If I were Jewish…

If I were Jewish…

We live with the feeling that death is always with us. Whether that feeling is good or not, I don’t know. It is always hanging over us, and here in Auschwitz you see how it became an industry, an industry of death. The Germans started it all and we are perpetuating it.

I thought a lot about whether this March of the Living is good or bad, this death industry…

We perpetuate death, and that’s why we will never become a normal people, because we emphasize death and what happened. We have to remember, no doubt, but we live too much in it, and it is preventing us from being normal people.
~ An Israeli assistant class teacher accompanying a party of Israeli teenagers on a March of the Living trip Poland.

There’s a kind of pathological narcisism, navel contemplation, when you are the richest, wealthiest, most successful ethnic group in the United States — you’ve got the world on a platter — and you sit around and you’re talking about anti-Semitism, it’s just kind of shameful I think.
~ Norman Finkelstein

If I were Jewish…

There will no doubt be some Jewish readers who see that line and instantly take offense.

You cannot know, cannot understand, cannot truly grasp what it means to have the experience of being Jewish. Why? Because of the Holocaust. Because this happened to my people, not yours.

To a degree I have to respect that point of view. Indeed, my response to the Holocaust is one that centers on a dread of human brutality rather than what it would mean to identify myself as belonging to a persecuted people.

Yet the thought, “if I was Jewish…” was triggered by watching a remarkable film: Defamation.

This documentary by the Israeli film-maker Yoav Shamir came out early last year and now it can and should be viewed in its entirety at PULSE.

If I were Jewish and a parent and I had a teenage son or daughter who came and asked me, which of these two films do you think it is most important that I watch: Schindler’s List or Defamation? I’d say: it depends whether you prefer to be told about or to reflect upon who you are.

Yoav Shamir’s film, at turns profound and irreverent, is above all a call for reflection on the meaning of Jewish identity. Among its many insights is that for many secular Jews the Holocaust now serves as a buttress against a loss of identity.

Perhaps most disturbing is to witness young Israelis going through an indoctrination process in which the Holocaust and the specter of anti-Semitism are being used to keep fear and hatred alive.

In the following segment, teenage Israelis are being prepared for a trip to Poland where they are told they will need the protection of secret service agents and should avoid contact with the locals:

Later in the film, Shamir talks to a girl about her reaction to visiting Auschwitz and she describes the hatred it evokes. She says:

When you see it you say: ‘I want to kill the people who did this!’…

Who would you like to kill?

Who would I like to kill? All of them…

Who is all of them?

The Nazis, our enemies who did this.

But you know they are dead…

Yes, but they have heirs, they may be different but they’re there.

Never forgive, never forget — an expression that has been turned into a mantra as though this is the only way of remembering and honoring the dead. In reality it has become a chain of anger, anchored to the past.

Ultimately the question of what it means to be Jewish is a question whose answer matters as much to the non-Jew as it does to the Jew.

If either believes that this identity is circumscribed by an unbridgeable divide then we will indeed have an unending conflict.

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4 thoughts on “If I were Jewish…

  1. delia ruhe

    All Israelis and anyone who lives in a country with an active pro-Israel lobby should watch this film. I was appalled by the treatment of those lovely, lively Israeli teenagers visiting Poland. Traumatizing them like that — reducing them to hysteria and tears — is child abuse.

  2. DE Teodoru

    Judaism is losing its spiritual/cultural quality making it a pillar of Western Renaissance– because, like Jihadi Islam, it is degenerated into political ingathering glue composed of hate and fear. Zionism and Jihad have a lot in common– both wanting a mythical united land recreated that is devoid of infidels. Before there was binLaden Jihad there was the 1967 War identity mania. Judaism, like Islam, is a faith of ritual and difficult to abide by in modern society; consequently, young people tended to drift into non-observance. The Holocaust was not at first used to make Jews Zionists but rather to hold Jews to their Diasporic communities. Despite Holocaust, “Jewishness” claimed superiority because of its inherent social conscience, generosity, education and liberal politics; so it craved acceptance, recognition and leadership role in goy society. Jewish children were taught that rather than bullying, prove your equality by being 10x as smart, 10x as kind and 10x as moral. The 1967 war changed all that and many Jews wrapped themselves in it as affirmation of their personal “mensch-hood,” asserted by suppressing critics and submitting America to Israeli interests as in the motto: what’s good for Israel is good for America. With rise to power in Israel of Likud, many Zionists became Zionazis, despite incompatibility with Jewishness. Some Jews adapted schizophrenically, irrationally fusing the Jewish Ethic with the incompatible Zionazi lebensraum thesis. Some saw this as insane; they chose Jewish ethic over Zionism and just melted into their Diasporic cultures of birth. “Professional Jews” like Foxman of ADL who had fought against this Diasporic “assimilation” by promoting racialist hate and fear– seeing an “anti-Semite” under every bed– changed their position and accepted Zionazi formula: ANT-ZIONIST=ANTI-SEMITE. Some promoted an illogical on-again, off-again Zionism based on hysterically oscillating between demand for obligate tribal compliance and ostracization, telling US Jews, “you American, mind your own business.” As a result most Zionist appeals to Diaspora are based on a covert appeal but when overt are aggressive or hysterical. Neocons, for example, rely on Leninist method of POLARIZE TO MOBILIZE, categorizing Jews as either obedient compliant with Likud Zionism or “self-hating Jews.” The whole has come to be made up of such mutually contradictory and morally incompatible parts that psychotic fear of another Holocaust is peddled as the glue to meld Jewish Ethic with Zionazism into one psychotic immiscible whole by promoting anti-Semitism in order to stampede Jews into panicked ingathering. Yet, reactive assimilation into Diaspora to escape this madness is the very unwanted response they engender. Beating Jews on the head with the Holocaust, the Zionazis are making Zionism a psychosis and discrediting the veracity of the Holocaust.

  3. der_caine

    a real good movie. for me, as a young german man, is it nice to see that not all jews wants to hit me with that anti-semit or holocoust “keule”. i hope i can see this film in german tv sometime again.

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