, where 2,000 wrongs make a right wing. All for the sake of Zionism, which has testosteronized into a he-man, screw-everyone-but-us government of the settlers, by the settlers, for the settlers. … All for the sake of a Zionism which now takes the worst, most obnoxious elements of what may be called the Israeli personality, and glorifies them.”
An anti-Zionist Jeremiad against current-day Zionists, whether in Israel or beyond, Burston’s essay is symptomatic of our post-modern moment when Jews of a certain psychological and cultural disposition like him who are tired of the burdens faced by Israel of national self-defense, hard defining choices, and risking engagement with history have decided to try to “go back to the future” by re-embracing the anti-Zionist ethos of the pre-modern Jewish ghetto. Those were allegedly the good old days when Jewishness was often viewed by both Jews and their enemies as synonymous with super-gentle passivity and meek submission (holy or cowardly, depending on one’s point of view), often in the face of ungentle Gentile victimization of Jews.
Yet we owe Burston a debt. He has gone beyond a mere superficial critique of Benjamin Netanyahu as a blundering right-wing politician leading Israel astray. Instead, he reveals his fundamental loathing for Bibi and all the Israelis and American Jews who rally round him by a withering satire picturing Netanyahu (and also his “puppet son” Yair) as “neo-Kahane neo-fascists.” Burston’s Netanyahu is a sort of anti-Moses who, while the real Moses journeyed up Mount Sinai in search of sublime Jewish laws, stayed behind to try to remake Israelis-to-be as the people of the golden calf symbolizing not merely greed and cupidity, but the pursuit of an Egypt-like authoritarian raw power over internal and external non-Jewish victims through sadistic violence. This satire has roots in Sander Gilman, Paul Breines, and Daniel Boyarin and their various dissections of the pathologies of “tough Jews.”
It is pointless to debate arguments that tend to leave the realm of actual politics for a metapolitics where reality gives way to the instinctive fears and wishes of Freud’s Id or, rather, attempts like Burston’s to escape the Id by embracing the Superego’s moral absolutes which are too pure for translation into the real world.
Zionism may be a defective road map to an ideal future, but at least it attempts to engage the daunting past and present political realities faced by Jews.
Laugh at Burston’s satire if you will, but be aware that it implies a return to the Ghetto of Jewish history except that that in future there will be “a world community” of moral absolutists ostensibly protecting the vulnerable the way Jehovah once protected the Hebrew children escaping Egypt. You will ultimately have to abandon the protections of either Jewish religion or the Jewish nation state for a membership card in Amnesty International whose founders, according to a recent New York Times profile, often started as Zionists but usually ended somewhere else.
Historian Harold Brackman is coauthor, with Ephraim Isaac, of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Africans, African Americans, and Jews (Africa World Press, 2015).