Maybe It’s True Israel’s Jews Are Incapable of Sovereignty

Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
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Yair Netanyahu greeting Likud voters in the build up to 22nd Knesset election, September 17, 2019.
Yair Netanyahu greeting Likud voters in the build up to 22nd Knesset election, September 17, 2019. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

It’s hard to understand what Israel needs right now – what can help move the wheels of the Israeli reality in the right direction and what the right direction is.

“There’s nothing harder than helping another person,” the Hungarian author Sandor Marai wrote in his 1935 book “Divorce in Buda.” “You see that a person you like and who is important to you running amok to his ruin, living against his own good … already can hardly withstand it … falling apart …. And you hurry to him, you want to help, and suddenly you realize that it’s impossible because what people need is not necessarily what their own good requires.

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“Perhaps they need to hurt. Perhaps they need what by all signs is not for their own good. There is nothing more complicated than a person’s own good .… Symptoms can be treated; to assuage a headache I can write a prescription, but I don’t have access to the thing that caused the headache.”

Recently it’s been hard for me not to think about Israel as running amok to ruin. The Jews seem like people who need what by all signs is not for their own good. And I too, like journalist Ben-Dror Yemini, was taken by Yair Netanyahu’s tweet last week: “As a full Ashkenazi Jew I am allowed to say: This group is completely screwed up.”

Yemini saw the tweet as an echo of Jewish self-hatred, an incarnation of auto-antisemitism that Austrian thinker Otto Weininger suffered from – “the only honorable Jew,” if you ask Hitler – which led him to suicide. Yair’s self-hatred reminded Yemini of the self-hatred that he ascribed to the “extreme” left, which believes that international intervention is needed to end the occupation.

Yemini isn’t the only one who ascribes auto-antisemitism to the left. It’s hard to find an article by Haaretz’s Gideon Levy, or a report about Breaking the Silence, that doesn’t earn a comment with the quote by Berl Katznelson that has become cliché: “Is there another people on earth whose sons are so emotionally twisted that they consider everything their nation does despicable and hateful?”

The novelty is that Yemini attributes this to someone who for many is considered the most loyal spokesman of the right, who tweets from the groaning heart of the right-wing in its authentic political wrongness.

The spread to the right of the auto-antisemitic curse – or perhaps the Jewish autoimmune disease – seems symptomatic. Everything gets mixed into the argument in which “left” has become a synonym for Ashkenazi and “right” for Mizrahi; in which the right accuses the left of forgetting what it is to be Jewish and the left calls the right fascist and Judeo-Nazi; in which right-wing posts regret that “the Nazis didn’t finish the job.”

And in posts from the other side, right-wingers are called baboons. Then it hits you: Maybe this is exactly what was meant by people who said the Jews are incapable of sovereignty?

This is the amount of pain they need. They pathologically undermine the nation-state in which they live, even when they have a sovereign state and it’s actually their nation.

If the son of Israel’s prime minister, who was born here and imbibed Jewish sovereignty with his mother’s milk, can’t live with Israeli sovereignty that contains existential contradictions – a “we” that includes Arabs and ultra-Orthodox, Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, without subtracting anyone, we’re all limbs of one body – what should the Europeans say?

And if I think about Yair’s father, suddenly he looks like a symptom. Removing him – which I believe is necessary – will assuage the pain for a while, but it won’t give access to the source of the pain. The only hope is that the hiatus in the pain will give us breathing room to begin thinking about where we go from here.

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