By Vic Rosenthal
What it is about some Jews that makes them irrationally hate Israel?
Why do we have a group of Jews, often more well-informed about the Mideast than the general population, who are almost as anti-Israel as Arabs?
Why are these Jews always prepared to criticize Israel harshly for what they believe are human-rights violations in the territories but prepared to ignore or even try to justify far more egregious violations on the part of Palestinians?
Why are these Jews prepared to believe almost any accusation against Israel made by the Palestinians, who are notoriously prone to exaggeration or even fabrication, but assume that any statements made by the Israeli government are lies?
Why are they often prominent in such organizations as the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) which provide direct support to Israel’s enemies?
Why are they often prepared to deny the Jews the right to self-determination and Israel the right to exist, when they don’t deny these to any other people or state?
An important aspect of Jewish criticism of Israel is this: it is always couched in moral terms: Israel violates Palestinian rights because it is racist, Israeli soldiers deliberately target civilians, Israel should not exist.
It’s interesting to compare Jews to Palestinians in this regard. Although there are Palestinians critical of some or all of the Palestinian factions, it almost always takes a practical rather than moral form. For example, even the ‘moderate’ Mahmoud Abbas has said that firing Qassam missiles into Sderot is damaging chances for a Palestinian state; but not that it’s immoral for Palestinians to shoot at Israeli civilians. The kind of moral criticism that one hears directed at Israel from, say, a Tony Judt or a Jacqueline Rose, is almost never aimed by Palestinians at Palestinian terorism.
Palestinians are capable of moral self-criticism, however. The recent fighting between the factions did generate such expressions — but only because Palestinians were killing Palestinians.
Various explanations for this phenomenon have been proposed. Some of them relate specifically to Diaspora Jews, while others can also be applied to Israelis.
- The Jewish prophetic tradition: Jews like Jeremiah have been the harshest critics of their own establishments. Secular Jews, perhaps without knowing the sources, often embody Jewish traditions. Israel, at least since 1967, has become the symbol of established Jewish power.
- Stockholm syndrome: Jews are psychologically drawn to their enemies as a way to (unconsciously and irrationally) protect themselves from them.
- Guilt of the privileged: the anti-Israel Jew is usually well-educated and well-off, and he may feel guilty for his privileged position in the world compared to, for example, most Palestinians. Jews are especially susceptible to this because of the Torah’s injunctions to behave justly (which, like prophetic self-criticism, inform even the secular Jewish worldview).
- Guilt on abandoning Judaism or Zionism: paradoxically, a Jew may feel shame that he has left the religion of his parents, or failed to support his own people’s struggle for self-determination; hence, by turning against these things or even against the Jewish people as a whole, he justifies his abandonment.
- The need to belong: Diaspora Jews often grow up with a distinct feeling that they are in a somewhat isolated minority – and one with a disreputable image. As one can see by observing children, there is a basic human need to belong to groups that are felt to be dominant. So by rejecting Israel (and often their Jewishness, as ISM leader Adam Shapiro has done), they are in effect joining the majority group.
There are probably other explanations. The point is that because these mechanisms are to a great extent unconscious and irrational, they are hard to argue against using facts and logic. Because most of them imply an unconscious desire on the part of the Jewish critic to be separated as much as possible from Jews and Israel, the critic, in his effort to create this distance, develops an emotional identification with the Jews’ antagonists.
So although it’s possible to say “how can you criticize the security fence when it prevents terrorist murders?” the irrational Jewish critic of Israel identifies and therefore empathizes more closely with the Palestinian farmers who have difficulty reaching their olive trees than with the Jewish victims of terrorism.
Human behavior is motivated, to a far greater extent than many of us would like to believe, by emotions and not by reasoning. That’s why good advertising and good propaganda is primarily aimed at emotional triggers. That’s why it’s possible to present a news story with a wholly different slant without changing any of the facts presented in it, just by modifying the emotional context in which the facts are presented.
It seems that the availability of Jewish voices for their cause is well-understood by some elements in the anti-Israel coalition, and it is exploited. There’s no more convincing argument against Israel than to say that even the Jews condemn her.