Tuesday, September 28, 2004
By Joel R Finkel
[This is a direct copy and paste from an email so apologies for the dodgy format.]
“Edward Said spent a lifetime picking his way through the Israel/Zionism/Judaism minefield and never once criticised Jews…” so writes Paul Eisen near the end of his essay, “Jewish Power.” Would that the same could be said of Eisen, who, it seems, did not learn from Said and intends in this work to correct his little oversight. Without presenting any facts, Eisen spends some fifteen pages simply asserting his argument, which amounts to something classic anti-Semites could embrace (and have)(1See_notes): Jews are very clever, successful people who have taken control of major sections of the U.S. ruling class and are formulating a U.S. foreign policy that is consistent with “Jewish interests.”
Central to Eisen’s argument is his assertion that there is a Jewish essence--what he calls “Jewishness”--which can be attributed to all Jews and from which naturally emerges “Jewish interests.” The problem is that such a project can only lead in two directions: Jewish chauvinism and anti-Semitism. There are many ways to investigate Jews and the Jewish experience: historic, economic, cultural, etc. From none of them, however, can one divine a Jewish essence. Indeed, both Zionism and anti-Semitism are based on the proposition that there is such an essence. At the heart of the Zionist mythology is the claim that this Jewishness contains, and has always contained, a primal urge to return to Palestine. Central to anti-Semitism is the idea that this Jewishness contains a primal urge to conquer the world. Although neither is correct, Eisen adopts both and, in doing so, employs Zionist mythology to construct patently anti-Semitic conclusions. This is a trap into which Edward Said never ventured, and for good reason. The simple fact is that there is no such Jewish essence, and he knew it. Eisen, however, takes this essence as his starting point; and it leads to anti-Semitic conclusions. Paul Eisen is a commendable person(2See_notes), and the Deir Yassin Remembered organization, of which he is a director, is an eminently worthy and important group that keeps alive the truth about the massacre of Palestinians and the Catastrophe that was visited upon them in the creation of the Jewish State of Israel. It is not my goal to argue that Eisen is an anti-Semite. I believe that Eisen has fallen into a trap that entices many activists--particularly Jewish activists--who are enormously frustrated by their impotence to make things better. They lose political clarity and resort to mythmaking. I am responding because I believe that Eisen’s arguments are not only baseless, but dangerously wrong.
This danger is manifest in the way Eisen chooses to close his essay, quoting the self-proclaimed anti-Jewish demagogue, Israel Shamir:
"Palestine is not the ultimate goal of the Jews…..the world is."
Now exactly what does this mean? Are we really supposed to be so passive as to not even suggest a resemblance to The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion? Then, to reinforce this dangerous hatred of Jews and Judaism, Eisen asks this intentionally ominous question:
"Will the Jews of Israel, supported by Jews outside of Israel,
now obey the law, live peaceably behind their borders and enjoy
the fruits of their victory, or will they want more? Who’s
It is important to undertake the disagreeable task of responding because Eisen’s essay, and therefore the ideology it endorses, has begun to circulate within the activist community. It would be more useful to spend time organizing real opposition to Israeli policies than being forced to answer such appallingly bad politics. Would that one could simply ignore such stuff. However, it is important to address some fundamental errors in Eisen’s thinking.
Eisen divides his essay into three sections: 1) examining the relationship between Zionism and Judaism, 2) examining the relationship between American Jews and American society, and 3) examining what he calls “Jewish Power.” In spite of the fact that one must wade through pages of undocumented and unsubstantiated assertions, an overriding ideology emerges from the unity of this trinity: Jews have taken over Palestine and the United States and, unless they are stopped (or stop themselves) they will take over the planet. What this actually means, however, is anybody’s guess, but the specter of global ethnic cleansing, modeled after Israel, is clearly implied. More dangerous than his lack of scholarship and mythmaking is that Eisen’s only prescription to remedy this “Jewish Power” is to oppose Jewry in order to rid the world
its evil essence.
1) THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ZIONISM AND JUDAISM
In the preface to this section, Eisen begins his argument:
The crime against the Palestinian people is being committed by a Jewish state with Jewish soldiers using weapons with Jewish religious symbols all over them, and with the full support and complicity of the overwhelming mass of organized Jews worldwide.
Having set the table, he immediately serves the main course:
But Zionism is now at the heart of Jewish life with religious Jews amongst the most virulent of Zionists and Neturei Karta(3), despite their impeccable anti-Zionism, their beautiful words and the enthusiasm with which they are welcomed at solidarity rallies, etc., may well be just Jews in fancy dress, a million miles from the reality of Jewish life.
Eisen then manifests his first major mistake, standing the question on its head:
Has our refusal to look squarely at the very Jewishness of Zionism and its crimes caused us to fail to understand exactly what we are up against? [emphasis in the original] [The copy from which this was taken didn’t have emphases &c – B.]
Eisen is suggesting that “what we are up against” is a Zionism that results from “Jewishness” and, what is more, that there is something uniquely Jewish about Zionism’s crimes. Rather than the standard arguments, which rest on a misreading of Israel Shahak’s analysis of how Talmudic law has been used to enhance Jewish racism(4), Eisen attempts to discern a “Jewish identity” that “comes from deep within Jewish history,” and then relate that to “Jewishness of Zionism.”
There are two things wrong with this approach. Eisen first fails to undertake a serious examination of Jewish history, and then, more importantly, fails to address the Zionization, as it were, of Judaism.(5) In other words, Eisen is so intent on proving that Zionism is a result of a “Jewish identity,” which derives from “Jewish history,” that he ignores the more important question: How did it come to pass that Zionism, which was an unpopular, secular, and indeed, anti-religious movement, come to dominate mainstream Jewish theology and identity? In fact, Eisen has stood the entire relationship on its head; Zionism is not dominated by “Jewishness.” If anything, the exact opposite is the case: “Jewishness,” at least as Eisen understands it, has become dominated by Zionism.(6)
Norman Finkelstein, who first examined this issue in 1988, described how it was not until 1967 that the American Jewish elite, having been relieved of the question of dual-loyalty (Israel had just become a U.S. strategic ally), took a vocal pro-Israel stance.(7) Before then, Israel was hardly on the agenda of the U.S. ruling elites or the leaders of the American Jewish communities. This is not to say that American Jews were neither interested in nor felt any affinity to Israel; many clearly did. But the Zionist ideology had not yet become a central theme in Jewish theology or identity. The shift came after Israel conquered the West Bank and East Jerusalem, proving itself to be a potential ally for the U.S. ruling class. As it then became patriotic and pro-American to be pro-Israel, American Jews quite naturally joined in. Furthermore, in the examination of this “Jewishness of Zionism,” Eisen ignores the history of Zionism, which itself promulgated the myth of a Jewish essence. This movement to transfer European Jewry out of Europe began in the early 1800s from an emerging strain of Christian Evangelical Protestantism.(8) The number of Christian Fundamentalist Zionists outnumber Jews in the United States today by over 4 to 1. Their numbers also increased dramatically after 1967, when Israel’s easy victory was viewed as the unfolding of biblical prophecy. In addition, Eisen fails to mention, let alone examine, the dialectical relationship among Zionism, British, U.S., and Soviet imperialism, Arab nationalism, and Palestinian nationalism: a complex and dynamic relationship through which these movements shaped each other. Because Eisen avoids any serious study of Zionism, his attempt to discern the “Jewishness of Zionism” is bound to inaccurately characterize its full spectrum.(9) His focus is necessarily narrow and shallow. Furthermore, as Eisen eschews any serious study of Jewish history, and cannot but fail to accurately characterize the non-existent “Jewishness,” he is left to simply assert a Jewish character to Zionism. For example, Eisen first gives us the totally unremarkable statement that:
Jews are complex; Jewish identity is complex and the relationship between Judaism the religion, and a broader, often secular, Jewish identity or Jewishness is very complex indeed… Jewish identity, connecting Jews to other Jews, comes from deep within Jewish history. This is a shared history, both real and imagined, in that it is both literal and theological.
He then asserts, without any evidence of any kind, that:
Central to Jewish identity both religious and non-religious is the sense of mission centered on exile and return. How else to explain the extraordinary devotion of so many Jews, religious and secular, to the “return” to a land with which, in real terms, they have very little connection at all?
But this is a myth: in fact, it is the Zionist myth. The fact that Eisen cannot otherwise explain this “extraordinary devotion” does not mean that this myth has any basis in material reality. To begin with, Eisen needs to explain why this “return” to the land is a central theme now when, throughout the 1900 years since the Roman expulsion, it was not a major theme. A study of Jewish history reveals no major movement to “return” to Jerusalem that was either broadly supported or accepted by the rabbinic authorities.(10) So why now?
This idea of a Jewish essence is central to Zionist mythology--and the idea of “return” is central to it--for a very simple reason: it supports the Zionist colonial project. It is not because there actually is a Jewish essence nor because the urge to “return,” which has no historical precedents, is real.(11) This is Eisen’s primary mistake. He steps out of the real world and into the mythological world created for him by Zionism. He actually defeats himself by citing the Jewish theologian, Marc Ellis:
"Marc Ellis, a religious Jew, says that when you look at
those Jews who are in solidarity with Palestinians, the
overwhelming majority of them are secular – but, from a
religious point of view, the Covenant is with them. For
Ellis, these secular Jews unknowingly and even unwillingly
may be carrying with them the future of Jewish life."
So, is not “solidarity with Palestinians” also an integral aspect of “Jewishness?” Could it be that there is no such thing as “Jewishness,” and that to speak of the “Jewishness of Zionism” is an absurdity?
Claiming that “Jewish specialness” is a central component to “Jewishness,” Eisen compounds his mistake by asserting that “At the heart of this Jewish specialness is Jewish suffering and victimhood.” Again, he is wrong. While one may correctly place the idea of “Jewish suffering and victimhood” at the heart of the Zionist mythology, it is impossible to place it at the heart of a Jewish essence.
This topic of Jewish specialness has been addressed by many and there clearly is an aspect of this, particularly within the modern Ashkenazi weltanschauung. It is derived, in part, from the special role that European Jews played in the expropriation of surplus value from both the peasantry and aristocracy, which placed them in a dual position of privilege and vulnerability.(12) Indeed, it may be the case that European
anti-Semitism grew so virulent because the medium in which it thrived
contained a social memory of the Jews’ special role.
It is hardly surprising, then, that the Zionist ideology--and, following
that, Jewish theology--would adopt and reinforce the idea of Jewish
specialness. What is surprising, however, is that Eisen accepts the
Zionist reduction of this specialness to suffering:
At the heart of this Jewish specialness is Jewish suffering
and victimhood. Like the shared history itself, this
suffering may, but need not, correspond to reality. Jews
have certainly suffered but their suffering remains
unexamined and unexplained. The Holocaust, now the paradigm
of Jewish suffering, has long ceased to be a piece of
history, and is now treated by religious and secular alike,
as a piece of theology - a sacred text almost - and
therefore beyond scrutiny.
What Eisen fails to examine is why this “paradigm of Jewish suffering”
never really existed before 1967.(13) Instead, he claims that:
Zionism is at the heart of this. Zionism is also complex
and also comes from deep within Jewish history with the same
sense of exile and return. Zionism also confirms that Jews
are special in their suffering and is explicit that Jews
should ‘return’ to a land given to them, and only them - by
God if they are religious, or by history if they are not -
because they simply are not safe anywhere else on earth.
The problem here is that almost none of this is correct, save for the
rather pedestrian idea that “Zionism is also complex.” First of all,
Zionism is not “at the heart” of this “paradigm of Jewish suffering;” it
is the other way around. Secondly, Zionism did not come “from deep
within Jewish history with [any] sense of exile and return.” This is a
simply Zionist mythology. Thirdly, Zionism does not “confirm” Jewish
suffering, it posits, mythologizes, and profits from it.
Zionism arose late in the period of European nationalism, when German
and Italian nationalism, among others, were in formation. Its leaders
wanted to create a modern nation-state in which Jews could be rescued
both from their assimilation (in Western Europe) and from what they
considered to be a backward, medieval, mysticism-laden religion (in
Eastern Europe). Western Europe, in which Jews were highly assimilated
and had attained full political rights, was seen as a trap: Jews,
through the very process of their assimilation, would choose to cease
being Jews. And with a bigotry not uncommon for Western European Jews,
those in the Eastern European shtetls were viewed as needing to be
dragged into modernity in order to save them from their own backward
ideas (and language).(14)
The “paradigm of Jewish suffering,” was invented to support the rather
specious Zionist argument that the more Jews assimilated, the more
anti-Semitism they would encounter. Of course, the actual experience
was precisely the opposite: Jewish communities suffered pogroms in
exactly those regions (in Eastern Europe) where they were the least
assimilated. And this is where the Zionists found their early support;
assimilated Jews (both religious and secular) in Central and Western
Europe opposed them.(15)
Eisen goes on to suggest that the “problem with Zionism” is that it:
… expresses Jewish identity but also empowers it. It tells
Jews (and many others too) that Jews can do what Jews have
always dreamed of doing. It takes the perfectly acceptable
religious feelings of Jews, or if you prefer, the perfectly
harmless delusions of Jews, and tries to turn them into a
terrible reality. Jewish notions of specialness, choseness
and even supremacism, are fine for a small, wandering
people, but, when empowered with a state, an army and F16s
become a concern for us all.
Let us ignore for the moment that Eisen does not explore “Jewish
identity” any further than by adopting the Zionist myth of “Jewish
suffering.” Let us ignore that he makes no distinction among the
various Jewish ethnicities(16), but merely reduces the broad Jewish
Diaspora to “a small, wandering people.” Let us also ignore the fact
that he once again fails to provide any evidence for his assertion.
What is important is that Eisen states that Zionism allows Jews to “do
what Jews have always dreamed of doing.” And what exactly have Jews
“always dreamed” of doing? It seems that, at least according to Eisen,
Jews have always dreamed of exercising their “notions of specialness,
choseness and even supremacism.”
Now it is possible that what Eisen actually means is that what Jews
“have always dreamed of doing” is returning to Jerusalem. After all, as
we have seen, Eisen adopts the Zionist idea that “Central to Jewish
identity…is the sense of mission centered on exile and return.” But he
does not state this clearly and makes no attempt to parrot the usual
argument that Jews for centuries have proclaimed “Next year in
Therefore, we are left to conclude that Eisen actually means that Jews
have always dreamed of exercising their “notions of specialness,
choseness and even supremacism,” justified by the other central theme of
“Jewishness,” viz., “Jewish suffering.” It is of little wonder that the
Nazis who run Zundelsite consider this essay to be “extraordinary” and
“brilliant.” And it is also of little wonder that Eisen presents no
evidence for this assertion, as such a task would be impossible.(18)
It is then easy for Eisen to declare that:
This Jewish state is built on traditions and modes of
thought that have evolved amongst Jews for centuries –
amongst which are the notions that Jews are special and that
their suffering is special. By their own reckoning, Jews are
“a nation that dwells alone” it is “us and them” and, in
many cases, “us or them”… Israel is a state that manifestly
believes that the rules of both law and humanity, applicable
to all other states, do not apply to it.
This is not only simplistic, it is false. In fact, Israel specifically
does not “manifestly” believe that “the rules of both law and humanity,
applicable to all other states, do not apply to it.” On the contrary,
Israel and its supporters are quick to claim that it is the only
democracy in the Middle East, is “a light unto the nations,” and that
its military is the most moral and humane in the world. The point here
is not that they are delusional--states are neither moral, immoral,
humane, or inhumane--but that Eisen ignores these claims and suggests
that their beliefs are the exact opposite of what they actually state.
Rather, as Shahak explains, the Jewish state is built on ideas of
ethnic/religious exclusivity that are reinforced--to an ever-increasing
degree--by classical rabbinic ideas based in Talmudic law. While
rabbinic power over a closed Jewish society was destroyed (from the
outside) by the political freedoms that emerged during the
Enlightenment, Israel, as a Jewish state, represents a retreat to racism
and exclusivity. This results in a decidedly undemocratic state.
Eisen then compounds this mistake by asserting that:
…this Jewish ideology [i.e. Zionism] , in its zealotry and
irrationality, resembles more the National Socialism which
condemned millions for the attainment of a nonsensical
racial and ethnic supremacy.
… National Socialism, like Zionism, another blend of
mysticism and power, gained credibility as a means to right
wrongs done to a victimized people. National Socialism, like
Zionism, also sought to maintain the racial/ethnic purity of
one group and to maintain the rights of that ethnic group
over others, and National Socialism, like Zionism, also
proposed an almost mystical attachment of that group to a
land. Also, both National Socialism and Zionism shared a
common interest – to separate Jews from non-Jews, in this
case to remove Jews from Europe – and actively co-operated
in the attainment of this aim.
Zionism is not simply a “blend of mysticism and power” that “gained
credibility as a means to right wrongs done to a victimized people” in
the same sense as National Socialism, i.e., German Nazism, which was
called into power by a capitalist class that was not competent to ensure
its own profitability in the face of a world-wide economic depression
and a revolutionary workers’ movement. However, it is instructive to
examine, albeit very briefly, the actual connection between national
socialism and Labor Zionism.
Zeev Sternhell has identified the roots of Labor Zionism in what he
terms “nationalist socialism,” which was a movement in opposition to the
liberalism of the Enlightenment as well as to the universalism of Marx’s
democratic socialism.(19) Whereas international socialism sought to
organize human labor to bring about its own self-liberation (and, in the
process, the liberation of all of humanity), nationalist socialism
sought to harness human labor to create and glorify a nation-state.
Like liberalism, nationalist socialism rejected the Marxist view of
human society in terms of class, adopting a view that emphasized the
particularities of ethnicity, religion, and nationality. So does Eisen.
Labor Zionism was not dissimilar to other nationalist movements in
Europe. It included a focus on ethnic particularity, emphasized a
unified national language, and its ultimate goal, like others, was to
establish Jewish autonomy. What made it unique was its intent to
mobilize a disparate people to colonize and conquer a foreign land and
its indigenous people, and its reliance on a powerful imperial power,
Great Britain, to assist it. Zionism was also a response to existential
burdens placed upon European Jewry by anti-Semitism and fascism. As
Thus, even if Israeli society was largely an ideological
creation, one should not forget that it sprang up to an
equal extent as a result of the upheavals that took place
and are still taking place in Europe.(20)
Labor Zionism was not the only current within the broader political
Zionist movement. But it became the dominant tendency within both
Palestine and throughout the world. As Sternhell explains, the Marxist
Zionists, such as Hashomer Hatzair, the Jewish Russian Marxist Party
(Po’alei Tzion – Workers of Zion), etc., were doomed because of the:
…tense atmosphere of building up the country, where the main
preoccupation of Jewish workers was the “conquest of labor,”
in other words, the dispossession of Arab workers in order
to take their place—and thus the establishment of a solid
infrastructure for an autonomous Jewish existence.(21)
Having ignored an actual study of either Jewish or Zionist history,
Eisen is left to adopt the destructive mythology that is embraced by
both Zionists and anti-Semites: that there is an identifiable Jewish
essence, which comprises characteristics that can be attributed to every
Jew in the world, and in which, therefore, Israeli crimes against
humanity are deeply rooted.
2) AMERICAN JEWS AND JEWISH AMERICA
In his second section, Eisen attempts to address the relationship
between American Jews and American society. This is important because,
according to him, “At the heart of the conflict is the relationship
between Israel and America,” and also because he feels that Jews control
America. He begins by correctly arguing that “Israel is a client state
of America, serving American interests or, more particularly, the
interests of its power elites…if Israel did not further the interests of
those who control America, then we can be sure America would not support
Eisen is now left to argue that American Jews dominate this “power
elite” by first asking:
But is this the whole story? Does Israel really serve America’s
interests and is their relationship wholly based on the sharing
of these interests? Consider how much in terms of goodwill from
other nations America loses by its support for Israel, and consider
the power and influence of the “Jewish”, “Zionist” or “pro- Israel”
lobby, as when many an otherwise responsible lawmaker, faced with the
prospect of an intervention in their re-election campaign from
the Jewish lobby, seems happy to put his or her re-election
prospects way in front of what is good for America.
In other words, because one could argue that by supporting Israel the
U.S. loses “goodwill,” the motivation behind this ultimately detrimental
support must be accounted for in another way. Eisen suggests the
solution by asking:
That support for Israel must be in the interests of those
who control America is certainly true, but who controls
Eisen will answer that it is the Jews who control America. But before
examining this, it is necessary to provide an accurate analysis of U.S.
support for Israel.
As mentioned above, substantial support did not appear before 1967. It
was only then that Israel’s military prowess led the U.S. ruling class
to appreciate Israel’s potential as a strategic ally. Israel’s military
became a proxy for that of the U.S., and was a potent defense against
Soviet expansion as well as any pan-Arab or pan-Islamic movement that
would threaten U.S. interests. In addition, Israel became a conduit
through which U.S. military equipment could be made available to
counter-revolutionary paramilitary groups in Latin America. Over time,
the military-industrial complexes of the two countries became highly
integrated. Troops trained together and Israeli specialists taught at
the School of the Americas.
The needs of U.S. capital are served by this relationship with Israel.
These needs have everything to do with maximizing the rate of profit and
nothing whatsoever with serving what Eisen calls “Jewish interests.” It
should be simple enough to understand that, beginning in 1967, the
interests of U.S. capital coincided with the economic and expansionist
needs of Israel, and that therefore the U.S. ruling class has, since
then, supported Israel.(22)
Indeed, the fact that Israel maintains a huge lobbying effort in
Washington suggests that it understands all too well that this marriage
of interests may be temporary. The needs of U.S. capital may shift,
causing Israel to be viewed as more of a liability than an asset.(23)
Because Israel’s elites, along with American Jewish elites, know full
well that they do not control the U.S. ruling class, massive efforts to
influence the American public and Congress have been organized.
Steve Zunes has presented a strong case that the relationship between
Israel and the U.S. has placed Jews back into a traditional and
vulnerable role as intermediary operatives for the ruling class. Just
as throughout European history, when Jewish communities suffered as
local lords withdrew their protection and abandoned them, the U.S.
ruling class could not only abandon Israel but, as typically happened,
use the Jews as scapegoats. Zunes writes:
One of the more unsettling aspects of U.S. policy is how
closely it corresponds with historic anti-Semitism.
Throughout Europe in past centuries, the ruling class of a
given country would, in return for granting limited
religious and cultural autonomy, set up certain individuals
in the Jewish community to become the visible agents of the
oppressive social order, such as tax collectors and money
lenders. When the population would threaten to rise up
against the ruling class, the rulers could then blame the
Jews, sending the wrath of an exploited people against
convenient scape-goats, resulting in the pogroms and other
notorious waves of repression which have taken place
throughout the Jewish Diaspora.
The idea behind Zionism was to break this cycle through the
creation of a Jewish nation-state, where Jews would no
longer be dependent on the ruling class of a given country.
The tragic irony is that, as a result of Israel's inability
or unwillingness to make peace with its Arab neighbors, the
creation of Israel has perpetuated this cycle on a global
scale, with Israel being used by Western imperialist powers
-- initially Great Britain and France and more recently the
United States -- to maintain their interests in the Middle
East. Therefore, one finds autocratic Arab governments and
other Third World regimes blaming “Zionism” for their
problems rather than the broader exploitative global
economic system and their own elites who benefit from and
help perpetuate such a system.(24)
Eisen is simply ahead of the curve in blaming American Jews. In spite
of what he asserts, Jews neither control the U.S. ruling class nor
compose a major segment of it. Eisen states:
…if Jews have influence anywhere in America, it’s not over
its muscle and sinew but over its blood and its brain. It is
in finance and the media that we find a great many Jews in
very influential positions. Lists abound (though you have to
go to some pretty unpopular websites to find them) of Jews,
prominent in financial and cultural life: Jews in banks;
Jews in Forbes Magazine’s Richest Americans; Jews in
Hollywood; Jews in TV; Jewish journalists, writers, critics,
This is a classic anti-Semitic argument, and, indeed the “pretty
unpopular websites” that publish these “lists” are virulently
Jews in the United States are often believed to have an
enormous degree of economic power. Yet among the individuals
who could actually be considered among the most influential
sectors of the American ruling class, Jews are not
represented any more than their share of the general
Lenni Brenner estimates that 84 of 400 (21%) people listed by Forbes as
the richest Americans are Jewish.(27) This means that 79% of them are
not Jewish. This is, by any estimation, underwhelming evidence that Jews
control the U.S. ruling class. Even if one contends that this 21% is
ten times the percentage of Jews in the country (about 6 million, or
2%), and that, therefore, Jews are over-represented among the rich,
there is every reason to suggest that this group shares its fundamental
interests with the ruling class rather than the rest of the Jews. To
suggest otherwise is to elevate the particularities of
ethnicity/religion over class. This is a common mistake and, as
Sternhell explains, it is central to Zionist ideology.
This Jewish elite, which is primarily centered in the intellectual
sphere(28), made a clear pro-Israel shift after 1967, as Finkelstein has
documented. This certainly was projected into the American popular
culture. But the tail does not wag the dog. The promulgation of ideas
that support neither the dominant ideology nor the needs of capital is
allowed only to the extent that they do not significantly challenge the
needs of capital.
It is these needs—that is, the needs of U.S. capital not the needs of
American Jews—that are consistent with the support of Israel. In fact,
Brenner estimates that only about 10% of American Jews consider
themselves to be Zionist. “Yet,” suggests Brenner, “we have an
overwhelmingly gentile Congress that is emphatically more pro-Zionist
than the majority of Jews.”(29) Imagine, if you will, how difficult it would be for the
American Jewish elite to become anti- Zionist; the question of loyalty
to the U.S. would be raised in an instant.
To add to his own mythmaking, Eisen refers to “Jewish interests” seven
times within this section, yet he never bothers to define what this
means. If he defines it as support of Israel, then he should at least
point out that the overwhelming source of this support is not Jewish.
As mentioned before, Don Wagner estimates that there are about 25
million Christian Fundamentalist Zionists in the U.S. and their
ideological leaders, such as Pat Robertson, are anti-Jewish. In fact,
the sub-section of the huge Evangelical movement that supports
Israel(30) does so because of their unique reading of biblical prophecy,
in which the return of Jews to Zion will result in the tribulation and
rapture, during which their god will dispatch the Jews to hell. Their
support of Israel is simply to fulfill this prophecy—and rid the world
of Jews. Can this be considered to be a “Jewish interest”?
Indeed, the largest bloc of pro-Israel sentiment is found
within Christian fundamentalist circles, whose numbers dwarf
the Jewish voting population in the US (approximately 25
million Christian fundamentalists to 4 million Jews). The
pro-Israel lobby and influence, then, is Christian as well
as Jewish, and that reality should always be reflected. Not
only does this avoid the canard that criticism of Israel and
Zionist political activity equals antisemitism, but it
accurately describes the contemporary political reality.(31)
Yet, in fifteen pages, Eisen mentions Christian Evangelicals exactly
once, in passing. Is this because the power of the Christian
Fundamentalist Zionists tends to disprove his thesis that Jews control
America? He writes:
Do not the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Gun lobby, the
Christian Evangelicals also not work to further their group
The difference between Jews and other groups is that they
probably do it better. Jews are, by pretty well any
criteria, easily the most successful ethnic group in America
and, for whatever reason, have been extraordinarily
successful in promoting themselves both individually and
collectively. And there would probably be nothing wrong with
this were it not for the fact that these same people who
exert so much control and influence over American life also
seem to refuse to be held accountable.
The fact that Jews are more successful than other immigrant groups may
be explained by the fact that the Jewish experience was, for the most
part, urban, and that immigrant Jews arrived with certain urban survival
skills that other immigrants, who came from agricultural societies,
lacked. Also, their skin color made them more easily accepted into
white America. What upsets Eisen correctly is the Zionist influence,
which he incorrectly views as emanating only from a uniform and
overly-successful Jewish community. He is implying that Jewish
interests are Zionist interests; this is a gross generalization that
leads him to oppose Jewry rather than Zionism.
Another example of this incorrect generalization appears when Eisen
But there is another claim, subtler and more worrying [about
“Jewish Power”]. This is that it doesn’t exist; that Jews do
not wield power, that there is no Jewish lobby; that Jews in
America do not exert power and influence to advance Jewish
interests, even that there are no such things as Jewish
interests! There are no Jewish interests in the war in Iraq,
there are no Jewish interests in America; most amazing,
there are no Jewish interests even in Israel and Palestine.
There is no Jewish collective. Jews do not act together to
advance their aims.
Without a shred of evidence--or even an explanation--Eisen asserts that
there are “Jewish interests in the war in Iraq.” This is convenient,
even required, in order to prove that Jews control America, but it is
entirely unsubstantiated. Of course, one would not be particularly
surprised if American Jews, who undoubtedly exhibit an affinity for
Israel, would be just as susceptible—-or even more susceptible—-to the
argument that Saddam Hussein represented a real threat to Israelis.
After all, Hussein did attack them with SCUD missiles.(32) Therefore,
one would not be surprised if American Jews supported the war in greater
numbers than others. However, exactly the opposite was found by the Pew
Research Center for the People & the Press: American Jews express less
support for the war on Iraq than does the general population (52% to 62%).(33)
This disconnect between the American Jewish community and those Jewish elites who support the war is enough to disprove Eisen’s claim that there is a “Jewish collective” that “act[s] together to advance their aims.”(34)
This conflation of Jewish interests with American interests
is nowhere more stark than in present American foreign
policy. If ever an image was reminiscent of a Jewish world
conspiracy, the spectacle of the Jewish neo-cons gathered
around the current presidency and directing policy in the
Middle East, this must be it. But we are told that the fact
that the Jewish neo-cons, many with links with right wing
political groups within Israel, are in the forefront of
urging a pro-Israel policy, is but a coincidence, and any
suggestion that these figures might be influenced by their
Jewishness and their links with Israel is immediately
marginalised as reviving old anti-Semitic myths about Jewish
It is Eisen who is conflating Zionist interest with Jewish interests.
Keeping in mind that Eisen has nowhere explicitly defined “Jewish
interests,” he speaks of “the spectacle of the Jewish neo-cons” who
are “influenced by their Jewishness” and who have “gathered around the
current presidency and directing policy in the Middle East.” I suppose
we must count among these Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, and Rice.
Of course there are neo-conservative Jews who are also influential, and
they have ideological loyalties to the Likud Party. But this right-wing
Israeli political party no more represents “Jewish interests” than the
man in the moon.
Eisen joins such brilliant thinkers as Patrick Buchanan, Rep. James
Moran, (D- Va.), Gary Hart, and a whole host of right-wing anti-Semites in
asserting this nonsense. Even Ari Shavit, writing in Haaretz, states
“The war in Iraq was conceived by 25 neoconservative intellectuals, most
of them Jewish, who are pushing President Bush to change the course of
But why this indictment of Jews, and the suggestion of some hidden
Jewish agenda, rather than indicting the neo-conservative ideology?
Neo-conservatism is not a Jewish ideology. We should remember that this
very dangerous argument was used to declare that Bolshevism was a grand
Jewish plot. Indeed, many anti-Semitic web sites still make this a
In short, Eisen would have his readers believe that “cagey” Jews within
the ruling class, absorbed by their “Jewishness” and exercising their
“Jewish power,” are formulating foreign policy to advance “Jewish
interests.” Throughout, Eisen conflates Jewish interests with Zionist
interests. This is exactly what the Zionist ideologues want: everyone
must agree that Zionist interests are Jewish interests.(36) Eisen does
so not because he is a Zionist, of course, but because he lacks
political clarity. Sadly, it leads him to oppose Jewry rather than
Eisen continues by observing that “the Jewish narrative is now at the
centre of American life, certainly that of its cultural and political
elites.” And what narrative is this? He cites the existence of the
Holocaust memorial in Washington and asks, “How is it that a group of
people who make up such a tiny percentage of the overall American
population can command such respect and regard that a memorial to them
is built in the symbolic heart of American national life?”
Finkelstein has examined the development of that he calls the “Holocaust
Industry,” of which this memorial is a part. This industry manipulates
public opinion to make it more profitable to sell Jewish suffering, and
it shakes down governments for reparations, which almost never go to
those individuals who deserve it. This is despicable behaviour to be
sure. And it is indubitably the case that these profits are directed
into the Zionist project. But why indict Jews, as a group, rather than
these profiteers as a group, as Finkelstein does? It is so much easier
to ignore the details and advance an ideology based on ethnic/religious
interests and power.
Eisen makes a further, outrageous claim: that no one is allowed to
question the Holocaust narrative that has been constructed while other
genocides may be “freely discussed:”
Whether those who question the Holocaust narrative are
revisionist scholars striving to find the truth and
shamelessly persecuted for opposing a powerful faction, or
whether they are crazy Jew-haters denying a tragedy and
defaming its victims, the fact is that one may question the
Armenian genocide, one may freely discuss the Slave Trade,
one can say that the murder of millions of Ibos, Kampucheans
and Rwandans never took place and that the moon is but a
piece of green cheese floating in space, but one may not
question the Jewish Holocaust. Why? Because, like the rest
of the Jewish history of suffering, the Holocaust underpins
the narrative of Jewish innocence which is used to bewilder
and befuddle any attempt to see and to comprehend Jewish
power and responsibility in Israel/Palestine and elsewhere
in the world.
This is nonsense. First of all, I do not know of many “scholars” who
“say that the murder of millions of Ibos, Kampucheans and Rwandans never
took place.” Where is Eisen’s evidence? The simple fact is that Jews,
particularly those who experienced the horror of the Holocaust, have
every right to be upset if revisionist “scholars” attempt to deny their
suffering. Just as we should expect Armenians and Palestinians to be
enraged when their own horrific experience is trivialized or denied, we
should expect Jews to do exactly the same. Such outrage, even if it is
organized, as it is with Jews, is hardly convincing evidence of “Jewish
To be sure, the Jewish community exercises greater influence over the
Democratic Party and U.S. foreign policy than its raw numbers would
predict. It is also true that there are Jewish institutions, both
secular and religious, that thrive on protecting and promulgating the
Zionist mythology and ideology. It is true that prominent Jews and
Jewish institutions are involved in the vilification of Islam.(37) And
it is true that many wealthy Jews have, and continue to, underwrite the
Israeli colonial project.(38) But none of this should be used to suggest
that Jews represent a monolithic community that controls, either
secretly or openly, the U.S. ruling class. Acting alone, the Jewish
elites who espouse Zionist mythology and who support the Zionist project
would be impotent. Their power, such as it is, derives from their
coalition with powerful partners in the religious right and within the
U.S. ruling class, which acts on its own behalf.
3) “JEWISH POWER”
In this section, Eisen presents a depressingly confused—and
confusing—argument that at one and the same time 1) one cannot “draw a
distinction between Jews, Israelis and Zionists,” yet 2) “It is true
that ‘the Jews’ do not constitute a legally recognized body… It is also
true that the Zionists do not represent all Jews but they do represent
the views of very many Jews indeed, and certainly the most powerful and
influential Jews,” and, what is more, 3) “ ‘the Jews’ are not a legally
constituted body and they do not have an obvious and defined common
policy.” [my emphasis]
But he argues that, nonetheless, there is such a thing as “Jewish Power”
simply because there is such a thing as “Jewish identity” and because
many American Jews support Israel to one extent or another. The flaw,
it seems, is inherent in “Jewishness,” that is, the Jews’ “common
spirit,” which, he claims, is the “specialness” of Jewish suffering and victimhood. From this repetition of his early mistake, he therefore adopts the very principled
position that one should oppose Jewry, not Jews!
He begins by reviewing the ideology of the anti-Semitic Israel
Shamir(39), who, he claims, has joined other “famous escapees [from
Judaism] as Karl Marx, St. Paul, Leon Trotsky,”(40) and who, he writes,
“has no trouble whatsoever in calling a Jew a Jew.” Eisen shares
Shamir’s view that Jews are fundamentally different than other people.
It is therefore perfectly easy to ascribe to Jews certain
characteristics and claim that “Jews are responsible and should be held
accountable” for the crimes of the Israeli government. It is also easy
to claim that:
For so long now Jews have told the world that black is white
and not only that, but also if anyone should dare to deny that
black is white they will be denounced as anti-Semites with all
the attendant penalties. We are held in a moral and
intellectual lock, the intention of which has been to silence all criticism
of Israeli and Jewish power.
Jews, it seems, are not only intent on exercising their “Jewish Power,”
they lie about it, too. To add insult to injury--and it is no small
insult--Eisen invokes the Jewish theologian, Marc Ellis, whose words are
placed immediately before Eisen’s closing paragraphs:
“To the Christian and to the entire non-Jewish world, Jews
say this: ‘You will apologise for Jewish suffering again and
again and again. And, when you have done apologising, you
will then apologise some more. When you have apologised
sufficiently we will forgive you ... provided that you let
us do what we want in Palestine.” [Marc Ellis](41)
After which Eisen continues:
Shamir took me to task, “Eisen is too optimistic”, he said,
“Palestine is not the ultimate goal of the Jews…..the world
Well, I don’t know about that, but, if as now seems likely,
the conquest of Palestine is complete and the state of
Israel stretches from Tel-Aviv to the Jordan River, what can
we expect? Will the Jews of Israel, supported by Jews
outside of Israel, now obey the law, live peaceably behind
their borders and enjoy the fruits of their victory, or will
they want more? Who’s next?
Who is next, indeed. Perhaps the Dene Indians in the Northwest
Territories of Canada?
“We shall,” to use Eisen’s own words, “speak our minds.” No one has yet
been able to create a definition of Jewishness for the simple reason
that there is no such thing. Religious Jews come in many varieties.
Secular Jews display a wide range of political views. There is no
single Jewish ethnicity and, even if there were, one would still be
unable to discern its essence. Boaz Evron presents the argument that
the only thing that all Jews have in common is a religious tradition,
which began only with the return from the Babylonian Exile.(42) The
most interesting definition I have heard is that Judaism is a
“conversation across the generations.” Yet this lacks any specifics on
which one could hang an argument of any weight.
More importantly, to accept the idea that there is a Jewish essence is
to accept the basic premise that underpins both Zionist mythology and
However, we are able to identify certain trends within both the
religious and secular Jewish community. As with any other people, a
certain tribalism dominates, which leads, not surprisingly, to an
affinity for many things, including Israel as a place where many Jews
live. There is nothing inherently criminal in this tribalism; it is
merely an indication that mankind has not yet established the conditions
for its abolition. The Jews’ affinity for Israel is no more criminal
nor unnatural than Germans’ affinity for Germany or Puerto Ricans’
affinity with Puerto Rico. That this sense of Jewish nationality is
widespread is as obvious as it is understandable. Many factors went into
the creation of this nationalism, and while a sizeable proportion of
world Jewry was being annihilated, a small proportion decided to act on
this growing nationalism and immigrated to Palestine, particularly after
1929 when immigration to the U.S. was severely restricted.(43)
It was only after 1967, when Israel proved its military prowess and
became an important ally of U.S. capital, that there was set into motion
a whole host of projects within both the American Jewish religious and
secular community to actively, and uncritically, support Israel. Among
these projects was the creation of a series of manifestly
politically-motivated mythologies, including such frauds as Joan Peters’
pseudo-proof that Palestine was devoid of inhabitants before the arrival
It is also true that these myths, including Peters’, are still sold
openly in the bookstores and from the bema of many Jewish synagogues.
Of course, this mythmaking began before 1967. We should remember that
the Zionist ideology, which began by embracing, rather than challenging,
the anti-Semitic movement, adopted a wide range of mythologies, each of
which served to reinforce its political project of colonizing Palestine.
This mythology was used to conquer not only Palestine, but Judaism. The
religious theology, which had taught that Jews were not to return to
Jerusalem, was not only turned on its head, but infused to a large
extent with Labor Zionist ideology. Marc Ellis has said that this
ideology is now the central theme of the religion for many people, and
that, therefore, the Torah should be removed from the Ark and replaced
by models of Apache helicopters and the Wall.(45)
This is not an indictment of Judaism, or of Jews, but of the Jewish
religious establishment, which has turned a blind eye to human suffering
(that is, the Palestinians’), and used the religion to sanctify
egregious crimes against humanity. To a large extent this is because
they, too, believe the myths and are intensely afraid to look at
reality: the injustices are simply overwhelming and so are rationalized
To this end, the Israeli government’s policy of pursuing a permanent
war—combined with the abysmal failure of the Palestinian leadership to
create a democratic resistance to the Israeli Occupation—serves to
instill a sense of “us versus them” among American Jews. This is hardly
surprising given that this attitude supports the needs of the U.S.
ruling class at the moment. Neither is it surprising that the dominant
American culture has absorbed this attitude; how could it be otherwise
when its dissemination is both so lucrative and consistent with the
(current) needs of capital?
At the same time, but for different reasons, the Christian
Fundamentalist Zionist movement, which promulgates its own
theology/ideology, has grown tremendously and wields enormous political
power. Adherents to its apocalyptic vision, which requires that Jews
return to Zion in order to be slaughtered by god, are in the White House
and Congress, and their leaders own numerous broadcast facilities and
publishing houses.(47) If their nonsense were not consistent with the
needs of capital, one can be sure that an opposing ideology would rise
to dominance. This is a real problem because if the needs of the ruling
class do change, the opposing ideology that emerges may be forthrightly
This is not to suggest that the current ideology should go unchallenged.
But we should not replace it with one that “has no trouble whatsoever in
calling a Jew a Jew.” We need to work to oppose the interests of U.S.
capital without mythologizing them as “Jewish interests.” After all,
the very real interests of the ruling class have nothing to do with Jews
and everything to do with maximizing the rate of profit. Indeed, one
could easily argue that these interests are fundamentally contrary to
the actual material interests of the vast majority of Jews, both here
and in Israel.
We need to oppose ideologies and myths without condemning an entire
religious/ethnic group or, in doing so, creating our own myth of “Jewish
Power” based on the stupid and dangerous idea that Zionist interests are
Jewish interests. Finally, we need to abandoned the entire concept of a
Jewish essence, or “Jewishness.” Until we do, our politics will
inevitably fail to advance beyond either Jewish chauvinism or
anti-Semitism. And we will be incapable of engaging in the truly
important work that awaits the Palestinian solidarity and global justice
1) The virulently anti-Semitic Zundelsite (www.zundelsite.org) has
posted this essay, which it describes as “brilliant.” Of course, Eisen
cannot control the use of his work by these scum, but that is hardly the
point. The sad fact is that it represents a “brilliant” endorsement of
their own ideology of Jew-hating.
2) Indeed, I spent a memorable day with him in Jerusalem in April.
3) This is a small Jewish sect that burns Israeli flags and solidarizes
with Palestinians on the religious grounds that Jews were expelled from
Jerusalem and are not to return to rebuild the Temple until the messiah
arrives. If I drove a car with a bumper sticker that read “End Israel’s
Occupation Now,” they would probably cheer me, unless, of course, I was
driving on the Sabbath, in which case they would just as likely stone
4) Shahak, Israel; Jewish History, Jewish Religion : The Weight of Three
Thousand Years; Pluto Press (1994). Shahak investigates how Talmudic
law historically emphasized racism towards non-Jews and helped to
enforce rabbinic control of a closed society. Many people mistake his
analysis of classical Judaism—and its application to the ideology of a
Jewish state—as a treatise on Jewish essence.
5) I will use the term Zionism as a short-hand for Labor Zionism, which
is a distinct—and majority—tendency within the broader Zionist movement.
6) That this seemed inevitable created the basis for opposition to
Zionism from the Jewish religious communities.
7) Finkelstein, Norman; “Palestine: The Truth About 1948,” Against the
Current (#15; July/August 1988) [reprinted at
[ See Your shorter link is: http://makeashorterlink.com/?Z15E52369 - B.]
8) Wagner, Don, “The Alliance Between Fundamentalist Christians and the
Pro- Israel Lobby: Christian Zionism in US Middle East Policy;” Holy
Land Studies; Vol. 2 No. 2. (March 2004)
9) In fact, Labor Zionism, the dominant ideology that created the Jewish
state, was only one of several strains of Zionism, some of which wanted
to create a Jewish homeland but not a Jewish state.
10) I know of not a single major movement to “return” that accompanied
even major expulsions, such as from England (1290), Italy (1491), or
Spain (1492), which is when a primal urge to return, if it actually
existed, would most likely appear.
11) It is extremely doubtful that anything but a small minority of
modern world Jewry has any urge, primal or otherwise, to “return” to
12) Leon, Abram; The Jewish Question—A Marxist Interpretation, 1946
(http://www.marxists.de/religion/leon ). While criticisms of his concept
of a people-class have advanced the scholarship on this topic, Leon was
among the first to apply a class analysis to the study of Jewish history. It
is also instructive to read The Memoirs of My Jewish Great-Grandfather
(introduced by M.A. AbuKhalil) Belfast Historical and Educational
Society (2002) to get a sense of how some Jews continued to play an critical
role as capitalist production and distribution grew in the late 19th
century and superseded production based on cottage industries.
13) Finkelstein, Norman; The Holocaust Industry (Verso, 2nd Edition:
2003). The first chapter, in particular, is a scholarly study of this.
14) Let me note that Britain’s early support of political Zionism was
due to their own anti-Semitism and imperialist goals, and was influenced
by the British Christian Fundamentalist Zionist movement. In the early
20th century, Zionism was seen as an antidote to Russian Bolshevism, in
which Jews played a vital role. The timing of the Balfour Declaration,
weeks before the Revolution, suggests that it was aimed at trying to
convince Russian Jews to abandon their revolutionary activities.
15) Segev, Tom; One Palestine Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British
Mandate; Owl Books, (2001). As detailed by Segev, it was assimilated
Jews in the British Foreign Service who voiced great opposition to the
Balfour Declaration and insisted on including language to protect the
rights of Jews in Europe: “…it being clearly understood that nothing
shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of
existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and
political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country." [my emphasis]
16) Ilan Halevi, in his A History of the Jews: Ancient and Modern; Zed
Books (1987), identifies five major Jewish ethnic groups: Ashkenazi,
Sephardic, Arab, Moroccan, and Italian. To this we should probably add
the Lemba, a tribe of Black Jews who migrated out of Yemen some 2500
years ago and now live in South Africa, as well as others.
17) This argument is itself specious, as the longing to be “next year in
Jerusalem” was not simply meant literally. It was, in part, an entreaty
for God to send the messiah (a pre-requisite for being allowed to return
to Jerusalem). Jerusalem, in this context, is also metaphor for a more
perfect, more spiritual place, and, as such, the longing to be in
Jerusalem represented a longing to be in better physical, emotional, and
18) After all, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion was not based
on any facts, but created by the Czar’s secret police.
19) Sternhell, Zeev; The Founding Myths of Israel; Princeton University
Press (1999); translated by David Maisel.
20) Ibid. page 13.
21) Ibid. page 16.
22) For a full discussion, see: Chomsky, Noam; Fateful
Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians; South End
23) For example, it may come to view Israel’s activities to be
unnecessarily destabilizing. Or its very support for Israel may become
a liability as it attempts to pacify Arab and Muslim resistance to its
own imperialism. At any time, the U.S. ruling class could change sides.
24) Zunes, Stephen; “Anti- Semitism in U.S. Middle East Policy” in ZMagazine (March 1995)
25) If you have a strong stomach, examine JewWatch.com.
26) [Zunes] Op. cit.
27) Brenner, Lenni; “The Demographics of American Jews” in Counterpunch
(October 24, 2003) http://www.counterpunch.org/brenner10242003.html
28) It is important to note the difference between the spheres of
industrial production, on the one hand, and that of ideas, on the other.
The needs of capital are derived from the former. The latter tends to
create and reinforce the dominant culture, which necessarily supports
the needs of the former.
29) [Brenner] Op. cit.
30) The proper term for this group, according to Wagner, is Christian
Fundamentalist Zionists. One should note that many Evangelicals, such
Wagner himself, are long-time activists in the Palestinian solidarity
31) Op. cit.
32) Ironically, many of these missiles fell on Iraqi Jews
living in a suburb of Tel-Aviv.
33) As reported on March 13, 2003 by Fox News: “Powell Scoffs at
Conspiracy Theories on Iraq War”
34) I am not arguing here that there is no pro-Israel lobby or that it
does not comprise, along with others, Jews who are organized as Jews. I
am arguing that it represents Zionist interests, not Jewish interests.
35) “White Man’s Burden” by Avi Shavit; Haaretz (May 4, 2003).
36) Therefore, to criticize Israel is anti-Jewish.
37) Daniel Pipes, for example, who is among the most outspoken anti-Muslim bigots, has worked closely with Pat Robertson in advancing this bigotry.
38) The casino magnate, Irving Moscowitz, for example, is a major donor
to the Jewish colonization of East Jerusalem and the surrounding region.
39) In 2001, Israel Shamir became the darling of guilt-ridden Jews. He
espouses an ideology that is openly anti-Jewish; that is, he faults Jews
for being Jews. Interestingly, it was two Arabs, Ali Abunimah (who
started the Electronic Intifada web site) and Hussein Ibish (of the
Arab-American Anti Discrimination Committee), who first spoke out
against Shamir’s anti-Semitism; this while many Jews were eagerly
awaiting Shamir’s next beautifully written, hate-filled message. Shamir
responded with pure ad hominem attacks on these two committed activists.
40) Marx had to “escape” a youthful bout of Christianity, the religion
to which his father had converted. Trotsky could not possibly have
“escaped” from Judaism, as it never meant anything to him.
41) It may come as no surprise to some that I have argued this attitude
with my friend, Marc Ellis. Specifically, I do not agree with his
accusation of communal guilt. However, I respect his thoughtful
scholarship as well as his life-long commitment to the search for
justice. I therefore declare a personal revulsion at the juxtaposition
of his remarks with that of Shamir’s.
42) Evron, Boaz; Jewish State or Israeli Nation?; Indiana University
43) During the first two Aliyas (1881-1914), about 70,000 Jews, mainly
from Russia, immigrated to Palestine. About 35,000 left within a few
years. During the same period, about 2 million Jews immigrated to the
U.S. Immigration to the U.S. was restricted between 1929 and 1948, when
the enactment of the Displaced Persons Act opened the door to more Jews.
44) Peters, Joan, From Time Immemorial, HarperCollins (1984)
45) Ellis, Marc; “Walling Off the Covenant: Jewish Identity in the 21st
Century;” Daily Star (Lebanon) (June 23, 2003).
46) In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the precarious nature of
being an untenured rabbi is a conservatizing influence, as it is with
all clerics. Furthermore, it is possible that Judaism in the modern
world needs must adopt a secular theme to address the real pressures
placed upon the community by the myriad enticements of the secular
society into which Jews are assimilating. Zionism thereby replaces Torah
because it is both more relevant and more efficacious in attracting and
unifying the Jewish communities.
47) For example, Grace Digital Media, a Christian Fundamentalist Zionist
operation, was chosen to produce the government’s Arab language
satellite TV station. [http://www.alternet.org/story/15801]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Joel R Finkel is a member of Not In My Name (NIMN), a predominantly
Jewish organization based in Chicago that organizes opposition to the
Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. The
opinions expressed by him in this paper are not necessarily shared by
every member of NIMN.
Monday, September 27, 2004
By Paul Eisen
The crime against the Palestinian people is being committed by a Jewish state with Jewish soldiers using weapons displaying Jewish religious symbols, and with the full support and complicity of the overwhelming mass of organised Jews worldwide. But to name Jews as responsible for this crime seems impossible to do.
The future is always open and nothing can ever be ruled out; but, for now, it’s hard to see how Israel can be stopped. After over fifty years, it is clear that Israel will only relinquish its eliminationist attitude to Palestinians and Palestinian life when it has to. This need not be through military action but it is hard to see how anything else will do. The conventional wisdom - that if America turned off the tap, Israel would be brought to its knees - is far from proven. First, it’s not going to happen. Second, those who believe it may well be underestimating both the cohesiveness of Israeli society and the force of Jewish history which permeates it. Even more unlikely is the military option. The only force on earth which could possibly confront Israel is the American military, and, again, that is not going to happen.
Palestinian resistance has been astonishing. After over fifty years of brutal assault by what may well one day be seen as one of the most ruthless and irrational powers of modern times, and with just about every power on earth ranged against them, Palestinians are still with us, still steadfast, still knowing who they are and where they come from. Nonetheless, for the time being effective resistance may be over (though the possibility of organised non-violent resistance can never be ruled out), and, for now, the only strategy open may be no more than one for survival.
For us it is so much easier to deny this reality than to accept it, and doubtless the struggle will continue. How fruitful this will be no-one can say. Although the present seems hopeless, survival is still vital and no-one knows when new opportunities may arise. Anyway, to struggle against injustice is always worth doing. But what if the struggle becomes so delusional that it inhibits rather than advances resistance? What if the struggle becomes a way of avoiding rather than confronting reality? Those slogans “End the Occupation!” and “Two States for Two Peoples!” are now joined by a new slogan, “The One-State Solution!” This is every bit as fantastic as its predecessors because, just as there never was going to be an end to the occupation, nor a real Palestinian state, so, for now, there is no possibility of any “one state” other than the state of Israel which now stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, and the only “solution” is a final solution and even that cannot be ruled out.
“Zionism is not Judaism;
Judaism is not Zionism….”
The crime against the Palestinian people is being committed by a Jewish state with Jewish soldiers using weapons with Jewish religious symbols all over them, and with the full support and complicity of the overwhelming mass of organised Jews worldwide. But to name Jews as responsible for this crime seems impossible to do. The past is just too terrible. All of us know of the hatred and violence to which accusations against Jews have led in the past. Also, if we were to examine critically the role of Jews in this conflict, what would become of us and of our struggle? Would we be labelled anti-Semites and lose much of the support that we have worked so hard to gain?
The present, too, is full of ambiguities. Zionism is not Judaism; Judaism is not Zionism has become an article of faith, endlessly repeated, as is the assertion that Zionism is a secular ideology opposed, for much of its history, by the bulk of religious Jews and even now still opposed by true Torah Jews such as Neturei Karta. But Zionism is now at the heart of Jewish life with religious Jews amongst the most virulent of Zionists and Neturei Karta, despite their impeccable anti-Zionism, their beautiful words and the enthusiasm with which they are welcomed at solidarity rallies, etc., may well be just Jews in fancy dress, a million miles from the reality of Jewish life.
And even if Zionism can still be disentangled from Judaism, can it be distinguished from a broader Jewish identity or Jewishness? So often Zionism is proclaimed to be a modern add-on to Jewish identity, another, albeit anachronistic, settler-colonial ideology simply adopted by Jews in response to their predicament. But, could it be that our need to avoid the accusation of anti-Semitism and our own conflicted perceptions and feelings, our insistence that Zionism and Jewishness are separate, has led us seriously to misunderstand the situation? Has our refusal to look squarely at the very Jewishness of Zionism and its crimes caused us to fail to understand exactly what we are up against?
Jews, Judaism and Zionism
Jews are complex; Jewish identity is complex and the relationship between Judaism the religion, and a broader, often secular, Jewish identity or Jewishness is very complex indeed. Jewishness may be experienced a long way from synagogue, yeshiva or any other formal aspect of Jewish religious life, yet is often still inextricably bound to Judaism. That is why secular Jews are able to proclaim their secularity every bit as loudly as they proclaim their Jewishness. Marc Ellis, a religious Jew, says that when you look at those Jews who are in solidarity with Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of them are secular – but, from a religious point of view, the Covenant is with them. For Ellis, these secular Jews unknowingly and even unwillingly may be carrying with them the future of Jewish life.
Jewish identity, connecting Jews to other Jews, comes from deep within Jewish history. This is a shared history, both real and imagined, in that it is both literal and theological. Many Jews in the west share a real history of living together as a distinct people in Eastern, Central and then Western Europe and America. Others share a real history of settlement in Spain followed by expulsion and then settlement all over the world, particularly in Arab and Islamic lands. But this may not be what binds all Jews, because for all Jews it is not a real, but maybe a theological, history that is shared. Most Palestinians today probably have more Hebrew blood in their little fingers then most western Jews have in their whole bodies. And yet, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is as real to many of them, and most importantly was as real to them when they were children, as if they, along with all Jews, had stood with Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai.
And histories like that don’t stop at the present. Even for secular Jews, though unacknowledged and even unrealized, there is a sense, not only of a shared history, but also of a shared destiny. Central to Jewish identity both religious and non-religious is the sense of mission centered on exile and return. How else to explain the extraordinary devotion of so many Jews, religious and secular, to the “return” to a land with which, in real terms, they have very little connection at all?
For many Jews, this history confers a ‘specialness’. This is not unique to Jews - after all, who in their heart of hearts does not feel a little bit special? But for Jews this specialness is at the centre of their self-identification and much of the world seems to concur. For religious Jews, the specialness comes from the supposed covenant with God. But for secular Jews, the specialness comes from a special history. In either case this can be a good, even a beautiful, thing. In much of Jewish religious tradition this specialness is no more than a special moral obligation, a special responsibility to offer an example to the world, and for so many secular Jews it has led them to struggle for justice in many places around the world.
At the heart of this Jewish specialness is Jewish suffering and victimhood. Like the shared history itself, this suffering may, but need not, correspond to reality. Jews have certainly suffered but their suffering remains unexamined and unexplained. The Holocaust, now the paradigm of Jewish suffering, has long ceased to be a piece of history, and is now treated by religious and secular alike, as a piece of theology - a sacred text almost - and therefore beyond scrutiny. And the suffering never ends. No matter how much Jews have suffered they are certainly not suffering now, but for many Jews their history of suffering is not just an unchallengeable past but also a possible future. So, no matter how safe Jews may be, many feel just a hair’s-breadth away from Auschwitz.
Zionism is at the heart of this. Zionism is also complex and also comes from deep within Jewish history with the same sense of exile and return. Zionism also confirms that Jews are special in their suffering and is explicit that Jews should ‘return’ to a land given to them, and only them - by God if they are religious, or by history if they are not - because they simply are not safe anywhere else on earth.
But so what? If Jews think that they are a people with a religious link to a land and have a deep wish to ‘return’, why should we care, so long as the land is not already populated by Palestinians? And if Jews feel that they are special and that God has made some kind of special arrangement with them, so what, so long as this does not lead them to demand preferential treatment and to discriminate against others? And if Jews feel that they have suffered like no-one else on the face of the earth, fine, so long as they do not use this suffering to justify the imposition of suffering on others and to blackmail morally the whole world into quiescent silence.
This is the problem with Zionism. It expresses Jewish identity but also empowers it. It tells Jews (and many others too) that Jews can do what Jews have always dreamed of doing. It takes the perfectly acceptable religious feelings of Jews, or if you prefer, the perfectly harmless delusions of Jews, and tries to turn them into a terrible reality. Jewish notions of specialness, choseness and even supremacism, are fine for a small, wandering people, but, when empowered with a state, an army and F16s become a concern for us all.
Zionism as Jewish empowerment in statehood changes everything. Israel is not just any state, it is a Jewish state and this means more than just a state for Jews. This Jewish state is built on traditions and modes of thought that have evolved amongst Jews for centuries – amongst which are the notions that Jews are special and that their suffering is special. By their own reckoning, Jews are “a nation that dwells alone” it is “us and them” and, in many cases, “us or them”. And these tendencies are translated into the modern state of Israel. This is a state that knows no boundaries. It is a state that both believes, and uses as justification for its own aggression, the notion that its very survival is always at stake, so anything is justified to ensure that survival. Israel is a state that manifestly believes that the rules of both law and humanity, applicable to all other states, do not apply to it.
Their own worst nightmare
It is a terrible irony that this empowerment of Jews has come to most resemble those empowerments under which Jews have suffered the most. Empowered Christianity, also a marriage of faith and power, enforced its ideology and pursued its dissidents and enemies with no greater fervor than has empowered Judaism. In its zeal and self belief, Zionism has come to resemble the most brutal and relentless of modern ideologies. But unlike the brutal rationality of Stalinism, willing to sacrifice millions for political and economic revolution, this Jewish ideology, in its zealotry and irrationality, resembles more the National Socialism which condemned millions for the attainment of a nonsensical racial and ethnic supremacy.
Of course there are differences but there are also similarities. National Socialism, like Zionism, another blend of mysticism and power, gained credibility as a means to right wrongs done to a victimized people. National Socialism, like Zionism, also sought to maintain the racial/ethnic purity of one group and to maintain the rights of that ethnic group over others, and National Socialism, like Zionism, also proposed an almost mystical attachment of that group to a land. Also, both National Socialism and Zionism shared a common interest – to separate Jews from non-Jews, in this case to remove Jews from Europe – and actively co-operated in the attainment of this aim. And if the similarity between these two ideologies is simply too great and too bitter to accept, one may ask what National Socialism with its uniforms, flags and mobilized youth must have looked like to those Germans, desperate after Versailles and the ravages of post-First World War Germany. Perhaps not so different from how the uniforms, flags and marching youth of pre- and post-state Zionism must have looked to Jews after their history of suffering, and particularly after the Holocaust.
This is, for Jews, their own worst nightmare: the thing they love the most has become the thing they hate the most. And for those Jews and others, who shrink from the comparison, let them ask themselves this: What would an average German, an enthusiastic Nazi even, have said in, say, 1938 had they been confronted with the possibility of an Auschwitz? They would have thought that you were stark, staring mad.
American Jews and Jewish America
At the heart of the conflict is the relationship between Israel and America. The statistics – billions in aid and loans, UN vetoes, etc., etc. need not be repeated here - American support for Israel seems limitless. But what is the nature of this support? For many, perhaps most, the answer is relatively simple. Israel is a client state of America, serving American interests or, more particularly, the interests of its power elites. This view is underpinned by the obvious importance of oil, the huge strategic importance of the region and the fact that, if Israel did not further the interests of those who control America, then we can be sure America would not support Israel. Also, there is no doubt that, in the IDF, America has found a marvellously flexible and effective force, easily aroused and let loose whenever any group of Arabs get a little above themselves.
But is this the whole story? Does Israel really serve America’s interests and is their relationship wholly based on the sharing of these interests? Consider how much in terms of goodwill from other nations America loses by its support for Israel, and consider the power and influence of the “Jewish”, “Zionist” or “pro-Israel” lobby, as when many an otherwise responsible lawmaker, faced with the prospect of an intervention in their re-election campaign from the Jewish lobby, seems happy to put his or her re-election prospects way in front of what is good for America.
The details of the workings of AIPAC and others, and the mechanics by which these groups exert pressure on America’s lawmakers and governors, have been dealt with elsewhere; we need only note that this interest group is undoubtedly extraordinarily effective and successful. Not just a small group of Jews supporting Israel, as its supporters would have us believe, these are powerful and committed ideologues: billionaires, media magnates, politicians, activists and religious leaders. In any event, the power of the Jewish lobby to make or break pretty well any public figure is legendary – not for nothing is it often referred to simply as “The Lobby”.
But again, there may be far more to the Israel/U.S. relationship than just a commonality of interest and the effectiveness of certain interest groups. That support for Israel must be in the interests of those who control America is certainly true, but who controls America? Perhaps the real relationship is not between Israel and America but between Jews and America.
The overwhelming majority of Jews in America live their lives just like any other Americans. They’ve done well and are undoubtedly pleased that America supports their fellow Jews in Israel but that’s as far as it goes. Nonetheless, an awful lot of Jews certainly do control an awful lot of America – not the industrial muscle of America - the steel, transport, etc., nor the oil and arms industries, those traditional money-spinners. No, if Jews have influence anywhere in America, it’s not over its muscle and sinew but over its blood and its brain. It is in finance and the media that we find a great many Jews in very influential positions. Lists abound (though you have to go to some pretty unpopular websites to find them) of Jews, prominent in financial and cultural life: Jews in banks; Jews in Forbes Magazine’s Richest Americans; Jews in Hollywood; Jews in TV; Jewish journalists, writers, critics, etc., etc.
Nor have Jews been slow in exploiting their position. Jews have not hesitated to use whatever resources they have to advance their interests as they see them. Nor does one need to subscribe to any conspiracy theory to note how natural it is for Jews in the media to promote Jews and their values as positive and worthy of emulation. When did anyone last see a Jew portrayed in anything other than a favourable light? Jews are clever, moral, interesting, intense, warm, witty, complex, ethical, contradictory, prophetic, infuriating, sometimes irritating, but always utterly engaging. Nor is it any wonder that Jews in influential positions are inclined to promote what they see as Jewish collective interests. Is it really all that incredible that Jewish advisers around the Presidency bear Israel’s interests at heart when they advise the President on foreign affairs?
But so what? So there are a lot of Jews with a lot of money, and a lot of Jews with a lot to say and the means to say it. If Jews by virtue of their ability and use of resources (as honestly gained as by anyone else) promote what they perceive as their own collective interest, what’s wrong with that? First, with some notable exceptions, the vast majority of Jews can, in good faith, lay hands on hearts and swear that they never take decisions or actions with collective Jewish interests in mind, certainly not consciously. And even if they did, they are acting no differently from anyone else. With a few exceptions, Jews have earned their advantageous positions. They came with nothing, played according to the rules and, if they use their influence to further what they perceive as Jewish interests, what’s so special about that? Do not the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Gun lobby, the Christian Evangelicals also not work to further their group interests?
The difference between Jews and other groups is that they probably do it better. Jews are, by pretty well any criteria, easily the most successful ethnic group in America and, for whatever reason, have been extraordinarily successful in promoting themselves both individually and collectively. And there would probably be nothing wrong with this were it not for the fact that these same people who exert so much control and influence over American life also seem to refuse to be held accountable. It is the surreptitiousness with which Jews are perceived to have achieved their success which arouses suspicion. Jews certainly seem cagey about the influence they have. Just breathe the words “Jewish power” and wait for the reaction. They claim it’s because this charge has so often been used as a precursor to discrimination and violence against them, but never consider the possibility that their own reluctance to discuss the power they wield arouses suspicion and even hostility.
But there is another claim, subtler and more worrying. This is that it doesn’t exist; that Jews do not wield power, that there is no Jewish lobby; that Jews in America do not exert power and influence to advance Jewish interests, even that there are no such things as Jewish interests! There are no Jewish interests in the war in Iraq, there are no Jewish interests in America; most amazing, there are no Jewish interests even in Israel and Palestine. There is no Jewish collective. Jews do not act together to advance their aims. They even say that the pro-Israeli lobby has actually not all that much to do with Jews, that the Jewishness of Israel is irrelevant and the Public Affairs Committees (PACs) which lobby so hard for Israel are in fact doing no more than supporting an ally and thus looking after America’s best interests even to the extent of concealing their true purpose behind names such as “American for Better Citizenship”, “Citizen’s Organised PAC” or the “National PAC” – none of which make one reference in their titles to Israel, Zionism or Jews. Similarly, Jews and Jewish organisations are said to be not so much furthering Jewish interests and values as American, or, even, universal interests and values. So, the major Holocaust Museum, styled as a “Museum of Tolerance”, focuses not only on anti-Semitism, but on every kind of intolerance known to mankind (except that shown by Jews to non-Jews in Israel and Palestine). Similarly, the Anti-Defamation League is but an organisation for the promotion of universal principles of tolerance and justice, not just for Jews but for everyone.
This conflation of Jewish interests with American interests is nowhere more stark than in present American foreign policy. If ever an image was reminiscent of a Jewish world conspiracy, the spectacle of the Jewish neo-cons gathered around the current presidency and directing policy in the Middle East, this must be it. But we are told that the fact that the Jewish neo-cons, many with links with right wing political groups within Israel, are in the forefront of urging a pro-Israel policy, is but a coincidence, and any suggestion that these figures might be influenced by their Jewishness and their links with Israel is immediately marginalised as reviving old anti-Semitic myths about Jewish dual loyalty. The idea that American intervention in Iraq, the one viable military counterweight to Israeli hegemony in the Middle East and therefore an inspiration to Arab and Palestinian resistance, primarily serves Israeli rather than American interests has also been consigned to the nether world of mediaeval anti-Semitic myth. The suggestion that those Jews around the president act from motives other than those to promote the interests of all Americans is just anti-Semitic raving. And maybe they’re right. Perhaps those who promote Jewish interests are in fact promoting American interests because, for now at least, they appear to be one and the same.
In Washington, D.C. is a memorial to a terrible tragedy. Not a memorial to a tragedy visited on Americans by a foreign power as at Pearl Harbour or 9/11, nor to a tragedy visited by Americans on Americans such the sacking of Atlanta. Nor is it a memorial of contrition to a tragedy inflicted by Americans onto another people, such as to slavery or to the history of racial injustice in America. It is to none of these. The Holocaust memorial is to a tragedy inflicted on people who were not Americans, by people who were not Americans, and in a place a very long way from America. And the co-religionists or, even, if you like, the co-nationals, of the people on whom the tragedy was visited and to whom the memorial is built make up around two percent of the American population. How is it that a group of people who make up such a tiny percentage of the overall American population can command such respect and regard that a memorial to them is built in the symbolic heart of American national life?
The Jewish narrative is now at the centre of American life, certainly that of its cultural and political elites. There is, anyway, much in the way that Americans choose to see themselves and their history which is quite naturally compatible with the way Jews see themselves and their history. What more fitting paradigm for a country founded on immigration, than the story of the mass immigration of Jews at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? For many Americans, the story of those Jews who came to their Goldenes Medina, their Golden Land, with nothing and, through hard work and perseverance, made it to the very top of American society, is also their story. And what could be more inspirational for a country, if not officially but still viscerally, deeply Christian than the story of the Jews, Jesus' own people and God's chosen people, returning to their ancient homeland and transforming it into a modern state. And for a nation which sees itself as a beacon of democracy in the world, what better international soul-mate than the state of Israel, widely held to be "the only democracy in the Middle-East"? Finally what greater validation for a
country itself founded on a narrative of conquest and ethnic cleansing than the Biblical narrative of the conquest and ethnic cleansing of the Promised Land with the addition of the equally violent settlement of modern Palestine with its own ethnic cleansing and then "making the desert bloom"?
Most resonant, of course, is the notion of Jews as a suffering people. The fact that this “suffering people” is now enjoying a success beyond the dreams of any other ethnic group in America seems irrelevant. Also ignored is how American Jews have made it to the very top of American society whilst, every step of the way, complaining about how much they’re being discriminated against. Nonetheless, to America, Jews have an enduring and ongoing history of suffering and victimhood. But this history has rarely been examined or even discussed.
A Suffering People
That Jews have suffered is undeniable, but Jewish suffering is claimed to have been so enduring, so intense and so particular that it is to be treated differently from other sufferings.
The issue is complex and cannot be fully debated or decided here but the following points may stimulate thought and discussion.
1.During even the most terrible times of Jewish suffering such as the Crusades or the Chmielnitzky massacres of seventeenth century Ukraine, and even more so at other times in history, it has been said that the average peasant would have given his eye-teeth to be a Jew. The meaning is clear: generally speaking, and throughout most of their history, the condition of Jews was often far superior to the mass of the population.
2.The above-mentioned Ukrainian massacres took place in the context of a peasant uprising against the oppression of the Ukrainian peasantry by their Polish overlords. As has often been the case, Jews were seen as occupying a traditional position of being in alliance with the ruling class in their oppression of the peasantry. Chmielnitzky, the leader of this popular uprising, is today a Ukrainian national hero, not for his assaults on Jews (there are even references to his having offered poor Jews to join the uprising against their exploitative co-religionists – the Jews declined) but for his championing of the rights of the oppressed Ukrainians. Again, the inference is plain: outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence, though never justified, have often been responses to Jewish behaviour both real and imaginary.
3.In the Holocaust three million Polish Jews died, but so did three million non-Jewish Poles. Jews were targeted but so were Gypsies, homosexuals, Slavs and Poles. Similarly, the Church burned Jews for their dissenting beliefs but then the church burned everyone for their dissenting beliefs. So again, the question must be asked: what’s so special about Jewish suffering?
The Holocaust, the paradigm for all anti-Semitism and all Jewish suffering, is treated as being beyond examination and scrutiny. Questioning the Holocaust narrative is, at best, socially unacceptable, leading often to social exclusion and discrimination, and, at worst, in some places is illegal and subject to severe penalty. Holocaust revisionist scholars, named Holocaust deniers by their opponents, have challenged this. They do not deny a brutal and extensive assault on Jews by the Nazi regime but they do deny the Holocaust narrative as framed by present day establishments and elites. Specifically, their denial is limited to three main areas. First, they deny that there ever was an official plan on the part of Hitler or any other part of the Nazi regime systematically and physically to eliminate every Jew in Europe; second, they deny that there ever existed homicidal gas-chambers; third, they claim that the numbers of Jewish victims of the Nazi assault have been greatly exaggerated.
But none of this is the point. Whether those who question the Holocaust narrative are revisionist scholars striving to find the truth and shamelessly persecuted for opposing a powerful faction, or whether they are crazy Jew-haters denying a tragedy and defaming its victims, the fact is that one may question the Armenian genocide, one may freely discuss the Slave Trade, one can say that the murder of millions of Ibos, Kampucheans and Rwandans never took place and that the moon is but a piece of green cheese floating in space, but one may not question the Jewish Holocaust. Why? Because, like the rest of the Jewish history of suffering, the Holocaust underpins the narrative of Jewish innocence which is used to bewilder and befuddle any attempt to see and to comprehend Jewish power and responsibility in Israel/Palestine and elsewhere in the world.
What is a Jew?
Israel Shamir, the Russian-born Israeli writer, advocates the right of all people, whatever their ethnicity or religion, to live together in complete equality between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Shamir condemns the behaviour of Israel and of Diaspora Jews and calls for an end to their preferential treatment, but he also proposes an opposition to Judaism itself for which he stands accused of being anti-Jewish – a charge he does not deny but actually embraces.
Shamir proposes the existence of a Jewish ideology, or "Jewish paradigm" as he puts it, and proposes that it is the voluntary adherence to this “spirit” which makes a Jew into a Jew. For him, Jewishness is neither race nor ethnicity – there is, for Shamir, no such thing as a Jewish ‘tribe’ or ‘family’ - no biological or ethnic body from which there can be no escape. Further, this ideology, based on notions of choseness, exclusivity and even supremacism is, at least when empowered, incompatible with peace, equality and justice in Palestine or anywhere else for that matter.
No-one wants to oppose any Jews simply for being Jews, or even for what they believe, but only because of what they do. The problem is that since, according to Shamir, what Jews believe and even do is precisely what makes them into Jews, so opposition to Jewishness as an ideology surely comes dangerously close to opposition to Jews simply for being Jews. But for Shamir, Jews are Jews because they choose to be Jews. Someone may be born of Jews and raised as a Jew but they can if they wish reject their Jewish upbringing and become a non-Jew. And many have done just that including such famous escapees as Karl Marx, St. Paul, Leon Trotsky (and Shamir himself), etc. Opposition to Jews is not, therefore, like opposition to Blacks or to Asians or to other common racist attitudes since the object of the opposition is perfectly able to relinquish the ideology in question.
Shamir has never in any way called for any harm to be done to Jews or anyone else, nor for Jews or anyone else to be discriminated against in any way. Adherence to this Jewish ideology is, for Shamir, regrettable, but not, in itself, a matter for active opposition. Nor does this mean that Shamir is opposed to any individual Jew just because he or she is a Jew. What Shamir actively opposes is not “Jews” but “Jewry”. Analogous to say, the Catholic Church, Jewry consists of those organised Jews and their leaders who actively promote corrosive Jewish interests and values, particularly now in the oppression of the Palestinians
One doesn’t have to be in complete agreement with Shamir to understand what he is talking about. Why should Jews not have a “spirit”; after all, such a concept has been discussed with regard to other nations?
“It is dangerous, wrong, to speak about the “Germans,” or any other people, as of a single undifferentiated entity, and include all individuals in one judgement. And yet I don’t think I would deny that there exists a spirit of each people (otherwise it would not be a people) a Deutschtum, an italianitia, an hispanidad: they are the sums of traditions, customs, history, language, and culture. Whoever does not feel within himself this spirit, which is national in the best sense of the word, not only does not entirely belong to his own people but is not part of human civilization. Therefore, while I consider insensate the syllogism, ‘All Italians are passionate; you are Italian; therefore you are passionate,” I do however believe it legitimate, within certain limits, to expect from Italians taken as a whole, or from Germans, etc., one specific, collective behavior rather than another. There will certainly be individual exceptions, but a prudent, probabilistic forecast is in my opinion possible.”
And for Jews it is, perhaps, even more appropriate. The place of Judaism as an ideology at the centre for all Jewish identity may be debated, but few would dispute that Judaism is at least at the historic heart of Jewishness and, whatever else may bind Jews together, it is certainly true that religion plays an important part. Second, for a group of people who have retained such a strong collective identity with no shared occupation of any land, language, nor even, in many cases, a culture, it is hard to see what else there could be that makes Jews into Jews. Surely for Jews, in the absence of other, more obvious factors, it is precisely such a spirit that has enabled them to retain their distinctive identity for so long and in the face of such opposition.
But if there is some kind of Jewish spirit or ideology, what is it? As far as Judaism, the religion, goes it seems fairly clear that there is an ideology based on the election of Israel by God, the special relationship Jews are supposed to have with God and the special mission allocated to Jews by God. So for observant Jews there is a special quality intrinsic to the covenant and to Judaism itself, though not all of them find it appealing:
"There is a strain in Jewish thought that says there is a special Godly something or other that is passed down in a certain genetic line which confers a special quality on people and Jewishness is a special quality. I call that metaphysical racism."
Rabbi Mark Solomon
But whilst easy to see such a common spirit in religious Jews – after all it is precisely that which makes them religious – it is so much harder to define it in secular Jews, those Jews who reject, often quite vociferously, all aspects of Jewish faith. They often claim that they don’t have an ideology, or that their ideology is one of, say, the left: not only not Jewish, but opposed to all religions including Judaism. Yet seemingly so free of all such ignorant superstition, these same people still call themselves Jews, still more often than not marry other Jews and still turn up to solidarity rallies only with other Jews and under Jewish banners. What is their ideology?
For my money it is much the same sense of specialness found in religious Jews but with a special reference to victimhood. “Yes, but only in the Hitlerian sense”, answered philosopher Maxime Rodinson when asked if he still considered himself a Jew. For many of these Jews it is their identity as a threatened and victimized people that makes them Jews. “Hitler said I was a Jew, so I may as well be a Jew” is one response or “To be a Jew somehow denies all those who ever persecuted Jews a victory– so I’m a Jew”. For these Jews, albeit estranged from Jewish religious and often community life as well, Emil Fackenheim’s famous post-Holocaust 614th commandment (to add to the other 613): Thou shall survive! is an absolute imperative. But whatever the motive, this self-identity runs very deep indeed. Amongst these Jews, no matter how left or progressive they may be, one may criticise Israel to the nth degree, poke fun at the Jewish establishment and even shamefully denigrate Judaism as a religion, but depart one iota from the approved text on anti-Semitism and Jewish suffering, and you are in deep trouble. For these rational folk, Jewish suffering and anti-Semitism is every bit as inexplicable, mysterious and therefore, unchallengeable as for any religious Jew.
Jewish secularism is often offered as evidence that there is no such thing as a Jewish identity gathered around any shared ideology. After all, if all Jews subscribe to the same basic ideology, then how come so many Jews so obviously don’t? And if all Jews essentially support the same interests, how come so many Jews so obviously don’t? But is it that obvious? Not only do secular Jews very often seem to subscribe to Jewish notions of specialness and victimhood, but also, in their attitudes to non-Jews in general, and Palestinians in particular, they are by no means all that different from religious Jews.
It is often quoted how many Jews are in solidarity movements with Palestinians and how many of these are secular. And it’s true: there are many Jews in sympathy with the Palestinians and the overwhelming majority are secular, and the main thrust of post-1967 virulent Zionism has come to be associated with the religious right. But this secular Jewish tradition, in fact, has been at the forefront of Zionism’s assault on the Palestinians. It was secular Labour Zionists who created the Zionist ideology and the pre-state Jewish-only society. It was secular Zionists - good, humanistic, left-wing kibbutzniks - who directed and carried out the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians, and the destruction of their towns and villages. It was secular Zionists who established the present state with all its discriminatory practices; and it was a largely secular Labour government that held the Palestinian citizens of Israel under military government in their own land for eighteen years. Finally, it was a secular, Labour government which conquered the West Bank and Gaza, and first built the settlements, and embarked on the Oslo peace process, coolly designed to deceive the Palestinians into surrendering their rights.
And even those secular Jews who do support Palestinian rights, on so many occasions, the solidarity they offer is limited by self interest. That these people, at least as much as anyone else, act out of their highest motives may be true. Many have been lifelong activists for many causes and many find their activism springs, consciously or unconsciously, from what they see as the highest ideals of their Jewishness. But nonetheless for many of them, solidarity with Palestinians means above all, the protection of Jews. They call for a Palestinian state on 22 per cent of the Palestinian homeland, but only to keep and protect the ‘Jewishness’ of the Jewish state. The Palestinian state they call for would inevitably be weak, dominated by the Israeli economy and under the guns of the Israeli military – surely they must know what this would mean!
At rally after rally, in speeches and on leaflets and banners, these Jews denounce the occupation: “Down with the occupation…down with the occupation…down with the occupation…” but not a word of the inherent injustice of a state for Jews only; perhaps a mention of the ill-gotten gains of 1948, but nothing of the right of return of the refugees, no restitution merely ‘a just solution’ taking account, of course, of Israel’s ‘demographic concerns’. “We are with you….we are with you….we are with you” they say “…...but..” Whether it be condemnation of some form of Palestinian resistance of which they disapprove, or some real or perceived occurrence of anti-Semitism, for these Jews there is always a “but.”
They should take a leaf from Henry Herskovitz. He is part of an organisation called Jewish Witnesses for Peace, which holds silent vigils outside synagogues on shabbat. Of course, all the other Jewish activists are shrieking at him that you mustn't target Jews for protest, that you must draw a distinction between Jews, Israelis and Zionists, that you'll only alienate the people we want to engage.... but he doesn't care. He knows that support from the Jewish mainstream, as Tony Cliff the Trotskyite used to say, “….is like honey on your elbow - you can see it, you can smell it but you can never quite taste it!” Henry also knows that to say that Jews in America individually and in their religious and community organisations should not be held accountable for what is happening is a lie and discredits all Jews before the non-Jewish world.
So these secular Jews often end up being just another round of Michael Neuman’s “veritable shell game” of Jewish identity. "Look! We're a religion! No! a race! No! a cultural entity! Sorry--a religion!" Because this is the key to maintaining Jewish power – if it’s indefinable, it’s invisible. Like a Stealth Bomber (you can’t see it on your radar but you sure know when you’ve been hit) Jewish power, with its blurred outlines and changing forms, becomes invisible. And if you can’t see it you can’t fight it. Meanwhile the assault on the Palestinians continues.
The phrase is itself terrifying because of its past association with discrimination and violence against Jews, but Jews themselves have no problem with it. The notion of a Jewish People is at the centre of Jewish faith with Jews of all or no degrees of religious adherence over and over again affirming its existence. It is also at the heart of Zionism even in its most secular forms and is written into the foundational texts of the state of Israel. The concept even received international legal approval when the Jewish people were declared, by the West German state, to be the post-war residual heirs of intestate Jews. And yet it is an absolute article of faith for everyone, including those in the solidarity movement, that while we may criticize and confront Israel and Israelis, we may not criticize and confront the Jewish people and Jews. Unlike Israel and any other state, the Jewish People has no common policy and any attack on the Jewish people is, therefore, aimed at what they are and not at what they do.
But is speaking of the Jews doing this or doing that any more or less acceptable than speaking of, say, the Americans? If the American military lays waste a third world country, it is done by order of the government (a small group) with the full support of the ruling elites (another small group), the tacit support of a substantial segment of the population (a larger group), the silent denial of probably the majority of the population (a very large group) and the opposition of a tiny minority (a small group). Is it all that different with Jews?
It may be. Unlike the United States, ‘the Jews’ are not a legally constituted body and they do not have an obvious and defined common policy. ‘The Jews’ do not have an officially designated leadership, nor do they inhabit one area of land, nor do they speak a common language or even share a common culture. Theoretically at least there seem to be so many differences as to render any comparison untenable. In practice this may not be the whole story.
It is true that ‘the Jews’ do not constitute a legally recognized body, but Zionism, with its claim to represent all Jews, has increasingly confused the issue. It is also true that the Zionists do not represent all Jews but they do represent the views of very many Jews indeed, and certainly the most powerful and influential Jews. And there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of organized Jews are fully behind the Zionist project. That ‘the Jews’ do not have a formally designated leadership does not mean that they have no leadership - bodies again to which the overwhelming majority of organized Jews owe allegiance: the Israeli Government, the World Zionist Organization; numerous large and powerful Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, The Simon Wiesenthal Centre; lesser bodies such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews and similar organizations in every country in which Jews reside. Then there is the extensive network of Jewish bodies often linked, through synagogues to the whole spectrum of mainstream Jewish religious and community life. All these bodies with their vast and interconnected network do provide leadership; they do have clearly defined policies and they are all four-square behind Zionism and Israel in its assault on the Palestinians.
Does this constitute a definable Jewish collective engaged in advancing Jewish interests? Officially, perhaps not, but, effectively, when one notes the remarkable unanimity of intent of all these bodies, the answer may well be yes. They do not of course represent all Jews nor are all individual Jews responsible for their actions, but nonetheless ‘the Jews’ - organized, active and effective Jews - are as responsible for the pursuit of Jewish interests in Palestine and elsewhere as ‘the Americans’ in Vietnam, ‘the French’ in Algeria, and ‘the British’ in India.
So why should our response be different? Why should ‘the Jews’ not be as accountable as ‘the Americans’ and even ordinary Jews as accountable as ordinary Americans? Why do we not picket the offices of the Anti-Defamation League or The Conference of Presidents or the offices or even the homes of Abe Foxman, Edgar Bronfman and Mort Zuckerman in the U.S. and Neville Nagler in the U.K.? Why do we not heckle Alan Dershowitz in the U.S. and Melanie Phillips in the U.K.? What about the U.K. Chief Rabbi who in his time has had lots to say about Israel and Palestine? Why do we not take the struggle to every synagogue and Jewish community centre in the world? After all, every Shabbat a prayer is said for the state of Israel in every mainstream synagogue in the land, most of which are focal points for Zionist propagandizing and fundraising, so why should these Jews who choose to combine their prayers and their politics be immune while at prayer from our legitimate protests at their politics? And for those few Jews who are really prepared to stand up and be counted for their solidarity with Palestinians, why can we not still give to them due honour and regard as we did to those few Americans who opposed American imperialism and those white South Africans who opposed apartheid?
The answer is that we are frightened. Even knowing that Jews are responsible and should be held accountable, still we are frightened. We are frightened because criticism of Jews with its woeful history of violence and discrimination seems just too dangerous a position to take – it may open the flood-gates to a burst of Jew hatred. We are frightened that if we were to discuss the role of Jews in this conflict and in other areas and begin to hold Jews accountable, we might be labelled anti-Semites and lose support. And, perhaps most of all, we are frightened of the conflicted inner passions that confound us all whenever we come to look at these things.
Does speaking the truth about Jewish identity, power and history lead to Jews being led to concentration camps and ovens? Of course it doesn’t! It is hatred, fear and the suppression of free thought and speech which leads to these things – whether the hatred, fear and suppression is directed against Jews or by Jews. Anyway, despite efforts to convince us to the contrary, we do not live in the thirteenth century. Californians are unlikely to pour out of their cinemas showing Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion’ chanting “Death to the Jews!” And, at a time when Jews in Israel/Palestine, overwhelmingly backed by Jewish organisations in the west, are desecrating churches and mosques wholesale and brutally oppressing entire Christian and Muslim populations, we may be forgiven for finding it hard to get excited about graffiti daubed on some synagogue somewhere.
If we were to begin to engage with the role of Jews in this conflict, we may well be labelled anti-Semites and we may well, initially at least, lose support. The anti-Semite curse has long served as a frightener to silence all criticism of Jews, Israel and Zionism, and undoubtedly will be used to discredit our cause. But so what? They call us anti-Semites anyway so what’s to lose? Edward Said spent a lifetime picking his way through the Israel/Zionism/Judaism minefield and never once criticised Jews, and he was called an anti-Semite his whole life, right up to and even after his death. As a movement we have probably spent as much time being nice to Jews as we have speaking up for Palestinians, and for what? Where has it got us? We are not racists and we are not anti-Semites, so let them do their worst. We shall speak our minds.
For so long now Jews have told the world that black is white and not only that, but also if anyone should dare to deny that black is white they will be denounced as anti-Semites with all the attendant penalties. We are held in a moral and intellectual lock, the intention of which has been to silence all criticism of Israeli and Jewish power. In saying the unsayable we may set ourselves and others free. And think how it will feel the next time you are called an anti-Semite to say “Well, I don’t know about that, but I do have some very strong but legitimate criticisms to make of Jews and the way they are behaving….and I intend to speak out”?
And you never know; we may be pleasantly surprised. Israel Shamir, who has no trouble whatsoever in calling a Jew a Jew, was cheered spontaneously recently when he introduced himself from the floor at a London solidarity meeting. I saw it with my own eyes. His first English-language book has just been published; he corresponds freely and reciprocally with many highly respected figures and is on the boards of advisers of The Association for One Democratic State in Palestine and of Deir Yassin Remembered. Perhaps it’s all just a case of the Emperor’s new clothes. Perhaps we’re all just waiting for some innocent child to blow the whistle.
The situation facing the Palestinian people is truly terrible. Old political strategies have got us nowhere. We need a new and widened debate. It may be that a new and credible discourse which puts Jews and Jewishness at the critical centre of our discussions is part of that.
And one final point: In a previous piece, paraphrasing Marc Ellis I wrote:
“To the Christian and to the entire non-Jewish world, Jews say this: ‘You will apologise for Jewish suffering again and again and again. And, when you have done apologising, you will then apologise some more. When you have apologised sufficiently we will forgive you ... provided that you let us do what we want in Palestine.’
Shamir took me to task, “Eisen is too optimistic”, he said, “Palestine is not the ultimate goal of the Jews…..the world is.”
Well, I don’t know about that, but, if as now seems likely, the conquest of Palestine is complete and the state of Israel stretches from Tel-Aviv to the Jordan River, what can we expect? Will the Jews of Israel, supported by Jews outside of Israel, now obey the law, live peaceably behind their borders and enjoy the fruits of their victory, or will they want more? Who’s next?
Paul Eisen is a director of Deir Yassin Remembered