Must we Jews always see ourselves as victims?

Having endured a remarkable 2 hours in room ten at the UN today listening to Jon Voight, Alan Dershowitz and others explain how Hamas, Hezbollah and the Nazis are the same; Achmadinejad and Hitler are the same, and that we are now confronting a new Holocaust (I’ll need to write this out in pieces, it was that painful), I have been struggling to find the words for the pathology that has helped unleash this tsunami here at the Review Conference. Far from boycotting, the Israeli proxies have taken over.

Before, I called the pathological denial of Palestinian humanity, let alone Palestinian suffering, “moral schizophrenia”, to borrow the term from IF Stone. But after today’s display from Dershowitz, Wiesel, Sharansky and others, I’ve decided we need a stronger term for this sickness. My friend Susie used the term “Shoahism” meaning the holocaust as your religion. But there’s more.

The mere mention of Palestinian suffering sends these people into paroxysms of defensiveness and even rage. They go on and on about Holocaust denial, but this phenomenon is cut of the same cloth. It is virtually impossible for them to hold both the narrative of their own suffering, and the narrative of Palestinian suffering. It’s as if they did, they might break in two right there in front of us.

Jewish Peace News’ Judith Norman and Alistair Welch offer this:

Antony Lerman, former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, addresses the question of why so many Jews, in Israel and around the world, seem blind to Palestinian suffering. The answer he gives – that many Jews see themselves as permanent victims – is not particularly new, but this article gives a particularly lucid account of this sense of victimhood and the effect it has in legitimating policies that lead to great suffering for Palestinians.

Not only do many Jews view themselves as victims, the nature of Jewish suffering is thought to be uniquely profound and intense. Jewish suffering is given a quasi- (or even downright) religious character; it transcends experience and is therefore irrefutable. Every anti-Semitic incident is regarded as far more sinister than it seems – it is a symptom of a smoldering global epidemic of Jew-hatred. Given this reasoning, it is impossible for Israel to over-react to any act of Palestinian hostility, because every Palestinian attack is a symptom of the same global existential threat that the Jews have (supposedly) faced for millennia.

Needless to say, this mindset has done enormous harm, not least to Israeli Jews, who are unable (even unwilling) to contextualize current events or sympathize with Palestinian suffering (Lerman cites empirical evidence for this), and are thus led to support a belligerent agenda that ultimately blocks any solution to the conflict.

The antidote Lerman offers is the very courageous and basic act of empathy: there is nothing unique about Jewish suffering, and it should be used as the key to understanding Palestinian suffering, not a justification for increasing it.

Roger Cohen at the NYT, who is on a roll, writes:

Closure is the overcoming of horror. It is the achievement of normality through responsibility. It cannot be attained through the inflation of threats, the perpetuation of fears, or retreat into the victimhood that sees every act, however violent, as defensive.

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