Shalom Lappin: “Therapists to the Jews: Psychologizing the ‘Jewish Question’”

In the past few years an interesting mode of discourse has gained currency among some critics of Israel. It consists in characterizing most Israelis, and the Jews who are concerned about Israel’s continued existence, as suffering from a deep collective psycho-pathology that conditions them to commit or to endorse systematic brutalization of the Palestinians. It takes Israel and its supporters to be acting out the effects of a long term historical trauma that reached its climax in the Holocaust. They are deflecting the intense anger, helplessness and shame accumulated over centuries of persecution in Europe on to innocent Arab victims in Israel/Palestine. These victims are surrogates for the real but no longer accessible oppressors of the Jews. The analogy driving this discourse is that of the abused child who grows into an abusive adult, imposing his childhood experiences of violence on members of his family and his adult environment.

Three clear examples of this psychologized view of the Israel-Palestine conflict are Jacqueline Rose’s book The Question of Zion (Princeton University Press, 2005), Caryl Churchill’s play Seven Jewish Children, recently staged at the Royal Court Theatre, and Anthony Lerman’s article ‘Must Jews always see themselves as victims’ (The Independent, March 7, 2009). Rose argues that Zionism, and the country that it created, derive from the the same psychological disorder that generated the false messianism of Shabbtai Zvi and his followers. She regards it as a form of mass hysteria generated by the inability of Jews to respond rationally to prolonged suffering. Churchill adapts this diagnosis of Zionism to Israel’s recent offensive in Gaza. She portrays Jewish children as obsessively raised with the collective memory of historical trauma as the pervasive background against which Israeli acts of murder and expulsion are justified or denied. Lerman invokes the work of Israeli political psychologist Daniel Bar Tal to claim that the inability of Israelis and Jews to deal adequately with the experience of the Holocaust has given rise to a persecution complex that is responsible for Israel’s perverse behaviour towards the Palestinians, as well as the willingness of Jews abroad to support this behaviour.

There are at least five features of the psychologizing discourse worth noting.

Find out what they are on normblog.

Antony Lerman defends “Seven Jewish Children”

Antony Lerman defends Churchill’s play against this CST criticism,  here.

Petra Marquardt-Bigman’s critique of Lerman’s recent work is here.

Saul comments:

“What has gone wrong with the Jewish journey from genocide in Europe to what Israel is today?”

Let us not forget, that the same question was asked by liberals and non-liberals in the nineteenth century to explain how it could be that a people who had been emancipated and brought into the bosom of civilization could still exhibit “negative” Jewish traits. More often than not, the question and the answer provided took the form of,

“a psychological link between past trauma and present brutality.”

It was this “psychological link” that sought to explain the idea that it was because of their prior exclusion in the ghetto that “the Jew could not be but  “immoral”, “unethical”,  “liars”, “cheats”, “dirty”., etc. etc.. Leaving the anti-Jewish tropes in place, these alleged negative images, fixed them all the more firmly under the label of a “psychological” condition of Jewishness. Immoralty, etc. now became the inherent trait of “the Jew”. It was only a short step for the problem of the Jewish “head” to be inscribed in the problem of Jewish “blood”.

Equally interesting was the fact that this notion of  a psychological “Jewishness” as the (“empirical”) foundation for the composite of negative traits that was said to make up the reality and actuality of “the Jew” was a line pushed most ardently by the established and assilimated Jews in the face of the embarassment brought about by the presence of the Ostjuden. The problem for the assimilated Jew, of course, was that people no longer compared them to their liberal (non-Jewish) brethren, but against the “mass” of their “backward” and “superstious” brethren from the East. The fear of loss of social status was palpable.

Needless to say, those assimilated Jews thought themselves adjusted and “healthy” and that the problem of “Jewishness” belonged to others.

The truth of the matter, as many historians of Jewish social and political history have noted, is that it was not the “backward and superstitious” who suffered from the tics of a psychological condition of “Jewishness” – they knew and relished their place as pariah – but those obsessed with differentiation (from the mass of Jews) and the acceptance which they craved – those thrown into the position of parvenu. It is, of course, true that they were forced into this role against their will (but which do not stop them they readily accepting it). Indeed, they were put into the position of playing an impossible game of showing to themselves and to others that they were both the  “same” and “different” at one and the same time. In that situation it is hardly surprising that such a game which implied the constant fear of being associated with the Jewish mass, of being “like them” should not take its psychological toll, and, in its wake, bring forth an alternative, but more socially grounded, more individual, more persistent concept of “Jewishness” that came to determine their every action, both in relation to Jews and non-Jews.

And, in this context, is it not  pertinent to note that, at a time when many a good liberal is seeking to make the Jew and the Jewish state a pariah, the parvenu’s voice joins the chorus and strives to sing the loudest?

In many schools of psychology and psychotherapy, it is encumbent for the therapist himself or herself to undergo the process themselves. If Lerman is going to continue in the present vein, maybe it is a piece of advice that he should take on board. After all, as he so often states, “denial” is a terrible thing.

Saul

When the CST say “Seven Jewish Children” is antisemitic, it is time to take the charge seriously

The Community Security Trust (CST) is a serious organisation.  It organises security for the Jewish community.  When you see security people standing outside synagogues or outside other Jewish events, they are CST volunteers.  They are well trained and they do a good job.  Only the most convinced antisemitism-denying antizionists would claim that there is no need for security outside Jewish communal events.   The CST keeps an eye on antisemitic behaviour and discourse in Britain and it collates information on antisemitic incidents.  The CST works closely with the police and it trains law-enforcement and communal agencies around the world in best practice.

The CST is an official, sober, experienced and serious organization, with roots in all parts of the Jewish community in Britain.  It is not a politically motivated organization – it is at the forefront of British Jews’ collective response to antisemitism.

When Dave Rich and Mark Gardner of the CST say that Caryl Churchill’s play “Seven Jewish Children” is antisemitic, and when they carefully explain why, people should take them seriously.   They don’t have to agree.  But to dismiss such criticism as dishonest pro-Israeli propaganda will not do.  Such a response exacerbates the antisemitism of which they are accused, it does not address it.

This piece, by Dave Rich and Mark Gardner, is from Comment is Free.

The Jewish festival of Passover celebrates the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the land of Israel. The festival begins with the seder, when Jewish families gather around the dining table and the story is retold by the adults to the children, who are encouraged to ask questions throughout.

There is a moment in the seder when the whole family recount the names of the ten plagues visited upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. As each plague is named, all present dip their finger into red wine – unmistakably reminiscent of blood – and spill a drop onto their plate. The Guardian chose a photograph of this scene to illustrate its online production of Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children.

The association of blood with Jews is a well-established antisemitic tradition. It is embodied in the blood libel charge, which first appeared in 12th-century England and quickly spread. The accusation was that Jews murder non-Jewish children to use their blood in religious rituals, especially at Passover. Ironically, when Jews spill their wine at the seder, it is to remember with sadness the pain of the Egyptians, not to celebrate their loss. Nevertheless, so many Jews died in blood libel massacres at Passover, that a rabbi in 17th-century Poland ruled that Jews could use white wine, not red, during the seder, lest antisemites mistake the red wine for Christian blood.

Seven Jewish Children is not a play about Israel. It was written by Churchill as a “response to the situation in Gaza in January 2009″, but it is a play explicitly about Jews. Her response to Gaza is to accuse Jews of having undergone a pathological transformation from victims to oppressors. The play comprises seven brief scenes, of which the first two are generally taken to represent the Holocaust, or perhaps pogroms during an earlier period of antisemitic agitation; in other words, they take place in Europe, before Israel even existed. It is Jewish thought and behaviour that links the play together, not Israel. The words Israel, Israelis, Zionism and Zionist are not mentioned once in the play, while Jews are mentioned in the title and in the text itself. We are often told that when people talk about Israel or Zionists, it is mischievous to accuse them of meaning Jews. Now, we are expected to imagine that a play that talks only of Jews, in fact, means Israelis.

In the first two scenes, it is Jewish “uncles” and “grandmother” who are killed, despite approximately one and a half million Jewish children having perished in the Holocaust. Whereas it is elderly Jews who are killed, the Jews’ victims are overwhelmingly depicted as children: there are two mentions of dead adults, namely “Hamas fighters” and “policemen”, but seven of dead children: “the boy”, “the family of dead girls”, “babies” and “their children covered in blood”. The play lands its blows in the final two scenes, culminating in a monologue of genocidal racist hatred: “they’re animals … I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out … we’re chosen people.”

A spokesman for the Royal Court Theatre, where the play was first performed, defended it with the formulaic argument that:

“While Seven Jewish Children is undoubtedly critical of the policies of the state of Israel, there is no suggestion that this should be read as a criticism of Jewish people. It is possible to criticise the actions of Israel without being antisemitic.”

The anti-Zionist conceit that, as long as you are talking about Israel, you can say whatever you want about Jews, is laid bare here. It is not even possible to discuss whether or where this play crosses a line from criticism of Israel into antisemitism, because the play does not present us with a specific criticism of an Israeli policy or action. The Guardian’s illustration of a Jewish family seder table is far more appropriate than a photograph of the Israeli cabinet table would ever have been.

The dishonesty and amorality of the adult voices in Seven Jewish Children is striking. Nowhere are right and wrong considered, when deciding how to answer their children’s questions. Never does an adult in the play consider whether their suggested answer is true or not, nor whether this should have any bearing on which answer is given. Their only thought is which answers will best shield Jewish children from difficult moral questions. It is as if Jewish children are brought up in a moral vacuum, with Jewish power and vulnerability the only things that matter.

Michael Billington, the Guardian’s theatre critic, noted that the play “shows us how Jewish children are bred to believe in the ‘otherness’ of Palestinians”. Howard Jacobson described this as an example of “how easily language can sleepwalk us into bigotry.”

Billington’s use of the word “bred” should have shaken Guardian readers and editors from their slumber. After all, if used in connection with black or Muslim children, then the racism alarms would sound loud and clear. In fact, wittingly or not, Billington used exactly the right language to describe the message of Seven Jewish Children.

The original text of the play (pdf) does not specify the actual number of actors, nor who speaks which lines. There are no distinct characters: any Jew can speak any of the lines, in combination with any of the other lines, without distorting the narrative. This homogenising is bad enough, but the Guardian’s production goes a step further. By presenting the play with just a single performer, speaking every Jewish voice in each time and place, the Guardian distils the play into an internal conversation inside the head of every Jew – the increasingly manic neuroses of a screwed-up people.

Howard Jacobson identified this as “a fine piece of fashionable psychobabble that understands Zionism as the collective nervous breakdown of the Jewish people”. All the “tell her/don’t tell her” answers in the play are really attempts to answer one simple question: what do those Jews learn as children that they behave like this as adults? The end result of this “psychobabble” is to slander Jews as being psychologically compelled to become the new Nazis. Not so much a blood libel perhaps, but certainly a deadly new libel for a new millennium.

In the play’s concluding monologue, presumably set during the Gaza conflict, the Jewish speaker declares: “… 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.” What are we to make of the “all” in that sentence? This nameless Jew, seemingly representing any and every Jew, who cannot escape the pain of the Holocaust and the shame of Gaza, can now feel nothing for the other, dead, non-Jewish child, covered in its own blood.

Jews, children, blood and, for the Guardian at least, the Passover seder: this mixture has a murderous antisemitic past. The virus of antisemitism is easily transmitted by those who are not aware they are carrying it. Churchill almost certainly does not intend it, but her play culminates in powerful antisemitic resonances. The Guardian’s online production further amplifies them. People sometimes ask when does anti-Zionism become antisemitism. Here is a rule of thumb: when people describe Israel with the same language and imagery that antisemites use to talk about Jews, the difference between the two disappears.

Dave Rich and Mark Gardner work for Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors antisemitism and provides security for the UK Jewish community

This piece, by Dave Rich and Mark Gardner, is from Comment is Free.

Antony Lerman, Jacqueline Rose and David Hirsh

thejc1David Hirsh had this piece published in the Jewish Chronicle which criticized Antony Lerman, Jacqueline Rose and Caryl Churchill’s parallel projects to portray Jews as being psychologically incapable of forging good relations with their neighbours in the Middle East.  Their approach explains the war in Gaza by reference to the allegation that Jews bring up their children in a neurotic way, and in a way which teaches them to be unconcerned by Palestinian  suffering.

Some of these issues are explored in greater depth in these exchanges.

Antony Lerman and Jacqueline Rose had a letter published in last week’s Jewish Chronicle and David Hirsh responded this week:

Antony Lerman and Jacqueline Rose:

David Hirsh (“Do not confine Israel to the couch”, April 10th) performs the double feat of misrepresenting our views and showing his ignorance.

Jacqueline Rose neither inspired Caryl Churchill to write the play “Seven Jewish Children” – Churchill has not read her work – nor did she brief the actors. She was invited to talk to them about the history of the conflict.

Antony Lerman did not offer his own view of Professor Bar Tal’s research in his “Independent” article but quoted from the “Haaretz” summary of it; nor does he say or believe that it is a scientific discovery to assert that “the Jewish public does not want to be concerned with the facts”. Nowhere do we imply that Jews indoctrinate their children to be indifferent to non-Jewish suffering or that the Holocaust explains the attack on Gaza.

We do not transform political questions into psychological diagnoses. Nor are we practising therapy on anyone. Jacqueline Rose’s writing is rather based on the premise that there is a psychological dimension to all political conflicts that merits the most serious attention. The idea that there is a disjunction between psychology and politics (or between psychological and political explanations of human behaviour) is so ludicrous that no one who thinks this can be taken seriously as a social scientist. Is Professor Bar Tal wrong to be deeply concerned about the political implications of his research into the psychology and “collective memory” of Israeli Jews? Perhaps Hirsh thinks that the International Society of Political Psychology is based on a false premise.

Sadly, Hirsh is so incapable of engaging with our ideas that he invents some which he then ascribes to us. He then resorts to the odious ploy of implying that these fictitious views bear resemblance to those of David Irving and President Ahmadinejad. Surely your readers deserve better than this shoddy tactic from someone who purports to be an academic.

Antony Lerman, Jacqueline Rose

David Hirsh’s response:

It is hurtful but no longer surprising that Jacqueline Rose, a professor at my own university, and Antony Lerman, have responded to my arguments only with ad hominem attacks. They accuse me of misrepresentation, of ignorance, of holding a view “so ludicrous that no one who thinks this can be taken seriously as a social scientist”; of being incapable of engaging with their ideas; of only purporting to be an academic.

JC readers who have heard that discussion of antisemitism on campus is not always rational, have now seen for themselves an example of how those of us who take the issue seriously are often dealt with by colleagues who cannot bear to see their own words reported back to them.

If people read Lerman’s piece in The Independent, Rose’s books and Churchill’s play, they will see for themselves that I have misrepresented nothing.

The issue which Rose and Lerman seek to avoid is antisemitism. The campaign to exclude Israelis from the academic, cultural, sporting and economic life of humanity flows from the way of thinking which Rose and Lerman fight for. Rose works for the exclusion of Israeli colleagues, but no others, from UK universities. Lerman legitimizes the antisemitic demonization of Israel by blurring the distinction between this and political criticism of the policies of Israeli governments.

Rose and Lerman do not answer my points concerning the way they single out Jews as having a pathological inability to live at peace with their neighbours. They leave untouched my criticism of their psychological explanation, which essentializes the conflict as a Jewish neurosis. Rather, we should treat it as a political problem for which we can strive to find political solutions.

Rose and Lerman are fond of speaking “as Jews”. The effect of their project is to reassure the British intelligentsia that antisemitism is not currently an issue about which we need to be seriously concerned. This reassurance, doggedly and consistently offered, is dangerous because it educates anti-racists to recognize claims of antisemitism only as manifestations of dishonest pro-Israel propaganda. We should support the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements but we must never think that working for reconciliation is incompatible with vigilance about antisemitism.

Given that all too often people come up with homespun and offensive psychology to explain why some Jews side with antisemites against Jews, Howard Cooper’s response, which was to psychologize David Hirsh, was rather daring:

David Hirsh doesn’t agree with bringing psychological insights to bear on”political questions”. So he ends up aligning Professor Jacqueline Rose’s nuanced, psychoanalytically informed critiques of Israeli intransigence, and Antony Lerman’s remarks on the phenomenon of Jewish belligerency and sense of victimhood, with David Irving’s “antisemitic” stereotyping. Perhaps Hirsh’s ugly distortion of their positions demands its own analysis.

He suggests that “we expect our therapist to be on our side”, but the problem for any therapist is: what if the patient is in denial? If the patient cannot see his or her own aggressiveness, he or see will often experience the therapist’s comments as persecutory.

Further, the patient may twist the therapist’s words into a perverse parody of what has been said: thus Hirsh’s egregious allegation that Rose and Lerman “imply that Jews indoctrinate their children to be indifferent to non-Jewish suffering”.

These distortions occur when patients fear looking honestly at their own
failures and come up with thoughts like “It is not ‘the Jews’ but the occupation which is oppressive” – a remark indicating a typical wish to shift responsibility away from the personal to the impersonal “context”.

Of course Hirsh is right that the issues of post-Holocaust Jewish attitudes involve political questions. But to divorce politics from an examination of the deep subjectivities that inform any political position is both naive andintellectually flawed.

(Rabbi) Howard Cooper

For more on Jacqueline Rose’s work, people should re-read the exchange in Democratiya between Rose and Shalom Lappin.  Lappin reviewed The Question of Zion.  Rose responded.  Lappin answered.

See also this from Ben Gidley.

Antony Lerman is vexing about the CST – David T

David T

David T

This piece, by David T, is from Comment is Free.

The Community Security Trust is a cross-denominational Jewish organisation, which provides advice on protecting religious and communal buildings and events from attack.

Now, there are a number of people who have it in for the CST, for example the British National Party’s Lee Barnes, who calls the CST a “Zionist paramilitary militia” and a “shadowy racist organisation”:

Last week the CST put 500 troops on British streets to patrol two parades to celebrate Israel; They call them volunteers, I call them a militia … a Zionist paramilitary militia.

Barnes may appear mad to you, as indeed he is. However, he was merely echoing the sentiments of Ken Livingstone, who in 1984 claimed that the Board of Deputies was organising “paramilitary groups which resemble fascist organisations”.

Antony Lerman is also vexing about the CST. He doesn’t think that it is a paramilitary fascist organisation. Rather he thinks that it is a waste of money, an expression of misplaced priorities and potentially even harmful to the development of a self-confident Jewish identity. I can’t tell why he feels so strongly about the CST, but he does. Lerman argues:

It could hardly be the CST’s wish to frighten people so much that they withdraw into themselves and curtail the kind of public expression of Jewish culture that is an essential part of the multicultural tapestry of British society. And yet there must be a danger of this happening, if it’s not happening already.

Lerman riffs on his response to “an online survey of the views of Jewish leaders and opinion-formers in 31 European countries on the major challenges and issues concerning European Jewish communities”:

Asked what were the most serious threats facing their communities, they ranked antisemitism ninth in a list of 12 items. The first eight threats were all internal: for example, loss of Jewish identity, lack of Jewish knowledge and declining numbers.

Lerman’s conclusion is that concern about antisemitism is misplaced and damaging:

I can’t help feeling that it’s partly the exaggeration of the severity of the threat of antisemitism which provides fertile ground for the circulation of stories and rumours suggesting that the authorities have cravenly appeased antisemites, stories that either have no basis in fact or are distortions of reality

His remedy is as follows:

It seems obvious that the CST should take a special initiative and put some of its surplus cash into struggling groups who are working in myriad ways to improve community relations between Jews and others.

This is an odd argument. I can think of no reason why one couldn’t support both interfaith and anti-racist projects. Loads of people do both.  You pays your money and makes your choice.

Lerman also believes that talking about antisemitism makes Jews frightened, and that this is a bad thing. However, as Lerman points out, the religious leaders whose views were surveyed were evidently not preoccupied by racism to the exclusion of all other issues. Lerman seems to be worrying, merely, that one day Jews might get too frightened about antisemitism. Even though this isn’t, in fact, happening.

The bottom line is this. Britain is not a country in which antisemitism is widespread among ordinary people. Nobody sensible would suggest that it is. The CST does no such thing. It merely collects and publishes data on those attacks which do happen, while advising those who ask, how best to stay safe.

The concern, rather, is that there are a number of extreme groups that are peculiarly fixated with Jews, some of which are given to violent and apocalyptic rhetoric, some of which are terrorist organisations that have carried out spectacular attacks on Jews inside and outside Israel.

When Hamas says “they have legitimised the killing of their people all over the world by killing our people”, you really should take it seriously. It isn’t scaremongering to say so. The Operation Crevice bombers had a list of synagogues and Jewish organisations, when arrested. Bombs in Buenos Aires, Ghriba and Istanbul say that Lerman’s complacency is misplaced.

Certainly there are countries in which antisemitism is very much part of the religious and political culture. The leaders of very many Muslim countries have openly expressed antisemitic views. Middle Eastern television routinely shows defamations, including incitement to religious genocide by clerics and shows like The Diaspora.

However, in secular, tolerant Europe – with the possible exception of Spain – the problem isn’t widespread popular antisemitism. Rather, what we have seen is an increasing tolerance of certain sorts of antisemitism. A section of progressive thought that I think of as the “London Review of Books left” has worked very hard to push two theses. First, that there is a huge and incredibly powerful Jewish lobby. Second, that the apparent genocidal antisemitism of Islamist groups isn’t really something to be concerned about, or is exaggerated, or is best understood as “resistance”, or is otherwise to be played down.

The downplaying of Islamist antisemitism, the provision of alibis for genocidal racists, the painting of any anti-racist that takes antisemitism seriously as part of a sinister Zionist plot.

It is that casual attitude towards antisemitism that depresses me most of all.

This piece, by David T, is from Comment is Free.

See also a critique of Lerman’s case for ‘Independent Jewish Voices’.

See also a critique of Lerman’s cod-psychologizing.

See also a critique of the New Conservatives, who say Jews shouldn’t too much fuss about antisemitism.



Do not confine Jews to the couch – David Hirsh

David Hirsh

This piece, by David Hirsh, is from the Jewish Chronicle.

Jewish intellectuals who criticise Israel in psychological terms are wrong-headed

A therapist guides us on a journey to the frightening places inside ourselves and helps us to find ways to live with our demons. While we might do well to examine our own crazinesses with our therapists, we do not expect to have to answer for them in public and we expect our therapist to be on our side. Philosopher Michel Foucault warned that the sciences of the mind are also techniques of power and they have hostile as well as healing potential.

Jacqueline Rose, a professor at London University, argues in her book, A Question of Zion, that Israel should be understood psychoanalytically. She says the trauma resulting from the Holocaust is the root cause of the difficulty Israelis seem to have in living peacefully with their neighbours. Recently, she inspired Caryl Churchill to write the play Seven Jewish Children, which portrays Jews bringing up their children in a neurotic, dishonest and dysfunctional way and which many have said is antisemitic. Rose herself briefed the actors at the theatre.

In The Independent last month, Antony Lerman, former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, also used psychology to explain current events, offering his own version of what Israeli psychologist Daniel Bar Tal reports about Israeli Jews. Lerman cheekily extrapolates the results to apply to British Jews. The consciousness of Jews “is characterised by a sense of victimisation, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanisation of the Palestinians and insensitivity to their suffering”. Lerman believes it to be a scientific discovery that “the Jewish public does not want to be confused with the facts.”

Yuck, I’m beginning to dislike these Jews already. If this collection of stereotypes came from David Irving, we would doubtless dismiss it as antisemitism.

I think critics of Israeli policies should make their arguments politically and with reasons. They should avoid ascribing to Jews collectively a pathological inability to act rationally. Israel is a state and acts according to what its leaders and its electorate calculate to be its national interest. Israel may be wrong. It may even be very wrong. But making peace with its neighbours is a matter for politics, not for therapy.

These three intellectuals all imply that Jews indoctrinate their children to be indifferent to non-Jewish suffering and that this is the key factor explaining Israel’s attack on targets in Gaza and on the civilians near them.

Leaving aside his cod-psychology, Lerman offers two arguments. One, with which I agree, is that the Israeli project of settling the West Bank is wrong, morally and pragmatically. His other is that Jews should stop saying that criticism of the occupation is antisemitic. Actually, Jews do not often raise the issue of antisemitism to de-legitimise criticism of Israel, not because they support the settlements, nor because they are psychologically damaged. The usual reason for Jews to raise the issue of antisemitism is that they are concerned about antisemitism, even when it resembles criticism of Israel.

Meanwhile, in her book, Rose argues that Zionism was from the beginning less a political movement than a messianic one; not rational but more like a religion. The Holocaust, she thinks, rendered Zionists even more irrational. And, after Gaza, she asked how the most persecuted people in history became “violent oppressors”.

If we heard President Ahmadinejad call Jews “violent oppressors”, we would surely respond by saying that it is not “the Jews” but the occupation which is oppressive. We would contextualise the conflict historically and say that neither “the Jews” nor Israel are more psychologically prone to oppressiveness than anyone else.

Leaving aside the vile implication that the Jews are the new Nazis, the idea that Jews should know better after the Holocaust is astonishing. Auschwitz was not a positive learning experience. Many Jews, traumatised perhaps, but not necessarily either mad or bad, learnt that it would be better to have a state and an army with which they could defend themselves if need be.

But Rose thinks that the Jews’ inability to put the trauma behind them in a psychologically healthy way explains Israel’s attack on Gaza. She does not explain how “Germans” have been able so successfully to recover psychologically from their part in the Holocaust and to build a peaceful and multicultural society. Can we congratulate post-national Europeans for having learnt the lessons of Auschwitz while we berate “the Jews” for having failed to do so? And how have Rose and Lerman themselves emerged so healthily from the traumatic family history which so damaged the rest of us?

Anthony Julius has shown that there is a long tradition of antisemites using Jewish witnesses against “the Jews”. Rose and Lerman’s allegations about how Jews indoctrinate their children are reminiscent of this insider testimony. But the problem is not that they speak publicly; the problem is that they transform political questions into psychological diagnoses.

David Hirsh

David Hirsh

David Hirsh is a lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths and the editor of Engage, at http://www.EngageOnline.org.uk. His ‘Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections’ is downloadable from the website of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism

This piece, by David Hirsh, is from the Jewish Chronicle.

Why Jacqueline Rose is not right – Howard Jacobson

Howard Jacobson

Howard Jacobson

Jacqueline Rose

Jacqueline Rose

Here is Howard Jacobson’s major piece in The Indpendent on contemporary antisemitism.

Here are a number of responses published in the Independent.

Here is Caryl Churchill’s defence of her play against Howard Jacobson’s criticism.

Here is Jacqueline Rose’s defence of Churchill.

Here is Saul’s response to Rose.

Here is Howard Jacobson’s response, from Comment is Free:

Jacqueline Rose takes me to task for misreading Caryl Churchill‘s play Seven Jewish Children. Jacqueline Rose teaches English literature; I once did the same. So the issue is bound to be about the way we read a text – whether that text is a piece of political propaganda purporting to be a play, or a selective anthology of quotations wrenched out of context purporting to be history.

I have described Seven Jewish Children as an antisemitic work. This is not an accusation I routinely level. It is a joke among Jews that we find antisemitism anywhere – think Woody Allen in Annie Hall, hearing “D’you eat?” as “D’Jew eat?” So I make a practice of finding it in as few places as possible, and of not minding it too much when I do. A person can hate Jews if he or she pleases. Many Jews hate Jews: we can’t keep everything to ourselves. And as for works of art, they march to a different tune, the marvellous thing about art being that whatever its intention, it usually subverts it. That’s drama, for you.

The problem with Seven Jewish Children is that it isn’t drama. Jacqueline Rose praises it for being “precised and focused in its criticisms of Israeli policy”. I agree. And that’s what makes it not art. Art would be imprecise and free-flowing, open to the corrections of what will not stay still, attentive to voices that unsettle certainty. The difference between art and propaganda is that the latter closes its mind to the appeals and surprises of otherness. Seven Jewish Children is imaginatively starved; no orchestration of voices vexes or otherwise complicates its depiction of a Jewish people fulfilling the logic of its own intolerant theology, boastful and separatist, deaf to reason and humanity, knee-high in blood and revelling in it. A theatrical as well as a racial crudity, which any number of critics, by no means all Jewish, have remarked on.

Jacqueline Rose omits to mention in her defence of this indefensible work that she is in some way – actual or spiritual – affiliated to it. The castlist expresses gratitude to her, though it is not clear whether that’s for mothering the play intellectually, or for acting as Caryl Churchill’s Jewish midwife in its delivery – advising her in such arcane Jewish matters, say, as the pleasure we take in the murder of non-Jewish babies.

But the play owes her a debt all right, particular in its unquestioning espousal of her theory that the Holocaust traumatised the Jews into visiting back upon the Palestinians what the Nazis had visited on them – a theory of dazzling psychological simplicity that turns Zionism (and never mind that Zionism long predates the Holocaust) into a nervous breakdown, and all subsequent events into the playing out of the Jews’ psychic instability. By this reasoning, neither the Palestinians nor the Arab countries who have helped or hindered them are relevant. Jacqueline Rose spirits them away from the scene of the crime. They are redundant to the working of her theory, of no significance (whatever they have done), since the narrative of the Middle East is nothing but the narrative of the Jewish mind disintegrating.

What Jacqueline Rose seems not to have noticed is that this theory is a perfect illustration of the very Jewish arrogance she decries, assuming to itself responsibility for every deed.

In an attempt to normalise her position, she cites Primo Levi’s calling the Palestinians the Jews of the Jews – “Everybody is somebody’s Jew, and today the Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis.” This is the polemic equivalent to arming a nuclear warhead. Whoever Primo Levi sides with must be right. But this is a dishonest misappropriation of his words. Primo Levi inveighed against Israeli militarism, right enough, but he was a long way from saying that there is an ineluctable progress of Jewish mental collapse linking what the Nazis did to the Jews to what the Jews are doing to the Palestinians – a progress which turns the Jews into Nazis themselves. When La Repubblica tried to get Primo Levi to say precisely that, he made a distinction of the profoundest importance, and he made it sharply: “There is no policy to exterminate the Palestinians.”

I don’t expect Jacqueline Rose to learn from me. But since she values his word, I would wish her to learn from Primo Levi. Cruelty is one thing, but “There is no policy to exterminate the Palestinians.” And there’s an end of the trauma-for-trauma, Nazi analogy.

Jacqueline Rose accuses me of fuelling antisemitism – as though antisemitism has ever run low on gas – by not acknowledging the “flagrant violations” of another people’s rights. I acknowledge them. I always have acknowledged them. I would tear the settlements down with my own hands had I power enough in them. Short of pursuing means bound to end in Israel‘s dissolution – which could be a proviso we stumble over – there might be very little that Jacqueline Rose would do that I wouldn’t. And there is no reason for her to suppose that the dead of Gaza distress her any more than they distress me. Not being a Jew in a Caryl Churchill play, I do not laugh at the destruction of the lives of Palestinian children. The expression of violently anti-Israel sentiments does not give anyone a monopoly on outrage or compassion. Or indeed, on everyday unpitying respect. In my narrative, I honour Palestinians with an influential presence.

Most English Jews of my acquaintance would welcome the opportunity to take issue with some, if not with all, Israeli policies, to express their own unease, and sometimes their own rage and horror, if only it were possible to do so in an atmosphere of even-handedness, without having to ally oneself with historians who think Israel began with Hitler, with supporters of Hamas and Hezbollah who call for an end to Israel and death to Jews, or with theoreticians of Jewish malignancy – where there is at least a glimmer of comprehension, in short, of the complex existential threats Israel has faced and goes on facing.

Jacqueline Rose tells me I am out of step with Israel’s “most revered writers”. Who? Yehoshua, the great novelist, peace campaigner and Zionist – yes, such complexities are possible – who believes all Jews belong in Israel, not out of it? Amos Oz, who spoke in London the other day of the necessity for sharp criticism of his country’s policies – as sharp as we dare “without finger-wagging” – but for fellow feeling and “solidarity” with Israel as well, if we want it to survive? What sort of solidarity is it that paints Israeli Jews as Nazified race-supremacists and child murderers, glorying in destruction?

Of the disorders that she believes to be the consequence of the Holocaust – and I use her language, not mine – here is one that Jacqueline Rose might not have considered: an irresistible, traumatised compulsion to speak ill of your own.

Howard Jacobson, posted on Comment is Free
Ben Gidley’s review of Jacqueline Rose’s The Last resistance

Shalom Lappin’s review of Jacqueline Rose’s The Question of Zion

Jacqueline rose’s resposne to Shalom Lappin’s Review

Shalom Lappin’s response to her response


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