Tuesday, May 5, 2009

From victimhood to aggression: Jewish identity in the light of Caryl Churchill’s ‘Seven Jewish Children’


From victimhood to aggression: Jewish identity in the light of Caryl Churchill’s ‘Seven Jewish Children’



Identity is a very tricky concept. It can very mean many opposing things and at the same time it can mean nothing. One may start to wonder about one’s identity only when one feels he is under the threat of losing it.

The case of Jewish identity is a very good example. Judging by the literature and history textbooks, Jews started to explore the notion of their identity following the emancipation, assimilation and the collapse of the rabbinical authority. In short, Jews started to wonder who they were once their collective self-notion was already melting down. Seemingly, the notion of ‘Jewish identity’ was there to replace the tribal, rabbinical and racially orientated notion of the ‘Jew’ with a tolerant acceptable ‘liberal’ discourse that aims at a universal awareness.

In the post-modern era, Identity is regarded as a means to impose a sort of legitimacy to separateness as a decent civil political collective consciousness. Generally speaking, identity is a social concept that allows the figure that may be considered as marginal to celebrate his unique symptoms while at the same time regarding himself as a perfectly qualified member of an extended open society. Identity Politics, accordingly, is a concept that integrates the different margins into an ideal phantasmic image of multicultural and multiethnic society.

As much as identity politics refers to an imaginary celebration of differences in a world that regards itself as a cosmopolitan global village, Jewish identity (whether it locates itself politically on the left, right or centre) is a unique setting that aims to enjoy it all while giving very little in return. Jewish Identity Politics is there to maintain legitimately that the Jews must be accepted and respected by others for what they are: their history, their suffering, their religious belief, their culture, yet, within this call for others to recognise their identity claims, they somehow surprisingly fail to assimilate any notion of tolerance towards others. All forms of Jewish identity political schools maintain some elementary and fundamental tribal exclusivist code of engagement. Whether it is the rightwing Zionist who celebrates Jewish identity at the expense of the Palestinian people, or the Lefty Jew for Justice who, for some reason, celebrates his craving for peace in a ‘Jews only club’, it seems as if the entire spectrum of Jewish political identity is a tribally orientated exclusivist practice. It seems as if the entire spectrum of Jewish identity politics lacks the true awareness and acceptance of universal attitudes as an acknowledgment of being amongst others.

This behavioural pattern can be easily grasped in historical retrospective. Bearing in mind that the discourse of identity arose as a reaction to 20th century disastrous nationalist reality, identity was an outlet that allowed a sense of belonging in a newly formed tolerant civic reality. However, the course of Jewish identity politics was very different. Within the concept of Jewish identity, Jewish suffering and victimhood are set as unique Jewish symptoms. For a Jew to celebrate his identity means to celebrate Jewish pain, to visit and to revisit the agony. To be a Jew is to religiously believe in the Holocaust. To be a Jew is to be chased. To be a Jew is to be able to find an anti-Semite under every stone and behind every corner. To be a Jew is to chase senile Nazis into their graves. Forgiveness doesn’t seem to attract the leading proponent of Jewish identity politics.

Within such a notion of Jewish identity and bearing in mind the Zionist expansionist project, it is hardly surprising that Jewish collective ideology had become a bipolar schizophrenic volley between Victimhood and Aggression.

True lies

Caryl Churchill’s play Seven Jewish Children that was written and performed in the light of the last Israeli military devastating campaign in Gaza, turns the floodlights on the confusion within Jewish identity.

On the face of it, the short play is an historical journey from victimhood into aggression. In just nine minutes we are joining an expedition that departs in the horror of the Shoah:

“Don’t tell her they’ll kill her. .
Tell her it’s important to be quiet. .

Tell her to curl up as if she’s in bed. .”

and eventually ends up with the Israelis taking the role of the Nazis

“Tell her they (the Palestinians) are animals
living in rubble now, tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out,
. . . . tell her I look at one of their children covered in
blood and what do I feel? Tell her all I feel is happy it’s not her . . .”

As much as Churchill’s reading of Jewish’s recent history as a transformation from innocence into ruthless barbarism is not a revelation, the message is delivered in a rather profound and sensitive manner.

But there is a far deeper layer in Churchill’s play that is hardly discussed or addressed. Churchill, like other commentators engaged in issues to do with Jewish identity, is highly observant of the elastic qualities of Jewish identity, history and reality. Jews can be whatever they want to be as long as it serves one cause or another. The Jewish narrative is obviously neither coherent nor consistent.

“Tell her it’s a game,” as if we (the Jews) are on the top of it all.
“Tell her it’s serious,” as if we are actually going down.
“But don’t frighten her,” as if we are somehow on top of it all again.
“Don’t tell her they’ll kill her,” as if we it all about to end in a matter of seconds.

The Israeli Historian Shlomo Sand elaborated on the phantasmic qualities within the Jewish historical discourse in his recent book ‘When and How The Jewish People Was Invented.’ Sand manages to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that the Jewish people never existed as a ‘nation-race,’ they never shared a common origin. Instead they are a colourful mix of groups that at various stages in history adopted the Jewish religion. Similarly, at a certain stage in history they had invented their national identity. As we sadly realise, the phantasmic qualities at the core of Jewish identity politics do not stop Jews from celebrating their aspiration at the expense of the Palestinian people. The reason is simple, as Sand proves in a scholarly way and as Churchill conveys theatrically, Jewish identity is a very flexible realm.

“Tell her her uncles died
Don’t tell her they were killed
Tell her they were killed
Don’t frighten her.”

The Jewish narrative is the art of making a story. It has no commitment to facts or truth. Accordingly, you make sure that you “don’t tell her they were killed,” so she can keep up the cosmopolitan dream. Or maybe, you better “tell her they were killed,” so she can rush back to the Ghetto and stay with us. Alternatively, she may learn the ‘necessary’ lesson and join the IDF so she can spread death amongst the enemies of Israel. Anyhow, make sure you “don’t frighten her,” as if she isn’t frightened enough already.

The Jewish identity is a form of tactical detachment. It is a methodical strategy that creates an imaginary symbolic order with a clear pragmatic agenda.

Tell her for miles and miles all round they (the Arabs) have lands of their own.” Misleading her to think that Palestinians and Arabs are literally the same thing.

“Tell her again this is our promised land.” As if the Jews are people, as if their origin is in Zion, as if the biblical promise has any legal validity, as if they actually believe in the Torah.

Churchill, like Sand, is eloquently exposing the zero integrity at the core of the Jewish national cause, discourse and narrative. The Jewish historical plot is not about telling the truth. Instead, it is all about the making up a ‘truth’ that would fit the current tribal needs. There is an old joke about Marxist ideologists. It tells that once the facts do not fit into the Marxist determinist textbook, all you have to do is to change the facts. Jewish identity discourse is employing exactly the same strategy. Facts and lies are produced as we move along. In short, all you have to ‘tell her’ is that sometimes we need to be innocent victims, other times we plunder, kill, throw WMD. It all depends what serves our tribal interests best at a given time.

Victimhood -- the birth of the collective

Churchill seems to be very observant tracing the disastrous toll Jewish identity politics achieved in turning the Jewish state into a cold-blooded murderer.

“Tell her I don’t care if the world hates us
Tell her we’re better haters,”
as if she has to be told after what she saw in Gaza.
“Tell her we’re chosen people,” as if she doesn’t realise by now.

And yet, one may wonder, who is that young innocent girl whom Caryl Churchill referring to. Who is the protagonist at the receiving end of the text, who is the hidden ‘her’ that is referred to in each line of this interesting play?

The image of an innocent young female victim is one of the pillars of the Jewish identity and the post-Shoah Jewish victim self-image. Anne Frank is probably the most famous literary character within that very genre. As much as Frank is an innocent victim, she is also very effective in inflicting guilt on the Goyim.

As we know, Anne Frank tragically perished at the end of WW2. She didn’t make it to the newly born ‘Jews only’ state. Yet, within the context of Jewish identity politics Anne Frank had been adopted as a Jewish cultural icon by means of collective transference. In practice, she had successfully settled in the heart of every subject who identifies as a Jew. Those who succumb to the notion of Jewish identity insist upon regarding themselves as innocent and blamelessness. From a Jewish identity political perspective, the Jewish nation is a tribe of very many innocent Anne Franks.

I allow myself to guess that Churchill’s little girl refers metaphorically to the ‘people of Israel.’ The newly born Jewish nation is indeed a very young concept that is submerged with righteousness and innocence. The little girl at the receiving end of the play is there to convey an image of naivety and blamelessness. But it is also that little girl’s metaphorical innocence that makes Israel’s crimes so sinister. In the light of the Israeli propaganda that presents the Jewish state as a vulnerable innocent blameless entity, the devastating reality of Israeli brutality leads towards the inevitable cognitive dissonance.

The reality of the racist ethnic cleansing ‘Jews only state’ together with the images of the Israeli war machine pouring tons of white phosphorous on Gazans does not leave much room for doubt. Israel has nothing to do with the phantasmic self-image of a ‘little blameless girl.’ If anything, the image of the naïve girl makes things worse for the Israeli Hasbara project. We are dealing here with a horribly naughty child who was despised first then ‘she’ turned into a bully and soon after proved to be ruthless, sadistic and monstrous with no comparison.

“Tell her we’re the iron fist now,
tell her it’s the fog of war.

Tell her we won’t stop killing them till we’re safe,

tell her I laughed when I saw the dead policemen . . .
tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out.”

Seemingly, we are dealing here with a uniquely and seriously disturbed immature nation. We are dealing with a self-loving narcissistic child who is terrorised by ‘her’ own cruelty. It is the sadistic youngster who is horrified by the demons ‘she’ finds in herself. The more the Israelis love themselves and their delusional phantasmic innocence, the more they are frightened that people out there may be as sadistic as they themselves proved to be. This behavioral mode is called projection.

“Tell her we love her.
Don’t frighten her.”

So ends Churchill’s play. Seemingly, Jews have a very good reason to be frightened. Their national state is a racist genocidal entity.

After the Shoah, Jews had an opportunity to transform their fate, to turn a new page. They could even explore collectively the notion of forgiveness and mercy. A few Jewish intellectuals insisted that Jews must locate themselves at the forefront of the battle against racism and oppression. As it happened, it took just six decades for the Jewish national state to establish its primacy as the ultimate racist nation-state that employs the ultimate sadistic ruthless oppressive tactics. ”Don’t frighten her,” says Churchill. To be honest, the young girl must be frightened for a very good reason. If she ever would be courageous enough to look in the mirror, she would be gravely devastated....

Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin and philosopher Asa Kasher, two respected men around here, published an article entitled: "A just war of a democratic state," (Haaretz, April 24, Hebrew).

A remark about the first part: There are wars that are necessary for self-defense or to fight injustice and evil. But the expression "just" is problematic when speaking of war itself - which involves killing and destruction and leaves women, children and old people homeless, and sometimes even kills them.

Our sages have said: "Don't be overly righteous." And there is absolutely no question that dropping cluster bombs in an area populated by civilians, as we did in the Second Lebanon War, does not testify to great righteousness. The same thing can be said of using phosphorus bombs against a civilian population.

Apparently, according to the Yadlin and Kasher definition of justice, in order to eliminate terrorists it is just to destroy, kill, expel and starve a civilian population that has no connection to the acts of terror and no responsibility for them. Perhaps had they adopted a more decent and less arrogant approach they would have tried to explain the reasons for the fury and intensity that brought about the shocking killing and destruction, and even apologized for the fact that these exceeded any reasonable necessity.

But after all, we are always right; moreover, these things were done by "the most moral army in the world," sent by the "democratic" Jewish state - and here is the meeting point of the two concepts in the title of Yadlin and Kasher's article.

As for the army's morality, it would have been better had they remained silent and thereby been considered wise. This is because the statistics on the destruction and harm to civilians in the Gaza Strip are familiar to everyone, and not divorced from the oh-so-moral behavior of our army in the occupied territories. In the context of this behavior, for example, the army operates with great efficiency against farmers who demonstrate against the theft of their lands, even when the demonstrations are not violent.

The long-term evidence of abuse by soldiers against civilians at the checkpoints - including repeated instances of expectant mothers who are forced to give birth in the middle of the road, surrounded by armed soldiers who laugh wickedly - is no secret either. Day after day, year after year, the most moral army in the world helps to steal lands, uproot trees, steal water, close roads - in the service of the righteous "Jewish and democratic" state and with its support. It's heartbreaking, but the State of Israel is no longer democratic. We are living in an ethnocracy under "Jewish and democratic" rule.

In 1970 it was decided that in Israel religion and nationality are one and the same (that is why we are not listed in the Population Registry as Israelis, but as Jews). In 1992 it was determined in the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty that Israel is a "Jewish state." There is no mention in this law of the promise that appears in the state's formative document, the Declaration of Independence, to the effect that "The State of Israel will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex." The Knesset ratified the law nonetheless.

And so there is a "Jewish state" and no "equality of rights." Therefore some observers emphasize that the Jewish state is not "a state of all its citizens." Is there really a democracy that is not a state of all its citizens? After all, Jews living today in democratic countries enjoy the full rights of citizenship.

Democracy exists in the State of Israel today only in the formal sense: There are parties and elections and a good judicial system. But there is also an omnipotent army that ignores legal decisions that restrict the theft of land owned and held by people who have been living under occupation for the past 42 years. And since 1992, as we mentioned, we also have the definition "Jewish state," which means an ethnocracy - the rule of an ethnic religious community that strictly determines the ethnic origin of its citizens according to maternal lineage. And as far as other religions are concerned, disrespect for them is already a tradition, since we have learned: "Only you are considered human beings, whereas the gentiles are like donkeys."

From here it is clear that we and our moral army are exempt from concerns for the Palestinians living in Israel, and this is even more true of those living under occupation. On the other hand, it is perfectly all right to steal their land because these are "state lands" that belong to the State of Israel and its Jews.

That is the case even though we have not annexed the West Bank and have not granted citizenship to its inhabitants, who under Jordanian rule were Jordanian citizens. The State of Israel has penned them in, which makes it easy to confiscate their land for the benefit of its settlers.

And important and respected rabbis, who are educating an entire generation, have ruled that the whole country is ours and the Palestinians should share the fate of Amalek, the ancient tribe the Israelites were commanded to eradicate. At a time when a "just war" is taking place, racism is rife and robbery is called "return of property."

We are currently celebrating the 61st anniversary of the State of Israel. We fought in the War of Independence out of a great hope that we would build a "model society" here, that we would make peace with our neighbors, work the land and develop the Jewish genius for the benefit of science, culture and the value of man - every man. But when a major general and a philosopher justify - out of a sense of moral superiority - our acts of injustice toward the other in such a way, they cast a very heavy shadow on all those hopes.

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