Do most Israeli Jews consider non-Jews to be sub-human?

The question I pose here is prompted by a post by the Israeli blogger, Yossi Gurvitz.

After the blogosphere lit up yesterday in reaction to photographs of a young Israeli soldier, Second Lieutenant Eden Aberjeel, posing alongside Palestinian prisoners, Gurvitz wrote:

There is nothing out of the ordinary about Aberjeel, who refused to speak with several bloggers because she “doesn’t speak with leftists”: she describes herself as holding rightwing political views and being religious (i.e., an observant Jewish Orthodox); she’s also a member of several religious groups, particularly of “born again” (hozrim bi’tshuva) Jews, quite a few “Bring Gilad Shalit home” groups — and the group “I, too, hate the Hamas”.

In short, she’s a good representative of a large portion of the IDF’s soldiers — and, more worryingly, officers. Like Lynndie England, she’s become a face for the banality of evil; unlike England, she doesn’t seem to understand she did something wrong, and didn’t think twice before posting those pictures.

And why would she? After all, like most Israeli Jews, she considers non-Jews — Arabs in particular — to be subhuman.

In order to refute an official statement which claimed that Aberjeel’s behavior was an exception, the Israeli human rights group, Breaking the Silence, has now released photographs showing other IDF soldiers sitting alongside handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian detainees. Indeed, anyone who has watched the documentary To See If I Am Smiling (released in 2007) in which six young Israeli women recount their experiences of military service in the occupied Palestinian territories, knows that this is a familiar story.

The title of the film comes from a story told by Meytal, a medic and medical officer. Having described how cleaning the corpses of Palestinians after they had been brutalized by Israeli soldiers had become a routine part of her job, she goes on to recount a particular moment that still haunts her: when she posed for a photograph next to a corpse.

I’m not sure when it was, but at some point I became very ashamed of that picture. And I didn’t tell anyone about it, that it existed. I forgot about it a little. But I would like to see it. To see if I look different. I want to see if I’m still smiling.

The photograph is not shown in the documentary, but in the mind’s eye of many Americans it must evoke memories of Abu Ghraib.

Such images are iconic because they capture the moment in which a soldier discovers that he or she has become the very thing they fear. The dehumanized other is a vortex from which there is no escape.

If a nation can have such a thing as a soul, To See If I Am Smiling, reveals how profoundly Israel’s soul has been scarred by 43 years of occupation. A fully militarized society has shackled itself to a conviction — we have no choice — whereby each individual can then bury their own awareness of complicity and moral responsibility under a collective weight of irresistible necessity.

But before anyone jumps to conclusions about what all of this says about Israelis, it’s worth remembering what Americans have shown themselves capable of when they come to regard their enemies as subhuman.

Abu Ghraib is still fresh in most people’s minds as an indication of the depravity soldiers can descend into once the enemy has been sufficiently dehumanized, but to the extent that the war in Iraq is now broadly considered a mistake, Abu Ghraib is likewise easily seen as some kind of aberration.

Better then to be reminded of some of the barbarity that members of “the greatest generation” engaged in while fighting the “good war” — World War Two.

In the fight against the Japanese, the practice of “trophy hunting” went far beyond posing for photographs next to captives of the dead. “[B]oiling the flesh off enemy [Japanese] skulls to make souvenirs was a not uncommon practice. Ears, bones and teeth were also collected,” writes the historian, Niall Ferguson.

And the context in which this occurred? One in which among Americans, the Japanese had come to be regarded as subhuman. “To the historian who has specialized in German history, this is one of the most troubling aspects of the Second World War: the fact that Allied troops often regarded the Japanese in the same way that Germans regarded Russians — as Untermenschen,” writes Ferguson.

In each of these scenarios we witness the shadow of exceptionalism: that when individuals, nations, tribes or ethnic groups see themselves as superior to others, they also unleash their own depravity.

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  1. DE Teodoru says

    Oi Vei, another DEEP video of God’s “chosen” in action… deep, so unique!

    Everybody, watch an Israeli piss! You should, you know, because Israelis pissing is something like you’ve never seen. Yea, it may look at first like anyone pissing, but then you realize WOW, it’s holy piss landing on the rocks of the Fathers….this non-descript bit of sand is getting pissed on by one of the “chosen’s” piss….so watch how it sparkles, like a miracle, like flowing manna as it lands on the soil of the forefathers without foreskins. You’ve never lived until you see an Israeli piss….they do it better than any of God’s other lesser beings….I imagine you get my point!

    But it is fact that Israel that we’re supposed to so marvel at is only US Congress sanctified “chosen” fetus of a state, 62 years old and still unborn as a self-sustaining entity, 62 years later STILL helplessly living off of an engorged American $$$ placenta. I don’t find it interesting. I’d rather watch a video of a science lecture at Jerusalem U, that which Israel does extremely well as an incubator of great minds, not the IDF, the incubator you never outgrow. Studying at Israeli universities you get to know something real, not just some fantasy from people who can only see themselves as “chosen” or “victim,” as beautiful or ugly, as profound or suppressed. As the old saying goes: spare the rod, spoil the child and Israel is like a spoiled child that kills and bullies because it can’t believe in itself….and then, it’s not a child, it’s STILL a fetus on a $$$ umbilicus. Extreme pampering by Diaspora Jews keeps it still a fetus at 62. I think it tragic, not wondrous. Only Israel has all these automatic weapons, radar, telecomm and robots to catch rock throwing Palestinian kids whose bellies are empty and can’t go to school; go Israeli chicks, show those sub-human Palestinian boys that they can’t throw stones at God’s “chosen” people….OK, I get it. Now I think I’m just going to switch to the cartoon channel to watch the indestructible two dimensional cartoons character samurai that never die and blush at the slightest intimation of sex, though all the female samurai are drawn with size 40D boobs. At least there you know it was meant to be silly, not the exploits of “God’s chosen.”

  2. Well, is this attitude of the Israeli mind set that appears to be bred into the youth worth the price of the U.S. will have to pay if it backs Israel in it’s play with Iran? Insanity has indeed replaced its opposite! This ugly side of a nation seems to be in vogue today, only the spotlight is now on Israel. These are the paybacks for the constant war, which seems to be what this country will be facing with the continual attitudes that some members of the ruling elite would have. I wonder how many citizens of Israel feel like the person in the picture? What a shame that the old mad men perpetrate this feeling of sub-humanness in the Youth. Perhaps its time that all the War Mongers be rounded up & sent to the Moon, a one way trip if you may. The World would be better off. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to believe in the future when we witness this display of human behavior. The real question today, will the World step up & stop this insane march?

  3. It would seem the Israelis have studied Herr Goebbels, the SS, and the Gestapo so profoundly that something has rubbed off. One always appears to be ubermensch as long as you are the ones holding the guns.

    Appropriate that Neitzsche could have told them this; “When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

  4. Mondoweiss website have picked up on the same story, quoting similar testimony from other IDF female recruits —

    “I recall once, this was after we moved to Mevo Dotan, to the base there, some Palestinian was sitting on a chair and I passed by several times. Once I thought: Okay, why is he sitting here for an hour? I feel like spitting at him, at this Arab. And they tell me: Go one, spit at him. I don’t recall whether anyone did this before I did, but I remember spitting at him and feeling really, like at first I felt, wow, good for me, I just spat at some terrorist, that’s how I’d call them. And then I recall that afterwards I felt some thing here was not right.


    Not too human. I mean, it sounds cool and all, but no, it’s not right.

    You thought about later, or during the act?

    Later. At the time you felt real cool.

    Even when everyone was watching, you felt real cool.

    Yes, and then sometimes you get to thinking, especially say on Holocaust Memorial Day, suddenly you’re thinking, hey, these thing were done to us, it’s a human being after all. Eventually as things turned out he was no terrorist anyway, it was a kid who’d hung around too long near the base, so he was caught or something.

    A child?

    An adolescent.



    Blindfolded and all?

    Yes. I think that at some point no one even stood watch over him.”

  5. As regards similar dehumanizing brutality in other conquests, in his book “Image and Reality of the I/P Conflict “, Norman Finkesltein devotes many pages to intensive studies of American/British/German attitudes to ‘the other.’

    Well worth a read.

  6. all this makes me think of ‘DAS EXPERIMENT’ .
    if you are in one group and you have power over an other group it becomes difficult to not treat the other group badly.

  7. Yossi Gurvitz wrote — “And why would she? After all, like most Israeli Jews, she considers non-Jews — Arabs in particular — to be subhuman.”

    And that is the scary part.

  8. DE Teodoru says

    Dear Friends, fear not, PEACE IS AT HAND!!!!

    Please don’t worry about young Israelis– at least the non-Haredi ones– for they see through all this. They’ve become jaded cynical over how the suppossedly” religious” that refuse to recognize the less observant as Jews yet always come out getting something for nothing (except hot air and noise and acting crazy) at the expense of the non-Haredi. The latter realize that once their parents’ generation suffering Holocaust psychosis is gone they can come to terms with the Arabs. Meanwhile, a war with Iran started by Israel would produce an near unanimous army of “refuseniks.” Young Sabras have had enough of dying for the mensch-hood complexes of the old. EVERYONE in the Middle East wants out of the trap in which so many young Arabs were trapped by Jihad so it’s not likely you’ll soon see a Kosher Jihad. I’m sure Netanyahu agrees with them and is trying to repeat a political miracle that matches that of Jesus at the wedding. The old make noise but that’s all. On both sides of the Semitic family the young have had enough of the corruption and fanaticism and are asking: when do we get our chance to show our hightech stuff?

  9. There’s a new Zionist drive to keep the ‘anti Israel’ bloggers under control — see the following in the Guardian today : “Wikipedia editing courses launched by Zionist groupsTwo Israeli groups set up training courses in Wikipedia editing with aims to ‘show the other side’ over borders and culture”

    And, do a google for “Megaphone Desktop” , which is a software designed to alert pro Zionist groups about bloggers who oppose Israel, and they can then flock to those places to monitor them and report on those bloggers.

    Also, you should google ‘’, another Zionist group that monitors ‘anti Israel’ internet activity and keeps an eye on blogging.

  10. The fact is that this exceptionalism is in the Bible. Christians in the West, political Christians have adopted this same exceptionalism. The Quran doesn’t feature this same exceptionalism, though it does say Islam is the best tradition. But, it also argues, “how can the One god favor one people over another?”

    I have heard and know only Whites and Jews who believe in their superiority over others. This is an ugly topic, but it is one that should be discussed, and this attitude ridiculed.

    No one has mentioned Stanley Milgram’s experiments and Lawrence Kohlberg’s analysis that came out of that, “the 6 stages of moral development.” The up-shot of this is that 75% of people will do just what they are told without reflecting on the effects on the other. The highest ideal, the Golden Rule is something that has meaning for only 25% of people.

    The bulk of society is willing to literally murder under no more compulsion than an “authority figure” asks them to do it. The suggestion that some people are “chosen” in religious texts therefore becomes wicked indeed. Also, consider the story of Joshua, a man willing to kill every man, woman and child without a scintilla of doubt or reflection. The Old Testament advocates genocide and the Golden Rule. We should acknowledge the dichotomy and make the former such a vile, unacceptable, antiquated notion that it is on par with Witches, Phrenology and other vestiges of an ignorant past.

    If we deem this conversation too controversial to have, we are choosing to remain silent on these issues.

  11. Scott wrote “I have heard and know only Whites and Jews who believe in their superiority over others”

    Sorry, that’s an incredible generalisation which is difficult to substantiate :

    Firstly — who and what is ‘white’ ? Many, many Algerians , Iranians, Iraqis, Palestinians, Syrians and Libyans are certainly as white as Greeks, Russian and Italian white people.

    Secondly — a sense of superiority is most definitely not exclusive to ‘whites and Jews’ — Indeed, over the years, I have known many,many Muslims, Jamaicans, Far Eastern people, Buddhists and aetheists of all colors and sects, aswell as nationalists who most definitely felt superior to others.

    Generalistations and blanket smears are not helpful.