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Diaspora Jews and moral schizophrenia

Flag Day, May 2022, in Jerusalem
Flag Day, May 2022, in Jerusalem

It surely is paradoxical – Paradox, a person, thing, or situation that has two opposite features and therefore seems strange – that Jews in the UK live, prosper, and have the same civil, religious, and political rights as any other UK citizen.  Yet, so many UK Jews support, often vehemently, a state – Israel – that is founded on principles, that pursues policies, that limit and deny  Palestinian citizens of Israel, along with those of the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, the very rights Jews here rely on and share with their fellow British citizens.

In 1967, I.F. Stone wrote [1]:

Israel is creating a kind of moral schizophrenia in world Jewry. In the outside world the welfare of Jewry depends on the maintenance of secular, non-racial, pluralistic societies. In Israel, Jewry finds itself defending a society in which mixed marriages cannot be legalised, in which non-Jews have a lesser status than Jews, and in which the ideal is racial and exclusionist. Jews must fight elsewhere for their very security and existence – against principles and practices they find themselves defending in Israel.

Significant numbers of no doubt otherwise perfectly reasonable and possibly otherwise liberally-oriented Jews, seem able to live within this contradiction, shedding egalitarian sensibilities the moment Israel’s actions need defending, which is often, no matter how indefensible those actions may be.

Part of the explanation as to why this might be may lie in the steady deification of the Israeli state, a feature of which is the importation of religious categories into an essentially political realm. Thus, criticism of Israel becomes heretical speech, the penalties for which are isolation, damnation, the issuance of anathemas and expulsion from the community of believers. Observe in this regard the high proportion of Israel-critical Jews expelled from the Labour Party. But this is hardly the half of it.

Deification of the state

The censorious dogs have been released such that organisations like the UK Lawyers for Israel (UKFI), along with the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) - I’ve discussed the CAA a bit in Israel and its uncritical proponents: a danger to Jews – like over-eager bloodhounds, search every nook and cranny for signs of criticism of Israel, now recast as antisemitism.  This pursuit is considerably aided because so many institutions and organisations have succumbed to pressure and adopted, many almost certainly under a sense of duress, the intellectually barren, incoherent, flawed IHRA definition of antisemitism along with the examples it offers. The examples are directed at conflating Israel-critical speech with antisemitism.

For those committed to protecting Israel in virtually all circumstances – Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza is rationalised into justification – this pursuit, tantamount to a mission, is considerably aided by the IHRA’s very imprecision. It allows the net of accusation to be cast widely, if inaccurately. 

Fascist tendencies

Casting nets widely and inaccurately are features of fascism, the very inaccuracy a potent tool in keeping people in line. Thus, the deification of the State of Israel is linked to a tendency towards fascism.

Subservience to the state is a prime fascist value, the role of the individual is to serve the state; an individual has no intrinsic value. Looked at in this light, we can draw a line of connection between Ben-Gurion’s 1938 remark that:

If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children, but also the history of the People of Israel.[2] 

and Israel’s Hannibal Doctrine – the doctrine that Israel can kill its own soldiers and civilians to stop them falling into enemy hands – and Israel’s refusal to prioritise the release of the hostages currently held by Hamas.

This state-first theology offers at least a partial explanation as to why the Israeli state welcomes the embrace of far-right regimes accused of antisemitism. Anthony Lerman, in his ‘Whatever happened to Antisemitism? Redefinition and the myth of the Collective Jew’ describes how:

Netanyahu and all his far-right and orthodox allies in the Knesset…were perfectly happy to accept the support of right-wing populists and former neo-Nazis, neo-fascists, Christian evangelicals who express their love and admiration for Israel and turn a blind eye to the classic antisemitism these forces promote and encourage, directed at liberal elements in their countries, including liberal and left-wing Jews…

He goes on to say:

When the prime minister of the Jewish state does not criticise the antisemitic campaign waged by Hungary’s President Orban against George Soros, the Hungarian-born Jewish philanthropist, and encourages others to openly condone it…Surely any moral legitimacy Israel arrogates to itself as the self-proclaimed centre of Jewish world and leader of the Jewish people in the fight against antisemitism crumbles when it pursues narrow, national interest that endangers Jews who do not live in Israel.

What matters to the Israeli state, is the state. It supersedes all other considerations, even the meaning and memory of the Holocaust which in other contexts is deployed to close down Israel-critical speech. 

Moral schizophrenia

A diagnosis of moral schizophrenia implies persons who have lost their way, have become unmoored from the ethical reference points that should guide them. This surely must be the case for Jews who enjoy the benefits of living in a liberal democracy, yet are able to support, often with passion, a state founded on principles, and that pursues practices, that stand in stark contradiction to the conditions under which we ourselves live.

[2] Source: Zionism during the Holocaust, by Tony Greenstein 


i) this is from Bernard's blog. He writes mainly about Palestine/Israel and related issues; sometimes other stuff too;

ii) reader: please add your comments below.


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