Transforming The Jewish Psyche
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My guess is, you’ve been here.
A number of years ago, I was at a small dinner party on Central Park West when another invitee, who taught up at Columbia, started (out of the blue) to berate Israel for all the horrible things it had done to the Palestinian people with its “occupation.” When I offered a somewhat different view, the professor responded saying it was really difficult for him to sit there and listen to this “sixth grade logic.” I wasn’t exactly sure, but I sensed he was disparaging my argument.
At that point, this fellow’s date, who had not uttered a single word throughout the evening yet still managed to convey the sense that she was rather dumb, offered her analysis for the entire table. “Israel is a terrorist nation,” she exclaimed with great authority. She added a qualifier, “I can say that because I am Jewish,” thus confirming my original observation while single handedly disproving the old theory that Jews are smart. No comment on Syria, Iran, Iraq (then under the benign leadership of that kind hearted soul, Saddam) … no talk of Russia, Libya, Cuba (a favorite vacation spot for many folks I know) … not even North Korea. No, according to her, Israel stood alone in the pantheon of terrorist nations.
I’ve been thinking about that brilliant analysis during this current crisis. In the face of an attack by two Islamic terror organizations, backed by Iran, with the sole purpose of destroying the state of Israel, I’ve heard the usual criticism from the folks I’d expect. But, sadly, the criticism has come from another quarter that I have come to expect as well. I am reminded of that woman’s words when I read Richard Cohen in the Washington Post calling the creation of Israel a mistake. I am reminded when I see the letters to the editor in the New YorkTimes where people with Jewish names say all of this is Israel’s fault (my favorite offered no criticism of Hezbollah but said that finally with the “invasion” of Lebanon, the entire world sees Israel for what it really is … not a country interested in justice and democracy but a militaristic nation that “continues to impose brutal occupation”). I see it over and over again in the pages of the New York Review of Books, The Nation, The Progressive, publications that are inordinately heavy with Jewish names and Jewish donors.
And I wonder, what is this predilection of Jewish people to stand up for all other groups while berating and falsely disparaging their own?
Find a protest against the state of Israel and you will always see a sign that says something like “Jews Against Occupation.” Listen to the most rabid anti-Israel professors on campus and if they aren’t Arabs, they are often Jews.
Over the past several years, I’ve even begun to witness an odd phenomenon where many of my Christian friends have no problem with their vocal support of Israel as opposed to many of my Jewish friends who seem more fearful to be openly supportive. By now this penchant for self-denigration among Jewish people should not surprise me, but it still does. A psychiatrist up at Harvard, Kenneth Levin, has looked into this and written a very good book entitled, “The Oslo Syndrome, Delusions of a People Under Siege.” Dr. Levin, no sixth grade thinker, tells us that after centuries of hearing grotesque lies about Jewish people, that narrative hasn’t just rubbed off on anti-Semites, but on some Jews as well. The gold standard for this would be Noam Chomsky. But there are, sadly, many others who inexplicably have access to microphones and major publications.
About a century ago, give or take a few decades, there was another group of Jews who also understood the vestiges of this sort of behavior. They actually did something about it. Those old, tough Zionists who created the state of Israel inherently understood what was at stake. When they finally returned to the land of their fathers from which they were expelled 2,000 years earlier, sending them on their long, painful journey, they also understood they had to reprogram their children. Their first miracle was creating a state with laws and schools and symphonies in an area sadly bereft of these basic forms of civilization. But perhaps an equally important accomplishment was making sure that future generations of Jews no longer saw themselves as victims. Not only would Jews no longer be dependent on the kindness of people who weren’t always terribly kind to them, more importantly, they would no longer feel unworthy. They would, in effect, be like most everyone else on the planet. If some jerk next door hit them with a sucker punch, they wouldn’t blame themselves for their pain. They’d make sure the jerk shared that pain as well. In essence, they’d be the masters of their own fate. Jabotinsky, Herzl, Ben-Gurion — the whole lot of them helped create several miracles, not the least of them being the transformation of a national psyche.
It’s just a shame that too many of the folks around me didn’t get a similar realignment.
Mr. Kozak is a regular contributor to The New York Sun.