- Gilad Atzmon was born in Israel and served in the Israeli
military. He is the author of the new novel A Guide to the Perplexed .
Atzmon is also one of the most accomplished jazz saxophonists in Europe.
His new CD, Exile, was just named the year's best jazz CD by the BBC. He
now lives in London and can be reached at: email@example.com
- I am sure that some of you are familiar with the old
Jewish joke: What does it take for a Jewish mother to change a light bulb?
Then impersonating an elder Jewish mother, applying a high pitch east European
accent you spit it out: "no vorries I vill sit in the dark".
As it seems, the Jewish mother embodies the essence of modern Jewish existence.
To be a Jew is to sit in the dark, to be a Jew is to be a victim and to
enjoy your symptoms. If we analyze this bizarre tendency in the light of
Freud's pleasure principle, we might mistakenly deduce that the Jewish
mother find pleasure in inflicting pain on herself. Some may even diagnose
the Jewish mother as a mythical masochistic figure. In fact, it is the
other way around, The Jewish mother doesn't enjoy her own suffering at
all. The Joke is supposed to reveal a very different message. The Jewish
mother, instead of improving her general state of being, rather than enjoying
reading the 'Jewish Chronicle' in the light, she voluntarily offers to
sit in the dark, she gains satisfaction initiating some remorse feeling
amongst the Other, whoever the Other is. Usually it is her beloved kind
(son) but it can as well be her partner, the neighbor, the social worker,
the Swiss banker or even the United Nations. The Jewish mother vill sit
in the dark as long as someone there is happy to feel guilty for her sitting
in the dark.
- To be a proper Jewish mother means to daily exploit the
entire victim vocabulary. But it isn't really the Jewish mother, as it
seems, victim mentality is occupying the hard nucleus of modern Jewish
identity. As we all know many of those who call themselves Jews are far
from being religious. Some are even atheists. Many of our Jewish friends
are far from being Zionist (at least that's what they say), some are even
anti Zionist, but then once a Jew drops his victim status he becomes an
ordinary boring being. To be a Jew is to believe in the holocaust, to be
a Jew is to believe in a historical narrative constructed around endless
merciless sagas of persecution and harassment. To be a Jew is to believe
that all that suffering is far from being over, in fact a new holocaust
may be re-launched tomorrow morning, why tomorrow, today, this very minute.
To be a Jew is set oneself in a state of self imposed paranoia. Thus, to
be a Jew is to believe in 'us and them' rather than in just 'being amongst
others'. To be a Jew is to believe that anti Semitism is an irrational
tendency intrinsically symptomatic to gentile existence. But who are the
Gentiles? Ladies and gentleman, the Gentiles are the human family, thus
I would deduce that to be a Jew is to believe that the human family behave
irrationally at least when it comes to Jews.
- But then, what is so appealing in being a 'victim', I
assume that most people would be embarrassed when being blamed for victimizing
themselves or even suspected to be paranoid. Somehow, this wouldn't happen
with most Jews. A Jew would be offended when being suggested that he is
victimizing himself. Moreover, an accusation as such would be perceived
by him as a clear anti Semitic assault not to say a form of a 'holocaust
denial'. When it comes to Jewish common self-perception, victim is not
an act, it is rather a state of being. Within the contemporary Jewish word
view, the Jews are the only real ultimate genuine sufferers. If this is
not enough, the fact that they are 'the true real and only genuine sufferers'
is now legally imposed. To suspect this very fact may result in a court
case. For instance, in case you happen to be a new historian and you may
doubt some facts to do with the latest Nazi Judeocide, you probably find
yourself behind bars or just removed from your academic post.
- When it comes to the unique case of the Jewish family,
the Jewish mother strategies are found to be very effective. Sitting in
the dark 'pays off'. The Jewish mother maintains her absolute hegemony
within the family cell. Consequently, the guilt ridden Jewish child (no
doubt the real victim) will attend medical or law school just to keep his
mother happy. He will bring home the highest possible marks just to ease
her sitting in dark. By the time he finally realizes that he himself had
been the real victim, he his ready to join his father's business and in
any case, he is too old to rebel. By now he himself becomes a victim and
the rest of the world should feel guilty for him. But then, he is far from
being happy, rather than being out there amongst others, he is now pushed
back to the ghetto, tied for the rest of his life with a clannish knot.
Funny enough, this is enough to make him a neurotic character as well an
astonishingly good accountant or psycho-analyst.
- Looking at the Jewish family cell we see a successful
operating machine, the parents volunteer to take-on some insignificant
suffering, in return the guilt ridden young generation bring home excellent
academic results. But then, this very mechanism goes far beyond the Jewish
family cell or even the segregated Jewish community. In fact, post WW2
Jewish western affairs are based on the very same philosophy. This may
as well be the hidden layer behind the current misleading contemporary
presentation of the complementary Judeo Christian bond: The Judeo subject
insists to be the ultimate victim and the Christian world is enthusiastically
endorsing the opportunity to celebrate guilt. As bizarre as it may sound,
in 1948, while the Israelis ethnically cleansed the Palestinian population,
the 'guilty' West was sitting and praising 'Jewish heroism'. Very much
the same happened following the miraculous Israeli victory in 1967. For
many years, 'guilt' became the core of European parliamentary left blind
support of Israel. As revolting as it may sound, the modern Jewish identity
is copying the role of the Jewish elder mother and the European parliamentary
left is taking the role of the Jewish guilt ridden toddler. Take a look
at British contemporary politics: On the right end we find the Christian
prime minister, Mr Tony Blair, the guilty Gentile, being the leader of
once a socialist institute, he is now publicly supporting a bourgeoisie
racist, nationalist, colonialist state, Michael Howard, on the very same
end, being a secular Jew, wouldn't bother to share with us some deep spiritual
Jewish insights, instead, he is telling us about his Jewish grandmother,
the Holocaust victim.
- Today I am talking about Jewish Identity. In practice,
I am talking about Jewish identification, I leave out Judaism, or any reference
to Jewish cultural heritage. I don't even talk about the Jewish people.
Instead, I ask what does it mean to be a secular Jew. I try to find out
what Jewish secular people identify with when they call themselves Jews.
I would argue that as far as contemporary Jewish identity is concerned
two major ideological schools are offering a clear answer. One is Zionism
and the other is Jewish leftism.
- Let's start with the Zionist school.
- Following the 19th century European national awakening
some Jews decided that Jewishness is actually a manifestation of nationalistic
aspiration. Although European nationalism was intrinsically associated
the patriotic subject with the land he dwelled on, Jewish nationalism was
based on a mere fantasy. It associated the Jew with the land he was supposed
to dwell on. The early Zionists' popular slogan at the time was: 'land
with no people for people with no land'. While many historians justly ridicule
the above statement proving beyond doubt that the land of Palestine was
in fact overwhelmingly occupied with indigenous Palestinians, the main
problem with slogan has to do with the fact that People with no land can
never establish a genuine nationalistic movement. Zionism was and still
is, as groundless as, let's say, an Italian claim for ownership of the
land of England just because England was once a part of the Roman empire.
Jewish nationalism was always an ideologically baseless utopian belief.
It is an invalid nationalistic movement simply because the Jews are not
a nation. More over even in their alleged 'home land', they are just about
to become a minority. And yet, Zionism was a sign of a change, the Jews
decided willingly to change their doomed fate, to become 'normal' people,
people who love their land, people who engage with nature and live in nature.
The Zionist Jew desired to redeem himself from the state of victimhood.
The Zionist Jew desired to take his own fate in his hands. This reformed
perception held till 1967, until then the Zionist Jew regarded himself
as a proud self sufficient colonialist. Till 1967 the Holocaust had merely
an instrumental role, it was something to capitalize on rather than a major
tragic event. If anything, for my parents' generation, the holocaust was
something to be ashamed of. The image of 'cattle led to the slaughter'
filled them and even my generation with contempt towards anything that
smelled like Diaspora. Tom Segev was very articulate in conveying the story
of Israelis' disdain towards the 'Seventh Million' (those who managed to
survive the war). Needless to say that the current state of Israel clearly
reveals how unsuccessful Zionism proved to be. The transformation of the
Jewish people into a modern western civilized society failed completely.
The Israelis are far from being attached to the land which they apparently
shred with apartheid walls. Not only that Israelis didn't manage to erect
a civilized society, it is hard to think of any current modern state as
morally corrupted and racially motivated as the Jewish state. And yet,
Zionism was an attempt to transform the Jew into a dignified being, A strong,
blond athletic productive subject rather than one who prefers voluntarily
to sit in the dark.
- The alternative Jewish ideological answer to Zionism
is provided by the Jewish left thinkers. On the surface it sounds poetic
and peaceful but in practice it is at least as devastating as Zionism.
The left Jew would roll his eyes up and state with sheer defeat that "it
was Hitler rather than Moses who made him into a Jew". Basically,
it is the Other, the Gentile, who makes the Jew into a Jew. As funny as
it may sound, most of those righteous Jews would argue in the same breath
that the Palestinians should enjoy the right of 'self determination'. I
do ask myself how is it that when it comes to themselves, those left Jews
are far from being generous. Somehow, so it appears, the left Jew is reluctant
to self determine himself. Apparently, for the left Jew, WW2 has never
ended, day by day, they are all defeated by Hitler or more generally speaking
by the Gentile world. But isn't this an absurd proposition? In fact, there
is no Gentile world. Gentile world is in itself a Jewish invention. Gentile
people do not identify themselves as 'non Jews', there are far more interesting
predicates to embrace. Hence, we can clearly see that Jewish leftism is
in itself a form of 'sitting in the dark' it is an exercise in victim practice.
In short, like the Jewish mother they are sitting in the dark (probably
not too far from their mothers). They are self appointed victims. Thus,
we must admit then that it is not Hitler who turned them into Jews. They
are Jews because enthusiastically, they endorse the Jewish identity. They
prefer to be victims. It is their own preference not to change the light
- But then why is it necessary? Surely, the Jewish leftist
knows that these days he can express his calling without presenting any
ethnic traces, we are supposed to live in a multi cultural society. Your
voice is supposed to be heard regardless of your ethnic origin, your religious
background, your sexual preferences or any other social grouping. I would
argue that the voluntarily tendency to sit in the dark is the new Jewish
religion. It is a sophisticated ideological mechanism that makes the Other,
the Western Gentile, feel unwelcome or inferior in any political discourse
to do with Palestine. In practice it locates the humanist Jews in the centre
of Palestinian affairs. But then, in practice it serves Israel with an
ideological and moral body armor. As soon as those humanist Jews become
recognized as a genuine voice for Palestine we learn from them that one
state solution is utterly impractical. Somehow, for them, the Jewish cause
is slightly more important than the Palestinian one. In the end of the
day the Jews really suffered.
- The victim strategy is the latest and most sophisticated
form of Jewish supremacist segregation. Not only that I surround myself
with walls, I even make the other feel guilty for me building those walls
around myself (by the way, I don't know whether you are aware of the bizarre
fact that within the Israeli discourse it is the Palestinians that are
blamed for the Jews building the apartheid wall). You can take from the
Jew his religion, you can take away the chicken soup you can even put 'sea
fruit' on his plate but once you take away the victim tendency, the Jew
isn't a Jew anymore. Once you lift the colossal threat of Hitler then the
Jew becomes an ordinary boring being.
- Let me tell you, this is not going to happen.
- The foregoing is the text of a talk given my Mr. Atzmon
at the SOAS Palestinian Society