Israel's Growing Insanity
By Avigail Abarbanel
I wrote this on 9th February 2009, the day before Israel’s election, after seeing an interview with Benjamin Netanyahu’s father on Israeli TV.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s father—described as “sharp as a razor” at the ripe old age of 99—gave a rare interview to Amit Segel of Israel’s Channel 2 to support his son’s election campaign (Channel 2 website. 7 Feb. 2009). At some point in the interview Professor Ben-Zion Netanyahu said,
“Today we are facing plain and simple, a danger of annihilation. This is not only the ongoing existential danger to Israel, but a real danger of complete annihilation. People think that the Shoah (Holocaust) is over — but it is not, it is continuing all the time” (My translation from the Hebrew).
The views of Netanyahu Senior do not represent a lunatic fringe, but the Israeli mainstream. When I was growing up in Israel, things were much the same. I and everyone I knew believed in earnest that we were always at risk of annihilation. Fear of annihilation is at the heart of Jewish, not just Israeli culture and it pre-dates the Holocaust. But the climate in Israel today is far more extreme than it was in my time, as Israel on the whole moves further and further to an irrational fanatic position.
When a person’s perception of reality is completely out of touch with reality itself, we begin to get an uneasy feeling that something might be wrong with his or her mind. Where is the evidence that the Jews, right now are facing a “real danger of complete annihilation”? Where is the evidence that the Holocaust, a systematic and deliberate plan to eliminate all Jews during the Second World War, is still being carried out? I would even argue that saying this is an insult to the victims of the real Holocaust. Israel is rumoured to have one of the most powerful military forces in the world but Israelis still believe that they are right now being annihilated. This is insanity. Someone is indeed facing a risk of cultural, economic, political and even physical annihilation, but it’s not Israel or Jews, it’s the Palestinians, and the annihilator is Israel itself.
Our politics and our economics are both a product of our psychology, not something separate. We make political and economic choices based on who we are and what we feel and believe. Many rational people search for a rational analysis—often political or economic—for what is happening in Israel-Palestine. But the only way to interpret Israel’s behaviour during the past 61 years is through understanding the psychology of its society and its leaders. To ignore Israel’s psychology is dangerous because it means that any intervention based only on political considerations, will miss the mark and risk being irrelevant. Indeed if you look at the history of diplomacy and ‘peace negotiations’ in the region, it is quite obvious that they have achieved nothing at all. Things seem to be progressing on a trajectory determined by something that to someone in my profession, looks more like a mental illness than a political plan, bearing no relation to any rational diplomatic efforts, ‘roadmaps’, peace plans or truces.
Israel’s behaviour is a direct product of its psychological struggle with the implications of Jewish identity, which in turn determines Israel’s very reason for existence. In his book Alternative to a Psychotic State Akiva Orr asks if Israel is a ‘Jewish state’ or a ‘state for the Jews’. Since it is clearly not a Jewish state—Israeli state law is different to religious law—then it must be a state for the Jews. And this begs the question of ‘who or what is a Jew’, and to that there has never been a satisfactory legal answer. Israel has no constitution precisely because it cannot resolve the question of who or what it wants to be. The de-facto, modern secular Zionist definition of a Jew is someone who would have been considered a Jew by Hitler. Effectively Jews are allowing themselves to be defined by those who hated them and sought their annihilation. In other words, this identity was formed as a reaction to a particular set of circumstances. But what happens if the circumstances change? What does that do to this identity? In other words, if the world is now safe for Jews and is no longer what Jewish people thought it was, then Jewish people no longer know who they are, in which case either Jewish identity needs to change, or you make sure that the world is back to what it was when the Jews were persecuted. That way there is no need to go through the difficult process of self-examination or live in a world that doesn’t make sense. The reason for the existence of the state of Israel is a direct result of Jewish self-perception as victims of persecution. Israel was created to offer a safe haven for Jews from persecution.
I could be wrong, I might be naïve, but I don’t believe that Israeli leaders are conscious that they are now hyping up more traditional forms of anti-Semitism—that is to say, I don’t think that they are consciously plotting to do it. They are operating without awareness and they probably believe in their own explanations for what they are doing, for example that they attacked Gaza to weaken Hamas.
But we must look at the real consequences of Israel’s actions in Gaza and three years ago in Lebanon for example, to understand Israel’s real motivation. If Israel’s actions lead to an increase in fanaticism and in anti-Jewish sentiment, this is because this is what Israel wants to achieve, albeit unconsciously. But why does Israel need more fanaticism and antisemitism? An increase in real anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews would bring current reality into line with the outdated imaginary reality, and would help keep Jewish identity unchanged. The reality is that Jews have not been victims, certainly not of a genocidal regime for over sixty years—the Holocaust is not happening now and there is no attempt by anyone to annihilate the Jews. The fact that Jews live in safety everywhere and are not persecuted makes Israel uncomfortable. If the Jews are doing well everywhere, then Jewish identity is being put to question, and so is the very reason for the existence of Israel. The very state that was created to save the Jews from persecution, now needs them to be persecuted again so that it can continue to exist. Escalating the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians is one of the means to achieving this end.
The Palestinians, who are desperately trying to understand what has been happening to them, are caught in this madness and are the victims of it. It’s not because of who they are or something they did, that they are suffering. It’s because they had the misfortune of living on the land that a neurotic Zionist movement was determined to take for itself regardless of cost. I think many Palestinians are beginning to recognise this but the world leaders still believe Israel’s racist propaganda, which says that there is something inherent in the Palestinian people that means that they deserve what they get.
This is why it is essential that the world intervene decisively. I do not trust Israel to suddenly develop sufficient self-awareness to understand what it’s doing and put a stop to it. Israel’s growing delinquency demonstrates the exact opposite. The Palestinians do not have any more time to spare.