December 29, 2008
Jews, historically, have been irrationally feared, hated and killed. Given that background, it’s not surprising that the irrationality which surrounded them for so long, the fire of irrationality in which they were almost extinguished, has jumped across and taken hold of the soul of many Jews and indeed dominates the thinking of today’s Israeli leaders and their American supporters.
Recent history shows that the Jews, as a people, have found few friends who are honest and true. During World War II, when Hitler’s anti-Semitism was responsible for the murdering of the millions of Jews, the world and the United States expressed their own anti-Semitism by refusing to house and welcome the tortured race, preferring instead to let it be exterminated if need be. After the war, the world felt it owed the Jews something–but then showed its lack of true regard for the tormented group by “giving” them a piece of land populated and surrounded by another people–an act of European imperialism carried out exactly at the moment when non-European peoples all over the world were finally concluding that European imperialism was completely unacceptable and had to be resisted. And now we have the spectacle of American politicians encouraging and financing Israeli policies which will ultimately lead to more disaster and destruction for Jews.
It is not rational to believe that the Palestinians in the occupied territories will be terrorized by force and violence, by cruelty, by starvation or by slaughter into a docile acceptance of the Israeli occupation. There is no evidence that that could possibly happen and mountains of evidence to the contrary.
Many right-wing Israelis and American Jews clearly believe that Jews have always had enemies and always will have enemies–and who can be shocked that certain Jews might think that? To these individuals, a Palestinian throwing stones at an Israeli soldier, even if his life has perhaps been destroyed by the Israeli occupation, is simply part of an eternal mob of anti-Semites, a mob made up principally of people to whom the Jews have done no harm at all, as they did no harm to Hitler. The logical consequence of this view of the world is that in the face of such massive and eternal opposition, Jews are morally justified in taking any measures they can think of to protect themselves. They are involved in one long eternal war, and a few hundred Palestinians killed today must be measured against many millions of Jews who were killed in the past. The agony the Israelis might inflict on a Palestinian family today must be seen in the perspective of Jewish families in agony all over the world in the past.
It is irrational for the Israeli leaders to imagine that the Palestinians will understand this particular point of view–will understand why Jews might find it appropriate, let us say, to retaliate for the death of one Jew by killing a hundred Palestinians. If a Palestinian killed a hundred Jews to retaliate for the killing of one Palestinian–for that matter, if a Thai killed a hundred Cambodians to retaliate for the killing of one Thai–which, from the point of view of the Israeli leaders, would of course be unjust, that would be racist, as if one Palestinian or one Thai were worth a hundred Israelis or a hundred Cambodians. But if a Jew does it, it’s not unjust and it’s not racist, because it’s part of an eternal struggle in which the Jews have lost and lost and lost–they’ve already lost more people than there are Palestinians. Well, it’s not surprising that certain Jews would feel this way, but no Palestinian will ever share that feeling or be willing to accept it. What the Palestinians see is an implacable and heartless enemy, one that considers itself un-bound by any rules or principles, an enemy that can’t be reasoned with but can only be feared, hated and, if possible, killed.
As poor and oppressed people around the world are very well aware of the events in the occupied territories, and as they strongly identify with the Palestinian struggle and point of view, the future of the Jews looks increasingly dim.
Consequently it is disgraceful and vile and no favor to the Jews for American politicians–for narrow, short-term political advantage, for narrow, short-term global-strategic reasons and, yes, also in expiation of the residual guilt they feel over what happened to the Jews in the past–to pander to the irrationality of the most irrational Jews.
Actions based on irrational premises inevitably fail in their purposes–they fail, and if the premises don’t change, then the actions are inevitably repeated, in forms which are more and more grotesque. It is unbearable to think that the new American administration would begin with more American dollars being poured into what is unjustifiable. It is also unbearable to think that among the first words we would hear from our new, clearly rational president would be preposterous sentences trying to persuade us that Israeli policies which seem to be appalling are actually quite normal and acceptable. Certainly nothing our new president could do would be of greater value to the world–and greater value to the Jews–than to abruptly end the sickeningly patronizing habit of supporting an irrationality which was born in tragedy and will end in more tragedy.
Wallace Shawn is the author of The Designated Mourner and Four Plays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).