Can Israel survive without anti-Semitism?

Avraham Burg writes:

In a very short time we will no longer be able to evade the real questions: Are we capable of apprehending our existence without the hatred of others? Do we really need external anti-Semitism as a means to define our inner identity? Think for a moment about a world in which Jews are not hated; about a utopia of peace in the Middle East, fraternity wherever our brethren live. Unreasonable? Definitely not! A hundred years ago, who believed in the existential transformations being played out before our eyes? Few, indeed.

A hundred years ago, Europe was awash in bloodshed that had lasted a thousand years, yet now it is a peaceful continent. Only a few months ago, the Middle East was one of the world’s largest repositories of nasty, bizarre dictatorships, yet today we are on the brink of what appears to be a historic and positive change. And with the world going into this mode, immediately or soon, will the Jewish people be able to survive without an external enemy? It’s not certain.

We have proven methods of coping with persecution, hatred and pogroms. But we don’t have a clue and don’t have experience when it comes to openness, acceptance and full equality for Jews, as for everyone else. That prospect threatens us in the deepest recesses of our being and confronts us with questions about our national existence as such, as “a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.” This being so, we tend to return to the sick, pathological molds which are so familiar to us: junkies of hatred, we isolate ourselves from the haters, real or imagined. As though the evil we know is preferable to the potential – and threatening – good.

From this point of view, the establishment of the State of Israel not only failed to solve the problems for the sake of which it was founded but, on the contrary, made them a great deal worse. Israel is the biggest shtetl in the history of the world. One big town around which walls of segregation and resentment rise higher every day, cutting it off from its surroundings. Few of us know any other existential reality apart from our unrelenting war with everyone, all the time and over all issues.

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6 thoughts on “Can Israel survive without anti-Semitism?

  1. Renfro

    “Are we capable of apprehending our existence without the hatred of others? Do we really need external anti-Semitism as a means to define our inner identity? ”

    IMO…from my current times observations and reading of the Jewish part and problems in history I would say Jews embrace and foster this attitude, some intentionally and some unintentionally,…..whether it sprung from their religon or culture or both I can’t say ..it’s complicated…but I would guess a bit of both. The holocuast mentality is now on it’s third generation and being reinforced in their grandchildren.

    The question is can they change centuries of this kind of thinking?
    And can they change it before they destroy themselves?

  2. omop

    RENFRO asks ;- The question is can they change centuries of this kind of thinking?

    The following seems to answer your quetion…… 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.

    Rabbi Fischer is also national vice president of the Zionist Organization of America. He is thus not an obscure or semi-literate scribbler, but rather an influential Jewish community figure. And this piece 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.” He goes on:

    “We were right, and the whole world was wrong. The Crusades. The blood libels and the Talmud burnings in England and France, leading those nations to expel Jews for centuries. The Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition.

    “Today, once again, we alone are right and the whole world is wrong. The Arabs, the Russians, the Africans, the Vatican proffer their aggregated insights into and accumulated knowledge of the ethics of massacre. And the Europeans. Although we appreciate the half-century of West European democracy more than we appreciated the prior millennia of European brutality, we recognize who they are, what they have done — and what’s what. …

  3. Norman

    What a contrast between the Israeli Jew & the American Jew, maybe even the European Jew also. Granted the American Jews support Israel financially, but they prefer to live in America instead of Israel. Goes for the European Jews too. It seems that the American & the European Jews both except the Wests peaceful living standards, probably because they control great wealth as well. The ugliness that is being bred into the Israeli today, isn’t shared. What’s the difference between Israeli thinking and that of the regimes of the past that persecuted them?

  4. delia ruhe

    Yes, there is a real difference between Israeli Jews and diaspora Jews. Israeli Jews have abandoned the principles of Judaism. They have embraced the violence of the Jewish scriptures but none of its repeated insistence on justice. There is no subtlety to Israeli Jewish thinking–something that distinguishes diaspora Jewish culture and contrasts with Western binary habits of thought. (I think I’ve written here once before that I was surprised to find so few Jews in Israel on my first visit.)

    I wish Burg were a better, sharper writer, because he has more compassionate insight into the Israeli Jewish psyche than anyone else I’ve read. His *The Holocaust is Over* is a book well worth reading, but he should have had a better editor and a more competent translator.

    His insight into present-day Israel as echoing something of the Weimar Republic is quite convincing, although I can think of many more parallels than he names. But Israelis don’t listen to him, don’t read his stuff, as they think he’s a traitor to Zionism. Which he probably is.

  5. Adrian

    If suddenly peace were to reign supreme, you’d hope all parties would tear down the physical, cultural and political walls between themselves and allow a cross-pollination of ideas and feelings between fellow human beings. You would have to tolerate losing some of your fierce ethnic, cultural and religious identity, however. Peace will not come without that, I think. And seeing who we’re talking about here (Judaism, Islam), you can see why it’s been a millenia and counting with no end in sight.

    Once these cultures allow their people to step outside their immediate surroundings I think human empathy has to kick in. We’re all flesh and blood, love our kids, want freedom of thought and action, etc.

    Would probably take 3 or 4 generations on both sides, living in peace, growing up without an education in fear and hatred of ‘the other’, before the old habits began a serious decay.

    As it is, I can’t see much changing for the next couple hundred years or so. Each side has to be willing to give up something (some ethnic and religous identity) to gain something (peace and longer, happier life spans). Unfortunately, both sides keep chosing the former over the latter.

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