Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

An Iron Dome Against Muddled Thinking

Many thoughts, about the so many aspects of the complex horror we are now living. For now, this.
First, thoughts about those who deny facts, just outright, flat out, deny facts. Stupefying phenomenon but it’s all around us. We have encountered that in Shoah denial for many years. There is no countering such people with more facts, obviously.
Second, about those who do not deny facts, who indeed,  embrace them, and say outright, it’s all justified.
Sometimes, it’s the same people who say both.
Consistency is not a hallmark of prejudiced thinking, as I used to tell my students when teaching about Jew-hatred, in any era, from antiquity to modernity to now. Pointing out contradictions won’t help.
Such behavior comes from deep, pathological needs, which are prior to whatever expression they take. The expressions can and do morph. The need that feeds them is constant.
What the contradictory positions hold in common is the Jew-hating assertion that Jews lie, for benefit; are inveterate liars, who lie for benefit.
That is true in Shoah denial, and it is true now in elaborate assertions, such as that of the Queen of Jordan– wife not of a figure head but of the head of that state on our border– and by others, claiming that Jews/ Israelis/ the State of the Jews (these are all the same entity), invent lies. But in her case and those of others saying this, the claim is that the lies are not for financial benefit (the claim of Shoah deniers), but because Jews/ Israelis/ the State of the Jews want to enact genocide. Invented the massacres of October 7 for this purpose. According to them, lies from us are not even done for financial, material, benefit but worse, are in the service of pure evil. That is us, in this telling.
That such people themselves are mired in lies, exist on lies, foment lies, and then put that on us, is what even the most basic familiarity with psychoanalytic thinking, terms, “projection.”
What the rest of us who encounter such behavior are to do is less clear but reshit hokhma, the beginning of widsdom, is at least to grasp the phenomena we are encountering and preserve our own clear thinking.
Generations of scholars and activists who have confronted Jew-hatred deal with the uncontrovertible fact that it is not rational.
People who rely on reason cannot rely on this most valued trait to make sense of this phenomenon.
My years of experience teaching Jewish history at Oberlin College and chairing its program in Jewish Studies, and of what seemed like bad enough on campus then but was only a taste of what is now engulfing university campuses in the US and across the world, and public spaces in London  New York, Berlin, not to mention, in Muslim capitals– taught me that the intended audience for response to this kind of expression is not the pathological liars and Jew-haters. They cannot be reached.
Rather, it is others who are merely ignorant, or are partially informed, or confused but not ill meaning, not wedded to Jew-hatred. Sometimes, even convinced Jew-haters can be reached. But the main task is that other universe.
We must also attend to our own world, because it is bewildering and head-shakingly horrifying to encounter what we are, and we need hizzuk, fortification within, and a clear, undying hold on our own straight thinking. An iron dome against the sea of muddled thinking, intentional and not, swirling out there.
Old, worn, weary assumptions, slogans, and pronouncements that bear no relationship to reality.
October 7 changed reality, forever.
For one thing, and this has irked me very much from the beginning, what Israel is now doing has zero to do with “revenge.” I cannot even fathom what those who say that or piously caution against it, mean, if they have any idea what went on here, or what the clear needs of the hour are.
We can no longer tolerate Hamas across the street. They and we cannot be neighbors anymore. I say this quoting Hayyim Yellin, the astounding man from gutted, burned, blood soaked, corpse-stenched Kibbutz Be’eri, a man of profound humanism, wisdom, compassion, and fathomless sadness, whose interview with Yonit Levi on channel 12 news a few days after the massacres all should watch (see it here:
He, and those kibbutzim, are as left, progressive, peace loving, as anyone could be. He said that. That model is over. It’s us or them, he said. Defense Minister Gallant has appropriated that comment and made it sound trite. It isn’t.
No one, no one who– I must qualify this, who would be on Hamas’ elimination list, be an utter obsession of Hamas, as we are– would accept having Hamas across the street. Israel tried accommodation, deal making, quid pro quo–  not to get into here Netanyahu and Smotrich’s justifications for prefering Hamas to the PA– just to say, as the cliche here now has it, that that “conception” manifestly failed and is utterly bankrupt in the Israeli public mind.
No one in Israel’s north, having seen what Hamas did, is willing to tolerate Hizbullah as an ongoing threat from Lebanon, either. And no one who would be on their obsessed elimination list would tolerate them across the street, either.
Ending that threat has zero to to with “revenge.” Any who use that term in this context have no idea what went on here and what it has done to our consciousness. Think, Never Again. But really meaning it.
Listening to the warmed over hypocrisy emanating from Egypt and from Jordan, I recalled the latter’s “Black September” elimination of Fatah from that country. And the elimination of the Muslim Brotherhood– Hamas’ parent organization– and the ongoing, fierce repression of it– in Egypt. No one heaved “proportionality” at either of those countries in those instances. I believe that we are the only group on the planet to whom that astonishing concept has been heaved, again and again, and now.
The first and best thing we need to do for ourselves in this terrible time is to keep our brains clear of sludge.
There is critical work after that but no doing it without first, blowing the sludge out of our mental skies.
About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College. She is the author of four published books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. Her new book is the first history of agunot and iggun from medieval times to the present, across the Jewish map. It also presents analysis and critique of current policy on Jewish marital capitivity and proposals to end this abuse. Entitled, "Thinking Outside the Chains About Jewish Marital Captivity," it is forthcoming from NYU Press. She is a founder of women's group prayer at the Kotel and first-named plaintiff on a case before the Supreme Court of Israel asking enforcement of Jewish women's already-recognized right to read Torah at the Kotel. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, Moment, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post.