Prescribing anti-Zionism

In numerous articles and blogs about Israel published over the past few years, pathology emerges as the major theme, with a special preference for the psychoanalytic method.

Ahmadinejad nuclear unveiling 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ahmadinejad nuclear unveiling 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hatred of the Jewish state flourishes with such infinite variety that most Zionists have long since given up trying to understand what really drives their opponents. Even so it may be possible to identify something common to most forms of contemporary anti- Zionist is the view that Israel is sick. Critically ill, in fact, frequently delirious, with only the slimmest chance of recovery.
The world is by now familiar with Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s insistence that Israel is “a cancerous tumor” that should be wiped off the map. But the language of pathology is no less essential to the sophisticated analyses of Western anti-Zionist intellectuals and their Israeli counterparts.
Praising David Grossman’s latest novel back in 2010, the Economist noted approvingly that “fever is not just a symptom of physical illness. It becomes a description of the existential state of Israel.” This view was seconded at the time by famed Canadian author Margaret Atwood, who after a single short visit opined that the country lives under a “shadow” of self-induced paranoia.
“The worse the Palestinians are treated in the name of those fears, the bigger the Shadow grows, and then the fears grow with them; and the justifications for the treatment multiply,” she wrote.
In numerous articles and blogs about Israel published in the Economist over the past few years, pathology emerges as the major theme, with a special preference for the psychoanalytic method. In a blog last month originally entitled “Auschwitz Complex,” the psychologists at the magazine presented their latest diagnosis: “Having trapped themselves in a death struggle with Palestinians that they cannot acknowledge or untangle, Israelis have psychologically displaced the source of their anxiety onto a more distant target: Iran.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Iran policy, according the same writers, manifest a “Ghetto Mentality.” And in a similar vein, government attempts to reach expatriate Israelis with a Jewish continuity message come “straight out of Israel’s anguished id.”
Whereas Israel’s Persian doctors meditate extreme measures, its Western doctors speak the language of therapy. The Western doctor professes to want to save the patient. But if so, something must have gone terribly wrong. The doctor’s behavior towards the patient manifests open hostility.
At various times, Economist bloggers have noted the Israel “has lost” them and that it is by now “politically incapable of extricating itself” from its self-induced woes. Elsewhere they are even more brutal: “[Israel] was a project from the beginning, and from the beginning there were those who believed it had failed.”
In 2006 Zionism’s Persian doctor remarked that “the Zionist regime will be wiped out soon... and humanity will achieve freedom.” This idealism, bizarre and delusional as it may be, sheds light on what motivates Iranian anti-Zionism. But what energizes its Western counterpart? It turns out that psychoanalysis is not the only idea Western anti-Zionists draw from Jewish sources. Above all they embrace “Diasporism” – the idea, existing in both religious and secular forms, that the Jewish people have an ethical mission which can only be fulfilled when they are scattered among foreign nations.
And when it comes to Diaspora Jewry, the Economist, for one, can spare no praise. It lauds the “dazzling, cosmopolitan world of pre-war European Jewry... whose writers, thinkers and artists still shape today’s Europe.”
Nor could the contrast between Israel and the Diaspora be starker. “There has always been a current in Jewish politics that embraced...fearful xenophobia and bigotry, but it is not the strain that most diaspora Jews celebrate.”
One of Zionism’s raisons d’etre is to provide a home for dispossessed Jews. So the writers at the Economist take pains to deny that danger could recur. A blog bears the reproachful title “Only One Holocaust.” Another one belittles a lengthy Der Spiegel report on resurgent anti-Semitism in Hungary.
The Diasporist anti-Zionist cannot bring himself to confront anti-Semitism, not because he is anti-Semitic, but mostly because he sees no way out. And what can no longer be plausibly denied, he blames on Zionism itself: “many Muslims hate Israel, and since Israel is the Jewish state they extend this hatred to Jews at large.”
The Western doctor has some serious issues of his own. He implicates seven million people, living among hundreds of millions with a history of extreme violence, with being the sole authors of their own misfortune.
Seen in this light, Israel appears not sick and neurotic, but rather amazingly vibrant and resilient.
But Diasporism necessarily sees Israel as an aberration.
In its original and pure form, it maintains that the Jews’ divine mission is incompatible with statehood. It is strange that this idea would appeal so strongly to many Western intellectuals who are not themselves Jewish.
Perhaps Jewish Diasporists at the Economist and elsewhere are being exploited by people with other agendas.
Most likely, it is the Western liberal’s insistence on believing that confrontation with the Islamic world can be avoided which leads him to embrace Diasporism. By blaming Zionism for Muslim aggression across the globe, he is able to continue to believe that Islamic warmongering need never threaten him. Indeed, his entire worldview is hijacked by such repressions and projections.
The Western anti-Zionist is much more in need of therapy than the Zionist. But he ought not to expect the kind of help from his nemesis that he offers so freely.
Unlike Western intellectuals, Zionists generally are not terribly interested in psychoanalysis. They would prefer just to live and let live. And if that proves impossible, history has taught them to be ready for a fight.
The writer is a freelance author and graduate instructor in Philosophy at the Hebrew University.