I am a Turkish Jew, born in Ankara in 1935. My mother’s family, from Salonika, Greece, perished in Auschwitz. My mother survived only because she had married my father and settled in Turkey. Thus I come from a household severely marked by the Holocaust. In despair of humanity’s propensity for conflict and brutality, and embracing the Jewish ethos that life – every person’s life – is sacred, I became a pacifist.
Israel’s birth became the mainstay of my existence. I embraced her as my spiritual country. And her survival has been – still is – my life’s primary concern.
However, for many years now I have deplored the politics of her governments. Today, as Israel veers toward ultra-nationalism and religious extremism, I fear for her future. I fear that, like the Crusader Kingdoms of the Middle Ages, she will cease to be. I fear that, irrespective of her military prowess, each year brings her demise closer. I fear that, today, time is running out on her.
The account below is my assessment of what I believe is happening in Israel today. I imagine vast numbers of Jews – some very close and dear to me – will disagree with me. Many others will dismiss me as a ”self-hating Jew”, that standard stigma branded on all who criticize the policies of the Israeli governments. That won’t silence me. This is how I see the situation. And only history will tell if what I see is the reality. If it’s not, and, providing Israel survives as a moral country, I would happily accept that my vision has been wrong.
Dante’s inscription on the gates of hell opens with: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” During my recent visit to Israel, that phrase kept echoing in my mind. To put it prosaically, I felt as if my mother, seemingly sane and in rude health, was preparing to commit suicide. And preparing it painstakingly, not as a work of art as is sometimes said of suicides, but by obfuscating reason and reality in atavistic delirium, by striving to transmute the Jew’s abiding covenant with life into a paean of dissolution.
I love Israel. I rejoiced at her birth and embraced her as my spiritual home. I admired her courage and her military prowess as she defied the Arab alliances that sought to destroy her. I felt proud that, even as she fought for survival, she enriched the world with her artists and writers and bestowed on it scientific and medical discoveries that have unquestionably improved the human condition. Not least, I love her people: their warmth, their hospitality, their lust for life – a heritage, it must be admitted, received, in the main, from Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews from Muslim lands and not from the Ashkenazi Judaism of Christian Europe.
Human beings are endowed with an extraordinary gift: the capacity to empathize with the suffering of “the Other ”. It emanates from an innate anima which Psychology interprets as “The Ethical Self”. Given my Jew’s bias I have espoused the belief that our Ethical Self is more potent than those of other peoples. A note here on my bias: I have to admit that it is rooted in the spurious, delusional conceit that we, Jews, are “the chosen people”. In mitigation, I would assert that my concept of “the chosen” rests entirely on what I have always considered to be our primary tenet, the pikkuach nefesh, namely, the principle that the preservation of life overrides any other religious consideration and that to save a life all the commandments of the Torah – except for murder, idolatry and sexual immorality – can be – and should be – disregarded. Embracing this tenet as the cornerstone of Jewish ethos, I have maintained that we were “chosen” to uphold morality and humaneness and not, as some orthodox fractions profess, to extol a stern and jealous God.
Moreover, I contend that, in the main, we Jews are well-versed in history, particularly our own history; that we have something akin to a memory gene which constantly reminds us that we have been stalked by calamity for millennia; that we can never disavow the horrors that discrimination and dehumanization always unleash; that we can unerringly predict that those who strive for absolutism will always ferociously pervert political, religious, economic and racial ideologies to destroy the Ethical Self; that we know in our bones that those who prosecute colonialism, autocracy, national superiority and theocracy have but one objective: the enslavement of peoples. I would even maintain that from the moment we take breast from our mothers, we imbibe Hillel the Elder’s summation of the Torah: “never inflict unto others that which you do not want to be inflicted unto you”.
Thus Israel’s birth kindled my expectation that Isaiah’s prophecy would finally be fulfilled, that the Jewish ethos – as I understood it – would forge Israel as “a beacon unto nations”, a role model for all governmental systems; that, as her Declaration of Independence asserts, Israel would “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex, and guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”.
But – a grievous “but” which, I imagine, I share with countless other Jews who love Israel – I never envisioned that our Ethical Self – infallible, as I deemed it to be – could be narcotized by verbiage served up as an analgesic and then propelled into a state of coma. More alarmingly, despite the lessons of history, I did not contemplate that such a coma could be induced relatively easily.
Analgesic verbiage punctuates history. In 1984, George Orwell designated the most potent of these as Newspeak, the brand of propaganda that synthesizes Big Lies as truths, and proceeds to dehumanize people by sealing their eyes and ears.
In our times – and all the more today - this narcotic – let’s call it “lotus” after the plant that induced total apathy to the Lotophagi in Homer’s Odyssey – has been systematically purveyed by governments in all parts of the globe, sometimes as brutally and ruthlessly as the regimes of the Third Reich and Stalinist Soviet Union.
In recent years, shamefully, this lotus has been implacably doled out by Israeli governments, creating a situation whereby the purported “Jewish State” is in danger of losing the pure soul that we Jews piously believe makes us sanctifiers of life and, therefore, a humane and unique people.
Even so, today, mercifully, many of us have realized that, for a long time, we, too, have enthusiastically ingested the Israeli lotus and allowed her successive governments to seal our eyes and ears. We stopped seeing and hearing the parallel reality. We ignored the expulsion and dislocation the Palestinians suffered during and after Israel’s War of Independence – known to the Palestinians as Naqba, “The Catastrophe”. We ignored their hardships in refugee camps. We paid no heed to the ever-increasing racism, prejudice, humiliation and debasement successive Israeli governments inflicted on them and, markedly, on the Palestinians within Israel proper, the “other” inhabitants for whom the State had promised equal social, political, religious, educational and cultural rights.
I wish I could say our awareness of this reality dawned on us in inescapable revelation. It didn’t. We were forced to confront it only because, fortunately, there have been – and still are – many Jews, in Israel as well as in the Diaspora, who are progenies of the Just Men and Women, who cherish their Ethical Selves and who, accordingly, disdain the Israeli lotus and refuse to partake of it. These Just Jews, within and without Israel, not only defy the Israeli governments but also – and equally importantly – censure those Jewish lobbies of the USA and Europe – and their Panurgic sheep-cum- supporters – who continuously scream “Israel Right or Wrong!” These Just Jews condemn the stratagems used by Western powers who, in pursuit of their economic and geopolitical interests, have moulded Israel as the overseer of the Middle East. These Just Jews denounce the expediencies with which the so-called “International Community” has condoned Israel’s mistreatment of her “others” in order to curry favour with Western powers. These Just Jews protest the conduct of opportunist governments in many parts of the world who, bullied by both Israel and the Western powers, have disregarded Israel’s racist policies with the aplomb that by denying the true realities of the Middle East, they could fervently pursue their own policies of oppression toward their own “others”. These Just Jews have rightly drawn attention to the fact that today, as a consequence of such dereliction from the “International Community”, the non-Muslim world is rife with Islamophobia while Islam’s lunatic fringe, in direct response to the prevalent Islamophobia, has declared jihad against the non-Muslim world. These Just Jews, though derisively ignored as nugatory voices in the wilderness, are trying assiduously to save the Jews of both Israel and the Diaspora from turning into Lotophagi.
I am one of those who heard the Just Jews; and, as a result, I have managed to vomit out the lotus I had ingested.
Soon after the Six Day War – even as I rejoiced in Israel’s survival, even as I gloated over the occupation of the West Bank, the Sinai and the Golan – these Just Jews unsealed my eyes and ears and revived in me another of our primary tenets: that a Jew who snatches happiness at the price of the other’s suffering is a Jew in name only, not in spirit.
Yet, even then I resorted to equivocation. I told my Ethical Self: ‘Wait. Let the dust settle. You will see, Israel will forge peace with both the Palestinians and the Arab states.’
Needless to say, neither the Palestinians nor the Arab states would engage in a peace process. That stance provided the perfect excuse for the Israeli governments to talk about peace ad nauseam without seriously toiling for it; at the same time, it encouraged them to build settlements in the Occupied Territories, heedless of the illegality, as determined by international law, of such a course of action.
The stalemate led to the Yom Kippur War. And Israel very nearly perished.
Some seeds of sanity were sown after that. Israel, Egypt and Jordan did finally actualize peace – though much of the credit for that must go to Egypt’s then President, Anwar Sadat.
But that peace instead of assuaging Israel’s atavistic madness unchained it all the more. On the main issue, that of Palestinian aspirations for independence, more lotus was provisioned. Through sophisticated and subliminal Newspeak, Palestinians were marginalized as irrelevant to Israel’s future and depicted either as lives not worthy of betterment that had to be kept subjugated or simply as theopathic terrorists who had to be crushed.
I hung on to hope. My wife and I visited Israel at least twice a year, seeking assurances from friends and family that Israel would soon attain the wisdom to perceive that Palestinian terrorism was a by-product of their despair and that, guided by that perception, Israel would consent to accommodate some, if not all, Palestinian aspirations. We even dreamt of the possibility, in a not too distant future, of a vibrant Middle Eastern Commonwealth comprising Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. To no avail. We were either dismissed as armchair casuists who, not living in Israel, could speak in this vein glibly, or as simpleton leftists who injudiciously sympathized with the Palestinians instead of doing what was moral, namely supporting Israel and, by so doing, also supporting Jews everywhere. Consequently, we always returned to England with increased trepidation. And we continued to pray for the advent of an Israeli leader with vision.
That luminary came in the person of Yitzhak Rabin, like Odysseus, a hawk turned into a dove.
Our hopes soared only to be buried with him.
These days I keep thinking that we should have predicted Rabin’s assassination. We had intimations that Israel was being hijacked by an unholy coalition of ultra-nationalists and religious extremists; that Rabin’s intent to bring Israel out of her torpor had alarmed them. Posters depicting him as “traitor” and “Hitler” had augured disaster. We could see all that, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to believe it. We held on to our conviction that, as Jews, we would always uphold righteousness.
The unholy coalition grew and grew. Skilfully and methodically, it pursued its covert objectives of expansionism, totalitarianism and theocracy. Aware that in order to achieve these objectives they had to keep Israel in perpetual stupor, they boosted up the lotus dosage. And they did so unperturbed by the fact that they were putting the very existence of Israel at risk.
They improved their Newspeak by manipulating our primitive instincts and basic fears. Such emotive postulates as “security to ensure survival”, “the threat of another Holocaust”, “a Jewish State for Jews”, “Israel has no partners for peace” were forged into imperatives. They even undermined the IDF, one of the world’s foremost military forces, not only by converting it from a defence force to an expeditionary one, but also, and more importantly, by allowing religion to contaminate its values and compromise its neutrality and thus excise its greatest asset, its integrity.
Today this coalition of ultra-nationalists and religious extremists – with fringes of fascism and racism tarring both factions – rules Israel. Today, with the heinous triumvirate of Binyamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai – not to mention their acolytes some, if not all, of whom, aspire to emerge as even viler leaders – the victualling of high-dosage lotus is in full swing. Today, these self-styled “patriotic” autocrats and their acolytes, refusing to remember their people’s history, refusing to remember the ever-present threat of extermination endured by the Jews through the millennia, strive to remain in power by holding both Israel and the Western world to ransom. And, typically of all rogue autocrats – “armoured men” as Wilhelm Reich defined them – they unceasingly harp on about the past injustices in order to justify their unabating iniquities. Today, a Just Jew like Judge Richard Goldstone, who led an independent fact-finding mission for the UN Human Rights Council to investigate human rights violations by both Israel and Hamas in the Gaza War, is vilified as a “self-hating Jew”. Today, the building of settlements in the Occupied Territories and East Jerusalem, the abuses perpetrated by the settlers and the eviction of Palestinians from their homes are depicted as laudable ethnocentricity, indeed as the Jews’ obligation to their God and to their history. Today, as the ordeal of former IDF serviceperson, Anat Kamm, offers proof, whistle-blowing is immediately suppressed. Today, as the plight of journalist, Uri Blau, attests, freedom of expression is under threat and may soon become a crime – a crime that democracy considers as anathema, but one which is deeply valued and legislated for by oppressive regimes. Today, a bill before the Knesset seeks to outlaw such human rights organizations as Adalah, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and Coalition of Women for Peace – all of them internationally respected NGOs – for fear that they will provide further evidence of human rights violations perpetrated by the State and the IDF. Today, another bill seeks to outlaw all activities aimed at promoting boycotts against Israeli organizations connected to the settlements in the Occupied Territories. Today, theocrats, racists and ultra-nationalists, banding together as Im Tirzu, plot to transform Israel into what would amount to a ghetto within the family of nations – presumably with romanticized notions of the “utopia” that prevailed in the shtetls of the Pale. Today, gorged on the lotus dispensed by this reprehensible coalition, Israel is being led toward the End of Days.
Am I exaggerating?
Those who think that I am should take a look at the recent Israeli poll which concluded that over 70% of the Israelis were “happy” with the status quo and, more importantly, with their lives. In a country where the sorrows of past wars and fears of predicted future ones are palpable in every walk of life, does not such a high percentage suggest that a majority of the Israelis have turned into lotus-eaters? (Note: a similar high percentage of Israelis approved Israel’s act of piracy on the flotilla that set out to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza.) Even more alarmingly, does not this percentage, exposing the Israelis’ apathy toward the plight of Gaza’s inhabitants, toward the duress inflicted on the peoples of the Occupied Territories and, indeed, about the ongoing mistrust, not to say hatred of Israeli Palestinians, also indicate that the provisioning of lotus by the coalition has reached a highly dangerous level?
It is time to ask: how did we – Israelis and the Diaspora Jews who support Israel – allow ultra-nationalists and religious extremists to rule a country that promised to keep her soul unsullied? How can we accept the empowerment of unprincipled politicians like Netanyahu, Lieberman and Yishai? How can we complacently continue cultivating our gardens while these base politicians compete with each other, like Mafioso chiefs, to drag Israel to all out war with Islam – Iran included – and probable extinction? How can we tolerate the campaigns unleashed by this triumvirate and their acolytes – all of them without brains and without religion – to calumny the Just Jews who clamour for peace as imbeciles, traitors and self-hating Jews? How can we condone the fact that a people carrying a history of suffering is refusing to empathize with the suffering of the Palestinians? How can we let fascistic legislators condemn Freedom of the Word when the loss of freedom of speech – an inalienable right as stated in the UN Declaration of Human Rights to which Israel is a signatory – would precipitate the demise of all freedoms? How can we go along with the conspiracies of sanctimonious theocrats – “the chosen of the chosen” as they see themselves – who, by parodying Iran’s Ayatollahs, seek to transform a democracy into obscurantist theocracy? How can we condone these godless people of God who ignore the principle of pikkuach nefesh or unctuously claim that that particular tenet was not promoted as a universal code, that the imperative to transgress religious obligations in order to save lives was promulgated only for Jews?
How can we…? How can we…? How can we…? The list is endless.
So what lies ahead?
Well, we can take comfort from the fact that more and more Just Jews are coming forward “to search”, to quote Fernando Pessoa, “beyond God to reclaim The Master’s secret and profound Good”. More and more Just Jews are clamouring for leaders who, finally endowed with both brains and morality, will stop feeding the people lotus, liberate their Ethical Selves, arrest the racist and expansionist policies and help create a Palestinian State.
We should salute these Just Jews as clement Jeremiahs who are determined to instruct us that survival of a country – any country – can be achieved only through coexistence, not zealotry. But we should never forget that Jeremiahs are invariably betrayed, like the first Jeremiah, by priests and brothers; therefore, we should support them indefatigably.
If we fail, the End of Days – Armageddon – will, in all probability, dawn upon us. However, the battle will not be between the Children of Light (Children of Israel) and the Children of Darkness (enemies of the Children of Israel), as the eschatology of the Dead Sea Scrolls predicates, but between two sets of Children of Darkness because by then the Children of Israel will have turned themselves into clones of their enemies.