Victimhood - Israelis' Ultimate Comfort Zone

When the education minister proposes making the Holocaust a mandatory subject from first grade, it is reasonable to assume he has good intentions. But he seeks to recharge a symbol that has been emptied of meaning.

Yitzhak Laor
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Yitzhak Laor

Anyone who has been witness to mass hysteria - on the soccer field, the street or on Facebook - has seen elements of psychotic behavior: timid individuals whose voices would never be heard if they were not in a crowd are turned all of sudden into people capable of violent, wild screaming and shouting; and amid their "authentic" vilification and accusations and cries of anguish, there is a lust for power, an enemy, danger and a voice, along with bravery, a victim, violence and solidarity. That's what the Internet looked like, for example, during Israel's far-removed Pillar of Defense operation in Gaza, thanks to the Internet experience. It seems like light years away, but it was just a year ago.

People whom you had known before the war, committed peaceniks, regulation anti-Bibi types, were taken over by the mentality of a herd of animals, posting pictures of the "destruction" wreaked by a rocket in Rishon Letzion or Ashdod, portraying us to that absent responsible adult, meaning those looking on in the West, as dismembered victims. You don't need to be terribly insightful to call this a mob.

And who benefits from such psychoses? Street propagandists, politicians, copywriters, second-rate poets and of course the news media. The weakness of the individual, and not only when rockets were falling on Tel Aviv, as well as insignificance, the death of symbols and the like, vanish in a moment of "empowerment." This concept has been revived, and whoever looks for its conceptual roots in the literature will alas always come upon the Nazi SS and how Heinrich Himmler always spurred on his delicate boys to toughen up for the good of the nation.

And even without such comparisons, it's enough to remember the connection between the violent herd and self-victimization, notably on the part of people who promote this empowerment and who of course need their subjects to be weak. The constant sense of victimization is what imparts this weakness to individuals, what creates the rage of the crowd, which is so well disciplined. (There is always a leader.) And the main point is that the herd is not cut off, not even for one moment, from the sweet experience of victimhood.

When the education minister proposes making the Holocaust a mandatory subject from first grade, it is reasonable to assume he has good intentions. He is concerned about the disappearance of an Israeli common denominator and of the danger to democracy as a result of this loss. He understands the vacuum that has been created by the death of Zionism. But he is mistaken; he seeks to recharge a symbol that has been emptied of meaning.

In one of the successful workbooks on Judaism for high school students, the students are asked to select one of two major events in the life of the nation. One of them is mythological - the Exodus from Egypt (with the "Jewish people" in active mode). The second option is the Holocaust (when the people are passive). The establishment of the State of Israel as an extraordinary event in Jewish history is not one of the options. The absence of such a choice would never have occurred in the Zionist era. Until the late 1960s, Israeli Zionism interposed a separation between the story of the fighter-pioneer and the Jewish victim. Such a separation had its advantages, but in any event these symbols were emptied of their meaning. How did that happen?

One can of course speak of the bankruptcy of neo-capitalism. No one identifies with symbols that gives them no profit. And really, in an era when giant corporations like Teva don't have to pay taxes but the greengrocer, cab driver, construction worker and teacher do, along with housing and employment victims, why should a patriot identify with a symbol that offers no payback? Thus, precisely for that reason, the symbols of self-victimization are being reinforced: for the sake of controlling people.

Sermons that "you were weak until we came along," until empowerment, are made for an era marked by the decline of symbols. It is understood that no opposition will grow out of such psychoses, only herds of subjects. "Good morning, children," the teacher will say in logic class, "the smuggling tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, which were used to bring in food to Gaza, were bad tunnels because they provided food to the enemy who was besieging us, children, and now we will learn about the tunnels that Antek Zuckerman and his comrades dug between the Warsaw Ghetto and the city's Aryan section, because in every generation you must be victims, in order to be strong, in order to be victims, in order to be strong."

In short, you control them and we'll control you, dummies.

Haaretz Cartoon - 19/11/2012, featuring military news commentator Roni Daniel. Credit: Amos Biderman