Afraid of Muslim Arabs? Blame the Diaspora!

A recent issue of the New York Review of Books contained an essay about the West Bank separation wall, which included this quote by an Israeli man:

It’s incredible but the country still feels provisional. Of what other state can this be said? I notice that when I am in Britain that you plan for 2038, you say there will be this railway or that airport. But no Israeli plans so far ahead without feeling a pang in his heart which asks whether we shall be here at all. We look so strong from the outside, we have such a large army, so many nuclear weapons, we’re so certain in our expansion, and yet from the inside it doesn’t feel like that. We feel our being is not guaranteed. You might say we have imported from the Diaspora the Jewish disease – a sense of rootlessness, an ability to adapt and make do, but not to settle. After sixty years, Israel is not yet a home.

Sometimes Israelis are good for a laugh.

Let’s think about this. You live in a country that has been at war for 60 years. You’ve been occupying another country for the past 40 years. You’re currently building an 8 meter high, 436 miles long wall to keep the people you’re occupying away from you, and visitors have to ask you to keep your stamp out of their passports if they want to visit one of your neighbors.

In a completely unrelated matter, you’re not sure your country will exist in 30 years. Why? Because Diaspora Jews are diseased. Yup – us poor Diaspora Jews are so pitifully damaged and rootless that even the gleaming sabras have inherited our taint.

Look, I know the speaker’s trying to be poetic and all, but he fails on a couple of counts. First off, even if it’s a metaphor, it’s still a cop-out. Notice how he manages to eloquently explore Israel’s sense of fragility and existential fears without mentioning the occupation at all? I’m sorry, but poetry that isn’t honest simply isn’t good poetry. Secondly, there’s no way a statement like that can be separated from the weak Jew/strong Jew narrative that Israelis have been pushing for decades.

What you hear going bump in the night isn’t your ancestors’ fault. It’s yours. And it’s long past time to deal with it.

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6 Responses

  1. As a happy diaspora Jew, I’m not thrilled to be blamed for “rootlessness”. On the other hand, I doubt Mr. Random Israeli is thrilled to find out that he, personally, is at fault for the occupation, or Israel’s unsettled status in the world community which does mean its future isn’t promised to it. I always thought it was more complicated than that. I always thought that there were a variety of factors in play, and that we should resist pat explanations that rely on individual diseased or amoral status. I always thought that Israeli fears on these matters aren’t just another example of Jewish psychosis that need to be “dealt with” on the couch.

    I always think wrong.

  2. Not in for the stereotyping of diaspora Jews, but perhaps Jews in Israel have imported the situation of Jews in the Diaspora – that we’re not allowed the kind of power that comes with a right/proper nation.

  3. Hmm. I agree with your post, but I also think there is some truth to what he’s saying. You’re totally right that it’s ridiculous not to consider the condition of Israel and take responsibility for Israeli actions when wondering why Israel doesn’t feel like a home (if in fact that’s true — I don’t think my Israeli family would agree). But there is what might be called a “Diaspora disease,” which is the result of spending hundreds of years living in marginalized communities, never full citizens (in culture if not in law), at home everywhere and nowhere… This isn’t the fault of Diaspora Jews, but it is a real phenomenon. I don’t feel like I have homeland; I’m an American citizen with an American accent, but I don’t feel American. I feel Jewish and I feel lost. I miss a homeland that doesn’t exist and maybe never has, and sometimes I think we’ve been aching this way for thousands of years — the Europe I think I miss now was where we missed Spain after the Inquisition, and wasn’t Spain where we missed Jerusalem and the Second Temple? Etc., etc.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that some Israelis may still be carrying this part of Jewish culture — and if they are, the fact that they feel this way in a Jewish country just makes it all the more painful and sad.

  4. Matt and Daisy – I think you’re both right about the broader situation, but for me, what makes his quote unacceptable is the fact that – at least from the way the essay frames it, which I admit could be distorted or misleading – he’s saying this specifically within the context of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the separation wall. If we were talking about the Jewish sense of rootlessness or a lack of access to power generally – yeah, I’d be on board with that. But within this context, the quote strikes me as escapist.

  5. Ah, okay — I think I failed to notice just how specific he was being. Fair enough.

  6. Well, looking at the post, I’m not sure I made it all that clear. 🙂

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