The Eternal Jew in Nationalist Israel

The Israeli left, which has come under attack in recent weeks, is simply fulfilling its civic obligation to Israeli society by trying to protect the state from itself.

Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
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A protest held in Haifa against the Israeli operation in Gaza, July 19, 2014.
A protest held in Haifa against the Israeli operation in Gaza, July 19, 2014.Credit: Rami Shllush
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

The hatred for the Haaretz newspaper and the Israeli left must be understood in the context of increasing Jewish nationalism. The calls to silence the paper’s writers are reminiscent of the book burning in 1817 at Wartburg Castle in Germany, where student groups that led the German unity movement threw the French constitution – written less than 30 years earlier – into the fire while railing against foreigners, Jews and cosmopolitans.

The cosmopolitanism of German Jewry – which was essentially the only position from which they could allow themselves to criticize their country – became synonymous with Jewishness, i.e., a liberal worldview that recognized the dangers the nationalist monster posed to the world. That’s why the German fear of Jews was also a recoiling from the values of the Enlightenment, which threatened German uniqueness and superiority.

Jewish nationalism, which has become the religion of the majority here, threatens all those who refuse to “convert.” Highlighting the singularity of the Holocaust has made us blind to the possibility that persecuted Jews need not wear a skullcap; they can be persecuted not due to their religious or ethnic affiliation, but precisely due to those Jewish characteristics that modern anti-Semitism ascribes to them: cosmopolitanism and the fight for freedom in the name of universal values – in other words, in the name of humanity.

The Nazi propaganda film “The Eternal Jew” portrayed the Jews as rats carrying diseases that spread through Europe, instantly recognizable when they are dressed in traditional clothes, but also capable of doing such things when hidden by modern garb and business suits. The narrator suggests looking for the Jewish facial features as testimony to their eternally abominable characteristics.

As fate would have it, popular discourse also tends to ascribe certain physical characteristics to the Israeli left (like bald heads and round-rimmed glasses), and they arouse physical abhorrence, exactly as if they were the eternal Jew in his current incarnation.

Back in 1954, after the Qibya incident – in which 69 Arab villagers, most of them women and children – were killed in a reprisal raid for a terrorist attack, Yeshayahu Leibowitz noted, “From a perspective of morals and conscience, we lived for generations in an artificial hothouse, in which we were able to grow and nurture values … that never stood the test of reality.

"We thought of ourselves … as having overcome one of the most horrid passions lurking within man … the desire for intergroup bloodshed. While considering ourselves above that, we ignored … the fact that in our historical situation bloodshed was not one of the measures available to our group … In terms of our moral role … the Diaspora reality allowed us to dodge the acid test.”

As Israelis, we cannot dodge the acid test any longer; sovereignty demands responsibility. We cannot relate to Palestinian violence as a phenomenon that has results but no causes. The Israeli left and those who represent it in writing are doing no less than fulfilling their civic obligation to Israeli society by struggling to protect the state from itself. Whoever thinks that seeking peace and an end to the Palestinians’ oppression is not rooted in a desire for justice and love of one’s homeland, but in Jewish defeatism and loyalty to the Palestinian people, has forgotten what it means to be Israeli.

A moral compass, like any compass, always points in the same direction, no matter where we may be found. That assumes, of course, that we are not trying to deny the power of history’s magnetic field.

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