The roots of Israeli exceptionalism
|By Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti|
An American academic once told me: “Many people in the Islamic world think America does not believe in human rights, but they are wrong; America believes in human rights indeed, the problem is the American definition of human.”
In other words: the American definition of ‘human’ is not a universal one. This is not purely an American characteristic; every culture faces the challenge of broadening its cultural limits and universalising its moral norms.
But among all human cultures and ideologies, the Israeli case is unique in its double standard.
Criminality wrapped in self-righteousness and aggression immersed in victimhood are a few striking characteristics of the Israeli reality and discourse.
The Israeli personality
The duality of “Israel’s insistent emphasis upon its isolation and uniqueness, its claim to be both victim and hero,” as Tony Judt wrote in Haaretz a few years ago, reflects the fragility and self-centeredness of the Israeli personality. This is not, unfortunately, exclusive to Israel’s political elite, but rather it extends to their Zionist supporters worldwide, including those, such as novelist Elie Wiesel and philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, who portray themselves in humanistic and aesthetic images.
I was profoundly moved by the graphic description of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust in Elie Wiesel’s Night, which depicts his and his father’s experience of a terrifying process that violates human life and degrades human dignity.
But I was struck by the tone of self-righteousness and self-justification in Wiesel’s fictional Dawn, particularly when he writes: “The commandment thou shalt not kill was given from the summit of one of the mountains here in Palestine, and we were the only ones to obey it. But that all over … in the days and weeks and months to come, you will have only one purpose: to kill those who have made us killers.”
When the Jewish South African judge, Richard Goldstone, exposed Israeli war crimes in Gaza, Wiesel called that “a crime against the Jewish people”. But this is simply an immoral use of past atrocities as a moral justification for present brutalities and oppression.
Moreover, one cannot but entertain two questions here: Firstly, what kind of moral claim does Wiesel, who was born of a Romanian father and a Hungarian mother, have over the divine call at Mount Sinai in the heart of a Middle Eastern desert? And secondly, by which moral or legal norm are the Palestinians of today responsible for the wrongdoings of the Germans of yesterday?
Israel uses past atrocities as a moral justification for present brutalities [GETTY]
The worst of this hypocritical language, however, can be found in Bernard-Henri Lévy’s article about Israel’s aggression against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla published in Haaretz on June 8, 2010.
Lévy presents himself in self-glorifying terms as being “someone who takes pride in having helped to conceive, with others, this kind of symbolic action ?(the boat for Vietnam; the march for the survival of Cambodia in 1979)…”.
But when it comes to Gaza’s plight, Lévy simply dismisses the tragedy by denying the existence of the Israeli blockade and attacking easy targets, such as “the fascislamist government of Ismail Haniya” and “the Islamist gang who took power by force three years ago”.
Thus, he shamelessly dismisses the grand effort of the multiethnic, multinational and religiously diverse group of humanistic leaders and activists on the Freedom Flotilla.
Moreover, Lévy lacks the objectivity to address the fascizionist – to borrow from his own terminology – gangs who aggressively invaded Palestinian land over six decades ago, and uprooted a whole population forcing them into the new Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps – Gaza and the West Bank.
Indeed, for those who put their selfish desires above the moral principles of justice and compassion, their self-serving myths are better in their eyes than the ugly truth.
Jewish humanistic intellectuals, such as Professor Tony Judt and musician Gilad Atzmon deplore Israel’s self-indulgence and lack of maturity. Judt writes: “Israel still comports itself like an adolescent: consumed by a brittle confidence in its own uniqueness; certain that no one ‘understands’ it and everyone is ‘against’ it; full of wounded self-esteem, quick to take offence and quick to give it … that it can do as it wishes, that its actions carry no consequences, and that it is immortal.”
Atzmon writes: “We are dealing here with a uniquely and seriously disturbed immature nation. We are dealing with a self-loving narcissistic child …. The more the Israelis love themselves and their delusional phantasmic innocence, the more they are frightened that people out there may be as sadistic as they themselves proved to be. This behavioural mode is called projection …. Jews have a very good reason to be frightened. Their national state is a racist genocidal entity.”
What is most disappointing, however, is not the Zionist self-righteousness and narcissism; rather it is the Western acceptance and support of this attitude – an attitude that is better understood when placed in a historical context.
The main theoretical basis of the acceptance of Israeli exceptionalism in Western culture is the diversion, mainly within the Protestant branch of Christianity, of the Christian incarnation of God in the person of Jesus to a new incarnation of God in the Jews as a people – the Chosen People.
This tendency started with Martin Luther (1483-1546) who subdued Christianity theologically and morally to the Jewish factor in his small epistle That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew. Luther wrote in that epistle: “When we are inclined to boast of our position, we should remember that we are but Gentiles, while the Jews are of the lineage of Christ. We are aliens and in-laws; they are blood relatives, cousins, and brothers of our Lord.”
Through this Luther – who was paradoxically a staunch anti-Semite – inadvertently opened a theological window, that would centuries later allow the ‘cult of Israel’, as it has been dubbed by the American writer Grace Halsell, to replace Christianity in most Protestant denominations, especially among American Baptists. After all, what they are doing is no more than a literal implementation of Luther’s deification of the Jews.
Professor Yvonne Haddad of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding calls this heresy ‘Holocaustianity’. And within this new heresy lie the roots of the Israeli exceptionalism.
Trivialising the Holocaust
Israel is becoming a moral burden for those who value social justice [GETTY]
Professor Judt writes that: “What Israel lost by its continuing occupation of Arab lands it gained through its close identification with the recovered memory of Europe’s dead Jews.” But he knows well that the memory of the dead is the worse moral justification for murdering innocents: “In the eyes of a watching world, the fact that the great-grandmother of an Israeli soldier died in Treblinka is no excuse for his own abusive treatment of a Palestinian woman waiting to cross a checkpoint. ‘Remember Auschwitz’ is not an acceptable response.”
But that is exactly the kind of moral justification we have from the Israelis today.
When an advisor to Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, tried to attack Helen Thomas’ remarks in which she said Israelis should “go home … [to] Poland, Germany …” all he did is remind her that some of his relatives were killed in Poland and Germany more than half a century ago, as if that is a good reason to starve the Palestinians to death and to kill humanitarian activists in international waters today.
After all, the Israeli politician was just confirming what Thomas said: you belong there; not here.
This is how the Holocaust memory, a memory of a human tragedy by any and every measure, is trivialised by Israeli criminality.
A moral burden
Many political thinkers and politicians have recently realised that Israel is becoming a liability and a strategic burden for the US. It has always been a strategic burden. But the problem is much deeper. Israel is becoming a moral burden on all those who have an ethical conscience, including Jews who value human dignity and social justice.
Even those who spent their lives advancing the Zionist cause are today realising the moral paradox of their life’s achievement. Henry Siegman, a German-born American writer who served as the executive director of the American Jewish Congress from 1978 to 1994, wrote in Haaretz on June 11, 2010: “A million and a half civilians have been forced to live in an open-air prison in inhuman conditions for over three years now, but unlike the Hitler years, they are not Jews but Palestinians. Their jailers, incredibly, are survivors of the Holocaust, or their descendants.”
All decent human beings must support the oppressed Palestinian against the Israeli oppressor.
The oppressed Arabs of Palestine (Muslims and Christians) are rendering through their suffering a great service to the entire body of humanity, by exposing the most self-centered and supremacist ideology in our world – an ideology that is wrapped today in a bloody sacredness.
Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti is an author in political history and history of religion. He is a research coordinator at Qatar Foundation.