Jewish Anti-Semitism and the Left in Israel
by Steven Plaut
One of the greatest ironies of Jewish history is that the secular Zionism of the nineteenth century was formulated precisely for the purpose of offering an alternative to the assimilationism and Jewish "self-hatred" of the Diaspora. Zionism arose as a response to both assimilationism and anti-Semitism.
Who then could have dreamed that the fulfillment and realization of Zionism would be accompanied by the emergence of the most malignant manifestations of Israeli self-hatred and Jewish anti-Semitism, this in the state of Israel and the land of Zion. The very same Zionism that was designed to offer an alternative to Jewish assimilationism saw in fact the emergence of a uniquely bizarre movement of assimilationism right inside the Jewish state itself, in the form of "Post-Jewish Israelism" and "Post-Zionist" Jewish anti-Semitism.
ROOTS OF ISRAELI ANTI-SEMITISM
Until very recently in Jewish history, it was widely presumed that secular Zionism and the establishment of Israel had achieved an irreversible victory over the movements of Jewish assimilationism and self-hatred, at least among Jews living inside the Jewish state, but also to a large extent among Diaspora Jews as well.
Secular Zionism represented a blending of modernity with Jewishness that involved neither the assimilationism of the radical anti-Orthodox "reformers" among Jews in the Diaspora nor traditional Orthrodox rejectionism of modernity. It had achieved this via the engineering of "Israeliness," which was a new phase of identity for Jews who lived inside their own Jewish state.
"Israeliness" was ever-so-modern, with high-tech industries cropping up everywhere like mushrooms, with European standards of living and lifestyles, with prestigious universities and scientific institutions, not to mention a military of legendary prowess. And all this was taking place inside a state whose raison d'etre was its Jewishness, its serving as a national home for Jews.
Certainly Israeliness had its problems, not least of which was a dubious, if not outright hostile, attitude towards Jewish tradition. Israel's intellectual, journalistic, academic and artistic elites long displayed a deep animosity towards matters of religion and towards religious people, an antipathy shared by parts of the broader secularist population.
This hostility was fanned in part by resentment at the powers of the politicized religious Establishment. Anti-Orthodox bigotry has long been the primary form of bigotry in the country. It escalated after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a religious law student, and it found perhaps its greatest expression in the surprising electoral achievements of the Shinui Party, reconstituted as an anti-Orthodox Party under the leadership of Joseph "Tommy" Lapid.
Beyond knee-jerk hostility to Jewish religion and tradition, "Israeliness" also had other dubious roots. There was always a strong "Canaanite" trend present in Israeli society, especially among its intellectual elite, which insisted that Israelis represented a new "post-Jewish" nationality, and so were essentially an altogether non-Jewish ethnic group. (The "Canaanites" were a movement of Israelis in the 1950s and thereafter who attempted to detach Israeliness from Jewishness and create a new "non-denominational" Hebrew-speaking "nationality" of "Israelis", one that could encompass the Arabs as well.)
As such, these new "Canaanized Israelis" believed they had little in common with Diaspora Jews and even less with Diaspora history. Many a "Canaanized" Israeli Jew insisted that he had far more in common with the Druse and Bedouins of the country than he did with any Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn. Another of the many forms of backlash against Diaspora Jewishness was a ferocious hostility to Yiddish.
In the first decades of its existence, the celebration of "Israeliness" in Israel took many forms, including those that downplayed the role of Jewishness in the state. The Israeli school curriculum at secular schools, where the majority of Israeli children attend, was largely stripped of Jewish content.
Jewish history in the typical Israel school ended at Masada or with Bar-Kochba and then mysteriously rematerialized at the first Zionist Congress in Basel. Jewish religion, other than the Bible, was eliminated almost altogether from the curriculum, except in the religious schools. The result is that today many an Israeli teenager cannot complete the sentence that begins with the words "Shma Yisrael", and few can correctly explain what the Amida is.
The celebration of Israeliness was also widely believed to offer the ultimate path towards resolution of Arab-Jewish differences. After all, there was no reason why Arabs could not follow the example of the more "Canaanite" Jews and embrace with enthusiasm the new "Israeliness", an "Israeliness" that would transcend religion and pre-Israeli ethnicity or denomination.
HOW THE SECULAR LEFT FUELS THE GROWTH OF ISRAELI HOSTILITY TOWARDS ISRAEL
National challenges and deluded "Canaanitism" aside, until recently few would have questioned the basic conclusion that secular Zionism was an unqualified Jewish national success. The leadership in the state of Israel may have been filled with certain self-delusions, but ordinary Israelis were not assimilating into any alien gentile ethnicity or nationality as were so many Diaspora Jews. Israelis would always remain Jews, even if only deluded Jews knowing little about Judaism.
Hebrew was their everyday language of communications. Jewish holidays were the bank holidays. Jewish symbols were the symbols of state. Moreover the secular Zionist merging of Judaism with modernity appeared to be stable for the very long run. It was not threatened by modernity even in its most extreme forms.
The axioms concerning the ability of secular Zionism to overcome the traditional threats to Jews of anti-Semitism, assimilationism and self-hatred came crashing back down to earth in the 1990s. There emerged inside Israel a movement of mass Jewish anti-Semitism, which effectively exerted its hegemony, first over the radical Left and the chattering classes of Israeli academia and journalism, and ultimately over the entire country in the form of the Leftist Ascendancy.
Under this Leftist Ascendancy, the Left has continued to exercise control over much of national policy making, even when it is in opposition, indeed even when coalitions headed by the Likud have held power.
The rapid growth of Jewish anti-Semitism inside Israel during the "Oslo era" raises serious questions about just how successful secular Zionism really was. The Oslo era was accompanied by a massive assault on Israel's pride and confidence by its own leaders. Israeli intellectuals lectured the country about its original sinfulness. Israeli campuses were flooded with "New Historians" and "Post-Zionists", pseudo-academics rewriting history texts and school curriculum to promote the Arab "narrative" and the Arab version of history, the moral equivalents of Holocaust Deniers in other countries.
Israeli politicians in the 1990s leapt forward, ready to strip the country of all of its Jewish national emblems, from the star on the flag to the words of the national anthem. And after 1300 years of discrimination against Jews by Arabs, Israeli politicians were implementing "reverse discrimination" programs, under which Arabs received preferences and Jews suffered quotas.
One after the other, Israeli politicians during the early and mid-1990s mouthed the post-modernist gibberish of the anti-Israel choruses from overseas, about how Israelis needed to stop ruling over another "people", had to learn to understand the "other", had to commemorate the "tragedies" the Jews had imposed upon the innocent Arabs and so make restitution. If no Palestinian people had ever existed in history, Israeli politicians were determined to invent one for peace.
World anti-Semitism exploded as a direct consequence of Israel's own politicians granting lip service and credibility to the anti-Jewish canards that had always been the propaganda underpinnings for hatred of Israel, including Israeli official acquiescence in accepting the rhetoric of the anti-Semites.
Here were Israeli leaders agreeing that Israel was indeed a colonial "conqueror" and "outsider", an "oppressor" of Palestinians and the cause of Palestinian "suffering". Here were Israel's own leaders confirming that Palestinian barbarism and atrocities were ultimately the fault of Israeli "occupation" and Jewish insensitivity.
While Jewish assimilationism in the Diaspora has often been termed "self-hatred", the expression is misleading. Diaspora assimilationists are generally people who are simply indifferent to their Jewishness and want nothing to do with Judaism. They generally do not actively wish Jews harm (although there are some exceptions).
Going further back in history, Jewish assimilationists were in general simply socially-mobile people, willing to jettison their Jewishness in exchange for opening of career doors and access to positions of status closed to Jews. By and large, these were not people who hated other Jews, although of course there were always some exceptions among these as well.
The Oslo era in Israel however saw the emergence, perhaps for the first time in history, of virulent and literal anti-Jewish bigotry among the intellectual, media and political Jewish elites of Israel.
There are today Israeli professors and lecturers who openly serve as Court Jews for the worst anti-Semites on the planet, including Islamist fundamentalists, neonazis and Holocaust Deniers. Israeli leftist faculty members tour the world, denouncing Israel before audiences of anti-Semites as a nazi, fascist, terrorist, criminal, apartheid country, engaged in systematic human rights atrocities.
Increasing numbers of self-hating Israeli academics openly call for Israeli national existence to be ended and for Israel to be replaced with a single state with an Arab majority and PLO hegemony. Israeli left-wing professors turn out mountains of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish political propaganda, often passing it off as "scholarly research."
It is an open secret that on campus, leftist extremists with laughable and ludicrous publication records get hired, tenured and promoted, as acts of solidarity by other leftist faculty already inside the system. Israeli university governance is notoriously corrupt and politicized. Some of these tenured leftists then tour the world urging anti-Semites to boycott all of Israel, including the very same academic institutions in which they are employed and from which they draw salaries.
The campus was not the only headquarters for Jewish self-hatred. In the 1990s the Israeli public school system was also conscripted into proliferating anti-Israel pro-Arab ideology. Israeli politicians from the Left and some leftist "academics" seriously proposed that Israel create a National "Naqba Day", in which it atone for the very fact of its creation and the "catastrophe" that this creation caused to Palestinian Arabs.
"Naqba Day" events are increasing common on Israeli campuses and occasionally in Israeli public schools. Israel is the only country on the planet in which schools and colleges regularly hold symposia devoted to expressions of mourning and remorse that the country in which they live exists at all, and in which they barely hide their desire to see their country annihilated.
The Israeli media has long operated under the nearly complete hegemony of the Far Left, a unique form of quasi-totalitarianism operating within the overall framework of a country with democratic institutions. The Israeli media have by and large taken their cues from the Academic Left, and campus Newspeak, including "postmodernist" gibberish, is now a regular part of the daily journalistic dose.
Israel's daily newspapers have served as regular bludgeons against the country, promoting Arab propaganda as editorial and Op-Ed opinion and often even as news, blaming Israeli obstinacy and mistreatment of Arabs for all of the problems of the world.
Haaretz long ago ceased to be a newspaper or an organ of political pluralism, and operates as an instrument of Far-Leftist political indoctrination. Yediot Ahronot is only slight less biased. Maariv is the only Hebrew newspaper that maintains any semblance of pluralism, and even it is often much more often a platform for the Left than for the Non-Left.
The three Israeli television stations compete against one another over which is the furthest to the Left and which can employ the largest number ofleftist political commentators. The main form of political pluralism in radio broadcasting ended when the Sharon government shut down Arutz 7.
The main manifestations of the Leftist Ascendancy have been the universities and the media, but other institutions, such as the Supreme Court, the intelligence services, and much of the officer class in the military, have also come under its sway. A large part of the secret of the success of the Ascendancy is the enormous funding it openly receives from institutions and people outside the country, those for whom Israel's best interests are decidedly NOT part of their agenda. Picayune "organizations", some of them communist front, are flooded with funding and fill the press and billboards with large political ads.
And Jewish anti-Semitism is more and more openly the driving force behind the fundamentalist theology of the Leftist Ascendancy. This obsession with self-flagellation among the Ascendant Leftists has produced a situation whereby each and every atrocity committed by Arabs, without exception, is greeted with calls from the Israeli chattering classes for MORE concessions and appeasements. Some, including the tenured extremists at the universities, go so far as to justify and celebrate Arab acts of terror as necessary to force Israelis to come to their senses and make peace.
For the past 12 years the Israeli elites have lived in a make-pretend world in which Jews are to blame for everything and Arabs are merely expressing "frustrations" at being "mistreated" for so many years by Jews. The fact that no Arabs ever launched any intifada in Arab countries, wherein their treatment by Arab regimes has always infinitely worse than by Israel (even if all Arab accusations against Israel are accepted at face value), never seems to matter to any of them.
The psychological war by Israel's elites against national pride, dignity and self-respect, indeed against national existence, has long been accompanied by a set of diplomatic policies expressing little more than self-loathing. Every atrocity by the Palestinians is greeted with new offers of concessions and goodwill gestures from Israel, which has been pursuing a policy holding that no act of Arab violence should go unrewarded.
Ehud Barak surrendered to Hizbollah terror and withdrew Israeli troops from Lebanon, and, in so doing placed all of northern Israel, including the Haifa Bay and its refineries, within range of Hizbollah rockets.
Israel rewarded decades of Syria's aggression, Holocaust Denial, harboring of German war criminals, and terrorism through its Hizbollah surrogates by offering to grant Syria not only the Golan Heights but also parts of pre-1967 Israel, with access to the waters of the Sea of Galilee.
The national policy of self-abasement was accepted with equanimity by much of the Israeli public, hoping against hope that the Osloid politicians promising light at the end of the appeasement tunnel would prove correct. The very same nation that had defeated the Arab hordes in 1948-9, in the Suez Campaign, in the Six Day War and in the Yom Kippur War, now morphed into whining defeatists. The one avenue for making peace that was declared by the elite as unthinkable was "Peace through Military Victory" over the country's tormentors. And all the while Israel's own government was subsidizing the venomous anti-Zionist extremists at the Israeli universities and elsewhere.
For thirty years or so after Israel's creation, few would have challenged the idea that secular Zionism had achieved an unqualified success in its begetting the new "Israeli". Israeli Jews were at last "normal" citizens of their own country, patriotic to the point of being insufferable, proud to the point of hubris, confident in themselves and in their military, sure of their moral justifiability.
And then, just a few years later, these same Israelis were reduced to begging Yassir Arafat to allow his terrorist squad leaders to meet with Israeli army officers in order to maintain the facade of a "peace process" still operating.
Israeli politicians were abandoning any pretense of conditioning further concessions to the Arabs on their abstaining from violence. Israeli leaders and intellectuals were endorsing the principle of Israel paying reparations and tribute to the very same Arabs who had attacked them and lost.
The 1990s were the era in which it became evident that a great many Israelis and most of the Israeli elite had lost their will to survive as a nation. After centuries in which Diaspora Jews maintained the most militant sorts of pride and self-assurance even while being mistreated, despised and humiliated, here were the Israelis of Oslo, possessing one of the great armies of the world, abandoning all pride and explicitly promoting self-humiliation.
The same Israeli military that had rescued the Jewish hostages in Entebbe, Uganda, was suddenly incapable of rescuing a wounded IDF soldier bleeding to death in Joseph's Tomb in Nablus or protecting children under fire in Jerusalem neighborhoods. McClellenism had replaced audacity as the calling card of the Israeli Defense Forces. Here was an Israel unwilling to use force to prevent Palestinians from firing rifles, mortars and rockets into civilian homes, and instead was asking to hold talks with those doing the shooting, to work out differences and reach understandings.
An Israel less than two generations after the Holocaust was suddenly willing to hold "peace talks" with people who deny there ever was a Holocaust and who insist that Jews use the blood of gentile children to make Passover matzos. The same Jews who fought against enormous odds and won in 1948 were acquiescing in a "peace process" that involved unilateral peace gestures from Israel in exchange for the Arabs continuing to make war against the Jews.
JEWISH SELF-HATRED AND THE OSLO DEBACLE
The most fundamental question for this new Post-Oslo era requiring clear answers is how Israel could have allowed itself to pursue the Oslo peace process in the first place. The answers are very likely to point to the central role of Jewish anti-Semitism and self-hatred.
The great mystery about the Oslo "peace process" is not why it failed, which by now should be fairly obvious to anyone besides fundamentalist theocratic leftists, but why anyone in Israel could have been persuaded in the first place that it might succeed. Secular Zionism was supposed to "normalize" the Jewish people. I do not believe that the Oslo Debacle can be explained without noting the role of Jewish anti-Semitism in its implementation.
In the 1990s, we observed the leaders of Israel from the Israel Labor Party, together with the more radical elements within the Israeli Left, insisting that peaceful relations with the Arabs could only be achieved through a long process of Jewish self-deprecation, self-denial and self-humiliation. Israel's political elite claimed that peace could be achieved through Israel agreeing to turn over its heartland to terrorists, that security could be achieved by the abandonment of security and by Israel distancing itself from its own Jewish roots.
They insisted throughout the 1990s that if only Israel would jettison its traditional defense policies and instead trust to the goodwill that would be generated by making concessions to the Palestinians, Jordanians, and the Syrians, then peace would break out. They convinced themselves that military force was obsolete and played no further role, this in the most barbarous region of the planet. They convinced themselves that peace could only be achieved through appeasement of evil and accommodation of anti-Semitism.
In the early 1990s, Yassir Arafat and the PLO leadership were far off in Tunisia, whither they had been banished as a result of the devastatingly victorious, if highly controversial, Israeli military campaign in Lebanon in 1982. The world - or at least the United States - had made its peace with the Israeli position that the PLO was not an acceptable partner in any Arab-Israeli peace talks and that the most that Palestinian Arabs could hope for would be a limited autonomy in parts of the "occupied territories", with no role for the PLO.
The intifada violence that had begun in the late 1980s was essentially finished, with less and less incidents by the month and with terrorists so desperate for materiel they were concocting their own zip guns out of household materials, where Palestinian explosives were far more likely to kill the preparer than anyone else.
True, Israeli troops were harassed by Palestinians throwing rocks, but this was a harassment that could have been ended at any time through a firmer response, albeit one with some fleeting public relations costs. The rock throwing generally threatened neither the soldiers nor the existence of the state of Israel.
But into this picture of near-pastoral tranquility came the Oslo "peace process" and snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory. It was based upon the proposition that economic interests and consumerism had replaced military power as the determinants of international relations in the post-modern world.
It sought to reduce tensions with the Palestinian Arabs, who had just been defeated in their intifada, by importing the PLO's leadership into the "occupied territories" and then allowing it to arm itself and build up an army in the suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The Israeli government provided many thousands of rifles to Palestinian terrorists sworn to destroying the country and enormous bankrolls.
Seven years after the "peace process" had begun, Prime Minister Ehud Barak was negotiating handing over to the PLO the Old City of Jerusalem, including control over the Western Wall, in addition to slabs of pre-1967 Israeli territory in the Negev -- all this while the PLO murdered Jews every day. The PLO's response to this obsequiousness was to launch a war against Israel in the form of the "Al-Aqsa Intifada".
Today, as a direct result of the imposition of Oslo by the Leftist Ascendancy in Israel, the army of tens of thousands of PLO soldiers possesses anti-aircraft missiles that threaten Israeli civilian and military air traffic. About 1400 Israelis have been murdered as a direct result of the implementation of the policies of the Left, with tens of thousands of other lives broken and embittered. An entire generation of Israeli Jewish children has been traumatized. The PLO terrorists now possess anti-tank weapons, al-Kassam rockets and katyusha missiles. They have shelled civilian areas inside pre-1967 Israel.
The Gaza Strip is today a large mortar and explosives factory. The goodwill measures of Israel have produced a campaign of Nazi-like hatred led by the PLO, of which the world has seen no parallel since the 1940s, down to and including virulent Holocaust Denial accompanied by Holocaust justification (never mind the contradiction).
Every single prediction by the pro-Oslo camp has proved itself incorrect and every single warning by the opponents of Oslo has proved correct. The PLO was never interested in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict through compromise. That was a delusion of Israel's politicians. "Land for peace" was always a formula for peace that the Israeli elite insisted the Arabs accepted, but never something to which the Arabs themselves agreed.
The PLO's ambition in establishing itself in the West Bank and Gaza was simply to use those areas as staging grounds for attacks against Israel, precisely as the demonized opponents of Oslo had predicted. These terror attacks are in the hope of ultimately drawing the Arab countries into a new full-scale Arab-Israeli war, possibly one involving weapons of mass destruction.
The fact that leftist politics in Israel is more theology than ideology should be evident to all, and is in the response by the Left to the countless proofs that its thinking before 1992 was completely incorrect. In the early 1990s opponents to Oslo were demonized and declared deluded fanatics, people who simply hated peace. History has proven these "fanatics" not only correct but downright optimists.
Today the Israeli Left responds to each and every atrocity by demanding that Israel continue to seek to appease its way to a peace accord. The Left is insisting that new formulas and new concessions be offered, so that - at long last - a "permanent deal" can be signed with Arafat and his storm troopers.
The strength of the Leftist Ascendancy is evident in the fact that even leader after leader from the Likud has agreed to operate within the framework of leftist axioms and "thinking," down to and including repeated unilateral ceasefires, offers of unilateral "withdrawals," and endless "goodwill gestures." The power of leftist theology is so strong that even Likud governments seek to implement its policies of "peace through appeasement", where the preferred strategy for dealing with terror is concessions and niceness, rather than harshness and utilization of armed force.
The Leftist Ascendancy indubitably lies behind the cognitive dissonance that characterizes Israelis at the beginning of the twenty-first century, best exhibited in the fact that the vast majority of those who support continuation of the "peace process" also insist they believe that Arafat will follow any deal signed with more terror and more attacks on Israel and that the PLO will violate any future deals it signs.
Future historians will find it a daunting challenge to explain how it could have been that the Jews, often stereotyped as the smartest humans on the planet and with more Nobel Prize winners than any other group, could have allowed themselves to be snookered into the Oslo accords. How could seemingly intelligent people place their faith in such absurdities?
No "normal" people would voluntarily entrust its national security to a group of Islamofascist terrorists and endanger its very existence because of a belief that internet services and consumerism had made defense and territory superfluous. No "nation" on earth would tolerate such a thing. Why did Israelis? The only possible explanation is that the Israelis who pursued Oslo were not really a nation. They had never really developed a national consciousness, but had been merely play-acting all along.
In fact, the entire Oslo episode of Jewish history is an indicator not only of the silliness and shallowness of Israeli politicians, but of something far deeper and far more ominous. Very simply stated, the Oslo "peace process" was the byproduct of Israeli self-hatred and Jewish assimilationism inside Zion. And Oslo may very well also indicate that secular Zionism has failed.
The failure of secular Zionism is one and the same with the crisis of "Israeliness". Oslo has shown how shallow and empty is the whole enterprise known as secular "Israeliness". In its bid to replace traditional Jewish identity with civic Israeliness, with Hebrew-speaking consumerism and post-Jewish civil patriotism, secular Zionism has in fact created a bizarre new entity riddled with confusion regarding its own identity, increasingly dominated by defeatists and "post-Zionists" exhibiting virulent self-hatred and self-abasement, willing to blame itself for all of the problems created by Arab aggression and fascism, and all too willing to sacrifice its national interests upon pagan alters of political correctness.
In the nineteenth century, much of the original opposition to Zionism by the religious leaders of Europe was based on their allegation that secular Zionism was thinly-disguised assimilationism dressed up in nationalist symbolism. How ironic it will be if history books record that the last decade of the twentieth century and the first of the twenty-first proved them essentially correct.
Much of the problem can be traced to the bankrupt notion that some sort of Israeliness can exist separate from Jewishness. This is the strange form of "assimilationism" that has resulted from the attempt to create a "Post-Jewish" Israel. No Israeliness well-anchored in Jewishness could have sanctioned a set of policies based on the proposition that violent anti-Semitism was somehow the fault of the Jews and the result of mistreatment of others by Jews.
An Israeliness well-grounded in Jewish consciousness would never have given rise to a struggle for acceptance based upon the presumption that people hate Jews because of Jewish sins, selfishness, shortcomings, and misdeeds. Only people detached from and ignorant of Jewish history could have believed that violent anti-Semites can be bought off with promises of high-tech investments and five-star tourist hotels.
Now, in the emerging post-Oslo era, the charade has come to an end. The Leftist Ascendancy and Secular Zionist "Israeliness" have undercut the will to survive and very legitimacy of the State of Israel. They are what gave birth to the pathology of self-deception and self-loathing that produced the Oslo phenomenon.
Steven Plaut is an American-trained economist, a professor of business administration at Haifa University and author of "The Scout." He frequently comments - both seriously and satirically - on Israeli politics and the left wing academic community. His website address is http://www.stevenplaut.blogspot.com.
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