My favorite shrink blogger has just posted a meditation on a question posed by some commenters here at the Augean Stables. It goes to the core of what I’ve called “Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome” and takes the analysis to new depths of psychological analysis. Shrinkwrapped begins with a discussion of the Ben Dror Yemini article, and comes to his remarkable conclusion:
Ben-Dror Yemini concluded with some questions about the Israeli response, or lack thereof, to the entire affair:
And where is Israel? It does not exist. It is the Dreyfus in this affair, but a strange Dreyfus. A Dreyfus who has had a libel stuck to it, but who remains nonchalant. Others fight for it. Official Israel has never bothered to thank Karsenty, or others who have fought to dispel the libel. Regarding assistance, there is nothing to even discuss; on the contrary. Unofficial Israel was on Enderlin’s side. Most of the articles, mind you, were against Karsenty and for Enderlin.
Justice came to light, in France, not in Israel. This is not by chance. If the trial had been held in Israel, there is concern, only concern, that the result would have been different. Freedom of speech is indeed a supreme value but on one condition: That it is found in the hands of very specific people. But that is the subject of a different article.
For those who have not followed the case, Richard Landes has a summary here; also see the discussion of Pallywood, and by all means read the entire article by Ben-Dror Yemini, with special attention to the comments.
Sophia noted [Emphasis mine-SW]:
There is so much guilt – guilt that Jews should be bearing arms at all – we’re ready to assume the mantle of wanton destroyer because even to pick up a gun is unsettling for so many of us. One principled antizionist position argues that the moral dilemmas confronting the defense of a state, including the conduct of wars and police actions, contradict higher Jewish moral codes – even the basic principles of Torah – THOU SHALT NOT KILL – the voice of Ha Shem resonates through the ages.
This argument is not so easy to deflect as more spurious antisemitic or racist claims against the Jewish state or even the universalist argument against the existence of a “Jewish people”. The universalist argument works toward one world, one global people; thus any particularism in an affront to that scheme. One can argue rationally against this.
But how do we argue with G*d?
I submit, many Jews, including many Israelis, maybe not even consciously religious, assume guilt that isn’t even theirs because the incredible moral conflicts involved in self-defense, let alone in war, can so outrage the soul.
There’s another possibility … perhaps they are simply so depressed after their endless battle for survival, their war against man, that they no longer wish to live. That is maybe even more disturbing. It means that many Jews would rather die as a people, or would rather kill their own state, than fight for life.
She made a second comment that was even more pointed and trenchant:
Nevertheless I submit there is a huge moral weight assumed by most idealistic Jews, certainly by Israel; and that’s reflected in the history of the IDF, the idea of restraint in arms.
It makes failures of this doctrine, even accidental disasters, that much more striking and it’s used again and again in anti-Israel propaganda; ironically, as we all know, if Israel really were like the Nazis or even most Western states, the propaganda wouldn’t be so effective. For example there’s nothing unusual about the US missing a target and the Brits just used “vacuum bombs”, a particularly lethal weapon, against the Taliban, the Soviets disappeared millions; and terrorists strike anybody and everybody who happens to be in range. Peace movements to the contrary notwithstanding, ideological and even religious justifications support even the bloodiest of these deeds.
Children are killed in war, many deliberately – as in attacks on Israeli children, the masses of Basij. But the idea that Jews would kill a child – even accidentally – instant abomination. There must be atonement. Did this, consciously or otherwise, drive media coverage of al Dura?
Is it a particularity of Israel that even accidental deaths in the conduct of a war are fodder for the international press as well as self-loathing? It’s a toxic combination: guilt, the need for atonement, a press hungry for sensation, a public perhaps unconsciously seeking the familiar image of a crucified innocent.
This is embodied in the expression so often heard these days among the Israeli left: “so what if Al Durah was a fake, we’ve killed over 800 children in the Intifada.” This quote comes from statistics tendentiously compiled by B’Tselem, an Israeli group (anyone under 18 is a child, and anyone who is [reported] not engaged in military action is a civilian). Gideon Levy took the theme to its climax in his response to the latest developments in Paris: “We’ve killed 800 Muhammad al Durahs!” So accidental becomes, symbolically intentional.
And – what about the assumption, both on the part of Jews and non-Jews, that Jews should be on a higher plane? Surely this struggle to reach a higher plane is one of the driving motives of civilization. But – isn’t it one thing to try and demand that of ourselves on a spiritual plane, even a communal plane, in the attempt to lead a righteous existence, and something else again though when one isn’t permitted even to try and keep living?
Maybe we have survivors’ guilt too, for not having died in the Holocaust, in the pogroms preceding it, because our grandparents escaped, because we haven’t been destroyed yet in Israel. Otherwise I don’t understand this willingness to assume responsibility for something we didn’t do.
How else do you explain so much self-hatred, and lack of tolerance even for Israel’s mistakes in war?
Guilt is a central motivator for Jews and Christians, in marked contrast to Honor-Shame cultures where all behavior is acceptable as long as it is not exposed to a critical observer. Those of us raised in a Judeo-Christian culture would never condone the kinds of “news” creation and manipulation that is normal procedure for Palestinians or the Iraqi insurgents. (Those who cannot imagine that our enemies would manufacture and manipulate the news in such a manner are guilty of the narcisstic crime of imagining that others’ minds are organized the same way theirs is.) It is guilt that supports a too diffident reaction to accusations of child murder (Al-Dura) or war crimes (Haditha). Guilt is the feeling one has when one falls short of one’s ideals. When a child dies or innocents lose their lives during the course of a battle, our immediate impulse is to examine our own behavior and look for the flaws within us that have led to the tragedy. Our enemies do not have such limitations; in fact, the Palestinians and our enemies in Iraq revel in the atrocities they commit.
For a perfect example of this kind of thinking — liberal cognitive egocentrism, outrage at the mere suggestion that Arabs might have different attitudes (Arab bashing!) — see Larry Derfner’s lengthy discussion in the Jerusalem Post, fisked here.
But, this is an insufficient explanation for a complicated set of behaviors and all human behavior is multiply determined.
For the Jew, normal guilt is often exacerbated by the survivor’s guilt felt by those only two or three generations removed from the Holocaust.
As well, many Jews have unconsciously adopted the anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic attitudes that are prevalent on the left. These attitudes among Jews arise from a mix of defensive “identification with the aggressor” and conscious and unconscious self-hatred.
In addition, there is an increasing strand of narcissistic perfectionism (The Suicidal Pursuit of Perfection) that contains an omnipotent masochistic core within those who grow up in modern societies which raise children protected from the historical vicissitudes of life. Narcissism is inextricably enmeshed with demographics and heightened narcissism is an apparently near inescapable consequence of our culture’s success.
For those who have not yet read it, I strongly recommend Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism, with its increasingly apocalyptic tone in the introduction to the second edition (1991).
The elites in Israel, including those who run the government, share too many of these dynamics, which makes the state susceptible to false accusations of atrocities, impairs their ability to defend themselves appropriately against such accusations, and even leads them to accept the guilty verdicts that are pronounced even before the trial has taken place.
In two posts earlier this week I described how traditional anti-Semitism has slowly merged with anti-Americanism (Anti-Semitism and Anti-Americanism: Part I & Part II.) The parallels between the Al-Dura blood libel and the Haditha slander suggest that the American elites are coming to closely resemble the Israeli elites in their ready acceptance of guilt and their aesthenic reactions to accusations of evil intent and atrocity against those who protect us.
The fear expressed by Sophia should be felt by all who care about our civilization. A culture that cannot defend itself using the most careful and moral of means will inevitably be faced with the choice between defending itself by any and all means or surrendering to those who lack such scruples.
Anger is something we want to control, not to eliminate. There is nothing more powerful than a restrained person, expressing well-considered moral indignation. We need to find that voice.