Haaretz passed on publishing an earlier draft of this response to a piece it had published. #Shocker
It was subsequently published in a shortened form at The Algemeiner.
An Earlier Earthquake in the Jewish World: Response to Eva Illouz
Eva Illouz wrote a dramatic New Year’s piece for Ha-aretz, in which she accuses fellow Jews who support Trump of falling prey to messianic fantasies and “betraying Jews, Jewish history and humanity,” and claiming for the “liberal Jews” like herself, the sole mantle of “authentic opposition to anti-Semitism.” Invoking Freud’s definition of the uncanny (das Unheimliche), or the anguishing sense that behind the familiar lies something profoundly foreign and menacing, she claims that “the [Trump-riddled] world at the beginning of 2017 elicits the same feeling of the uncanny: It is the same old world we knew, yet we sense it has become inhabited by foreign ghosts, hybrid creatures never seen before.”
This striking image of uncanny recognition among the familiar, so brilliantly explored in the Body Snatchers, reminded me of my own experience of the uncanny, back in 2000, at a time where, dissident that I was, I found my home on the left. Then, suddenly, I realized that fellow Jews – good, smart, imaginative Jews, people I loved to talk with, argue with, struggle with – had suddenly become deaf to the cries of their own people, faced with the unleashing of a terrifying hatred. When you told them that every criticism of Israel that they leveled was true many times over among our enemies, they indignantly declared, “Don’t compare Israel with the Arabs.” Instead, they rushed to announce “as a Jew,” that they abhorred the abominations committed by Israel.
Somehow, for these uncanny Jews, their moral urgency about Israeli crimes went hand in hand with a corresponding reluctance to discuss Palestinian behavior. “Don’t change the subject.” “What choice do they have?” “Don’t demonize the Palestinian people.” “One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.” “We’re worse terrorists.”
And yet, within this matrix of alternating moral indifference to Palestinians (and other Jihadis), and hysteria about Israelis, arose a reckless cognitive disorientation, uncannily sustained by alter-juifs who felt compelled to denounce their own people. Palestinian hostility, unreported, unexamined, unrecognized for the horrendous, genocidal hatreds it harbored, could be inserted into a post-colonial narrative in which Israel was the colonial, racist, Goliath and the Palestinians the indigenous victims, the plucky Davids or, alternatively, the victims of Israel-Nazi genocide.
Thus genocidal Jihadis could masquerade in the global public sphere as heroic “resistance fighters,” struggling for “human rights.” Protesters of Israeli brutality proudly proclaimed their identification with genocidal Jihadi groups.
And if these lethal narratives of Israelis and images of Palestinian suffering inflamed the West, driving even good Jews to distraction, then how much the more did it inflame Muslims the world over. They confirmed again and again, the global Jihadi narrative: Jews were killing innocent Muslims with impunity! The final battle against those who wish to destroy Islam – Israel and the West – has begun. Progressive leftist, alter-juifs, and Jihadis shared a common messianic enemy: destroy Israel (and American hegemony) for world peace!
The uncanny at the turn of the millennium, then, went far beyond the progressive Jews and their “friends.” For, alas, this exercise in self-laceration, of prophetic rebuke of one’s own people under attack, took place in the cyberspace-enhanced global public sphere. There malevolent minds, enthralled at any news of Jews (a fortiori sovereign Jews) behaving badly, eagerly devoured the uncanny “self-”accusations of “righteous Jews.” After 2000, comparisons of Israel with the Nazis went mainstream on the progressive Left. In the new replacement narrative, the Al Durah icon “replaced, erased,” that of the boy in the Warsaw Ghetto, just as Gaza replaced that ghetto in the compassionate heart of haters of Zion. The Israeli Goliath – already an uncanny image –morphed into the Israeli Nazi: the secular Antichrist. This marriage of pre-modern sadism and post-modern masochism, this Antichrist Israel, was sanctified at Durban in 2001, where the cult of Al Durah presided as patron saint.
Demonstration during Durban. Al Durah effigy in bottom center.
Four days later, 9-11 brought a shower of Schadenfreude, from professed lovers of freedom.
Of course, the fiercest foes of Jewish freedom, from the supersessionists, to the most delirious Judeophobes, embraced this replacement narrative with glee. And, insofar as they thought themselves progressive, this glee worked much to their own damage and to the damage of a progressive and peaceful world. When, in 2002, drunk on a wave of lethal journalism about the IDF “massacre” at Jenin, demonstrators wore mock suicide belts to cheer on the Palestinian “resistance,” they actually helped glorify a terrible new apocalyptic weapon, blight of the new century, soon to be turned on their own people and other Muslims. Tony Judt’s response to the wave of outrage at reports of Israel’s “massacre” at Jenin, spoke for many a progressive Jew: in the pages of the NYRB, he complained that Israel’s misbehavior puts innocent, good, Jews, like himself in danger! In his estimation, it was time for Israel, relic of nationalist and imperialist currents of the past, to retire from history.
The uncanny horror first happened for me in 2000 – witnessing the reaction of Jewish progressives to the sight of their own people – the only sovereign Jews in the world – fighting off a suicidally vicious Palestinian onslaught and joining together with movements that celebrated those hatreds. Rather than acknowledge the failure of Israel’s good faith efforts at a positive-sum peace, when faced with deeply nurtured hatred, and their own disastrous advice to ignore belligerent signs in the PA and go on with the “peace process,” “liberals” preferred turning against the “right-wingers” whom Israelis elected to clean up the disaster that they themselves had wrought with the Oslo “peace” process.
When Eva Illouz deplores today’s “right wing” pro-Trumpers as people for whom “Nationalism has replaced historical memory as the nexus of Jewish institutions and Jewish identity,” she might think about the several times that Jewish internationalism has done just that; these are “foreign ghosts, hybrid creatures” we have, alas, “seen before.” When she claims that “only liberal Jews in Israel and in the democratic world can claim to be the authentic opponents of anti-Semitism,” she might consider the decades of terrifying, uncanny, unrepentant behavior among those (claiming to be) liberals, behavior that has enabled and globally promoted the most poisonous of Jew-hatreds, thereby feeding global Jihad, the worst imperialist movement of our day.
If, instead of penning alarmed and divisive rants that prolong the earthquake about which she warns, she were to introspect, she might find the empathy to understand her fellow Jews who find the persistence of progressive Jews and Israelis in promoting anti-Semitic anti-Zionism in the global public sphere uncanny, something that has terrified those of us who do track anti-Semitism, over the centuries and millennia.
At the same time, she might find the self criticism to consider how those who reject the global left’s moral leadership are not deplorables, and why the decision of her fellow progressive Jews to partner with wolves in progressive clothing who grotesquely accuse Israel of genocide, has made them just as uncanny to their fellow Jews who disagree, as these critics – some now Trumpists from “anger and despair” – are unrecognizable to them.
Indeed, she might even ponder the possibility that Obama’s policies, perceived by many, including some pretty smart people, as civilizationally suicidal, might have contributed to a popular abreaction, without which a candidate like Trump could never have “taken” with the American public, including with some Jews.
Then, in that silence and opening borne of self-reflection, maybe sane, progressive, tribal, Jewish voices might arise above the din of civilizational madness that grows louder every year in this troubled dawn of the new millennium.