Israel’s national psychosis

The feeling of helplessness of a poor lonely victim, confronting the rage of a lynch mob and frantically realizing that these are his last moments, accurately reflect the current psychosis of the majority of the Israeli public, writes Anshel Pfeffer.

“We felt like the Ramallah lynch.” I am certain that the unnamed Israeli naval commando who said these words to a reporter a few hours after the bloodbath on the Mavi Marmara regrets them now. It is quite clear why the image came to his mind at the time. None of us has forgotten the pictures of a baying mob literally hacking to pieces the reservists Yossi Avrahami and Vadim Nurzhitz nine and a half years ago and throwing their bodies out of the window of a Palestinian police station.

But the visual resemblance is where the comparison ends. The two unarmed reservists were on their own, after straying into Ramallah, and were cruelly murdered. They were dead before the army was even fully aware that they were missing. True, the naval commandos on the Turkish ferry were surrounded by club-wielding enemies, intent on killing them – one of them was even thrown off the deck – but they were simply at a very temporary tactical disadvantage. Backing them up was all the firepower and might of a modern navy, and indeed the results were not surprising. After a few minutes of scuffling, in which seven commandos were wounded, the full force was unleashed and nine people on the other side were killed. Hardly a lynch situation.

But it was that remark that was picked up by the entire Israeli media and used as the headline encapsulating the whole bloody event. Why? Because the feeling of helplessness of a poor lonely victim, confronting the rage of a lynch mob and frantically realizing that these are his last moments, accurately reflect the current psychosis of the majority of the Israeli public.

Everything that followed the disastrous raid on the Gaza flotilla – the descriptions in the media, the justifications of the Israel Defense Forces spokesman and the reactions of the politicians – prove how detached we have become from the way that Israel is perceived from outside. One sentence that was repeated over and over to justify the final outcome was: “And what if they had succeeded in killing one of our soldiers?” This is a rhetorical argument that is unanswerable in any discussion held in Israel. No matter how many combatants we have lost in all the wars, operations, accidents and other foul-ups, every time the radio announces the death of yet another an IDF soldier, something dies within every one of us.

That is a noble sentiment, a feeling of a society with a shared responsibility and destiny, but we have lost any other perspectives and are incapable of realizing that it is only we Israelis who feel this. We have hunkered down deep inside our collective bunker and have lost sight of any suffering or loss on the other side.

I don’t want to use this column to discuss the shortcomings of Israeli hasbara, as the implications of this event go well beyond public relations in their significance. But one thing that was very clear to me on Monday, as I watched the Israeli media strategy unfold before the television cameras at the Ashdod port, was how all the professional spokespersons swiftly fell back on the same comforting tropes that appeal only to the Israeli public and a shrinking group of die-hard supporters overseas. Even the experienced professionals, who should know better, could do no more than to convince the already convinced.

Let’s just continue their argument for a moment. Say that two IDF commandos had been killed in the confrontation. It would have been another national tragedy for us, but would anyone outside of Israel have been moved? Not a bit: They would simply have been two heavily armed soldiers carrying out an illegal raid who were killed by brave civilians defending a ship bearing humanitarian aid. None of Israel’s arguments – that the members of the Turkish relief organization IHH were actually murderous jihadis, that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, that Israel was prepared to allow the cargo to go through its own port and that the blockade is justified as the only way to keep more missiles from reaching Hamas – would have been any more persuasive. Not because they were badly presented or inaccurate, but simply because moral people around the world see almost everything that happens in the region as a result of a deeply immoral situation that the Israeli leadership and the great majority of the Israeli public is doing nothing whatsoever to change.

That may be a simplistic perspective, devoid of any nuance, but it is not an anti-Semitic or even anti-Israeli position, as some try to persuade us. It is simply a moral viewpoint. And even most perceptive Israelis can’t seem to see that. Our powers of analysis are impressive, up to a certain level. A few hours after the dust settled it was clear what had gone wrong on a tactical level. On Monday evening, in one of those moments of tired, off-the-record frankness, an IDF colonel said to me, “Come on Anshel, we all know what the problem was here. This was a policing operation, not something for a real army.” He was right, but this is far from an isolated example. Criticizing the IDF is too easy. The real blame lies with successive Israeli governments and the broad public that are not brave enough to end the 42-year-old occupation and prefer instead to throw the army at the problem. As good as our army is, the result will only be more and more bloodshed. So how do we deal with it? By convincing ourselves that we are the moral ones and everyone else just wants to kill us.

If only we had some real friends, friends we could trust implicitly, who could point out the error of our ways. This could be the shining moment of the Jewish Diaspora. They love us, but they also see things from another perspective. We need a strong, unified voice from the Jewish leadership in the United States and Europe telling Israelis enough is enough, you are hurtling down the slippery slope of pariahdom and causing untold damage to yourselves and us. Lift your heads above the ramparts and see that the world has moved on.

Instead, we find the establishment of the Jewish world crouching with us in the bunker.

In his breathtaking analysis of the decline of secular Zionism in America, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” which appeared in the New York Review of Books last month, Peter Beinart describes how the leaders of America’s major Jewish organizations have succeeded in estranging an entire generation of young Jews from Israel “by defending virtually anything any Israeli government does.” In doing so “they make themselves intellectual bodyguards for Israeli leaders who threaten the very liberal values they profess to admire.”

Beinart persuasively explains how this has convinced many young Jews that they have noting in common with a country whose policies contradict so much of what they have been brought up to believe in. But there is another damaging aspect to this cheerleading. Every Israeli cabinet minister who is greeted by cheering audiences during visits abroad fails to see all those who, disgusted, prefer to stay at home.

They return to Israel convinced that at least the Jewish people are still behind us and that our opponents are simply anti-Semitic. Other voices, such as the new lobbies JStreet and JCall, are ostracized by the establishment instead of being treated as what they really are, authentic voices for many concerned Jews.

When the history of the Jewish people in the early 21st century is written, the conclusion will be unavoidable. In its hour of need Israel was let down by the Diaspora.

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  1. The excerpts below are from .”The weight of Tradition”

    Rabbi Kook , another influential and much revered Jewish leader, expressed a similar view: “The difference between a Jewish soul and the souls of non-Jews — all of them in all different levels — is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the souls of cattle.”

    The view that Jews are a distinct people with a primary commitment to Israel and the Jewish community is forthrightly affirmed by Elliott Abrams, an American Jewish scholar who was President George W. Bush’s senior advisor for “global democratic strategy,” and in 2006 was a key advisor on Middle East affairs to the US Secretary of State. In his book Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in Christian America, /18 he writes: “Outside the land of Israel, there can be no doubt that Jews, faithful to the covenant between God and Abraham, are to stand apart from the nations in which they live. It is the very nature of being Jewish to be apart — except in Israel — from the rest of the population.” Judaism and the Jewish way of life,” writes Abrams, is not “entirely voluntary, for the Jew is born into a covenantal community with obligations to God.” Jews, he goes on, “are in a permanent covenant with God and with the land of Israel and its people. Their commitment will not weaken if the Israeli government pursues unpopular policies …”

    The Jewish sense of alienation from, and abiding distrust of, non-Jews is also manifest in a remarkable essay published in 2002 in the Forward, the prominent Jewish community weekly. Entitled “We’re Right, the Whole World’s Wrong,” it is written by Rabbi Dov Fischer, an attorney and a member of the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles. / 19 Rabbi Fischer is also national vice president of the Zionist Organization of America. So this essay was not written by an obscure or semi-literate scribbler, but rather by a prominent Jewish community figure. And it did not appear in some marginal periodical, but rather in what is perhaps the most literate and thoughtful Jewish weekly in America, and certainly one of the most influential.

    In his essay, Rabbi Fischer tells readers: “If we Jews are anything, we are a people of history … Our history provides the strength to know that we can be right and the whole world wrong.”

    If one accepts the definitions and claims in the above then the Jews are the prime motivators in creating the responses they have experienced throughout history. One may easily call them cursed/sick as well as chosen.

    Taken at face value the statement, “Our history provides the strength to know that we can be right and the whole world wrong.” is psychotic to say the least.

  2. Ian Arbuckle says:

    As my friend on Common Dreams, who goes by the handle of Justice Arcs has pointed out and I agree whole hartedly that:
    “Perhaps more does need to be said, because the apparently “bungled military operation”, might have been carefully planned to occur just as it did ?

    Perhaps Israelis were actually following principles of non-symmetric warfare, to create a different type of advantage: PR
    Consider that almost everything that happened did so for a reason:
    (1) The IR night vision cameras were filming well before the commandos ropes were used.

    (2) The number and locations of all of sailors on deck was 100% known, a priori. The protection of the bridge was known.

    (3) Israelis knew that a slow motion attack with one or two commandos arriving at a time, would cause the sailors to defend their boat — smile for the cameras boys.

    (4) everything from the actual moment of the attack occurred, to the resources used, was carefully considered and planned.

    Therefore, the footage was actually likely directed and orchestrated for later PR advantage (with a good dose of editing ), while some of the commandos were purposely placed in harms way to incite the expected anger and violence of the sailors. They knew exactly what “weapons” were there, and that they weren’t going to be shot.

    Israelis had hundreds of commandos, and we see them coming down the ropes much differently than the fast attack that could have minimized much of the initial violence, putting comrades into a fighting unit. Were the Israeli budget restrictions so tight that they could only afford one rope per helicopter?

    We’ve seen the possible synchronized descent on TV and in movies, where 5 or 6 commandos hit the deck at the same time, within a few feet of each other — why didn’t that occur ? If it weren’t possible because of masts and/or wires overhead, then why use that error prone boarding technique ? WHy not land on the ship in an empty area, and then once all together, deploy as a phalanx to seize the bridge?

    My guess, is that Israeli sacrificed the few bruises on the first arriving commandos for PR advantage, but then later “reacted” to that inspired violence with bullets, to demonstrate to the world both their initial feigned innocence and later “justified” defensive response to initial violence.

    By definition, boarders are attackers and sailors are defenders — but some how all of that got reversed, why ?

    It matters now, to recreate the scene and try to understand the strategy used — because this will happen again. They say that in politics everything happens for a reason.”

    My own view is that this also explains the confiscation and tampering with (editing) every other video and audio record, from passengers and journalists on all vessels.

    But it is obvious that Israel’s idea was to find a way of trashing the humanitarian image, and to do that they needed to re-write the scenario and change a few facts, and “voila”, its a rap!

    The Americans are the only audience that matters (they think), and their friends in Hollywood have been doing a great job for years conditioning them to “suggested” reality, while corporate media are ready to roll over for the Jewish ADL and do as they are told by their trained editors and owners. Goebles never had it so good. Imagine the War if he could have controlled what was on the BBC in 1936?

    It’s psychological warfare and all to do with controlling the image. Let’s see how they deal with the next Turkish flagged vessel, which I imagine will be accompanied by real fire power. I hope that will mark the end of this cruel and callus blockage. But, in the meantime we will see what tricks or turns are planned for the Rachel Corrie and her crew.

    As an aside I was amused when America’s Zionist VP suggested that Israel lead the investigation with foreign observers, “like in the case of the South Korean ship sinking”. The idiot forgot that the S. Koreans were allegedly the aggressed party, having purportedly been attacked by a mysterious N. Korean sub. So, he doesn’t seem to realise what he is suggesting that if Israel lead the investigation here, it would be like the N. Koreans should have led the investigation there…. (which in fact would probably get us closer to the truth according to the Chinese and Russians who are now reviewing the evidence in Korea.

  3. carol yrwin says:

    The Ramallah Lynch was the result of aggression against innocent Palestinian civilians and not an unprovoked attack against innocent Israelis. Every Israeli citizen is required to serve in the army (except for the Orthodox) so in that sense, every Israeli can be held accountable for the lamentable state of the Palestinian population.
    The attitude that Jews are the CHOSEN ones and should not integrate with their non- jewish neighbors may explain why they have been persecuted throughout the ages. Those who believe this are unaware that Jewish intellect alone has not lead the world and that the Jewish soul is not alone in its complexity and depth. Non-Jews are not cattle and should not be treated as such nor be regarded with such disdain.
    The Ramallah lynch was used by zionist leaders in Israel to perpetrate the sad old story that the Jews are the eternal victims, no matter what. They have also milked the tragic story of the Holocaust to create sympathy for the illegal establishment of the Israeli state by the Irgun, saying that ‘never again will happen’ (to the Jews) when in reality, the Jews were not the only ones who were exterminated by the Nazis. Non-Zionists who have survived the Holocaust condemn Israel’s acts and say ‘never again will this happen’ to mankind.

  4. Blackbeard says:

    Obviously the IDF’s copies of “Wag The Dog” have been put to good use. Ian Arbuckle’s trenchant analysis of the carefully crafted audio-visual propaganda released to the world only serves to reinforce the power of that oft-repeated cliche “As seen on TV”. The average American doesn’t read much except the sports pages and the celebrity and sensation soaked pages of supermarket tabloids. Fox News is gospel and who cares about the Gaza Strip? “Wuzzat, a new nudie bar?”

  5. The tower of Pisa leans because of its unstable foundation, not despite it. An earthquake brings down unsafe schools because of the failures in construction not despite them. The world’s economic structures failed in 2008 because of inherent weaknesses (still uncorrected), not despite the faults. A psychotic is treated because of failures in his interactions with society, not despite them.

    Evil happens in the world not despite our beliefs but because of them.