Stockholm or Israel? That is the Question

It’s 2015, and again, Jews do not feel safe in Europe. A slither of autonomous Jewish land is the difference between then and now.

While some Jews ask whether Israel is their solution, other Jews ask whether Israel is their problem.

How can this be?

This is because we understand anti-Semitism in two fundamental ways: deserved, or undeserved.

The ‘deserved’ Jew believes that anti-Semitism can be rationally understood as a result of some behaviour or characteristic: historically it was capitalist greed, theology, otherness, or perhaps a tendency to stick to our own; if Jews become “less of” that description, anti-Semitism will be lessened too.

The ‘undeserved’ Jew, on the other hand, believes that Jews have been and will be hated regardless of behaviour: History has proved that whether communist or capitalist; whether in the Shtetl or assimilated into gentile society, as long as Jews exist, anti-Semitism exists.

Hatred of Israel (“the Jew among the nations”) is understood the same way. While the ‘deserved’ Jew believes that hatred of the Jewish State depends on behaviour or policy, the ‘undeserved’ Jew believes that the hatred of the Jewish State exists independent of policy.

‘Deserved’ Jews believe that the growing isolation of Israel in the international community is warranted. The equation is simple: If certain policies or behaviours will be erased (such as the security wall, checkpoints, borders or settlements) anti-Israel hatred will be eliminated along with it. On a recent boycott of Israel by over 700 English artists Gershon Baskin wrote: “It is only just beginning. If Netanyahu will be re-elected, these stories will be in the news every single day.”

The “undeserved” Israeli, on the other hand, believes that the growing isolation of Israel in the international community is unwarranted. Boycotts and other forms of de-legitimization will persist regardless of policies. There are many occupations and many walls, just as there were many communists and capitalists, yet only one people that are delegitimised on these grounds. Why should security risks be taken to appease a hatred that will persist anyway?

While admittedly the “deserved paradigm” is alluring, ultimately, it is both wrong and dangerous.

It is wrong because responses can only be said to be “deserved” when they are consistent across the board. More Syrians have died in two years of civil war than Palestinians and Israelis combined in 70 years – by a margin of three. Entire Christian communities are being butchered in Iraq. The Bahai face a genuine Apartheid in Iran. In a Middle East that devours itself, it is only a defensive war against 10 000 Hamas rockets that sparks protests in hundreds of western cities.

It is wrong because it conflates raw, livid hatred with genuine, legitimate politics. The Vietnam anti-war protestors were believable because they waved peace signs, smoked pot and avoided the draft. What of anti-Israel protestors? They slur hatred, glorify violence, lock Jews in synagogues and wave swastikas at their rallies.

It is wrong because it fails to explain a global obsession with a country of 8 million.

It is wrong because it fails to explain how policies which are not unique to Israel cause reactions which are unique to Israel.

The deserved paradigm is also dangerous.

It is dangerous because it translates into a collective case of Stockholm syndrome – the psychological phenomenon whereby victims of abuse sympathise with, and even defend their abusers. Raw, fuming rage can be deceptive: it can mistakenly be assumed to be a natural result of behaviour that was severe enough to warrant it.

It is dangerous because the deserved framework is hard to change. No matter how bad the hatred gets, we will continue to search for “equally” bad Israeli behaviour on which to justify it – and if anyone searches for anything hard enough, they will find it.  Even if the very ugliest that anti-Semitism has to offer rears its ugly head, pre-existing thought patterns will be reinforced rather than changed: Stuck in the deserved paradigm, we will simply believe: “our people and our state must be doing something pretty bad to deserve this.”

In the future, as global anti-Semitism intensifies yet further, how will we react?

When our very right to exist in certain parts of the world is questioned, will we as deserved Jews question Israel’s existence, or will we as undeserved Jews justify Israel’s existence?

Security is not only based on external threats. Internal threats – such as viewing ourselves as deserved recipients of irrational, hateful and singularly-focused obsessions – can be just as, if not more potent in the long term. As the Talmud states so brilliantly: “From the forest itself comes the handle for the axe.”

About the Author
Josh is the former Chairman of SAUJS (South African Union of Jewish Students) Cape Town; and former Board Member of the SAJBD (South African Jewish Board of Deputies) Cape Council; and Tikvah Fellow
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