David 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.
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
See also this from Ben Gidley.