Humanism Hangs in the Balance
by Norman Pollack
CounterPunch (March 23 2015)
[When I say “humanism hangs in the balance” I mean that Judaism today is in danger of losing its moral-ethical-universal foundations by the stand it takes toward Israel’s policies and historical record of ethnic cleansing, well-antedating Netanyahu, what already regrettably seems or appears to be a losing battle. Israel has the potential both of destroying itself and bringing Judaism down with it in what I believe is a paroxysm of hatred and paranoia of overcompensating conquest. As the reader will see, I am rooting with all my heart for Judaism, which I proudly affirm against the baseness of contemporary Israel.]
Analysis of Israel’s election which declares Netanyahu freer to seek less doctrinaire policies, greater mobility to pursue peace, is absurd and duplicitous. His statement about resisting a two-state solution condemns Israel – and his leadership – to the opprobrium of humankind, with the grisly attack on Gaza itself marking both as engaging in WAR CRIMES. Yet by his election, the Israeli people – knowing Netanyahu’s declaration rejecting a two-state solution, and his further allusion to racism by disparaging Arab-Israeli citizens’ electoral activity – have shown to the world an uncompromising, xenophobic, militaristic people unworthy of Judaism and the Torah. (The presumed recantation, walking back on the two-state solution, is a cunning change-of-heart filled with caveats, expressed and implied, which fully negates a meaningful accommodation or approach to peace. Simply, Andrea Mitchell in her interview caught him with his pants down.)
What a denigration of the memory of the Holocaust, this Nazi-like bludgeoning of the Palestinians. Have Israelis abandoned all conscience? Sunk into a self-serving mode of denial? Believed it possible that through sheer power and force they could assert dominance in face of the moral law? What is happening to my beloved Judaism? To the teachings about welcoming the stranger, about reaching out to the dispossessed? Judaism is DISGRACED by Israel’s policies of internal colonialism and contempt for the treatment of fellow humans.
Anti-Semitism will rise in Europe and the rest of the world because of Israel’s conduct, a burden on world Jewry because of the falsification of Jewish values and time-honoured record of siding with the innocent, the deprived, the underdog. Netanyahu at the Wailing Wall (as shown in photographs after his victory) is an act of impiety. Consider, would Einstein have shelled or bombed UN schools/shelters in Gaza that were crowded with people thinking they were safe and escaping the onslaught? Would Schwerner and Goodman have shelled or bombed hospitals, the injured lining the corridors? Would Aaron Copland and Ben Shawn have shelled or bombed water treatment plants and electrical grids? Would and did the IDF and Netanyahu do these despicable acts, the more despicable because the Israeli population looked on and in many cases applauded? [My description in an earlier CounterPunch article of the residents of Siderot, who gathered on the hillside through the night in festive mood cheering as Israeli artillery shelling rocked the Gaza countryside, the while munching and drinking, some on sofas dragged out for the occasion to have a better view.]
Why any further pretence of Israel as a democratic nation? In the campaign itself, there is seldom the mention of Gaza, and that – confirming the near-universality of complicity in war crimes – including Herzog and Livni. Protesting high rents may define the “Left” in Israel, but a Left fully acquiescent in mass killing, walls, blockades, discrimination; hence, a Left in name only, shorn of all connection to the universality of humankind. For Israelis, Gazans are cannon fodder or a lower species (a wilful distortion of the Chosen-People notion which, because of assumed superiority, encourages the ethos and cult of militarism found in Israel). Here I’m reminded of Sartre’s “Portrait of the Anti-Semite”, one who possesses the durability of stone – a hardness of soul and heart allowing nothing to penetrate. As with Netanyahu, we see now the theory and practice of cruelty emblematic of a whole people; for it is difficult to say whether he eggs them on, or the y he. Sartre’s Anti-Semite could readily be applied as a collective portrayal of Israelis.
Let’s go back to the day after the election, Jodi Rudoren’s New York Times article, “Win Sets Netanyahu on Path to Remake Israeli Government”, (March 18), in which, despite evidence to the contrary, she offers the prospect of his having a freer hand to move toward the Centre: “Israelis emboldened [him] with a clear mandate in balloting on Tuesday, paving the way for him to lead a right-leaning and religious coalition that could be far easier to control, since his own party holds many more seats now … While the new coalition will almost certainly be more purely conservative, it is also more narrowly tailored, potentially freeing its leader of the constraints that often guided his last government”. Nominally moving rightward, he “also has gotten rid of extremists in his own party, Likud, and shrunk the Jewish Home party, which he often placated over the last two years by expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank”. For the coalition to be “ uot;more narrowly tailored” suggests eliminating fanaticism for what is “more purely conservative”, in this case, in the words of Uzi Arad, his former national security adviser, “more ‘tough pragmatism’ than ‘stiff defiance’ “. I find it otherwise, not only in the complexion of his coalition partners, including ultra-Orthodox parties, but his continued mobilization of opposition, if not worse, to Iran, and, domestically, everything from settlement construction to regional displays of toughness (for example, once more, Gaza) to the precepts of market fundamentalism in shaping Israel’s economy.
My New York Times Comment on the Rudoren article, March 19, follows:
Israel is in a state of denial, whichever party or coalition of parties wins. In vain does one find soul-searching over the rape of Gaza, a chapter in the annals of barbarism and cruelty. Domestic issues are all well and good, but frankly are a diversion to what is central for peace and Israel’s long-term security: the Palestinian question and its corollary, settlements.
To preserve the status quo, Israel has made itself an international pariah, a position on which Israelis seem to thrive. Besotted with hate and malaise, the Israeli citizen uses militarism as the national vehicle of cohesion: celebrate exploits of killing as a means of drawing together.
Needless to say, this is a corruption of Judaism, which for centuries has expressed universal values of peace and mutual respect. The Great Paradox: The Jewish State is anti-Jewish, defaming and caricaturing a beloved faith founded on human rights and aid and succour to all deprived, displaced, and underprivileged. It is tragic that world Jewry increasingly supports current Israeli policies, which only encourages what we find today in Israel: Netanyahu and Herzog alike lack the moral courage to bring Israel into line with international law and morality. Whichever party or coalition wins, we will have more of the same: more Gazas, more settlements, more contempt for world opinion, in sum, the DESECRATION of Judaism itself by this arrogant, lawless nation acting in the name of Jewish values.
Update: Consider Jason Horowitz’s New York Times article, “Do the Democrats and Israel Have a Future Together?” (March 21), which reveals domestic forces of Reaction in full-court-press propaganda mode to bring the Democrats into line in support of Israel. Perhaps the whole topic is artificial if not ill-considered given the overwhelming bipartisan support for Israel in America regardless of particular political leadership on either side. Tempest in a tea pot? Probably, because Israel stands in the eyes of America’s political, military, and intelligence communities as code for a still deeper affiliation or attachment, spearhead for US global hegemony, not unlike Britain and NATO, in strategic importance for America’s whole counterrevolutionary agenda (rapidly extended now to the Far East through Pacific-First and the Trans-Pacific Partnership) to secure ideological dominance, the protection of oil supplies, and effective resistance to Left-movements for social change. Israel and America, bedfellows eternal, as the covers of militarism are neatly tucked in.
Horowitz has a stellar cast of notables seeking to patch up differences – Elliott Abrams (Bush adviser on the Middle East, and as I recall, back further, architect of repression in Latin America), Ann Lewis, (close to both Clintons), Malcolm Hoenlein (Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations), for starters, AIPAC, and creme de la creme, Pastor Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI), not to be gainsaid in organizing pressures on Israel’s behalf – a blue-ribbon effort by shock troops to influence US policy. Add John Boehner, Michele Bachman, Ted Cruz, and Lindsey Graham to the foregoing mix and one has a revelatory look at, more than a Netanyahu cheering section, what constitutes Israel’s appeal for Americans: surely not the religious principles and faith of Judaism per se, but the retrograde policies of ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and the application of force to resolve all problems and reduce all tensions.
Horowitz writes, “While a deepening polarization among American Jews about Netanyahu [I’m sceptical of this] puts Obama’s potential successor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a politically uncomfortable position, it is the transformation of Israel into a partisan issue that fills Democratic Jewish officials with dread”. This shouldn’t (mine), but for safety sake we see college campuses targeted, “trips of movie stars to Israel”, the usual, even African-Americans and Hispanics, an important part of the party base, enlisted in the cause, Republicans meanwhile active in pushing for a political realignment, as in Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, to bring Jews still further into their ranks. I will skip over the activities of Ron Dermer, a one-man dynamo, as Israel’s US ambassador, or Sheldon Adelson himself, a one-man Las Vegas version of Fort Knox, except to mention the former’s statement, popular no doubt in its sentiments for CounterPunch readers, but for me reeking in duplicity in one respect – the use of cultural issues to obfuscate the need for first addressing the more fundamental class and structural issues relevant to the democratization process as the vital context for then realizing rights dear to all of us. Horowitz quotes Dermer in what I take to be cynicism of the first water – forget Gaza, forget repression of internal dissent, forget support of dictators as standard procedure, none matters when you look at Israel’s civil liberties record (which I find wanting): “I think the progressive case for Israel is an easy case to make”, Dermer stated. “We’re the only country that’s had a chief justice of the Supreme Court, a speaker of the Knesset and a prime minister who were women. You have gay rights in Israel … And then you have respect for minority rights in Israel.” I’m not buying. Tell it to those living for decades under Israel’s iron heel. Tell it to the children who survived the saturated bombing and shelling of Gaza blinded or with limbs missing!. Tell it to the young men who have been unemployed and socially humiliated. But don’t, Israelis, tell it to yourselves, because in your state of profound denial, you won’t believe that others have been hurt by your actions.
My New York Times Comment on the Horowitz article, same date, follows:
Hora circles and singing Hebrew anthems will not cover over the war crimes Israel has committed in Gaza, nor its ethnic cleansing in general. Why is it Israel has the most favourable support in America from extreme right-wing groups? As for liberal Democrats, support there confirms the bipartisan consensus on war, intervention, drone assassination. A liberal Democrat is a Republican in everything but name.
I grieve for Judaism. It was not always thus. Like Dermer I was raised in Miami Beach but decades earlier, my parents hardworking successful Lincoln Road merchants from Minsk (Mom) and Pinsk (Dad). I was deeply proud, as a young radical, of my Jewish heritage.
Why not! Jews from say 1900 to 1960 stood in the forefront of humanistic philosophy and learning, interpreted Torah in universal terms favouring welcoming the stranger and helping the underdog. In the arts, Jews were in the forefront of music, art, literature. I mourned the execution of the Rosenbergs, and like many other young Jews I threw myself wholeheartedly into the civil rights struggle (yes picketing Woolworth’s in Harvard Square to Mississippi Freedom Summer and Selma) and antiwar movement.
World Jewry today led by the example of Israel forfeits its Jewishness via slavish devotion to a Militaristic State which oppresses the proverbial Other. Adelson speaks for many – but not me. Let the charade of Israeli democracy go on. God knows better. God, oddly, has always been for the victims, not the oppressors.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at email@example.com.