Jewish anti-Zionism: The proxy honor-killing

Available in Polish, translated by Malgorzata Koraszewska here.

The recent stunning performance of Marcia Freedman at the J-Street conference, calling for a one-state solution (almost surely not called Israel), in which an Arab majority would fiercely defend the rights of a protected Jewish minority, heartily applauded by an audience of alleged “pro-Israel, pro-Peace” attendees, has once again raised the question sent to me by someone who saw The J-Street Challenge:

WHY do J Street activists take these positions that they know are destructive to Israel’s chances for survival? 

Obviously, the easy way to answer is to claim they don’t realize the destructive nature of their “plan for peace.” Certainly this would hold for Ms. Freedman, who apparently believes that once Israel becomes a “true democracy [applause]” (whatever that means), that Jews won’t need to maintain control of the levers of power, since that now truly democratic “state” would secure the rights of the Jews no matter who was in power (e.g., an Arab majority).

Only someone struck with terminal cecity could not notice that beyond Israel’s borders, Arab majorities rarely protect the rights of minorities, especially those they feel threaten them. The notion that 2000 years of determined victimization of Jews without sovereignty means nothing, and that somehow an Arab majority would “fiercely defend the rights of the Jewish minority,” such ideas defy the reality-based social and political imagination. Freedman’s speech, so totally divorced from the all-too-human reality of this part of the world, gives us a sterling example of the vapid moral angélisme that animates so many anti-Zionist Jews.

[For those not convinced that J-Street pursues suicidal policies for the polity it professes to “love” – withdraw to ’67 borders as an unreciprocated concession – I’ve written about this elsewhere.]

Here I’d like to address my correspondent’s well-posed question by slightly rephrasing it:

Why do Jews identify with and promote Palestinian lethal narratives about Israel, and ally with, encourage, and promote groups who openly desire the destruction of Israel, even as they assure us (M.F. style) that we have nothing to fear from them?

In a word, I think they’re engaged in a long-term, proxy, honor-killing.


In several cultures we find the phenomenon of “honor-killings” – namely the killing of an unmarried woman by her family for shaming them (from a progressive point of view, these are really “honor murders”). In most cases, the woman’s behavior involves sexual impropriety, on the one hand, and an honor-group that demands these sacrifices in order to maintain respectability, on the other. All honor murders are to appease the hostile opinion of others, to gain favor in the eyes of the community. They are quintessentially matters of honor and shame, matters of one’s reputation in the eyes of one’s fellows.

Among those cultures, both Arab and Muslim ones stand out for both the frequency and the range of “shameful behavior” that produces such family murders, a phenomenon that has caused much concern that focus on these matters and attention to the high frequency of Muslim families in their execution may lead to “Islamophobia.” Whereas at its origins, and in most cases, honor-killings only occurred when the unmarried woman willingly and deliberately engaged in illicit sexual behavior. Under the shock of a modernity that views such murders as primitive and contemptible, some cultures have extended “honor-killings” to enforce patriarchal dominance (killing daughters who refuse to marry – or divorce) and to police the borders between us and them (killing sisters who go out with Europeans).

Not exclusively, but nonetheless with a peculiar intensity, Arab and Muslim culture today offers the most extensive list of murder-provoking acts – from going to a movie, to dressing immodestly, to getting raped, to the mere suspicion of improper behavior, whether true or not

Over 75 percent of the Palestinian women in Jordan subjected to hymen exams were subsequently killed by family members, even when tests proved they were still virgins.

The role of community opinion – the “honor group” – in enforcing the demand for murdering the woman plays a critical role. In one case, where the daughter had been raped and impregnated by her brothers, and the father had agreed not to kill her, the mother did so. Why? “For the sake of my children.” Because the larger community ostracized her family (even the mothers married sisters could not come to visit), and she could not marry any of her children while the mother, victim of rape, continued to live.

What has this got to do with anti-Zionist Jews?

I believe that their feelings towards Israel mirror this honor-shame dynamic. The portrayal of Israel by a school of lethal journalists as a cruel occupier of Palestinian land, who deliberately target Palestinian civilians, has deeply shamed progressive Jews in the eyes of their “honor-group,” their fellow progressives. For these Jews, the shame of having a family member – Israel – viewed by others as a brutal and heartless Goliath, is too much to bear.


From Anti-Israel Rally, Boston, Summer 2014

And to support Israel under such conditions, means losing their progressive reputation. Anything but… as the fate of one Andrew Pessin shows so clearly.

Not having the constitution to actually kill their embarrassing family member – most Jewish anti-Zionists, like Judith Butler and “Jewish Voice for Peace,” are pacifists – they have to outsource the job, a proxy honor-murder if you will.  Thus they connect with groups that do have both the constitution and the will to kill their offending family member, namely Jihadi groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, and American Muslims for Palestine.

Ironically, these latter groups are engaged in their own form of extra-familial honor-killing, namely killing those who have shamed them by establishing their autonomy in the midst of – in the heart of – Dar al Islam. The Palestinian notion of justice involves revenge for lost honor, washing one’s blackened face in the blood of the dishonoring enemy. If that sounds improbable to you, consider the following a fortiori: if they will kill their own daughters for shaming them, how much the more will they kill outsiders for doing so?

So when Jews, Israelis or Diasporic, adopt the Palestinian lethal narrative about Israel, when they ally with sworn enemies of Israel, when they ignore all the evidence that the journalists’ lethal narratives are dishonest violations of all the principles of a responsible free press, when they promote causes (like BDS) that target Israel’s very existence, they engage in this proxy honor-murder.

Apparently nothing short of perfection is acceptable to these honor-driven moralists. Anything short of that perfection brings on the wrath of a shamed family member, determined to save his or her moral stature at the expense of his beleaguered people.

This shame motivation explains the irrational drive behind the moral posture. Not only do these Jews hold their own people to the highest standards, but (in a deeply racist fashion) they hold the Palestinians to no moral standards. On the contrary, their murderous hatreds are merely the expected response to the unbearable suffering Israelis inflict upon them.

And, alas, like the enemies of their people, who kill their daughters on suspicion alone, these Jews do so even though their family member, Israel, is not guilty as charged, is indeed one of the most cutting-edge progressive and inclusive cultures on this deeply troubled planet.

14 Responses to Jewish anti-Zionism: The proxy honor-killing

  1. Yes BUT married women are also honor killed both by their families of origin together with their husbands or, if necessary, by their husbands alone.

    The motive, world-wide, in honor killing is the perception that the victim is “too Western” (this covers a wide range of sins and crimes) or, as you note, that she (or he) has been sexually inappropriate. As you know, this also includes rape victims.

    Are you saying that anti-ZIonist Jews live in a shame-and-honor tribal culture just like Palestinian Arabs do? And that pro-Zionist Jews do not live in such a tribal culture?

    • Richard Landes says:

      I think honor-killings should be restricted to families killing their own members. It’s a particularly heinous form of honor-driven behavior. Husbands killing wives for a variety of reasons, none justifiable, is nonetheless a much more widespread phenomenon, and not driven so much by the demands of the community (the most honor-driven and most disgusting part of the process), as by a need for revenge.

      as for anti-Zionist Jews, i do think they are participants on a different kind of honor-shame culture, a kind of post-modern narcissism, in which the opinion of the honor-group of progressives is the deciding factor. Since we normally associate honor-cultures with alpha-male macho behavior, it’s rare to find it among the post-testosteronic crowd (why it has to be proxy killing).

      Ironically, they call the pro-Zionists the “tribal” “Israel-firsters,” and consider themselves to have risen above such primitive forms of solidarity (Asabiyya, in Arabic). But that’s only because they adhere to the post-modern reverse tribal formula, “their side right or wrong.”

      IMNSHO, most pro-Israel Jews (myself included) are not tribal (my side right or wrong), but rather they’re modern (whoever is right, my side or not). In the current conflict with Arab/Muslim political culture, it seems to me, by progressive standards, pretty obvious that Israeli political elites a) treat their own people far better than the Arab/Muslim elites do, b) treat their enemies far better than Arab/Muslim elites do, and c) treat their Arabs/Muslims better than the Arab/Muslim elites do.

      So QED, any progressive not bent out of shape by a deep need to self-abase in order to curry favor with people who pretend they’re progressives, but actually are driven by a profound supersessionist need to be “right because the jews are wrong,” would agree that supporting the current political elites and “spokespeople” for the deeply regressive Palestinians leadership is an appalling betrayal of the principles of justice.

      • P says:

        Or perhaps Bat Yeor’s description of dhimmi behavior under Sharia (dhimmi communities self-enforcing Sharia and informing on one another under the zero sum or negative sum rules in place) is a better touchstone. That then raises the question: what thought processes lead to Freedman’s and J Street’s preemptive submission?

        It may be similar to the deep ecologists who, believing that the human carrying capacity of the world is about a billion or so can sanguinely envision mass death… but it’s for the children and the planet.

  2. Jeff says:

    This is quite a keen insight. I agree with you.

    Marcia Freedman has lost her marbles, if she ever had any.
    A group like J Street which doesn’t respect the outcome of free elections can be called many things, but pro-democracy isn’t one of them.

  3. Lynne says:

    Reminds me of the wealthy, integrated urban Jews of Israel before WWII who were ashamed of the poor shtetl Russian and East Europe Jews. The urban European Jews too believed they were superior and more enlightened than these “backward” Jews and even promoted the negative stereotypes promulgated at the time as entirely deserving. A couple of good resources: History of the Jews by Paul Johnson and The Oslo Syndrome by Kenneth Levin.

  4. WestwardHo says:

    This link has a particularly worthwhile explanation of honor-killing:

  5. Peter Sage says:

    So please help me see a way out of the current blind alley. If we have a one state solution then we will have, immediately or soon, an Arab majority and you are certain this means that Jews will be oppressed by the popular will of that majority. (I agree this is a valid concern.)

    The current alternative are Jews in power in Israel holding military/police power of occupied territory of stateless non-citizens. This has gone on for a half century. The result has been discord within the society. Indeed, looking at other examples of places where an ethnic group is held in a subservient position (British Colonies prior to 1776; enslaved blacks in America; Jim Crow/Black Codes post Civil War America; European treatment of Native Americans 1492 through independence; Japanese occupation of China 1938-45; German treatment of Jews 1933-45; apartheid in South Africa) has worked out badly.

    Indeed as I understand the history, the Jewish people have been singled out for subjugation repeatedly in their long history. They hated that subjugation. They suffered under it. They hated it and wrote about it in their texts. And they resisted it and revolted against it. So I can understand why they seek a permanent refuge from that subjugation.

    What I do not understand is how Jews in Israel and in America can resist having empathy for the subjugation they are causing others. Jews hated being enslaved in Egypt and hated pogroms in Europe and hated discriminatory laws at the beginning of Nazi Germany. Are they blind to how Arabs in Israeli cities like Nazareth might feel? Are they blind to the aspirations and fears and resentments of the now third generation of stateless people in the occupied territories?

    The holocaust museum in Tel Aviv gave me a strong message: that the oppression of an ethic minority by a majority culture was an unspeakable crime, starting with “mere subjugation” but which then led to the total dehumanization and genocide. I left the museum thinking: “ethnic hatred is a crime”. I did not leave it thinking: “now it is the Jews’ turn to duplicate with Middle Eastern people of Arab ethnicity what the Germans and other Europeans did to the Jews. It is the Jews’ turn to be the oppressor.”

    If Israel wants to be “democratic” and it wants all of the occupied territories to be Jewish then it should consult Deuteronomy and Numbers and carry out its own final solution by killing “everything that breaths”. Become what you condemn. Embrace it and try to justify it to yourselves and the world. But if echoing Hitler and carrying out the murder of all non Jewish ethnicities from Israel is too outrageous an idea–and I certainly hope and expect that it is–then I urge the authors of this website to think how the current status quo feels to the Arab ethnicities locked in the Occupied Territories. And if that is too hard to do, then consider and empathize with how the current status quo looks and feels to Americans and Europeans who are generally well disposed toward Israel but who cannot bear to watch it justify and continue being an oppressor of an ethnic minority.

    I support the freedom of Jews in America from the prejudice of majority Christians; I then cannot ignore Jews in Israel acting with oppression and prejudice against Arabs under their control.

  6. Babs Barron says:

    Excellent article. I have always believed that naming the problem, without equivocation, is the first step to confronting and then solving it.

    I imagine that every Jewish community is afflicted with ashamed Jews. They collapse in debate and then become vituperative. Their arguments, such as they are, are emotion- rather than reason-led.

    I particularly agree with your point that these ashamed Jews are inveterately racist, since they assume that Palestinians lack moral standards and need to be protected.

    • Richard Landes says:

      glad to read your response. i’m not sure they’re inveterately racist, i think unconsciously racist is a better term. it’s a form of infantilization. sort of the last thing they (or we) need right now.
      as for your comments on the ashamed jews, it makes sense – at heart, it’s not the evidence that matters, it’s the moral stature. if you defend israel people (your honor group) treats you with contempt. the only out is to join their folly.
      as for “naming the problem” there’s fine piece by Seth Frantzman on why the media won’t call Islamic extremism “right wing”.

  7. jzsnake says:

    What is the difference between “honor killing” and “honor murder”?

    • Richard Landes says:

      honor killing is the widely used term. honor murder involves a value judgment, that killing a daughter or sister on suspicion of shameful behavior is premeditated murder. that’s western, but hopefully more than western. but at least the most regressive elements of arab culture – still quite strong – view this as legitimate behavior, not murder. at least in cases where the moral issues are at the heart of the discussion (which shd happen more often), i prefer the value laden term specifically because the term “honor-killing” neutralizes the moral meaning of the (mis)deed.

  8. […] Precisely. The guiding motive here is shame, not guilt. The reason the left is ludicrously homogenous on Israel (like the Arab/Muslim world, if not worse) is because of the workings of honor-shame dynamics that work hard to maintain external conformity. This essay is, in fact, a good example of what I call an “Proxy Honor-Killing.” […]

  9. […] he assuages, justifiably, their shame at having Israel paraded around the world as the greatest villain, as unser Unglück, by […]

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