Palestine: Plus ça change…

I had been worried about this even amidst the euphoria of Obama’s election, as his pre-election kowtowing to AIPAC had given a foretaste of things to come, i.e. that in terms of US-Israel nothing would change in the post-Bush era. And indeed it looks like we are going down the same old road, a sad turn of events as the recent visit of Benjamin Netanyahu has shown. Here are the opening paragraphs of a good piece by Tony Karon on the Rootless Cosmopolitan blog concerning Bibi’s psycho-political make-up :

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Why Obama Must Shackle Bibi

Without any sense of irony, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told fellow paranoiac Jeffrey Goldberg that Iran is ruled by “an apocalyptic messianic cult.” Because as Goldberg makes clear, perhaps inadvertently given his own sympathy with Netanyahu’s hysterical views on Iran ( which we’ve previously explored on this site), Bibi’s own views are clearly apocalyptic, and his own sense of himself somewhat messianic.

Golberg suggests that Netanyahu feels a compulsion to act (militarily) to stop Iran attaining nuclear weapons capability, based on, uh, biblical tradition:

“Amalek,” in essence, is Hebrew for “existential threat.” Tradition holds that the Amalekites are the undying enemy of the Jews. They appear in Deuteronomy, attacking the rear columns of the Israelites on their escape from Egypt. The rabbis teach that successive generations of Jews have been forced to confront the Amalekites: Nebuchadnezzar, the Crusaders, Torquemada, Hitler and Stalin are all manifestations of Amalek’s malevolent spirit.
If Iran’s nuclear program is, metaphorically, Amalek’s arsenal, then an Israeli prime minister is bound by Jewish history to seek its destruction, regardless of what his allies think.

Curiously enough, Goldberg then lets on that Netanyahu doesn’t, in fact, believe that this “apocalyptic, messianic cult” will actually risk suicide by actually launching a nuclear strike at Israel. No, the real threat of an Iranian nuclear capability would be that it would change the regional balance of power. This more sober, balance-of-power talk doesn’t really rouse the public, in Israel or beyond, to the sense of panic necessary to sustain the demand for apocalyptic military action against Iran, so it’s quickly dropped.

Goldberg is more inclined to warn us that Bibi is not, in fact, a rational geopolitical actor perhaps cynically cultivating the “Iran menace” as a red herring to deflect U.S. pressure to settle the conflict with the Palestinians. Heaven forbid! (Presumably Jeffrey didn’t know that when Bibi was last Prime Minister, he actually tried to forge a diplomatic opening with the “apocalyptic, messianic cult” in the hope of reviving Israel’s traditional alliance with non-Arab peoples of the Middle East against the Arabs).

Instead, we are told that Netanyahu is a product of his father’s views of the Spanish inquisition and Jewish history in general:

Over more than 1,300 pages, Benzion Netanyahu argued that Spanish hatred of Jews was not merely theologically motivated but based in race hatred (the Spanish pursued the principle of limpieza de sangre, or the purity of blood) that reached back to the ancient world… A close reading of Benzion Netanyahu suggests a belief that anti-Semitism is a sui generis hatred, one that is shape-shifting, impervious to logic and eternal. The only rational response to such sentiment, in the Netanyahu view, is militant Jewish self-defense.

And also, somehow, that it was the Netanyahu family that was chosen to organize this defense.
I was treated to this same view of world history as an endless drive to destroy the Jews — you know, the kind of thing that makes you think World War II happened because Hitler wanted to kill all the Jews. Goldberg may be impressed by the elder Netanyahu’s scholarship, but I’m more inclined to read the Spanish Inquisition against the politics of post-Reconquista Spain — Jews had traditionally been aligned with the Muslims that had been the main enemy of the Spanish crown, and the Inquisition not only went after Jews, but also those Muslims that had remained behind or converted — later it targeted Protestants, too. It was a vicious institution that underscores the fact that the Catholic Church, as an institution, has throughout its history been as capable of committing despicable evil as it has been of acting in ways that Jesus might have. But I have a hard time reading history with the idea of a shape-shifting, eternal anti-semitism — much less assuming that such a phenomenon defines the present. (For an antidote, I’d recommend Paul Kriwaczek’s marvelous history of Jewish life in Europe, Yiddish Civilization).
If I had more time to blog, I’d have noted during the breaking of the Bernie Madoff scandal how bizarre it was that so many Jewish communal fretted that Madoff would spur a new wave of anti-Semitism. What? In the United States of the 21st Century, anti-Semitism was lurking just below the surface, ready to stir the mob at the flimsiest pretext? And I was particularly angered by the view of the gentile world that this paranoia reflected — an utter inability to accept the sincerity of the Western world having learned, through the Holocaust, the toxic consequences of anti-Semitism, and to have relinquished it, so much so that Israel gets a free pass from much of the Western world to do as it pleases with the Palestinians because of concern that opposing it might be deemed anti-Semitic.

Netanyahu, and Goldberg, are products of an apocalyptic Jewish nationalism whose toxic effects are brilliantly critiqued by Avraham Burg who calls it “a fearful Judaism, a paranoid Zionism”. Burg makes clear in his book that evoking a constant fear of recurrent Holocausts has been an organizing principle of modern Israel, maintaining cohesion and support from Jewish communities abroad by making the specter of annihilation its daily bread. But as the majority of the world’s Jews live in relative safety (outside of Israel, and even within), that starts to become increasingly absurd. Young American Jews don’t feel that their gentile peers are about to turn on them and build a new Auschwitz, which is why identification with Israel is on the wane among young American Jews. Because survival-in-the-face-of-annihilation is the only narrative on offer from the Zionists, and as Burg asks, for what moral purpose have we survived? That’s not a question the likes of Netanyahu and Goldberg can answer.
What Goldberg and Netanyahu are asking us to believe is that the Iranian regime exists in order to destroy the Jews. And that doesn’t really stand up to the most cursory historical scrutiny — and the Israeli leaders know it. (Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently became the latest to admit that Iran is no existential threat to Israel, even as his Prime Minister continues to toss out hysterical rubbish about Iran being the reincarnation of Nazi Germany — needless to say, that’s a contention with which Iran’s 20,000 Jews don’t exactly concur.)

To read the fulle article, click here.

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