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Leftist Jews And The Longing For Victimhood


For Neumann, as for Rose, these voices are needed more than ever today, during the Jews’ “dark night of the soul,” as Rose calls it, because, in Neumann’s words, “Israel’s current policies are themselves a threat to Jews and Israelis everywhere.”

That’s why Jews must speak out against Israel, continues Neumann: “The case for Jewish complicity [in Israel’s crimes] seems much stronger than the case for German complicity [in the Holocaust]. If many Jews spoke out, it would have an enormous effect.”

Presumably, by this Neumann means to imply that wartime Germans were powerless victims of Hitler. Perhaps he’d go on to say, as it logically follows, that they were just “obeying orders.”

And so Jews line up to comply, as if condemning Israel in the public square was a secular surrogate to the Vidui, or Yom Kippur confession. In an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune, Oxford historian Avi Shlaim justified his denunciation of Zionism by appealing to a faith he never felt much connection to: “One of the greatest accolades in Judaism,” he instructed his readers, “is to be a rodef shalom, a seeker of peace.” That’s why he sincerely believed that “Israel today is the real enemy of the Jews.”

Calls abound for Jews to repent, condemn Israel, hear the gospel of anti-Zionism and convert to a new, exciting form of Judaism, based more on Karl Marx and Rosa Luxembourg than Theodor Herzl and David Ben Gurion. So is the rush to heed them.

With anti-Semitism rising across Europe alongside violence in the Middle East, Jews have been under pressure for several years now. Instead of getting sympathy for the harassment they are subjected to, Jews have earned only scorn for their refusal to denounce Israel first.

That is the sad truth – one that anti-Zionist Jewish intellectuals, with their demonizing rhetoric against Israel and their patronizing attitude toward fellow Jews, have irresponsibly abetted. To shield themselves from shame and abuse, Jews are asked to discard Israel from their own collective identity. This step, and an active denunciation of Israel as the antithesis of progressive and Jewish values (themselves, in this vision, synonymous with one another), will gain them full acceptance. Scores of Jews, especially among the progressive intellectuals, indeed comply in public acts of mea culpa, thus lending an alibi to anti-Semites and gentrifying anti-Jewish prejudice in the process.

A simple explanation is at hand for this: it is lonely, on the Left, when you step out of line. And the party line, when it comes to Israel and the Jews, is that one can express a proud Jewish identity only through the experience of suffering and victimization from the past, which the Holocaust has come to embody above all.

The Jew as a victim and as a witness of the quintessential, archetypal experience of suffering emerges as the positive Jewish role model, in sharp contrast to the pro-Israel or even Zionist Jew, who is chastised for having betrayed both universal values and what is seen as the authentic Jew. Again, to borrow from Christian terminology, the Jew as the sacrificial lamb, the Agnus Dei, is what we are being asked to be.

That’s why so many Jews, spiteful of their faith and ashamed of Zionism’s accomplishments as a society that rejects the role of the victim, wish Israel away. For them, it was so much better before Zionism, when we could still say, with some self-righteousness, s’iz shver tsu zayn a Yid – it is hard to be a Jew!

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In an essay published in the Jewish magazine Tikkun last January, Bertell Ollman, one of the world’s best-known Marxist theorists, recounted how, on his way into the operating room, he realized that if he did not survive his surgery, he would die a Jew. The prospect was so unsettling that, once healed, he wrote his letter of resignation from the Jewish people. The reasons were Zionism, Israel, and the support its policies enjoy from other Jews.

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